Plague Diary: March

Ultimately, the sick getting shot for treason. Salvation must happen in the brief intervals, in the pauses. Instead of machines for speed, machines for salvation. But only slightly. Spain exceeds four thousand dead. And remain silent. They abdicate their previous language and start to speak another. Latin is an option. Understanding whether or not the limits of salvation have two names: too early and too late. Tavares, was originally published in Portuguese in the Expresso. The nurse brings the cell phone closer. Like a football trainer – but in the middle of a tragedy, not a game. A synthesis, reasons for leaving the house. I too am going out, reason 6. Zimbabwe goes into quarantine for three weeks. Surrounded by stretchers, sick people and doctors. Keeping their distance from the cars, the buildings. Any sick person becomes immediately a foreigner. Tavares
Translated by Daniel Hahn
A coronavirus diary from the Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Here are the tracks to get you dancing in the times of the epidemic.’
Yesterday Kenny Rogers died. A wrong engine. Pope Francis has met the President of Italy. We are missing, then, reason 7. The middle way, trying to touch nothing. She repeats: he’s breathing without the machine, he’s just got a mask on! Pope Francis tested negative for coronavirus. Almost a material of salvation. We’re right there all day long, a few metres away. Moscow closes restaurants, shops and parks. The clocks go forward this Sunday.’
The men on the street have dumbfounded eyes. She talks as if announcing to a father that his son has just been born. Bolsonaro says that churches like supermarkets should remain open. Elias Canetti: ‘everything I learn, I transform into fear’. Manu Chao: ‘I like marijuana, I like you.’
I spin on my heels to pretend I’m moving a lot. They must be repeated until they disappear into the air. And what used to be small marks become lines, stains. Her father is included in the number 4. It is a number 4 with several possibilities within it. Happy colours protected by the constitution. Six reasons: health (1), food (2), money (3), compassion (4), divorce and children in another house (5), attending a ceremony (5), walking the dog (6). A line of poetry from Drummond de Andrade:
‘the electricity struck the resigned things’. Deceiving the furniture, the door. I say the words out loud. Imagining a car engine by a sick man’s bedside. She puts on the Italian anthem. The criteria change, the law changes. ΠΑΤΕΡΑΣ is father in Greek. Languages are also positions of letters, drawings. We have two months to update what’s important. Salvation only exists as the effect of the perfect aim at time. ‘New York Stock Exchange climbs’. There are old men all over Europe being transported in military trucks. Being sick is a threat to the State. In Tel Aviv and Jerusalem the colours of the Italian flag appeared. As if time were an animal for hunting. The person who was filming, another sick man, ends the recording with the words, in a tired voice:
‘A lot of happiness for everyone.’
Somebody who is sick is talking about other people’s happiness. The twenty-first century split in two by a virus. She is always astonished. Leaving the house to escape from someone who is in the house. I write. She then received a text giving authorization. 4   Αθηνά   Σπύρη   Αλκμάνος   12   Αθήνα
The number 4, in this case, means her father. Learning to wait as if waiting were doing something. To go to the bank, for those for whom e-banking is not possible. I look around me, people are now resigned to things. 24 March
‘Feeling bored? That should be the warning. Yesterday Uderzo died of a cardiac arrest. Spain 498, France 365, Iran 157, Italy 712. All rights reserved by the author and translator, Daniel Hahn. That is the danger of a language we don’t understand. Italy is proud of you! We need to straighten out the bed, pretend we’ve gone somewhere very far during the day. And she repeats, smiling: ‘Can’t you see? She says: in Greece, ‘to go out, we need to send a text to 13033 with the purpose of our outing.’
Something like: ‘4 Athena Spyri address’
Athena Spyri is her name. The Greek language is lovely to look at. You’ve seen your son. Talking quickly as if you had only seconds before being struck dumb:
‘If you don’t need a doctor, and you aren’t hungry, if you have money and don’t have anyone dependent on you, if you haven’t been divorced and don’t have children someplace else, if there is no wedding or funeral that concerns you and if you don’t have a dog, why are you going out?’
