Down through Bellevue, past the grayhound stadium, down through Gorton, on and on to Debdale reservoir, developed to provide water to Victorian Manchester. It was much bigger and grander than expected, and just as unexpected, contained donkeys. Then back through Gorton and very happily stumbling across the Gorton Heritage Trail — one to return to. It traces the history of the Gore Brook Valley and this piece of Gorton that still feels like a village. We walked past the Vale Cottage pub, along some lovely old houses, through woods. A pretty walk, a welcome escape from the rest of the city, just that little bit too far to return to with ease but maybe when the pub opens once again. A far, fair future.
I think few people understand the psychosis of developers and suburbs like Charles Willeford (1919-1988). He could have invented The Big Short, I’m sorry he didn’t. This does have some brilliant passages that resonate eerily with the 2008 crisis. The more things change the more they stay the same, or some other appropriate cliche.
There were thirty four-story condominium apartment buildings in the complex that made up Kendall Pines Terrace, but only six of the buildings had been completed and occupied. The other buildings were unpainted, windowless, concrete shells. Construction had been suspended for more than a year. Almost all of the apartments in the occupied buildings were empty. For the most part, their owners had purchased them at pre-construction prices during the real estate boom in 1979. But now, in fall 1982, construction prices had risen, and very few people could qualify for loans at 17 percent interest.
“There’s been some vandalism out here,” Susan said, when she parked in her numbered space in the vast and almost empty parking lot. “So they built a cyclone fence and hired a Cuban to drive around at night in a Jeep. That’s stopped it. But some-times, late at night, it’s a little scary out here.”
There was a tropical courtyard in the hollow square of Building Six—East. Broad-leaved plants had been packed in thickly around the five-globed light in the center of the patio. and cedar bark had been scattered generously around the plants. There was a pleasant tingle of cedar and night-blooming jasmine in the air.
Susan … pointed toward the dark Everglades.
“In the daytime you can see them, but not now. For the next four miles or so, those are all tomato and cucumber fields. Then you get to Krome Avenue, and beyond that it’s the East Everglades–nothing but water and alligators. It gets too drowned with water to build on the other side of Krome, and Kendall pines Terrace is the last complex in Kendall. Eventually, the rest of those fields will all be condos, because Kendall is the chicest neighborhood in Miami. But they won’t be able to build anymore in the ‘Glades unless they drain them.”
“This apartment looks expensive.”
“It is, for the girl that owns it. She put every cent she had into it, and then found out she couldn’t afford to live here. She’s just a legal secretary, so she had to rent it out, furniture and all…” (52-53
Perhaps even more interesting, thinking Miami in terms of escaping cops…
If a man had to escape from the cops, he could only drive north or south. Only two roads crossed the Ever-, glades to Naples, and both of these could be blocked. If a man drove south he would be caught, eventually, in Key West, and the cops could easily bottle up a man on the highways if he headed north, especially if he tried to take the Sunshine Parkway.
The only way to escape from anyone, in case he had to, would be to have three or four hidey-holes. One downtown, one in North Miami, and perhaps a place over in Miami Beach. There would be no other safe method to get away except by going to ground until whatever it was that he’d have done was more or less forgotten about. Then, when the search was over, he could drive or take a cab to the airport and get a ticket to anywhere he wanted to go. (67)
Willeford, Charles (1984) Miami Blues. London: Futura Publications.
I didn’t read the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili properly, eyes drooping amidst its turgid misogyny and lengthy OCD descriptions of classical architecture, sculpture and tits…I realised I had many better things to do. But I skimmed along, I liked the pictures (lol). Glasgow University Library has a great blog on it, they liked the pictures too:
Arguably the most beautiful book of the Venetian Renaissance… Published in 1499 by the renowned printer Aldus Manutius, this magnificently crafted volume is illustrated with 172 woodcuts by an unknown artist.
So…beautiful to look at, but some choice quotes of the reactions of others Glasgow University collected:
The overall literary merit of this work is debatable, and some critics have dismissed it as unreadable. Certainly it is written in an odd hybrid of Latin vocabulary imposed upon Italian syntax; this idiosyncratic language would probably have been as difficult for sixteenth century readers as it is today.
That’s actually pretty cool, if only the content merited it.
