I didn't expect the plateau stage would be the hardest to get through. The numbers of new cases that should have gone down by now form a roughly constant, slightly fluctuating line. The sensation is of being blocked, without solution, suspended on the wall. Day after day after day after day. This is what makes me have nightmares about the pandemic, for the first time.
Psychologically, I'm a bit more stable nonetheless. My trouble with concentration has lessened. I've even managed to evaluate a habilitation candidate. Therefore, I've earned enough to buy food this month. The perspective of asking my husband to pay for my living is still years away. Nonetheless, I miss having income again, and more than this, being a university professor again. A serious person, a solvent citizen, someone important, not a mere shadow on the wall descending stealthily, face covered with a scarf, in search of a flask of wine, a piece of roasted chicken and a provision of instant soup. A pauper and a refugee in the city of paupers and refugees.
I have internalised those lessons in Christianity only too well. I am a master of humility. But there is something else I would like to learn: to be a solvent citizen in my own Europe.
My ticket home has been cancelled; home is no more. I've got a KLM voucher to book any new flight, whenever I want. I have those unrealistic dreams I might go to Bali with it. Or to Maldives. Or to Singapore. My husband likes to see maritime cruises; it is his old dream to go on it. Although of course, a ship during an epidemic is the last place to spend one's vacation. But mentally we are in a post-pandemic world where everything is just luxury, brightness and comfort once again.
There has been only a small distance between a dream and a project to come true in my life, these last ten or twenty years. Everything was close at hand. A fanciful marriage, expensive travels, academic career, sky was the limit. The main obstacles were inside, in me, the frontiers of my internalised identity, the limitations of my creativity, my insufficient braveness in occupying the world.
I still have dreams as targets, to affirm myself on the top of international academe, to buy a house in the Netherlands, to acquire Dutch citizenship. The fact of having lost a country (the authoritarian takeover going on in Eastern Europe) has more of an opportunity than of calamity. Hardly more than a month ago, I was seriously thinking about reinstating myself as a professor at the Jagiellonian University. The worse of all conceivable ideas indeed, even worse than that of spending our vacation on board of one of those cruisers! The crisis forced me to cut the remaining links to that old reality that I had failed to leave behind just by myself. Even as I was in Leiden, I was still thinking about Eastern Europe, working for it, placing my papers there. As if my mind stack to it with some sort of immaterial glue. As if I couldn't do any other way.
If Poland is the game, the only winning strategy is NOT TO PLAY. I cannot say that the current developments surprise me. Nonetheless, I did play the game for many years, without seriously expecting any other outcome than the one that the current crisis made patent. The only reason was my mental inability of conceiving any better game, living any other life. I dedicated decades to a mistaken cause, in which I didn't even believe.
Well, other things did happen in my life as well. Good things. Things worth living. Things to which I remain faithful. Things that are enough to keep me alive. I cannot claim to have lost everything, far from that. And I have those targets. To go to Oxford, to buy a house in Leiden, to get Dutch citizenship, to occupy a decent place in the international academia, to spend the rest of my life in my library, among my books, among the curios brought from my travels. To live as a solvent citizen in my own Europe. An erudite. A university professor.
The pandemic did not teach me wisdom. It only taught me to stick even closer to those things I always believed worth having.
So that's it. We are on the descending slope now. Belgium worries me, UK is still climbing its own via crucis, but overall, as far as my space is implied, the pandemic is what we saw already. The question now is how to return to work.
Although it is not my religion, it is a strange coincidence, that my privately announced end of the pandemic coincides with Easter of Christians, also called the Resurrection Sunday. Anyway, people used to paint eggs this time of the year since I don't know when. Perhaps even the Palaeolithic. It must be one of the oldest rituals still in existence.
Pity I don't have any eggs. I've just finished eating up my pandemic provisions. I've just had the rest of instant soup mixed with the reminder of the brine from a can of sausages. Sort of ritualised crisis, celebrating the moment when the cosmetic jelly is just a little bit in the jar, and my clothes as if I came straight from Bissau. The beginning of a new life that I ritualistically confront as a naked woman, a pauper, and a refugee. Although it is of course my own Europe. But we are all, as the Christians say, nothing but pilgrims and refugees on the face of the earth.
