Humanity has a primordial fear of highly infectious diseases such as COVID-19. That is evident from mankind’s longstanding obsession with pandemics.
Scourges that threaten all of us such as Ebola and Spanish influenza — which broke my grandmother’s heart when it killed her son and my Uncle Gordon in 1919 — have been such a preoccupation of screenwriters and film directors that New York magazine’s Vulture section recently published a list of the 79 best pandemic movies. Near the top of the pandemic film table is Contagion, which begins ominously with a black screen and the sound of an unseen woman coughing.
Starring Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, Contagion’s plot is jarringly familiar. A highly infectious disease evolves among bats in China and is transmitted to pigs and then via crowded public markets to humans. In a jiffy, the virus is killing millions and creating social and political havoc around the world.
Is anyone surprised that Contagion, with its almost true-to-life plot, leapt from 279th place last year to become the second most-streamed film this year? If you are interested in watching it, the movie can be found on Amazon Prime.
One of the other most popular apocalyptic films about disease, death and disorder is Outbreak, which can be found on Netflix. The film stars Dustin Hoffman as the good-guy scientist trying to solve a medical emergency that has arisen. The heavy is New Brunswick’s Donald Sutherland as a sinister general who sees the virus’s potential as a bio-weapon.
Two of my personal pandemic film favourites are the ultra-dark British zombie epic 28 Days Later and the more hopeful Andromeda Strain, which dazzled me with special effects that were nifty at the time I first watched the film in 1971.
Another example of the genre and its abiding popularity as a subject that scares us out of our wits is The Walking Dead. A zombie epic, the television series about a group of survivors trying to avoid an infection that is never really explained has been so successful that it is in its 10th season on AMC and Netflix.
Coronavirus outbreak: Stars of ‘Contagion’ movie reunite to film PSAs on COVID-19
Quite a lot has been written lately about Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, which is a bleak factual chronicle of Britain’s hellish experience with the Great London Plague of 1665 and 1666, which killed about 100,000, or one-fifth, of that great city’s population. But I have always preferred the diarist Samuel Pepys’s far more earthy personal account of the bubonic plague, which was caused by bites from fleas who made their way around on the back of rats.
Though he was an official in the admiralty at the time of the Great London Plague and had access to all kinds of official information, Pepys was very much a man of the people. He was always out and about and knew many who died from the plague.
With one-third of the world under lockdown, Pepys’s observation — “how sad a sight it is to see the streets so empty of people” — is relevant to billions of people today.
So, too, is when the lord mayor “commands people to be within at nine at night” and that one of the Royal Navy’s warships, the Providence, has had a sailor die on board from the plague.
Much less accessible but equally morbidly fascinating is Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron. A series of novellas, it was written in the 14th century in the aftermath of another plague outbreak, transmitted by fleas through rats to humans, which killed more than half the people of Florence, Italy and one-third of the population of Europe.
I was put on to Boccaccio’s book about the Black Death by Ian Hope, a Canadian military historian who lives in Rome. I purchased my copy from Amazon, which was prescient enough to republish the book under its own name long before COVID-19 began festering in the Chinese city of Wuhan last November.
The Decameron is 313 pages of incredibly dense print. It follows a group of seven women and three men who flee Florence for a deserted country home and spend 10 days cut off from the world talking about life.
Much of the novel is a light amusement. A few parts make for very grim reading. One passage reads: people “dropped dead in open streets, both by day and by night, whilst a great many others, though dying in their own houses, drew their neighbours’ attention to the fact more by the smell of their rotting corpses.”
The gist of Boccaccio’s writing is that it is possible to survive a pandemic by practising social isolation among a community of amusing friends who talk far more about love affairs and the indiscretions and other shortcomings of the clergy, politicians and businessmen who populate the known world of London, Paris, Athens, Alexandria and Tuscany than they do about the plague that lurks over the horizon. For this reason, The Decameron is sometimes called The Human Comedy.
Books to read during self-isolation
All the books, movies and television series about pandemics are, at their core, about humanity’s will to survive. They impart fundamental truths about public health and human behaviour that should inform us today. For example, how being isolated for weeks or months can be a traumatic psychological experience and how critical it is to have a web of friends and family to nourish the brain.
