BlogVIRUS 2020

27 April VIRUS 2020

27 April, VIRUS 2020

Day 34 of coronavirus lockdown: Ground report from Indian cites:

The Tamil Nadu government on Sunday issued an ordinance that that seeks to sentence people to three years in prison for disrupting or preventing the burial of patients who die due to notified diseases.

Vadodara man breaks wife’s spine after she defeats him in online ludo.

Lucknow: Iftar parties for ‘rozedars’ in the city of Nawabs no longer conjure up the image of mouth-watering galouti kebabs with the aroma of lip-smacking biryani wafting all over. Times of India.

Three Dreams last night/this morning

A woman wrapped in a dusty red-brown sari was squatting at the end of a line of people, leaning against a huge empty concrete trough waiting in some shade as people do there,. She stood up with difficulty, a tall, willowy women, and my (unknown) companion whispered to me, she has just given birth to a still born. What tough lives these people live, I thought. I was back in India after forty years.

I had a drone shot of two-story wooden houses in a tight grid. There were a few kids on top of two of them playing, not worried as flames started licking up into the roofs of straw. [I had watched ‘Deadwater fell’ last night about a house fire in Scotland with three children dead inside]. I was slightly worried, but thought they could jump.

I was having lunch in a busy restaurant. A waiter showed me to an empty seat, I didn’t seem to know anyone. The food and drinks revolved on a large metal disc. You had to reach up and grab what you wanted. It seemed to be some novelty advancement on the sushi train (which I still want to try). I was thirsty and saw a couple of small bottles of orange juice, I reached up, but the platter stated revolving faster and faster, food and bottles began crashing into each other. I gave up, needed to go to the loo, found it, but coming out took a wrong turn ended up on the street, deserted. The city was in lockdown, I had a feeling I was back in Bangkok. I looked up at the buildings, large ones not that old, but already faded and closed. A large store with an interesting zig-zag facade and name in huge letters, something like Zumbay or Zumban, looked like it had also closed its doors long ago. I was lost, not sure where the restaurant was, but eventually found it again. By now there was no food to be seen and no customers. I had paid for my meal so went through the swing doors into the kitchen. An elderly gentleman approached me, he looked Afghan. I demanded (politely but firmly) some food as I had paid. He smiled and said in broken English, please wait I will get the manager.


India has not recovered from the riots that raged through Delhi in March even as Trump was there on an official visit. Divisions in the community have widened, reflecting a nationwide trend as tensions over the Hindu nationalist agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi boil over. ‘This is the new normal for us. Careers, jobs and business are no more a priority for us. Our priority now is to be safe and to protect our lives.’ A Muslim research assistant with a think tank in Delhi. [1]

Remember, Modi was chief minister of Gujarat in 2002 when rioting broke out following a catastrophic train fire. Modi did little to stop the violence that lasted months. Around 2,000 people died, nearly all Muslim and many thousands were displaced. The day I arrived in the capital Ahmedabad in 1980, there was a weird atmosphere. I was told there had been a riot earlier that day after bank workers went on strike, some were shot dead by police.


Cloudy dawn, breakfast on deck, spinebills flitting past. I attack the dodder, a Sisyphean task. No sign of either Frogmouth, but a small bird circuits the Honey Grevillea at speed, not a Spinebill. Through the glasses we see it’s a Brown Honeyeater, the first one we have seen in the garden.

The Plague

Algeria has banned all types of gatherings of more than two persons, including the weekly “hirak” demonstration that have taken place for the last 12 months. All houses of worship are closed, including for Friday prayers. Algeria has imposed a 5 pm to 7 am curfew in Algiers, Oran, Bejaia, Setif, Tizi Ouzou, Tipaza, Tlemcen, Ain Defla,and Medea. [2]

Camus was born and lived most of his life in Algeria. He loved its heat and looseness, just what I loved about Australia when I first lived here, for a year in 1980 (now a very different country). He resisted the Nazis and helped liberate Paris, yet would not support Algerian independence.[3]

He started work on the novel in Oran, the setting for The Plague, a large Algerian coastal city he found provincial and boring. His TB flared up and his doctor stopped him swimming a favourite pastime. I have friends in Sydney frustrated the beaches are closed and they cannot swim. He was stuck doing nothing in stifling heat. Then while recovering in central France, the Nazis took over southern France and Camus was separated from his wife and mother in Algeria. In the novel he writes ‘being separated from a loved one . . . the greatest agony of that long period of exile.’[4] I speak to my mother in the UK most days but she is in lockdown and feeling very lonely, especially knowing that my flight has been cancelled.

In the novel, the city is under lockdown for almost a year, with hundred dying daily at the peak. The novel resists simple dichotomies, right/wrong, guilt / innocence, and Camus shows a variety of responses, including a Catholic priest preaching in the cathedral that the plague was god’s punishment for depravity. Let’s remember this stupid, superstitious cause-and-effect thinking is always current. Israel Folau, a footballer, in a small fundamental sect said a few months ago. ‘Look how rapid these bushfires, these droughts, have come in a short period of time. Do you think it’s a coincidence or not? God is speaking to you guys.’[5] Having previously quoted 1 Corinthians 6:9-10: ‘WARNING Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolators HELL AWAITS YOU. REPENT! ONLY JESUS SAVES.’[6]

Camus wrote, ‘The city was inhabited by people asleep on their feet.’ During the plague there was death, anger, panic, generosity, and ‘gaunt, idle cranes on the wharves, tip-carts lying on their sides, neglected heaps of sacks and barrels — all testified that commerce, too, had died of plague.’ After the plague had passed, ‘they denied that we had been that benumbed people.’

