The Emirati airlines are supposed to fly again the day after tomorrow. The number of cases seems to have stabilised all over western Europe. They say the old vaccine against tuberculosis might unexpectedly have some soothing effect in this pandemic as an early booster of an individual's immunity system. I remember the pus from the scar that remained open for months on my shoulder, and so does my husband. We may be safer than many Spanish, French and Italian people. As well do the Portuguese, who still did not manage to eradicate tuberculosis, even today.
I had headache and chills yesterday, although with only 37,0 degrees. I wait with some impatience for serologic tests to become available. But the probability that any of those sore throats or chills marked my low-symptom COVID-19 infection are scarce. These are rather the psychosomatic results of these three weeks of anxiety, inactivity and isolation.
There is a growing fissure right across Europe, between the West and the East. I knew it, I saw it opening, but still it surprises me how fast the work of decades, and millions in good money...
The most worrying fact, meanwhile, is that I'm still very far from reinventing my life. I have rather come deeper and deeper into darkness. Where is my library, my universities to come, my research? These three weeks marked such a thorough reset of my brain as I can hardly remember from any moment or circumstances in the past. So many things drifted away, partially with that Eastern Europe transformed in a new Jangada de Pedra. Am I still a European scholar?
Lembras-te, Yaka, como acabou aquele medo?
This is high time to get back to normal now. I strongly believe the epidemic reached its culminating point in western Europe. Now we will continue in this situation for some time, till we get well. Meanwhile, it's time to put my affairs in order, wake up from this slumber, before der Zauberberg overwhelms me completely, and for long.
I hope to get any news from France soon, any outcome. To be sure how I should plan my life for the coming months. Be that as it may, I should think about my place in the Netherlands. I thought about buying any cheap house or a cottage somewhere not very far from train network. Just to have a place I might call home. For sure I would be wandering from place to place among the European universities for several years to come, but it would be good to have something of a permanent address. Later on, when my situation improves, I might still use that house as a secondary residence, a place where I might stay to write my books.
Apparently, there has been many dead today in France. I constantly refresh the page on Worldometer, hoping this is just a mistake to be corrected soon. In a week, the same number of dead will be noted in Poland, and even if not officially recognised, I will know they are dead. I see them dead now, they appear in front of my eyes, just as my memory kept them in the worst moments. I know only too well how reckless they are, they have always been. They won't take the risk seriously, especially as they cannot see it. They will walk right into it, unable to change the slightest, the silliest of their habits. Actively refusing any piece of reasonable advice, any sanitary measure, just to show they are the wiser. While they are so incurably stupid.
I promise myself to keep my vaccinations up-to-date; to keep provisions, fresh water, kapok jackets and an inflatable embarkation in the attic of my Dutch house. If we get a second chance to be reasonable; as I suppose we will. I have always been reasonable. I had sufficient medicines and provisions in my old house, I had my vaccinations roughly up-to-date; at least for those diseases I considered dangerous. Never considered vaccination against flu; never paid attention to the state of my respiratory system. Because I got used to have it malfunctioning. Yes, this is the source of everything, our habits of poverty, irresponsibility. Inveterate low expectations. I never expected my nose might be healthy. My mother used to tell me this is because I got it after my grandfather. I was trained to feel nearly proud of it, consider it as a sort of family legacy. And I was educated to despise medicine. How did they use to say? Doktor Gleba wyleczy. It was their motto. Now they stand dead in front of my eyes. And I'm afraid this disease does not offer such an easy death as some people in my country still seem to believe. Well, they probably mean it is quick. Not like cancer. But I know there will be no palliative care for anyone. Not in Poland. There will be no care at all.
In a way, there has never been. No care, no providence. The only expectation was Doktor Gleba's cure. They gave up their lives years, decades ago. I refuse to see the humanitarian crisis that is to happen now. Just as they refused to see other people's humanitarian crises. And nonetheless I see it in anticipation, as a grimy fog hiding everything. Cutting me away from all recollection of my past.
The number of cases in Portugal is as high as 1035, and we are still in the middle of the day. If this is our darkest hour, nonetheless, the day seems surprisingly quiet. It's been a rainy weather since yesterday, I'm not sure if it makes any difference to the virus; now the sun gets back. There are few people in the street, but they seem to enjoy the sun. The cars still go up and down, and the busses, and the bombeiros, sometimes putting their sirens on, but usually in silence. Anyway, they have the road mostly to themselves.