Strange there is no such obvious music for Easter Sunday as St Mathew Passion is for the days before. But I listen to Bach's Easter Oratorio BWV 249, by Nederlands Bach Society. Even if it instantly cuts down my ascetic celebration and reinstates me as a solvent citizen in my own Europe.
I miss Netherlands. Meanwhile, Lisbon is something that I can only smell from the height of my window in the Avenida Almirante Reis. The weather is warm already, the vegetation in full blossom. It will be great to walk through the city again, taking pictures. Perhaps I could stay a month or even two, go to the National Library again. Before I come back to Leiden.
This is the 28th day of my private count of the pandemic. The last day. Here I can see the gain I can obtain from this emergency: my emotional detachment from Poland. Many feelings have been burning bright in me these days. Bad memories, fear, anger, the sense of loss, the sense of helplessness.
Now it's over; it's time to start a new, post-pandemic existence. An existence of reason and efficiency.
I have no more patience for the news from Poland. The last one is that the government plans to steal the retirement savings gathered on private accounts. It wouldn't be such an enormous money in my case, perhaps some 12,000 euro, I'm not sure. The sum already decayed during the economic crisis of 2008. Overall, it is a three months' salary of a professor in western Europe; even less. But it is a question of principles.
Downtrodden, stripped of the most fundamental rights, till my very last day as a Polish citizen. If they actually take this money, if they vote the new abortion law, if they get the country out of the European Union, I promise myself that the girl without the front teeth will never speak nor write Polish again. Under no circumstance. Not a word. Never more.
For the rest, the pandemic goes on through its plateau stage, although the news of the last couple of days were a bit worse than I expected them to be. According to my epidemiological credo, there is two more days out of the 28 to survive. I treat it as a personal program. Having counted those 28 days, I promise myself to return to full activity, restart my academic work, think about posterity again:
So many years we suffered here
Our country racked with Spanish wars
Now comes a chance to find ourselves
And quiet reigns behind our doors
We think about posterity again
That's one of my Dutch battle songs. Like that swan on the painting in the Rijks Museum, I stand against the curly-coated dog to defend my nest, my life to be, my little patch of the European swamp.
Like every year, I listen to BWV 244, this is what we do for Easter in Holland. Some years, circumstances permitting, I used to do this in the Concertgebauw in Amsterdam, in the company of my Saudi husband, both of us elegantly dressed and calling forth all the sophistication of our monotheistic awareness. This year, nonetheless, Christianity tastes bitterer than ever. As I try to persuade myself, there is nonetheless a clear distinction to be made between listening to St Matthew Passion for Easter and the Polish passion of crucifying women. Sticking to the civilisation is the only response we can give to other people's choice of becoming Barbarians.
The funny thing is that the word "civilisation" is considered as not quite a polite expression among the civilised; meanwhile, the Barbarians use it with constant delight. This is precisely what they believe to defend. We simply stand fast against the curly-coated dog. Also, as I'm afraid, against the current curly-coated dogs of Middle Europe. With all the deplorable consequences for the latter.
What expects Poland in the near future is isolation and rapidly encroaching misery; the only response they are able to give is that of crucifying some more women. Facing a cataclysm, the natives of Papua New Guinea would probably devise something similar; such are the deepest layers of being human. But maybe it's time to stop caring about that. I've come here, after all, because I refused to be there.
The plague is clearly on a plateau all over western Europe. Austria is the first country to recall its response to the pandemic. Meanwhile, the politic consequences of the emergency start to surge all over Middle Europe. Transsexual persons denied legal recognition in Hungary. In Poland, the women are to be denied their remaining abortion rights. As well as sexual education.
I have been listening to old Kult's songs, Polska, Religia wielkiego Babilonu, that sort of things. Dziewczyna bez zęba na przedzie. It sounds terribly bitter, because I am the girl the songs speaks about. I actually miss nearly all my front teeth. They decayed when I was still a child, because there was so little care, so little care about anything whatsoever.