There are also the postcards in which people tell their secrets, from Frank Warren:
‘Number of times I let him mistreat me, 3’
I imagine a woman making marks on the wall each time she is abused. She’s announcing to a son that his father is still alive. A doctor in overalls, inside the hospital, talks via a loudspeaker to lift her colleagues’ spirits. A speed that is not asked for. I open the online pages of newspapers that explain how to disinfect boots that go outside. There are cracks that are obvious and even beautiful in continuous catastrophe. You need to open the window from time to time because when the air stops it gets too heavy and solid. She explains the meaning of the numbers at the start. Benjamin talks about a necessary investigation. Ordering machines that don’t exist from factories that don’t yet exist. A new generation of humans. During the French revolution many people started to shoot at clocks. In the house next-door, Manu Chao: ‘I like planes, I like you.’
‘I like to travel, I like you.’
It’s possible for a head to be frightened, but not feet. To go to the chemist or the doctor. Image © Jorge Franganillo Angela Merkel goes into quarantine after coming into contact with a doctor who was infected. Fourth floor, room 429. A bullet perfectly aimed to stop time. The language of the healthy, the language of the sick. The virus storms into Mexico. There are some nurses who use this material. Obelix was insistent: the military uniform for him was to be medium-sized. Ford, instead of making cars, is making machines for emergency medicine. Sometimes beauty does the same as dust and doesn’t allow us to see. Sun outside. We need to get happiness infiltrating the cracks. And it’s there that salvation comes in. You’ve messed up the whole wall, he says. The twenty-sixth of March, ‘on the fourth floor, in room 429 of the Hospital del Mar’. In China the state monitors each citizen’s temperature. A shot to the back of a clock’s neck. A machine cannot give happiness. Happiness is not enough, but it is necessary. Hide them under the floorboards or otherwise repeat them till they disappear into the air. The Greeks are still teaching us. Hi!, I’m Susana, says the nurse happily to the son on the other side of the screen. They say that online ordering of beauty products has greatly increased. A Van Gogh painting has been stolen from a museum in Holland. How lovely, José, the nurse says. To buy absolutely essential goods, food etc., when home delivery is not possible. This text, by Gonçalo M. In the background, an insistent lemon tree, yellow, bitter fruits. Or perhaps it can, but not directly. The person who is filming all this is the sick man José’s roommate. Soldiers are disinfecting retirement homes. Repeating words out loud until they dissolve in the air, as if they had never existed. ‘Man executes rival with two gunshots on bar patio’. A woman of ninety-six has recovered and I’m sure she promised she is not going to die. Tavares, translated by Daniel Hahn. He looks like he’s praying, asking for pity and giving an order – all at the same time. Trump says Americans’ real drive just won’t allow them to stay home. I remember Asterix the legionary. Disney theme parks are going to be closed. He says the coffins are kept shut, no one’s going to see their hair all nicely combed. The generation of humans with dumbfounded eyes. It has two centuries, this century. Pretending we’re going out, opening and closing the door. ‘Hungary strengthens Prime Minister’s powers.’
‘Austria will compel citizens to wear masks to the supermarket.’
I still haven’t heard the new Dylan song. Hundreds of marks, like prisoners counting the days. The sick man raises his hand toward the picture of his son. To attend to people with specific needs. Also means: for divorced or separated parents to visit their children. In La Repubblica they’re saying that in Lombardy there are no longer any grandparents. A friend on the phone tells me: I need to shoot at someone. There are a lot of things you can investigate. ‘The Lord preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore.’
The Lord preserve your going out and your coming in. Salvation is what is in-between too early and too late. There’s news that appears in my head. As if happiness were a kind of medical material.  
26 March
The Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow has been empty for several days. Plague Diary: March
Gonçalo M. Medium, going the middle way. Under restrictions, i.e.: in the vicinity of your home. Yellow should be protected. Humans astonished. ‘What the stars are telling us in the time of the pandemic’. Each number represents a reason to go out. If you are a healthy person you are of my nation; if you are sick you speak another language. A president of the Italian chamber puts his hands together to ask people not to leave their homes. I’m not the subject, says – from a hospital bed – the man who wishes happiness on others. It is always possible to improve slightly on the Greeks. A video. I don’t need this speed, says a sick man. I fall silent. There’s no need to say that things in Europe have changed. I tell her the story of the clocks. To attend a ceremony (funeral, wedding, baptism), always under restrictions. An Italian doctor says he can’t understand why hairdressers are going to ladies’ homes to do their hair. Jeri, the golden retriever, has melancholy eyes.  