Yesterday I bought a notebook in the Pakistani shop downstairs (still open, immigrant shop is always open; it would be a sign of the end of Europe if it were closed), with the firm intent of learning a language, any language, Dutch, Arabic, whatever. But my brain feels like cotton inside my skull. It's mostly "Gazeta Wyborcza" that puts me in this state, offering daily updates of the chronicle of our demise. Over and over again, they menace the members of the government with prison sentences to come. The situation brings to my mind that old Spanish joke, tasting so bitter now: Canta, puta, canta, que te queda poca vida. Meanwhile, the utter political collapse is closer than ever; apparently, I am the only person to see it, among a chorus of voices repeating solemnly Canta, puta, canta like some sort of healing incantation. But it heals nothing at all, of course. Hungary is done already; they gave up to dictatorship with barely 500 cases and 16 dead; it will stay on the pages of History as Velvet Epidemic.
This is why I bought this notebook to learn Dutch. I still have my KLM ticket to Amsterdam, on 2nd May. I need to make order in my life, step by step. Find a place to stay, anything to do. Paris-Seine apparently still considers hiring me for their excellence program in October, but be that as it may, my affairs in the Netherlands must be clarified and preserved. I must acquire a citizenship. Auf freiem Grund mit freiem Volke stehen. Be on the right side of History.
PS. Later in the afternoon, the tonality of the articles in "Gazeta Wyborcza" suddenly changed, providing the readers with complete scenarios of the authoritarian takeover of Poland, to come true over the next six weeks or so. No one can say we did not see it coming.
They seem to have lost appetite. The supermarket is full of food, but very few people come to buy it. For sure they eat from the abundant provisions already accumulated in every home. It would be hard to take us by hunger, at least here in western Europe. I eat my grão-de-bico one by one, stabbing the grains with the tip of the Swiss knife I brought from Ukraine, an old gesture inherited from by-gone wars that I had learned from old males in my remote childhood.
I believe the situation is stabilising, although stabilising on a level that... that what? That is much lower than the worse scenario. If we see a true Apocalypse, like on the movies, it will be in the United States, not here.
Lisbon keeps up its brandos costumes, nothing like highly restrictive measures. People stayed at home, I suppose, because they got an excuse to do so, and gladly spend their time in the company of their smartphones. The Nepalis here where I stay unanimously decided to quarantine their days under their colourful Asiatic blankets, as if they all had a strong infection already. Only in the evenings they seem to recover to intone scraps of old songs that will stay in my mind as a symbol of this emergency.
Confronted with a catastrophe, we all return to old songs, old gestures, ancestral behaviours, magic practices that will effectively grant our survival. At least in terms of our mental health. Incense burns on the tiny domestic altar that accumulates a figurine of Buddha and a plastic miniature of St. Peter's Square. Myself, although it has never been my religion, murmur over and over again the Gayatri mantra: oṃṃṃṃṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ suvaḥ... tat savitur vareṇyaṃ... bhargo devasya dhīmahi... dhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt, just for sheer antiquity of the sound sequence, with a greater proficiency of the ṃ that I might ever expect, taking into the account the usual state of my nasal tract and my limited linguistic talents. The sun over Lisbon is bright, the sky intensely blue; let's contemplate its purity, let's celebrate the great Breath of the earth.
I do change my outlook on culture under these circumstances. I do see how these obsolete contents, that I used to consider as parasites of our minds, actually help us to navigate across the strait.
Overall, nothing happened. The missiles over Riyadh had been neutralised once again before they hit the ground.
"Za to u nas to koronawirus ugina się pod złowieszczym ciężarem Polski" - an expression found in a reader's comment in the electronic edition of "Gazeta Wyborcza".
Oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ suvaḥ...
It starts to be difficult. In fact, it is since a couple of days that I have great difficulties in concentrating. I try to read the only book I brought, Olga Tokarczuk Flights, but I just cannot understand its content. I struggle through obscure, meaningless sentences, and the only sense I get is the impression of a stifling atmosphere of all her travels. Is it true that the book simply misses a larger breath?
I wish I could write. Writing is the only thing that kept me upright these days, although I'm not sure if I went such a long path in it. I wrote only a bit, at the beginning, before the habit of constantly refreshing the tables with numbers of deaths and new cases took over.
I need a discipline. It's sad to see what the Zauberberg made of me in only ten days. It's hard to believe that it was only the last Monday that I came up to Entrecampos, enthusiast and expectant, only to see that the National Library had been closed. I tried to write a chapter for a publication projected in Silesia. A peer-review of my last paper in Polish came, but I was strangely stressed even to read it. Everything crumbles into dust. And I try to close my eyes, imagine myself in Leiden, in Oxford, in my future home and library, among new books, not yet written. Old Arabic poetry in sumptuous editions, insightful essays, travel books, but not like that one of Olga Tokarczuk. Describing Syrian journeys not before, but after the war, climatic strolls through Damascus, shadows and patches of light under quince trees. Ruins, paintings, theological treaties, glass tesserae of mosaics, glittering with golden foil.
The plague will be over. The books will be recovered unscathed. The dust will be removed. Hungary was lost even before the first case of infection, it never ceased to be lost. The old people who are dead now only lived on a borrowed time. The Bloemenveiling in Aalsmeer will sell flowers again, by millions. Damascus will be a fashionable destination. And I will be in the middle of all that, slimmer, more elegant, wiser, and better writer.