Liane Lefaivre, for instance, suggests that it is in many ways a nondescript example of ‘a highly stylized genre’. Professor Weiss, meanwhile, declared it to be ‘a serious runner up for the title of most boring work in Italian literature’.
IT IS SO BORING. But laid out rather beautifully as they say (on the right is an absurd statue that gets like two pages of absurdly erotic description — the priapic satyr? Yikes):
But I pulled out a few bits that weren’t totally boring, it does have lots to interest the gardener or aficionado of medieval clothing. I’d bought it on a whim from a used bookstore years ago, and thought after reading the Decameron (1353) I’d give it a go in this great time of lockdown.
It totally justifies some of Boccaccio’s ill will towards the Venetians.
Like Boccaccio too, it is obsessed with the ancients in all things, looking backwards always for inspiration. But being of its time, there are some choice passages on the plague, near the very end. The first book is Poliphilo wandering in a strange (yet strangely familiar) land. I liked the tiny second book stuck at the end which actually gives the history of Polia and Poliphilo the best to be honest.
These are the words of Polia, the object of the protagonist’s desire (it’s all in the name to be sure).
Very soon after this there occurred a great carnage affecting people of every age and condition. They were infected through the corrupted air by a contagious and deadly plague, and a great multitude died. Dreadful terror and alarm spread over the sickly earth, and people were struck by mortal fear. Everyone sought safety outside the city and took flight to the suburbs and country regions. Such a dreadful mass of people was exterminated that it was suspected that the fetid south wind had brought the plague from humid Egypt, where at the flooding of the turbid Nile the fields are strewn with a multitude of dead animals that putrefy and stink, and that these had infected the air. …
Ah Europeans, always blaming plagues on the dark continents and the whims of nature rather than commerce. She continues:
Due to my own frail and malignant fate, I found myself afflicted by a tumour in the groin. I besought the highest gods, on the chance that they would grant me recovery, while the spreading infection of the plague in my groin gravely weakened me. Because of this everyone deserted me, and I was left behind, except by my nurse, the kindest and best of women, who stayed to care for me and to witness my last breath and the departure of my spirit. Afflicted by the grave malady, raving and wandering, I uttered incoherent words and many a groan and lamentation. But turning inwards I did the best I could, and sincerely invoked the help of divine Diana, because I had as yet no notion of other gods and no religion but of this goddess. So I uttered many a single minded prayer in my trembling voice, and vowed myself to her cold and sacred chastity, promising in my tormented state that I would be her devotee and ever serve her religiously in her sacred temples, in strict continence, if only she would save me from this deadly contagion and sickness. (378-88)
Seems fair enough that after that she would then reject the advances of Poliphilo — also against him is the fact that he is possibly the most annoying, boring man alive, as his lengthy writing style proves beyond doubt. Sadly, he wrote the book, chose the ending, and this is clearly male wish fulfillment at its finest:
Then the fearless nymph turned to me, with her placid and charming presence showing every sign of kindness, and with a sigh uttered hotly from the bottom of her inflamed heart she spoke thus: ‘Dearest and best beloved Poliphilo, your ardent and excessive desire and your constant and persistent love have altogether stolen me away from the college of chastity, and forced me to extinguish my torch….it has cost me no small fire to keep it hidden and concealed in me, and so long suppressed. … A love so worthy should not be left unrequited and denied equal reciprocation and recompense; and consequently I am all prepared for your inflamed desires.
You may throw up just a little in your mouth here and yet it goes on
Look: I feel the fire of fervent love spreading and tingling throughout my whole being. Here I am, the end of your bitter and frequent sighs. Here I am, dearest Poliphilo, the healing and instant remedy of your grave and vexing pains. Here I am, a ready consort for your amorous and bitter suffering and a sharer in everything. Here I am with my profuse tears to quench your burning heart, and to die for you promptly and most devotedly.
And as proof of it, take this!’ She hugged me close and gave me, mouth to mouth, a luscious biting kiss full of divine sweetness, and also a few pearls in the form of tearlets, wrung by singular sweetness from her starry eyes. Inflamed from head to foot by her charming speech and by the mouth-watering and delicious savour, I dissolved in sweet and amorous tears and lost myself completely. Likewise the sacrificial President and all the others, moved with sudden emotion, could not contain their tears and sweet sighs (216-17).