30 March
A Greek friend sends me an email. We’ve already seen that the plague is not a crack, it is not something easily mended. But that’s not it.  
Published by arrangement with Literarische Agentur Mertin Witt. In Toronto the Italian flag’s colours appeared. Apparently some useless parties have been cancelled. And the marks at a certain point are in their thousands and they start to connect. I’m taking my bitch Roma to the vet’s. A machine whose function is to install into the crack of the illness a great or at least a minimal happiness. A shot in a clock’s face. 66 in Germany. She makes a video call, she picks up the cell phone, she points it toward the sick man’s face. Touching his son’s face on the screen is, nowadays, touching his son’s face. In the state of New York there are already a thousand dead. When the devil is distracted for a moment, there’s a crack. It is necessary, going back. All the photos of aroused bodies are old. Can’t you see?’
She wants to show that his father is not so sick, that he’s gotten better. In La Repubblica they’re saying that in Lombardy there are no longer any grandparents. Drones in Paris tell people to get back home. In the evening, Athena sends me a message:
I’m going out, reason 2. Almost touching the screen is almost touching the body. Hitting time like a moving target that has two outer limits: too early / too late. ‘He’s breathing well, that’s right, without the machine,’ she tells the bedridden sick man’s son. Roma, the Belgian shepherd, has dumbfounded eyes. ‘Maracanã will be converted into a hospital to take in sick people.’
USA 116, Germany 33, Portugal 17, United Kingdom 115. Somebody who is sick is able to change the subject. Putting on shoes in the morning to pretend you’re going to walk out somewhere. This:
is Athena. In the papers, the number of pages of advertisements for sexual encounters has been reduced. Happiness might save, might be a machine that allows somebody who is starting not to be able to breathe to breathe. For physical exercise in the open air or to walk a pet. As if repeated use were a way of destroying words and things. In the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall in Moscow they will surely have to shift the piano from off the stage. I imagine civil servants starting to shoot at public clocks. Shouts the doctor in her overalls and mask. ‘Don’t forget to reset your watches. This was it:
You can visit your father, reason 4 is authorized. In Rio de Janeiro, on Christ the Redeemer, the colours of the Italian flag appeared. More than thirty-seven degrees: a dangerous citizen. I read La Repubblica and I shudder. Spain. The people out on the street go the middle way. She seems to be saying to me: you’re a fool. Yesterday, my Greek friend sent this text to the Greek government:
4   Αθηνά   Σπύρη   Αλκμάνος   12   Αθήνα
The number 4 means that she’s going out to help somebody. Animals, bunkers and icebergs. I teach my bitch Roma to just stand there and look. Another 812 dead in Spain. Two incompatible worlds. A naïve door, it will believe anything. In Europe, people are leaving their language at the door, outside. I’m going with a dog and a few words. Betrayal has gone out of the language, and into biology. It’s violent, the way he says this. The police in Portugal broke up a mass with eleven people. I get up from my chair, I take a bath. Repeating words one-hundred times for them to disappear. One-hundred-fifty-seven dead in Iran. I imagine in some churches the recordings of the mass going back to Latin. A terrible phrase can be beautiful to look at. In the Hospital del Mar a nurse picks up her own cell phone and makes a call to a sick man’s son. We are all astonished. Bullets are not obsolete. Those are the words. Things have changed without seeking permission. His hand is a few centimetres from the screen. ‘Rio de Janeiro favelas lacking basic resources to face coronavirus’. We can scream too. I have a black jacket, zipped right up to the top, protecting my throat.  
28 March
‘Salvation holds onto the small crack in the continuous catastrophe,’ wrote Walter Benjamin. The bed doesn’t understand we’re deceiving it.