Neither Daniel DeFoe or Albert Camus revealed their inner thoughts in Journal of the Plague Year or The Plague. How could they? The terrors of the outside world multiplied timelessly, infinitely their poor human notions. Ideas that were and are (in Hamlet’s words) “one part wisdom, three-quarters coward.”
Looking out my East Village window, the exterior looks desolate enough. Yet in the Era of Ubiquitous Media, the mind summons up fractious almost stupid images.
Just a week ago, Manhattan was edgily waiting for a Divine Sign. Instead we got the finales of Little House on the Prairie. All the lights on under the moonlight, Then one by one by one by one, the lights extinguished, First the libraries closed…then the museums. Then the great white lights of Broadway and Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall became dark. A few days ago, restaurants and bars. Shops closed on their own.
Churches could not preach. Schools could not teach.
On Saturday, we all got the directives from Governor Cuomo: only essential places could stay open. Nobody should walk (except for exercise). Nobody should ride the subway (except if essential). No plane trip (ditto, with no guarantee that you can return).
And then darkness. A few television lights, a few lone cars. No Divine Sign, simply an emptiness. A Rothko painting, a few bands of color.
Back to the media. What we see today is nothing less than the set for High Noon or Gunfight At The OK Corral, or any of a dozen cowboy-moves. A whole town has been constructed for those far-seeing gold-seeking adventurers. A saloon, a church, a general merchandise shop, the Sheriff’s office….or an Empire State Building, a World Trade Center, a Central Park, a 42nd Street area of theaters and concert halls.
Both are cleared now. Deserted or almost deserted. The saloon’s Chinese cook scurrying across the road carrying a careless chicken. The pizza-shop bicyclist delivering pasta to a lone family. Once skittering on a busy thoroughfare, avoiding horses, pedestrians, cars and buses. Now all alone. A lonely metropolis which possibly–just possibly–may teach strange lessons as our schools of life are opened,