‘As he listened to the cries of joy that rose above the town, Rieux recalled that this joy was always under threat. He knew that this happy crowd was unaware of something that one reads in books, which is that the plague bacillus never dies or vanishes entirely, that it remains dormant for dozens of years, that it waits patiently . . .’ He was a wise man, fought with Sartre over Marxism and was a humanist of the present who refused the term existentialist. He won the Nobel Prize, died youngish in a car accident.

Which takes me back to World War I. Bertrand Russell, a pacifist, released from prison a month earlier, was in Tottenham Court Road at 11 of the 11th when Armistice was announced: ‘Everybody in all the shops and offices had come into the street. They commandeered the buses, and made them go where they liked . . .  Late into the night I stayed alone in the streets, watching the temper of the crowd, as I had done in the August days four years before. The crowd was frivolous still, and had learned nothing during the period of horror, except to snatch at pleasure more recklessly than before. I felt strangely solitary amid the rejoicings, like a ghost dropped by accident from some other planet.’ [7]


It is almost impossible for asylum seekers held in detention to practise social distancing. For their protection, and that of the wider community, the government must take action now. The Conversation


Finally I get to speak to someone from Qantas and get a credit for my Sydney flights, now that I am not flying to London. It has taken days, the website doesn’t work. I gave up on the Eurostar site. How relative annoyances are: a lost password, lost keys, lost job, a single mum in lockdown with three kids, or dying of the virus.


So what is my responsibility as a writer and artist? I ring friends who live alone to check how they are, and work on this journal, a document of a particular time and a crisis that has not (yet) affected me directly. I am hoping that this cloud has a silver lining, that this detour from habitual daily life can lead some people to pay attention to what surrounds them, to what is important, and to engage with natural aesthetics which can be so rewarding.

Arnold Berleant champions natural aesthetics and is mentioned elsewhere. He has this to say on responsibility: ‘A typical instance of the failure to distinguish the morality of artists from the morality of individuals was made by a music critic in writing about Wagner. After describing the composer’s cruelty to his opponents, his misuse and betrayal of his friends, his tantrums, infidelities, dishonesty and insolent egotism, the writer proceeds to state that in the light of the quantity and stature of Wagner’s art, this does not matter in the least. ‘The miracle is that what he did in the little space of seventy years could have been done at all, even by a great genius. Is it any wonder that he had no time to be a man?’’[8]  Give me Satie over Wagner any day, I once sat through a dress rehearsal of Siegfried in the Sydney Opera House. As a guest of a violinist, I couldn’t leave but hated every minute.


The Marines landed at Danang under scattered Vietcong gunfire, no-one was injured – yet. Willard’s mission was to head inland up the Nung River. Kilgore agreed to help after learning from a Californian surfer that Charlie’s Point had a six foot peak with a great ride. At dawn a bugle sounds the cavalry charge, a helicopter air attack on an unsuspecting, seemingly innocent, seemingly peaceful Vietnamese river village.

We’ll come in low out of the rising sun, and about a mile out, we’ll put on the music. Yeah, use Wagner. Scares the hell out of the slopes. My boys love it.

The choppers (Philippine machines piloted by Vietnam Vets) fire rockets and Ride of the Valkyries blasts from loudspeakers. Uniformed schoolchildren attending school and other villagers run with chickens, while others grab their weapons. Kilgore offers a case of beer for a hit, and to make the surfing safer orders air strikes to napalm the tree-lined coast.

Bomb it to the Stone Age, son. . . . You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. [9]


I send off a poem for a nature and place competition in England. I am sure it won’t win. It’s too short for me (40 line) and mentions four Herman Hesse Books by name but only one Hornbill. And it has an epigraph, The beginning of knowledge is knowing the names of things. Old Chinese proverb. I occasionally enter competitions, much more as a stick to finish a poem than a carrot.


We watch Taskmaster and giggle a lot. Then, while writing this up, I listen to Liam Noble on BBC3, don’t know the name. It’s jazz but oddly sonically presented, damped down piano, with twangy electronic guitar then drums driving fast up to the front door. I think I like it. No I know I do, it features some of the experimentation of my favourite Australian jazz pianist, Barney McAll. Playing Steve Reich, couldn’t find the CD I really wanted to hear (Music for 18 Musicians). How do you know in advance what your mind-body needs to hear, and somehow know you will be definitely energised? There’s a clue here to the severe limits of conscious thought.

Reich makes sense: ‘Basically the Wagner orchestra, the eighteen firsts and sixteen seconds and so on, is still with us. It made perfectly good sense for Haydn to have what he had. It made perfectly good sense for Beethoven to have what he had. And it made perfectly good sense for Wagner to have what he had. But once the microphone was invented, there was a complete other possibility.’[10]


[1] ‘In Indian capital, riots deepen a Hindu-Muslim divide’, Reuters 16.3.2020.


[3] For a brief view of his position see, Peter Beaumont, ‘Albert Camus, the outsider, is still dividing opinion in Algeria 50 years after his death’, The Guardian, 28.2.2010.

[4] Tony Judt, On ‘The Plague’, New York Review of Books, 29.11.2001.

[5] I have a recording of Folau saying this in my Bushfire Journal Video


[7] Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, Routledge, 2009. p246.

[8] Arnold Berleant, Artists and Morality: Toward an Ethics of Art, Leonardo 10(3), October 1978. Quoting D. Taylor, Of Men and Music, Simon and Schuster, 1937, p81.

[9] Apocalypse Now, directed, produced and co-written with John Milius by Francis Ford Coppola, 1979.

[10] Steve Reich in Conversation with Richard Kessler,, 1.6.1998.

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