Tearlets? Vomitous. At least she did try to get rid of him. I quite liked this illustration:
She’s refused him, he collapses, she drags him off to a dark corner of Diana’s Temple where he lies dead for a few days. This could have been an awesome feminist murder mystery, an early example of medieval noir.
But no. She had to change her tune, go back for him, bring him to life (of a kind) with her tears and kisses, and become a sacrificial sex doll of a woman.
That’s what counts for a plot.
There are also numerous monsters, this could have been a great medieval bestiary. I liked these drawings too:
But the skinks are too small, unicorns pull carriages and are consumed for dinner, and there is no mayhem whatsoever.
Instead this is mostly an ‘erotic’ yet somehow still boring tale of architecture, sculpture, gardens — and I love all three of these things and yet, god its boring. The illustrations are far and away the best thing about it. Here is one of the less boring descriptions of columns:
The reason that flutings were used for the temple of a goddess is that they represented the folds of feminine garments, while the capitals placed upon them with their hanging volutes indicated the braided hair of women and their ornaments. The Caryatids, which have a female head for the capital, were made for the temple of a rebellious people after their subjugation, because of their feminine inconstancy, whose perpetual memory was signified by columns thus constructed (49)
Thanks a lot.
I did like the sense of what the greatest possible imaginable luxury was of this time though, as well as menus for fine dining:
All the utensils or instruments at this supreme and splendid table were of fine gold, as was the round table in front of the Queen. Now a cordial confection was presented, which I think I am right in saying was a healthy compound made mostly of powdered unicorn’s horn, the two kinds of sandalwood, ground pearls in brandy set alight so as to dissolve them completely, manna, pine-nuts, rosewater, musk and powdered gold: a very precious mixture, weighed and pressed out in morsels with fine sugar and starch. We were given two servings of this, at a moderate interval and without drinking in between. It is a food for preventing every harmful fever and for dispelling all sorrowful fatigue.
After this, everything was taken away in an instant: the fragrant violets were scattered on the ground and the table was stripped. No sooner was this done than the table was covered once more with a sea-coloured cloth, and all the servants were wearing the same. Then, as before, they covered it with fragrant flowers of citrine, orange and lemon, and then presented in vases of beryl (and the Queen’s table was of the same stone, except for the forks, which were of gold) five cakes or fritters made from saffron-coloured dough with hot rosewater and sugar, cooled and finely sprinkled with the same musk-flavoured water and with powdered sugar. (108)
That is quite a meal, though it’s health-giving benefits seem debatable.
I did love the illustrations of classical ruins:
Indeed, the classical motif runs throughout stretching back to Egypt — there are any number of obelisks in here. That was curious.
These ‘hieroglyphics’ are awesome too, a medieval reimagining of the scripts of earlier time.
I also greatly loved these views into homes — bearing out just how different medieval homes were to ours, how much more bare with their furniture along the walls:
But with massive beds (also, love this perspective, and look at the ducks pulling the carriage! Awesome.):
And CATS. Or is that a dog?
And I did, of course I did, love the illustrations of gardens. It is splendid in illustrating medieval gardens.
Particularly this knotwork patterned garden with a list of what should be planted there: cyclamen, myrtle, mountain hulwort, wild thyme, laurentiana, tarragon, achillea, groundsel, idiosmo, terrambula, hazelwort, wild nard, golden-hair. I would like to make one.
I couldn’t recommend you read it, but a good skim through the pictures — excellent.
Colonna, Francesco (or maybe not) ( 2005) Hypnerotomachia Poliphili: The Strife of Love in a Dream, translated by Joscelyn Godwin. London: Thames & Hudson.
Lockdown is very busy. Work, so much work. I don’t even know how I am getting through it, I am so full of sadness and grief, the losses in my family seem to grow every day. I thought Boccacio deserved a little more attention. I find blogging so soothing somehow.
I’ll start with this awesome paragraph, though it comes at the end. Boccacio at his best.
I suppose it will also be said that some of the tales are too long, to which I can only reply that if you have better things to do, it would be foolish to read these tales, even if they were short. Although much time has elapsed from the day I started to write until this moment, in which I am nearing the end of my labours, it has not escaped by memory that I offered these exertions of mine to ladies with time on their hands, not to any others; and for those who read in order to pass the time, nothing can be too long if it serves the purpose for which it is intended (801).