It sounds bitter, because nothing happened. I put expensive dental crowns many years ago; it costed me 15,000 zlotys at the time. Unfortunately, no prosthesis was to fill the void of Pole's spiritual life. Their Catholicism still finds its only fulfilment in the absurd cruelty of so called "little coffin laws" (ustawa trumienkowa), that in case of fetal malformations forces women to give birth to dead or dying children.
I start to feel that to participate in such a nation is like to participate in a criminal organisation. I suppose many Germans might have felt the same earlier on in the 20th century. Nihil novum sub sole. On the other hand, to have lost one's country feels like cotton in the skull, paralysis of the thought. But in some moments, I feel a sudden bravery, the readiness to face my destiny. I need to actively get rid of my country, just as if it were a dead and decaying fetus in me. It implies the full acceptance of resentment and contempt, a radical denial of forgiveness. Certainly, it never was a good country to live in. Yet I feel such a pervading pity, such a commiseration of ourselves, girls without the front teeth, girls without rights. Girls whose dignity always used to be treated as a ridiculous, fanciful pretension. This pity is the umbilical cord that connects me to the dead and decaying fetus.
Some people say we should "go for the Styrofoam" (iść na styropian), i.e. assume entirely the anti-governmental resistance, dedicate ourselves to this fight, just like in 1980. I do not consider it as an option. Because I know how organically the current events are connected to the actual collective will of the nation. 2020 is no parallel to 1980. The Poles have been neither invaded nor manipulated. They actually ordered and prepaid every single item of what they are about to get.
As a 15-year-old, I was a girl without the front teeth, because I had no choice; there was no other option. But now I have a choice. And I cannot accept to take no care whatsoever of myself, my body, my life, just let myself flow down with the current. I might have been a Hungarian, a Somalian, a Syrian, a Romanian. I shall not accept being flushed down the toilet. Not even as a heroic gnome in Machulski's Kingsajz. Not even by the pity of other girls without the front teeth or my feelings of solidarity with them. There shall be no Styrofoam, there shall be no resistance, there shall be no Szuflandia.
I saw the Jurassic Park last night. I need to imagine the Poles eaten by a dinosaur, I said to myself. I have been following all the developments on "Gazeta Wyborcza", and I start to ask: how far I can go like this. It is clear they can go like this for quite a long time. Everything revolves around an old man and his absurd game. In himself, he is powerless; he is not even a prime minister like Orbán. He is just the revolving centre of the void, and all the other men and women around him dance to the music he plays like some ghostly fiddler just because they are unable to construe a different life. The society sinks into darkness, the disruption of all the rules, of all institutional order, of all economic activities, of everything that might imply a future. A generalised obliteration of the future tense. It is not even the fear of what might happen, it is a generalised inability of imagining that anything whatsoever might happen. It is a total suspension of History.
Meanwhile, the pandemic is not as worrying as it might be, not like in the darkest scenario we might have imagined. All across the western Europe, it is a relatively safe plateau state; people are getting sick and eventually die, but at a stable pace. The future of humanity is not in danger. According to my private persuasions concerning this emergency, we are entering now the fourth and last week of the pandemic in western Europe. I mean, of its locally disruptive stage, for the virus will live on his borrowed life in other places, before, as I still believe, it disappears completely; for it is a little clumsy virus, able to bring down old organisms that lived for decades in benign environments, in warmth and comfort, forgetting the sheer existence of most pathogens. But it clearly lacks the potential to bring down massively the global South; such a task requires greater, more sophisticated, better adapted genetic codes. Southern doctors will say, thanks God it's only covid, not malaria.
Any day now, the care of reestablishing the fluxes will prevail, as well as the thought of winning the stakes of the crisis. For every crisis is an opportunity, it creates voids that have to be occupied. The totalitarian takeovers of Middle Europe are just the most primitive form of using the opportunity. And I ponder intensely on my own strategy. What do I expect to win? What improvements the pandemic will bring to me? Make me free from that unsupportable burden of my old country? Cut my anchors? Help me to settle? To redesign my priorities? To reschedule my future?
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.