I’m very glad to be hosting fellow crime author Alex Macbeth on my blog today. Alex’s gripping thriller, Red Die, is set in Mozambique and has been widely praised for its sense of place. Alex is now living in Italy – here is an excerpt from his online diary of lockdown living. Over to you, Alex:
‘Home in the Time of Corona’
The sky today is an appropriate foreboding shade of grey. I’ve resorted to wearing pyjamas and slippers all day – clothes are fastidious in these strange times. Strange times: there’s a phrase that is used far too often at the moment. I make a larger than normal pot of coffee and turn to the news. The British press are talking of “draconian measures” in Europe. Definition of draconian in the Cambridge English dictionary: ‘Draconian laws, government actions, etc. are extremely severe, or go further than what is right or necessary’. In the UK meanwhile few measures are being taken to curve the spread of coronavirus. Up to half a million people could die, but football games must go ahead if possible – even though half the Premier League have the virus. At 2pm the news breaks that they will finally postpone all games. British health experts have advised Johnson that each person only infects two or three others. So it follows that it is absolutely fine and logical to hold public gatherings with thousands of people. Schools will not close but school trips will be cancelled. After all, “we are British. We defeated Nazism.” Corona, one might venture, is a different kind of Luftwaffe. Justin Trudeau is in self-isolation after his wife tested positive for corona. Putin is going to stay in power until 2348. He’s going to defeat corona with his bare chest. Stock markets are crashing.
My neighbour interrupts my reading. His son is arriving at Perugia airport, which will close tomorrow, and he needs the car. I give it to him as I crave news from the outside world. Did the police manage to erect that roadblock? Has the tobacconist closed? Are we living in a nuclear fallout landscape or are people resolutely ignoring the lockdown?
I take my son for a walk and bump into (metaphorically speaking, there’s no bumping into these days) another neighbour, the one who talks in proverbs and conspiracy theories. “They’ve done it to wipe out us pensioners,” he says, lowering his chainsaw. I can’t argue with him, mainly because he is holding a chainsaw, but it does feel like corona presents an opportunity to some governments. I’m afraid of his chainsaw. He could well think I’m the kind of foreigner who is active in this conspiracy. But we live in the hills where there are more chainsaws than people. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes before returning to cutting the tree. He has survived a war, corona ain’t got shit on him.
My boy, meanwhile, practices falling up and down steps. The house sitter arrives next door. She brings the news that Città di Castello, our local town, has recorded its first corona-related death. A 66-year-old man. “That’s not that old,” she points out. The number of infected people in Italy has surpassed 15,000 and the net is closing in. I need more coffee and a cigarette: vice is vital in these ‘strange times’. Anything to escape the fear of the airborne enemy. My partner receives a phone call from a friend in the US. A friend of the friend has contracted the virus. When she called the hotline she was told there were no kits to test her. All good and well then in the land of the free. Trump is calling it a “foreign virus”; in China rumours are circulating that it originated in the US. Conspiracy theories have replaced the news. I can’t help but think that this coronavirus will lead to a baby boom. Love in the time of corona.
My phone is beeping more than usual: mainly condolence messages. We are not dead yet I point out. “What’s it like in the red zone?” ask smug German and French friends. Just you wait, I reply. I receive an inundation of good will messages which my ego warms to. Should I tell them I’ve lived up a mountain in self-isolation for more than a year? No, let them keep writing. My mother has sent me an email telling me to consume lots of vitamin C and stack up on chloroquine. It has been proven to wipe out corona in rats. Others write me enraged messages. “Why are you writing a funny blog about corona?”
People’s rage is so selective, especially Europeans’. Earthquakes wipe out more people in a day than corona has in two months. Afghanistan, Palestine and Yemen are trapped in terrible wars sponsored by the west. Migrants are and have been drowning in the Mediterranean for nearly a decade. In Lesbos, Syrian refugees are being beaten by fascist paramilitaries as I type this. Rape is still used as a weapon of war in so many places. “Yes, but corona is happening to us”. I can’t be bothered to confront these ethnocentric morons. My Mozambican friend sums it up succinctly: the suffering of the poor is normal, that of the rich a tragedy. We mustn’t be immune to anyone’s pain.
I take my boy out to the woods. As we cross the road, I notice trucks are now traversing these forgotten mountains tracks, presumably in a bid to avoid roadblocks. We collect some acorns and a fright from some wild boar before returning to our home. I try to do some work but I can’t concentrate. Everything is corona. I am one of the lucky ones because I work from home and we have some spare income. Others are panicking. Two weeks off work could mean going bankrupt for those who live hand to mouth.
Will there be an EU bailout? It seems a good time to test out the unconditional basic income. Surely only a few aircraft carriers would need to be sacrificed to make it happen? Besides, the airborne enemy we face is not the one we have propagated since World War Two. My neighbour has returned with our car and news of the outside world. All bars, restaurants and shops have closed except for supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations and tobacconists.
But in the local town people are still milling around as if nothing has happened. No sign of the police. Expats meanwhile are going nuts on Facebook. “Where’s my fucking tagliatelle?”One of these days I will need to take the car and go and take a look at the Mad Max world out there. For now it is onwards and forwards with isolation.