Take that ladies. I think I’m going to use this as the epigraph to my next novel.
So you are probably aware of the set up, the plague has transformed Florence. Pampinea urges her six lovely companions met by chance in a church to flee Florence, go to an estate in the country she knows where they will be safe. They are discussing amongst themselves how this is to be done when Filomena starts in.
Pampinea’s arguments, ladies, are most convincing, but we should not follow her advice as hastily as you appear to wish. You must remember that we are all women, and every one of us is sufficiently adult to acknowledge that women, when left to themselves, are not the most rational of creatures, and that without the supervision of some man or other their capacity for getting things done is somewhat restricted. We are fickle, quarrelsome, suspicious, cowardly, and easily frightened; and hence I greatly fear that if we have none but ourselves to guide us, our little band will break up much more swiftly, and with far less credit to ourselves, than would otherwise be the case. We would be well advised to resolve this problem before we depart.’
Then Elissa said:
‘It is certainly true that man is the head of woman, and that without a man to guide us it rarely happens that any enterprise of ours is brought to a worthy conclusion. But where are we to find these men? As we all know, most of our own menfolk are dead, and those few that are still alive are fleeing in scattered little groups from that which we too are intent upon avoiding…’
You can see why I might be somewhat sceptical of claims that Boccaccio is some kind of proto-feminist (made by this translator G.H. McWilliam, with whom I disagree to no small degree, but more of that later).
Luckily three young men join them in the church, and make this country retreat possible. But only with the help of their three man-servants, of course. Three maids. Not everything has broken down you see. Some still while away the time in music, dancing, napping, telling stories while others do the dirty work — if only they had been able to tell a story or two. We only hear from them once, a fight on the 6th day between Licisca and Tidaro, where she argues that women are never virgins at marriage, as it is untrue that ‘young girls are foolish enough to squander their opportunities whilst they are waiting for their fathers and brothers to marry them off…‘ (445). Ladies, virginity is not all its cracked up to be according to Boccaccio, even though your father/husband/brother/man-you-despise-but-who-really-loves-you are all well within their rights to kill you dead for bestowing it where you please. Do not worry about that at all.
I still enjoyed this book. Let that be said.
It almost feels a guilty pleasure, though, but without quite enough pleasure for that. Along with more than a few good stories, Boccaccio provides a string of tales to prove that men’s love for women should always be rewarded, that rape ends happily and can be quite enjoyable, that to the victor belong the spoils. Yet he also celebrates generosity, loyalty (sometimes), wit, intelligence, quick thinking and sexual desire in women. It is what redeems some of this, but does this a proto feminist make? Unlikely methinks.
It is sobering, too, to reflect on what I would have made of a world where the clothes on your back, the wealth in your pocket, the horse beneath you and the food in your stomach were all predicated on pleasing a patron. Most sobering. At some point I would have said f*&^ off and had to go live in a hovel. If I didn’t start and end there that is.
But I shall leave aside such thoughts as they would have applied to men only anyway, as women could be whores or marry well and little in between. Married at 15, you had little chance to shape your life and even in a hovel it seems to me I would have spent much time over the age of 12 fending off attackers. Widows though…widows seemed to have it the best. I think I would have enjoyed being a widow if I’d had a little money scraped together. I think marrying an old rich man close to death seems to be absolutely the best you could possibly do.
Anyway. Ten days, ten stories a day. Most are themed. Each ends with a poem sung to the company — these did not touch me as the stories did, I felt all the great distance of time staring at these little caring for their overdone sentimentality.
There is running throughout a constant anti-clerical theme that can be enjoyed as misogyny cannot:
The story I propose to relate, concerning the manner in which a sanctimonious friar was well and truly hoodwinked by a pretty woman, should prove all the more agreeable to a lay audience inasmuch as the priesthood consists for the most part of extremely stupid men, inscrutable in their ways, who consider themselves in all respects more worthy and knowledgeable than other people, whereas they are decidedly inferior. They resemble pigs, in fact… (205)
hard on clergy really, with so many men having only slightly more options than women in this medieval set up. Had I been a man without the great career of widow to aim for, I should have had to be in the clergy — books, wine, housing, abstinence non-essential.