I get so slowly to the idea that my little world will circulate now somewhere between Paris, Amsterdam, Oxford and Heidelberg. A walking distance.
I start to dream again about mahogany bookcases, and new books to put on them, not those that remained in Kraków. They were tiny old things; I deserve better. It doesn't make sense to read them all in Polish, while I need to make my English expression slender and elegant. There are also other languages to cultivate, French, Dutch, Arabic. Truly I have no more time for my Polish books.
Books, books, books, the last thing that remains to care about, as if the virus could bite at them. But they give me the feeling of normalcy on an occasion in which my horizon hardly stretches beyond the end of next month, and I have with me only a bundle of old clothes, a pair of shoes, as if I came straight from Bissau.
They say anosmia is an early indicator of contagion. I'm still healthy, 36,8, and I open a flask of cosmetic jelly to feel its smell. I close my eyes, and I'm back in Leiden, in the Breestraat, in the Haarlemmerstraat, searching for little items in Hema and Normaal. Everything in such a great abundance, colourful and fragrant. And the Saturday market, with such a profusion of fruits and flowers. My husband sent me a clip on WhatsApp, how they were removing tons of unsold flowers from the auction in Aaalsmeer. It made me suffer more than any glimpse of the current pandemic. I have fruits also here, in Lisbon, oranges and pears and tomatoes. I'm not missing anything, the events have left me unscathed. I just miss to be back in Leiden, in that suspended time, among books and dreams, in the Garden.
Des meubles luisants,
Polis par les ans,
Décoreraient notre chambre ;
Les plus rares fleurs
Mêlant leurs odeurs
Aux vagues senteurs de l’ambre,
Les riches plafonds,
Les miroirs profonds,
La splendeur orientale,
Tout y parlerait
À l’âme en secret
Sa douce langue natale.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté...
Vois sur ces canaux
Dormir ces vaisseaux
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde ;
C’est pour assouvir
Ton moindre désir
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.
– Les soleils couchants
Revêtent les champs,
Les canaux, la ville entière,
D’hyacinthe et d’or ;
Le monde s’endort
Dans une chaude lumière.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté...
Is the country and the city still there, with its channels and its water lilies? I've only heard Hungary is no more...
This is my 8th day on the Zauberberg, with its rituals of temperature measuring several times a day. I've been miraculously healthy, even my eternal catarrh disappeared, temperature between 36,6 and 36,8. I'm also loosing weight, quite naturally, on a miraculous diet of oranges, grilled chicken and fear.
I use my time to revise my past, my memories, my life as a Lusitanist. I never had a very high opinion of Portuguese literature, its intellectual depth, its power of saving the world. Nonetheless, there is one item that should catch my attention. Saramago, the writer I've studied so thoroughly. His diptych of Ensaio sobre a cegueira and Ensaio sobre a lucidez. He was already a Nobel Prize winner when he wrote these books, but if otherwise, it would be a proof of his genius. The sequence of plague and its political consequences; it seemed so abstract at the time, just a fictional story; I did not even delve very deep in these two books in my Saramaguian readings. Yet I took them seriously, learned something from them, internalised them to such a degree that they became one with my animal instincts. And now, I do not doubt this plague will be over, we will drink crystal clear water again. 28 days, I keep saying, even if it dawns on me it might be up to two years. But what about the second part of the diptych, especially in countries like mine? 50 years is my prediction. That means, I couldn't reasonably hope to live long enough to see it over.
This is why I'm glad to be here, and slowly break my mind to come back to the Netherlands when the time is over, to rebuild everything from nought. I'm not sure if I still manage to find a job as a university professor in the future, perhaps I will do some menial work as I never did in my life. There will be less of those research projects I was counting on. But one day, I shall be an intellectual again. Leiden, Oxford, these places survived many plagues. Except one. There is one plague that never came to them. The one in the second part of the diptych, the one of the dog howling over silence of men.
I'm in Lisbon. When I felt the unique smell of the city, I felt like one of those salmons who can distinguish the taste of the river of their birth, where they come back to reproduce and perish. I've rented a room for six weeks in one of those cheap little places where I used to stay in order to write my books, and I'm planning to do it again. And here I am, on the brink of the continent, trying to imagine how Europe may look like when these six weeks are over. I suppose it will be kind of consolidated, seeing more clearly who belongs where. The salmons will come back to the rivers of their birth.
Things will start all over again in a new configuration. The broken order will be restored, fitting more closely the nature of each river. And I, a western salmon, follow westwards, leaving all my possessions behind, leaving all my memories behind.
