The Corona Diaries: Coming up for air

This is Matt again, so don’t expect the artsy playing with structure you get from Mege. Things here have been looking up for a week or two now, pandemic-wise. The numbers are great, almost disconcertingly so; listening to This American Life or Radiolab podcast episodes describing the situation in New York, for instance, feels like listening in on a parallel universe where COVID-19 struck fast and struck hard, while here, in Switzerland? Well, since we’re all about damn fine cups of culture, let’s put it in cultural terms: I’ll be able to go to the cinema on 6 June.

Right now, that sounds unreal and not a little stressful. Yes, the numbers of infections have gone down a lot here, but the words “exponential curve” were uttered often enough this spring that they’ll be ping-ponging around inside my skull for another couple of months at least. We have left the house for occasional strolls (which our government never advised against, except for those in the high-risk groups), but sitting in a room for two hours with a bunch of strangers that may or may not be the monkey from Outbreak is another thing altogether. Do I want to risk infection, and for Jean-Luc Godard at that? Looked at another way, though, I’ve had my issues with every single Godard film I’ve watched, so perhaps I need to be in the dark, without a remote control, knowing that if I walk out the film geek community will never let me live it down. Perhaps this is how I finally catch the Godard virus.

Even with cinemas reopening around here, things won’t feel normal for a while yet. Our brains have been rewired (as have the bodies of some of us, and the wiring is freakishly heavy…). We watched the original Nosferatu last night, and when the plague comes to Wisborg and people are told to stay indoors for their own safety, it’s difficult not to feel that in spite of the stylised silent-movie acting, there’s something ominously timeless about all of this. When will it stop feeling strange seeing people in films and TV series shake hands when they meet? When will we stop exchanging knowing glances whenever someone coughs in a movie? (Then again, people in movies never cough without a plot-related reason anyway, just like women in TV series never throw up just because they caught a stomach bug or had too much to drink the night before. Very rarely is a cough just a cough.)

But, however odd it feels, we can go back to the cinema, and we still have jobs that allow us to go to the cinema without figuring out what we’ll go without so that we can afford it. For now, it looks like we were lucky, and whatever happens next, it is quite likely that compared with some other countries we will have been the lucky ones whenever this viral haunting is a thing of the past: lucky compared to Northern Italy and the UK and New York and Brazil. Feeling a bit odd about going to the cinema – and indeed watching a Godard movie when you’re not exactly a fan – seems like a small price to pay for being that lucky.

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