Of course, Boccaccio also saves much spleen for Venetians:
as a last resort he moved to Venice, where the scum of the earth can always find a welcome. (303)
Though Rome gets a bit of a mention as well:
Not long ago, in the city of Rome — which was once the head and is now the rump of the civilized world… (385)
One of the most infuriating stories is told by Filomena — she’s pretty awful. I’m going to ruin this story but it is well deserved. A man is in love with a woman. She refuses him. Perfectly reasonable. He travels to a remote bit of forest and sees the ghost of a beautiful and naked woman running through the briars, chased by mastiffs nipping at her heels and eventually catching her and ripping her flesh. The naked woman’s sin? Refusing to sleep with this knight who loved her, who chased her, who committed suicide when she refused him and then she gloated. And then she died. And so this is her punishment, to run naked through thorns, to be attacked by dogs, to have her heart cut out by this knight who loved her — loved her? — and then he throws it to his dogs. And then she is resurrected to do it all again. The same time every day. The first man after watching all this and hearing the story brings his own love and a crowd of others to a dinner on the very spot, she sees it all and can refuse him no more.
…from that day forth the ladies of Ravenna became much more tractable to men’s pleasures than they had ever been in the past. (425)
I know I’m not selling this well, but as a window to a world it is brilliant. The 10th story on the 5th day that laughs at a husband and wife falling in love with the same man and the three heading off into the sunset — this is borrowed from a Roman story to be sure, but still, quite a surprise!
There is also this spoken there, from an old woman acting as a go between for the wife and the young handsome thing she hopes to have an affair with:
‘You must help yourself to whatever you can grab in this world, especially if you’re a woman. It’s far more important for women than for men to make the most of their opportunities, because when we’re old, as you can see for yourself, neither our husbands nor any other man can bear the sight of us, and they bundle us off into the kitchen to tell stories to the cat, and count the pots and pans. And what’s worse, they make up rhymes about us, such as “when she’s twenty give her plenty. When she’s a gammer, give her the hammer,” and a lot of other sayings in the same strain (435).
There’s plenty of the belief that our physical appearance, and any delicacy, beauty, intelligence, wit, all come from noble blood (lol). I suppose the belief in a divine order that we are born into as God wills was really a thing.
Fair ladies [says Pampinea], I cannot myself decide whether Nature is more at fault in furnishing a noble spirit with an inferior body, or Fortune in allotting an inferior calling to a body endowed with a noble spirit, as happened in the case of Cisti, our fellow citizen…This Cisti was a man of exceedingly lofty spirit, and yet Fortune made him a baker. (448)
There are sentences you will almost never find in stories of today, but Cisti gets to be a hero. There are a few stories of commoners. I particularly like this sentence:
‘Go now, with my blessing, and come back soon. And if you should happen to meet Lapuccio or Naldino, don’t forget to ask them to bring me those leather thongs for my flails’ (556).
There is a horrible, terrible vengeful story — eighth day, seventh story, Pampinea. It’s hard to keep track of who tells what as you read, but going back over this Pampinea is possibly the most misogynist of the lot. This is certainly the worst story, where a scholar is humiliated by the woman he wants to make his mistress and so tricks her into almost dying atop a tower. According to notes, this is thought by many commentators to be in part a self portrait, and supported by his later work Corbaccio, described here as ‘possibly the most violent anti-feminist diatribe in medieval literature‘ (854). Yowza, I bet that takes some doing. Leaving that aside for a moment, however, there is this amazing quote that I would like to lift completely clear from this context if I may, and just enjoy on its own merit:
Ah, what a poor misguided wretch she must have been, dear ladies, to suppose that she could get the better of a scholar!’ (588)
You get the feeling not everyone likes Emilia. Lauretta tells her as she gives her the crown:
‘I know not, madam, whether you will make an agreeable queen, but we shall certainly have a fair one.’ (644)
This, this was a bit poignant.
They were all wreathed in fronds of oak, and their hands were full of fragrant herbs or flowers, so that if anyone had encountered them, he would only have been able to say: ‘Either these people will not be vanquished by death, or they will welcome it with joy’. (648)
This can most certainly be read for enjoyment, a little at a time. I did very much love the informative footnotes, with the occasional footnote quite a bit lol. Like this one:
Dioneo’s suggestion of the possible reason for the ladies’ reluctance to discuss the topic he has prescribed, anticipating Freud, reflects B.’s intuitive understanding of the human psyche. (845, note 1)
He’s referring to the topic of tricks women play on their husbands. Honestly, what?