This likely explains why Andrea Bocelli touched such a chord on Easter weekend with his solo performance of Ave Maria and other classical songs in Milan’s empty Duomo cathedral. The YouTube video of the 25-minute-long operatic concert has already been watched by 37 million people.
For the same reason, Capt. Tom Moore, a 99-year-old British Second World War veteran of the Burma campaign against Imperial Japan, has become a global internet sensation by doing 100 laps with a walker in the garden of his Bedfordshire home. The doughty nonagenarian has raised more than $33 million online to help the workers of the National Health Service fight the coronavirus.
There are dire warnings and uplifting messages about COVID-19 in all of these films, books and videos. The most important advice they offer is that by sticking together we can triumph over our primordial fear of pestilence.
Matthew Fisher is an international affairs columnist and foreign correspondent who has worked abroad for 35 years. You can follow him on Twitter at @mfisheroverseas.
A virtual Art in the Garden festival is happening on the North Shore this weekend – North Shore News
The North Shore’s annual Art in the Garden event is gearing up to go digital this weekend.
The event has been re-imagined as a livestreamed art and music demonstration this Saturday and Sunday evening, while encouraging community members to share pictures of their own green spaces online.
Last month, North Van Arts made the decision to suspend the 21st annual Art in the Garden festival due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of practising physical distancing during an event which melds visual arts with some of the North Shore’s most extraordinary gardens.
The decision was made to offer an online version of Art in the Garden in order to keep the spirt of the long-running festival intact, according to Nancy Cottingham Powell, executive director of North Van Arts.
“Art in the Garden is the longest running North Shore garden tour and we didn’t want to just cancel this event that inspires gardeners, artists and nature lovers,” stated Powell, in a press release.
As part of its new online event, for the month of May the arts and culture organization reached out to visual artists and musicians who had participated in past festivals and asked them to create short videos outlining their work, inspiration and methodology.
The six artist videos were released weekly on North Van Arts’ social media channels and website.
This weekend, local painters Nicola Morgan and Pierre Leichner are set to take over the organization’s Instagram account as they livestream the creation of original artwork over live music performed by North Shore musicians Ava Maria Safai and Paul Silveria.
Viewers can tune in on May 30 and 31 at 7 p.m. each night.
North Van Arts is also encouraging people on the North Shore to comment and share pictures of their gardens and green spaces this weekend, as well as their own nature-inspired art, by using the hashtag #ArtintheGarden.
“These extraordinary times have forced us to look at how we connect with our community. Art in the Garden Online is an opportunity for us to support our members and local artists in a unique way,” stated Powell.
Art from isolation: the fourth instalment of with.draw.all – St. Albert TODAY
ACA going forward with 11th annual Antigonight Art After Dark Festival – TheChronicleHerald.ca
ANTIGONISH, N.S. —
Antigonish Culture Alive has announced that the Antigonight Art After Dark will be returning for its 11th year.
Antigonight attracts big crowds. In the last two years 3000 people spent their evenings exploring the 20-30 projects in Chisholm Park, the People’s Place Public Library or hidden away in the normally overlooked nooks and crannies of Main Street.
The festival will take place in over the course of 12 days in the beginning of September, and while the COVID-19 pandemic will force some changes, event organizers say they’re excited to see how artists adapt.
“We’re not going to be bringing together large groups or setting up in the lib,” said ACA chair, Sarah O’Toole. “This could open us up to new possibilities, installations in rural parts of the county, tuning into an exhibit over the radio, there are ways where people can contribute and take part even though we can’t be together.”
Artists are invited to propose “unconventional ways” to showcase their work and connect with the public, while following NS Department of Health directives, and O’Toole said that they are encouraging artists to collaborate on projects.
What that looks like is going to be up to the artist, and ACA is currently accepting submissions until June 26.
“We invite artists, collectives and community organizations to submit project ideas that celebrate and consider all the ways that we can encounter art and be connected even if we cannot gather,” said ACA in a news release.
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