The Eye of the Fish

March 29, 2020

A letter from the future

The acclaimed Italian novelist Francesca Melandri, who has been under lockdown in Rome for almost three weeks due to the Covid-19 outbreak, has written a letter to fellow Europeans “from your future”, laying out the range of emotions people are likely to go through over the coming weeks.

I am writing to you from Italy, which means I am writing from your future. We are now where you will be in a few days. The epidemic’s charts show us all entwined in a parallel dance.

We are but a few steps ahead of you in the path of time, just like Wuhan was a few weeks ahead of us. We watch you as you behave just as we did. You hold the same arguments we did until a short time ago, between those who still say “it’s only a flu, why all the fuss?” and those who have already understood.

As we watch you from here, from your future, we know that many of you, as you were told to lock yourselves up into your homes, quoted Orwell, some even Hobbes. But soon you’ll be too busy for that.

First of all, you’ll eat. Not just because it will be one of the few last things that you can still do.

You’ll find dozens of social networking groups with tutorials on how to spend your free time in fruitful ways. You will join them all, then ignore them completely after a few days.

You’ll pull apocalyptic literature out of your bookshelves, but will soon find you don’t really feel like reading any of it.

You’ll eat again. You will not sleep well. You will ask yourselves what is happening to democracy.

You’ll have an unstoppable online social life – on Messenger, WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom…

You will miss your adult children like you never have before; the realisation that you have no idea when you will ever see them again will hit you like a punch in the chest.

Old resentments and falling-outs will seem irrelevant. You will call people you had sworn never to talk to ever again, so as to ask them: “How are you doing?” Many women will be beaten in their homes.

You will wonder what is happening to all those who can’t stay home because they don’t have one. You will feel vulnerable when going out shopping in the deserted streets, especially if you are a woman. You will ask yourselves if this is how societies collapse. Does it really happen so fast? You’ll block out these thoughts and when you get back home you’ll eat again.

You will put on weight. You’ll look for online fitness training.

You’ll laugh. You’ll laugh a lot. You’ll flaunt a gallows humour you never had before. Even people who’ve always taken everything dead seriously will contemplate the absurdity of life, of the universe and of it all.

You will make appointments in the supermarket queues with your friends and lovers, so as to briefly see them in person, all the while abiding by the social distancing rules.

You will count all the things you do not need.

The true nature of the people around you will be revealed with total clarity. You will have confirmations and surprises.

Literati who had been omnipresent in the news will disappear, their opinions suddenly irrelevant; some will take refuge in rationalisations which will be so totally lacking in empathy that people will stop listening to them. People whom you had overlooked, instead, will turn out to be reassuring, generous, reliable, pragmatic and clairvoyant.

Those who invite you to see all this mess as an opportunity for planetary renewal will help you to put things in a larger perspective. You will also find them terribly annoying: nice, the planet is breathing better because of the halved CO2 emissions, but how will you pay your bills next month?

You will not understand if witnessing the birth of a new world is more a grandiose or a miserable affair.

You will play music from your windows and lawns. When you saw us singing opera from our balconies, you thought “ah, those Italians”. But we know you will sing uplifting songs to each other too. And when you blast I Will Survive from your windows, we’ll watch you and nod just like the people of Wuhan, who sung from their windows in February, nodded while watching us.

Many of you will fall asleep vowing that the very first thing you’ll do as soon as lockdown is over is file for divorce.

Many children will be conceived.

Your children will be schooled online. They’ll be horrible nuisances; they’ll give you joy.

Elderly people will disobey you like rowdy teenagers: you’ll have to fight with them in order to forbid them from going out, to get infected and die.

You will try not to think about the lonely deaths inside the ICU.

You’ll want to cover with rose petals all medical workers’ steps.

You will be told that society is united in a communal effort, that you are all in the same boat. It will be true. This experience will change for good how you perceive yourself as an individual part of a larger whole.

Class, however, will make all the difference. Being locked up in a house with a pretty garden or in an overcrowded housing project will not be the same. Nor is being able to keep on working from home or seeing your job disappear. That boat in which you’ll be sailing in order to defeat the epidemic will not look the same to everyone nor is it actually the same for everyone: it never was.