The next one (p 846 note 1) is more interesting, about the Italian fantisima which he translates as werewolf, ‘described by B.’s contemporary, Jacopo Passavanti, as ‘an animal resembling a satyr, or cat monkey (CAT MONKEY!), which goes around at night causing distress to people‘. Sadly, so sadly, there is no real cat monkey (nor even werewolf) in this story.
The last little bit of trivia is that a chamber pot was ‘The distinctive sign for a doctor’s surgery, urine analysis being the most commonly used method of diagnosing ailments‘ (856).
Anyway, well worth a read, even in (or especially in) a time of pandemic.
Boccaccio, Giovanni ( 1995) The Decameron. 2nd edition translated G.H. McWilliam, London: Penguin.
Think of how the desert gets turned into metaphor in postmodern rhetoric where it functions as the place of origins, endings and hard truths: the place at the end of the world where all meanings and values blow away; the place without landmarks that can never be mapped; the place where nothing grows and nobody stays put. Radically different desert cultural traditions, precise indigenous knowledges about particular wilderness ecologies get subsumed beneath the definite article — the desert as globalized prediction of what, it’s being implied, is really waiting for us out there in the future (275).Hebdige, Dick (1993) ‘Training some thoughts on the future’ p 270-279 in Bird et al (eds) mapping the futures: local cultures, global change. London and New York: Routledge.
I think COVID-19 has made all of us realise just how deadly austerity is, but The Body Economic by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu should be required reading for its death-dealing potential outside of pandemic conditions.
Please, can we not go backwards after this.
I am often nervous about anything that draws parallels too strongly between society and body, policy and medicine. But I think they do it really well here.
Austerity is medicine intended to reduce symptoms of debts and deficits, and to cure recessions. It cuts governmnet spending on healthcare coverage, assistance to the unemployed and housing support. At the start of the trial, its potential side-effects were not well understood (ix).
There is a wealth of work on the social determinants of health such as Marmot‘s review — there is nothing so new here but yet it can’t be repeated enough it seems.
Good health doesn’t start in hospitals and clinics; it starts in our homes and our neighbourhoods, in the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the safety of our streets. Indeed, a top predictor of your life expectancy is your zip code. (xi)
They study the impact of the economy on health and find that it is not recession but austerity that impacts it most negatively. ‘Recessions can hurt,’ they write, ‘but austerity kills (xx)’. Even the IMF has recognized this, reversing previous policy, writing that ‘austerity slows down economies, worsens unemployment, and hampers investor confidence.’ Yet how little has changed.
This book consists of chapter after chapter of evidence pulled from around the world (I love this scope around the world…) where divergent paths can be seen and tested to some degree, starting with the Great Depression in the US. States implemented the New Deal very differently, states taking fullest advantage of government supports and providing social services showing mortality rates far below those states which did not. They move on the the post-communist mortality crisis–which I am humbled to say I had never heard of. The authors show that the huge rise in mortality in men — the awful, heartrending rise in mortality — took place wherever in the former Soviet Union they pushed Shock Therapy, ‘a radical package of market reforms’ designed to push the transition to capitalism as quickly as possible. Primarily Harvard economists were behind this: Andrei Shleifer, Stanley Fischer, Lawrence Summers and Jeffrey Sachs. Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan followed this advice. Stiglitz was on the other side of this argument, pushing for gradual reform, Belarus, Poland and the Czech Republic followed this path.
The austerity imposed through shock therapy did not just cause a spike in mortality, it also significantly slowed economic recovery — even by its own justification (if there could be such a thing causing so many deaths), it failed. Milton Friedman himself admitted Stiglitz was right.
Another chapter on East Asia, again showcasing the deaths caused by IMF imposed austerity in Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia, as compared to Malaysia where austerity was resisted. Heartbreaking again.