My husband says he is worried about me. He is worried I might die, because my lungs have always been weak. But perhaps this is not true. My lungs are strong, they only used to have bad memories. Memories of my neglected childhood, chronic catarrh, cold water entering my winter shoes. It was the part of my body where all these memories were accumulated. The place that had never became sane since my childhood. Till perhaps my last trip to Egypt, a sudden panic of asphyxiation, a burden over my chest. Finally I took care of them, paid attention to them, to the accumulated stories my lungs wanted to tell me. And now I start to breath as I never breathed before. In full possession of my lungs.
I've got glasses, finally. I've been planning for this since that time, more than two years ago, when the doctor in France didn't want to give me the health certificate for work because of the state of my eyes. As I've checked them now, it seems to be the same problem I had since I was twenty; perhaps I needed glasses all my life, but always preferred to see the world with my own eyes.
I've submitted yet another article, this time for Montenegro. I'm still learning, making experiments, getting used to my English. I follow closely the ranking, and prepare to switch to SCImago Q1 - Q2 quartile exclusively. But for the time being, I'm still attached to the idea of this global exploration, of penetrating a variety of academic contexts. I regret I didn't do this when I was younger. I had time for this. Why did I stick to all those silly Polish journals? But of course, it is something that cannot be undone. Never mind. I still have time. And to my considerable surprise, Q1 - Q2 quartiles include a couple of journals in such places as Manilla, Philippines. Pity they have virtually no journal in the Middle East. The ranking, by the way, seems very incomplete, at least as referred to ERIH+ listings, and it wouldn't be such a reasonable professional strategy to treat is as an absolute indicator.
I start to miss Holland. I feel like immersed is some sort of crippling, viscous reality, sticking to my past, immobilised. Some things still need digesting, but I look forward to opening a new chapter. In a lower quartile.
Since Christmas, I haven't manage to arrive back to Leiden yet. There has been a trip to Egypt, and now I'm busy making order in my remaining Polish papers. I'm quite surprised with the respite that Europe gives us. I might call it fidelity. They simply don't let us go. They stand by.
I've lost my credentials as political analyst. Till the last moment, I was persuaded that Brexit wouldn't take place, that they would rather get rid of us and, confronted with this scenario, the English would say, OK, in this case we stay. Things happened the other way around. They went out and we stay in. For the time being.
How long would it prevail? How does it change my life prospects? For a moment, I thought the tide is turning, and I could, after all, stay. That was weeks ago. Now I believe less in the turn of the tide and, what is crucial, I've verified empirically how little chances I have as a scholar in Kraków. Well, the awareness of my handicap is not entirely new. Years ago, I came to understand that I would never be employed at the Marie-Curie University in Lublin, no matter how excellent my academic performance. It is just a history repeating itself. I will not be employed at the Jagiellonian University, no matter how excellent my academic performance. I may as well seek for a job at Oxford.
And with my characteristic, neurotypical lack of sense of humour, it is for Oxford that I'm packing. Just to break the whole thing down for now: my track record and academic experience make me every day more unsuitable for the aforementioned institutions. Bigger I grow, less I fit in. As for Oxford, I might be smallish now, but as I go on growing, the lines will naturally intersect at some point. The other way around - I don't really see how... It's an anatomical issue.
Of course, the growing process could be more intense; I'm living rather relaxed that target-oriented existence. I've submitted yet another article in Polish (the last, vintage one, that I've wished to publish since 2006). And I still read a lot, too much indeed, in Polish, yet slowly breaking my mind to offer the entirety, or nearly entirety, of my book collection to public libraries. From Poland, I would like to take a few selected volumes of Polish literature, but all these translations, and all those lesser things should go, or rather, remain where they belong. Last week, I offered to the library my Polish Faust and my Polish Buddenbrooks, together with the horrific porn novel Jak podrywają szejkowie by Marcin Margielewski (a synthesis of the Polish male's fears and obsessions --including the fantasy of squashing one's own pregnant ex-partner with a sport car-- under an Oriental disguise). I laughed like a squirrel when I read it (the most hilarious item was the author's conviction that the Emiratees get really excited with the Arabian mares from Janów Podlaski), till the moment when it made me very sad indeed because of the author's provincialism (the book culminates with a coprophiliac suggestion --of golden shit-- switched from Emirates right into the dark heart of Saudi Arabia). Nonetheless, I'm surprised by a recent article in "Gazeta Wyborcza": "Does Poland deserve a better porn literature?"
No, I don't think so. Now I read, or at least surf through, the Blogotony by Inga Iwasiów, before I put the book into the bag I use to carry them to the public library. I hope it finds a better life there.
Meanwhile, I keep just one sentence from this book (p. 252-253): "Możliwość, że kobiety mogłyby postępować podobnie, brać sobie mężczyzn, seks, władzę, rodzi panikę". I suppose this is the explanation why I cannot teach at the Jagiellonian University. Because I take scholarship as a man would. And it causes panic.