Photo: landscape in the Alta Langa (Piemonte)
Years ago I read the novel by Nobel-awarded José Saramago, ‘Blindness‘. It is a very impressive novel in the typical Saramago-style, with sometimes page-long sentences, and no paragraphs or quotation marks. It tells the story of an epidemy hitting a country and it spares no one. It makes one think of the old story of the plague but also of the Corona-virus. Saramago tells a disturbing story: authorities are confused and do not know how to act and the country ends up in chaos and criminals get almost free-play. Saramago’s novel gives also a powerful vision of the human spirit that’s bound both by weakness and strength. You can argue with Saramago because he is quite negative. He represents a negative vision of human nature. In fact, I would rather be more positive but his message is a warning about how humans can change behavior in difficult times.
Who knows what the future brings? At this moment I am in Piemonte, in Italy, living in quarantaine. It’s not officially locked in the house, because I am ok but there is no possibility to go out, so practically it is. And I cannot leave for the Netherlands as was planned. I am staying now in a small house in the Alta Langa, a wonderful region in South Piemonte with hills going up to almost 900 meters. I feel very safe here because in the province of Cuneo there is a relatively small amount of contracted people and to my knowledge no such cases nearby. The situation in the Netherlands is worse.
In other parts of Italy, the epidemy is a tragedy. Especially in Bergamo and other places in Lombardy, where a big part of the older people are hit by the virus and it caused many casualties. Italy is in shock and all commercial activities are closed. Today the government came with more rigid measures.
Quarantaine means a quiet, undisturbed life in the countryside. But it is very isolated because there are not many people around and those who are, are trying to avoid any contact. Social life is impossible. The only connection with the world is the internet.
Once in two days, I can go to a small village at 6 km distance for some shopping of the essential necessities, but it is not allowed to leave the house for any other goal. Life is becoming tough now. I am happy that spring is arriving and warmer temperatures because this place is unbearable with cold.
And how is Italy reacting to the situation? Do we see Saramago-like chaos? No. On the contrary, I feel that the Italian government has reacted well, after the first doubts when the situation was not yet all clear. And the Italians too. Generally, Italian people have much fear for everything, also for being ill. It is the reason why the pharmacies have a good business because for every little cough or cold people go for some medication. The use of medications is the highest in the world. But, on the other hand, Italian people know well how to handle setbacks. They remain quiet and are not directly disturbed. They have learned to continue to manage their life, with their normal humor and spirit. It opens the eye on another side of the Italian mentality. A very positive side.
And now for me? What to do? That is a good question. The only thing I can do is work. I am finishing my next book and hope it can be printed in 2 or 3 months. That will be an important moment because it is the result of many years’ work. But other jobs and projects are canceled and there is no money coming in. I have invested much in my upcoming book which needs to be printed in May and therefore I do not have much money left. What if this quarantaine takes many months? That would be very problematic. And what to do then? To this question, I have no answer.
Paul Balke, Alta Langa, Piemonte, 17 March 2020