On to the ‘Great Recession’, the approach taken by Iceland prosecuting bankers rather than imposing austerity. Quicker economic recovery, fewer deaths. Compare this to Greece. Compare this to the US, where they write:
A 2009 study found that people who lack medical insurance were 40 percent more likely to die prematurely than those who had it. During the great Recession, before the PPACA came into effect, there were approximately 35,000 avoidable deaths due to the lack of healthcare insurance (99).
People were dying, and at the same time
Profits of health insurance companies soared…In 2009 the top five US health insurance companies reported $12.2 billion in profits, a staggering increase of 56% over the figures for 2008. In 2009, a year that saw 2.9 million people lose coverage, insurance companies’ profits rose by 56 percent (101).
I haven’t read Kenneth Arrow, Nobel prize-winning economist, but he wrote in a 1963 paper that markets ‘often fail to deliver affordable, high-quality healthcare‘ (101). What they do instead, is make some people a whole lot of money.
Stuckler and Basu move on to Italy, the protests of the vidove bianche, or white widows of the increasing numbers of men committing suicide after losing employment. This opens a chapter on suicide and its connections to work, the ever increasing numbers of primarily men killing themselves after the imposition of austerity around the world. The way that governments, as they have done here in the UK, averaging out the numbers of deaths erase the spikes that demand attention.
From work to housing… They look at the unprecedented rise of the West Nile Virus during droughts, ultimately it was discovered that this had been caused by the foreclosure of homes and the breeding of mosquitoes in neglected pools. As an aside, West Nile Virus is a pretty terrifying disease.
This is not the only cost to health from the housing and foreclosure crisis. Housing is a precondition for good health — to be without it is to be among the most vulnerable groups.
People without homes tend to die forty years earlier than those with a roof over their heads. They often suffer from a raft of health problems and lack adequate access to healthcare. In addition, the homeless are at high risk of contracting infectious diseases like TB, which can then spread to the rest of the population. Poor health and homelessness are so closely linked that it is difficult to ascertain which came first, but the public health outcome is the same: a huge increase in the risk of death and avoidable suffering (127).
They describe people skipping medicines to be able to pay mortgages, a rise in hospitalisation leading to increased medical debt leading to increased likelihood of foreclosure. They write that the rise in foreclosures in communities strongly correlated to a rates of emergency room visits.
Ultimately austerity has failed because it is unsupported by sound logic or data. It is an economic ideology. It stems from the belief that small government and free markets are always better than state interventions. It is a socially constructed myth–a convenient belief among politicians taken advantage of by those who have a vested interest in shrinking the role of the state, in privatizing social welfare systems for personal gain. It does great harm–punishing the most vulnerable, rather than those who caused this recession (140).
Well said. These are their recommendations:
To break the cycle of radical austerity programs, we need a New New Deal…To work, it must follow three key principles:
1. “First, do no harm” is the ancient higher law of the healing professions. Because social and economic policies have collateral effects on health and sickness, the doctors’ mantra should become a requirement for all such policies.
2. Help people return to work: In hard times, having a stable job is often the best medicine. Unemployment and the fear of unemployment are among the most significant drivers of poor health that people face in an economic crisis (143).
3. Invest in Public Health (144)
Stuckler, David and Sanjay Basu (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Klls. Recessions, Budget Battles, and the Politics of Life and Death. NY: Basic Books.
In the face of its onrush, all the wisdom and ingenuity of man were unavailing…numerous instructions were issued for safeguarding the people’s health, but all to no avail. (4)
Boccaccio describes the Black plague then, the swellings in the groin or armpit, the spread of swelling, the blotches and bruises. From the time of the first sign of swelling you knew you would die.
I can’t imagine it. All that we know now of science and medicine and so this bubble we find ourselves in and the ambulances to take people away and the clean white antiseptic of hospitals and experts and antibiotics and you can still die and it is still terrifying…but not like then.
Against these maladies, it seemed that all the advice of physicians and all the power of medicine were profitless and unavailing (5)
But what made this pestilence even more severe was that wherever those suffering from it mixed with people who were all unaffected, it would rush upon those with the speed of a fire racing through dry or oily substances…
It did not just do so through direct touch, but through clothes and other objects handled by others. Some became more sober and abstemious and god-fearing, others hedonistic, satisfying all cravings. Laws broke down. Servants died or fled, breaking down some of the distinctions between people, women were no longer able to gather and mourn the dead. The bodies were left lying outside of the door of the home for collection to be buried in mass graves.