At some point, you will realise it’s tough. You will be afraid. You will share your fear with your dear ones, or you will keep it to yourselves so as not to burden them with it too.

You will eat again.

We’re in Italy, and this is what we know about your future. But it’s just small-scale fortune-telling. We are very low-key seers.

If we turn our gaze to the more distant future, the future which is unknown both to you and to us too, we can only tell you this: when all of this is over, the world won’t be the same.

© Francesca Melandri 2020

Article from the Guardian – all rights to Francesca and the Guardian – and the brilliant illustrations are from the Observer, with Mr Chris Riddell. Beautiful and on point.

30 - 03 - 20

No comments from you lot to this (that’s ok, i won’t hold it against you) but I’ve been thinking over two things – a comment that “Andrew” made just a week or so ago, when he said that I was getting too excited and that in 5 years time this would have all washed over and we’d be back to normal…

…and the view of this excellent Riddell cartoon above (does that seem like Jacinda and Clarke above? And if so, who is looking after Neave?).

I mean – we’ve had a few days now working form home and it seems to be working well. OK – for architects it may be easier than some, as drawings are possible on a computer working from anywhere (almost) but is this going to be the case that truly takes us to the paperless office – or the deskless office – or even, the office-less office? Do you still think that nothing is going to change long term Andrew? I’ve already adjusted to not talking to anyone i meet on the street from a distance of less than 4 metres (just to be safe – we can just stand and yell at each other in a friendly manner). I’m quite happy not having to put shoes and socks on to get to work – in fact, even pants and shirts are getting to be a strain – I mean, why bother? In a bubble of One, who’s going to be objecting?

Seamonkey Madness
30 - 03 - 20

We’ve had The Naked Chef. Are you The Naked Architect? Surely you’d need a shirt of some sort for video calls? :D

30 - 03 - 20

funny you should say that…. i think there was an element of Jamie being “Naked” in the eyes of many middle-aged matrons, who just wanted to gather him up to their capacious bosoms and hug him because of hith lithp, but i’m not like that. Trust me: no one would want to see me naked. Luckily, no one ever will.

There’s lots of young groovy and photogenically enabled architects, of both male, female, and many shades in between, all of whom would be good naked.Possibly even you, Seamonkey… But again: probably its against the Ethics rulebook…

31 - 03 - 20

That’s all terribly fluffy but meanwhile there is homework to keep you on your toes

Now that is a seriously good list, I had to look up Swales

Re comments on this one, while all Ferrante-esque in it’s ethereal pulchritude, it seemed like more of a statement than a question, except for the closing cartoon, hence less comments?

What will change? This will be a clear win for telecommuting esp considering the climate change angle
Unfortunately Drump’s bungling of the US effort will be so politicised that the red party will not trust anyone but Fox to tell them that it was all too little too late
The Blue party will go all hand-wringing like they do and put forth an unelectable candidate because they are scared of Bernie so no change there
Brace yourselves for 4 more years of a spastic speed snorting human Twistie/Cheeto in the White House – it’s not the first time an idiot got two terms..

And us? Rattling around this unfashionably backward planet with all the stones and rocks and trees?
Firstly this lockdown will be longer than 4 weeks
It will be interpreted in a myriad of ways that suit the commenters – I personally found it mildly odd being instructed by roadway LED signs to “Stay Calm, Be Kind” – I mean, why start now?

People will break curfew and we will be under-tested

Further down the track hopefully we will work from home more, NZ tourism will be slower to rebound than other industries but the rest of the economy will snap back fairly quickly- I need to buy some clothes and lots of people want to spend their money as soon as they can
Tourism will be more in-country than international for a bit but mostly amongst the older crew, the millenials will be off again cos fuck it it’s not like they’ll ever get a house deposit together so yeah let’s go to Samarkand and Isfahan. y’know?

Also, in the future, someone will want to see you nekkid Levi – you’ve just gotta meet the right one

Chin up

60 MPa
31 - 03 - 20

Haha I know I’m drunk when I’m 6 rather than 60