In this season of infection, the stock market little more than a twitching corpse, in an atmosphere of alarm and despondency, I am reminded of the enlightenments of the strict curfew Uganda endured in 1966. It was, for all its miseries, an episode of life lessons, as well as monotonous moralizing (because most crises enliven bores and provoke sententiousness). I would not have missed it for anything.
That curfew evoked — like today — the world turned upside-down. This peculiarity that we are now experiencing, the nearest thing to a world war, is the key theme in many of Shakespeare’s plays and Jacobean dramas, of old ballads, apocalyptic paintings and morality tales. It is the essence of tragedy and an occasion for license or retribution. As Hamlet says to his father’s ghost, “Time is out of joint.”
Nothing quite like this had ever been recorded. Superintendent Brown prepared a scholarly article, “Grief in the Chimpanzee.” Even long after the death of the female, Brown reported, the male “invariably slept on a cross-beam at the top of the cage, returning to inherited habit, and showing, probably, that the apprehension of unseen dangers has been heightened by his sense of loneliness.”
Loneliness is grief, distended. People are primates, and even more sociable than chimpanzees. We hunger for intimacy. We wither without it. And yet, long before the present pandemic, with its forced isolation and social distancing, humans had begun building their own monkey houses. Before modern times, very few human beings lived alone. Slowly, beginning not much more than a century ago, that changed. In the United States, more than one in four people now lives alone; in some parts of the country, especially big cities, that percentage is much higher. You can live alone without being lonely, and you can be lonely without living alone, but the two are closely tied together, which makes lockdowns, sheltering in place, that much harder to bear. Loneliness, it seems unnecessary to say, is terrible for your health. In 2017 and 2018, the former U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy declared an “epidemic of loneliness,” and the U.K. appointed a Minister of Loneliness. To diagnose this condition, doctors at U.C.L.A. devised a Loneliness Scale. Do you often, sometimes, rarely, or never feel these ways?
My dream in taking up Latin was to achieve an easy mastery of the language. I imagined myself picking up a Latin version of, say, Tacitus, whose Latin is notably difficult, and casually reading two or three paragraphs in the washroom. I can perhaps now do that, but the effort would be far from casual and is likely to have me in the House of Commons, as Dylan Thomas called the washroom, for more than three hours. I cannot yet say that I can really read Latin, but merely that I can, given time and with the help of my iPhone Latin app, figure it out.
Will I, in the unknown amount time left to me on the planet, ever master Latin? Perhaps strangely, I find I do not much care. I simply enjoy working—or is it playing?—with the language, testing my memory, puzzling out complex sentences, marveling at its orderly richness. The idea of a good time for many people my age is to do crossword puzzles, play bridge or Scrabble, hit golf balls. I prefer to wrestle with this long dead but still magnificent language. Like the man said, De gustibus non est disputandum.
The on-air patter was hardly what you would expect from a radio D.J. addressing his listeners during a pandemic last week. But Ken Freedman, the station manager and program director at Jersey City’s WFMU 91.1 and 91.9 FM — broadcasting to the greater New York City area, “Your station from the epicenter!” — sounded practically chipper.
Like the rest of the country’s noncommercial, community radio programmers, Freedman has been forced into hastily improvising a response to the growing spread of Covid-19. Staffed largely by volunteer D.J.s taking time away from paying jobs as teachers, bartenders and everything in between, these scrappy local stations have had little in the way of either precedent or outside resources to fall back on. Operating independently of both National Public Radio’s networked affiliates, as well as the rigidly formatted music stations owned by corporate chains like iHeartMedia, they’ve been left to figure out the changed media landscape for themselves. Some have adopted a “keep calm and carry on” philosophy. Others have taken a decidedly different tack.
Before the coronavirus made delivery a necessity, restaurants across the country — from mom-and-pops to major chains like McDonald’s — were slowly beginning to reinvent themselves as logistics operations, using software to track orders on different delivery platforms or experimenting with containers and menu items designed to travel.
Now, what began as a steady evolution is taking place at warp speed, as even chefs and owners who had long resisted delivery, like Mr. Steele, adapt to the pandemic.
Sure to be the boldest debut of the year, How Much of These Hills Is Gold by American writer C Pam Zhang grapples with the legend of the wild west and mines brilliant new gems from a well-worn setting. Its protagonists are neither cocky white cowboys nor Native Americans but two destitute children of Chinese descent, struggling to survive after the deaths of their impoverished parents. The novel begins as a quest as they try to find the means to bury their father, but extends into an excavation of their family history as well as an account of their development as growing adolescents.
There once was a time when places had no names. A time when no separation existed between our forebears and the trees and rivers and mountains that surrounded them. Those first humans to walk the earth felt the presence of things unseen, heard the whispers of spirits and feared nothing, for they knew life and death were intertwined and the dead were a part of them — their past, present and future.
The characters in Kawai Strong Washburn’s singular debut novel, “Sharks in the Time of Saviors,” live in a place with a name: Hawaii. But Washburn has no interest in the Hawaii of resorts and honeymoons, thank goodness. His characters live in a modern yet mystical version of the archipelago, one whose essence no conqueror can ever fully eradicate.
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass…
These words of Keats – the animal moving
through the vowels,
the consonants that stand
as frosted blades, or emptied trees