Boccaccio wrote The Decameron ten years after watching Italy lose thousands of lives, including those of his own father and stepmother, to the Black Plague. The premise behind his story collection is that a group of seven women and three men are in seclusion in the countryside to escape the Plague. Each day, different members of the group tell stories on a certain theme to the others.
Centuries passed before Henry Miller wrote about a young newly-rich American girl named Daisy Miller who died of Roman fever because she arrogantly refused to take the advice of the natives of the European country she was touring, and went out at night when the fever was believed to be most likely to find its victims.
Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, like Garcia-Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, is also set during an epidemic. In the case of Mann’s Aschehbach, an aging writer, it is the love of beauty that makes him stay in Venice after he has learned that cholera is there.
One of my favorite stories to teach is Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” in which Prince Prospero surrounds himself with wealthy friends and takes shelter inside a castellated abbey to protect himself and his supporters from the Red Death that is devastating his country. Guess what, though.
All of this is to say that even folks like me who always prepare for the worst can see a silver lining inside most every dark cloud: art.
Our country and most of the world are enveloped right now in Uncertainty. Some of us are being calmly cautious and grateful for the work that Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization are doing on our behalf, for those in the medical field who are on the “front lines,” and for the media who work tirelessly to keep us informed on measures we need to take for our own protection and the protection of others. A few folks are hysterical, and yet others are denying the obvious. But this much is for sure: if we survive, there will be great art to follow.
Stay safe. Stay well. Consider others.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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