…it is reliably thought that over a hundred thousand human lives were extinguished within the walls of the city of Florence…Yet before this lethal catastrophe fell upon the city, it is doubtful whether anyone would have guessed it contained so many inhabitants.
Ah, how great a number of splendid palaces, fine houses, and noble dwellings, once filled with retainers, with lords and with ladies, were left bereft of all who had lived there… (13)
Thus the circumstances that lead seven young ladies to gather at a church. Pampinea says:
Here we linger for no other purpose, or so it seems to me, than to count the number of corpses being taken to burial, or to hear whether the friars of the church, very few of whom are left, chant and their offices at the appropriate hours, or to exhibit the quality and quantity of our sorrows, by means of the clothes we are wearing, to all those whom we meet in this place. And if we go outside, we shall see the dead and the sick being carried hither and thither, or we shall see people, once condemned to exile by the courts for their misdeeds, careering wildly about the streets in open defiance of the law, well knowing that those appointed to enforce it are either dead or dying; or else we shall find ourselves at the mercy of the scum of our city who, having scented our blood, call themselves sextons and go prancing and bustling all over the place, singing bawdy songs that add insult to our injuries. Moreover, all we ever hear is “So-and-so’s dead” and “So-and-so’s dying”; and if there were anyone left to mourn, the whole place would be filled with sounds of weeping and wailing.
And if we return to our homes, what happens? I know not whether your own experience is similar to mine, but my house was once full of servants, and now that there is no one left apart from my maid and myself, I am filled with foreboding and feel as if every hair of my head is standing on end. Wherever I go in the house, wherever I pause to rest, I seem to be haunted by the shades of the departed, whose faces no longer appear as I remember them but with strange and horribly twisted expressions that frighten me out of my senses. (13-14)
Our coronavirus is not quite like this. It is strange to know that it is all around us, to watch the numbers of the dead climb, to mourn. To hear accounts of places like New York where a friend of mine describes constant sirens, fear, a life more at risk for Asian features as attacks spread. To see the strange attacks here in the UK on G5 masts, this mad conspiracy theory but yet its components not mad at all in marking out the collusion of government and industry for profit without caring about human cost. I can’t look too hard at what is happening around us to be honest.
We have been in a bubble, my partner and I, still allowed to go outside though as of yesterday lockdown extended three more weeks. It will be more, how could it not be more?
And today my grief sits hot and unbearable in my chest, it is not the covid but the cancer, taking my aunt and there is nothing to do. No way to go. Impossible to travel to be present to say goodbye to grieve with family. I am not the first by any stretch to note the horror of this epidemic is the way it keeps us apart from one another, though if we are lucky we can drive by family homes, speak to them from the drive, press our hands against their windows. But not when they are an ocean away.
To travel such distance, always a privilege. It requires money or credit cards, the right to travel with a legal status and passport that permit exit, entrance, return. This should belong to all of us. The cost of its absence immeasurable.
I take refuge, as my family always does, in some level of dark humour. This is from the introduction to the Decameron:
…the sombre and frightening prelude which medieval rhetoricians regarded as an essential component of the genre of comedy to which the Decameron, like Dante’s great poem, was intended to belong. Both works, in fact, despite their obvious differences in form and subject-matter, respect the definition of comedy formulated for instance by Uguccione da Pisa in his Derivationes: ‘a principio horribilis et fetidus, in fine prosperis desiderablis et gratus’ (foul and horrible at the beginning, in the end felicitous, desirable and pleasing’). (xlii)
You don’t even need a translation for that. I rather love this idea of comedy, always have, but it seems even more necessary now. It makes me think of Stewart Lee, though he rarely gets around to the felicitous, desirable and pleasing. I love him for it.
The gifts of the river.
Its shiftless and glittering
Re-telling of a city,
Its clarity as it flows,
In the company of runt flowers and herons,
Around a bend at Islandbridge
And under thirteen bridges to the sea.
Its patience at twilight —
Swans nesting by it,
Neon wincing into it.
Narrate such fragments for me:
One body. One spirit.
One place. One name.
The city where I was born.
The river that runs through it.
The nation which eludes me.
Fractions of a life‘Anna Liffey’, Eavan Boland
It has taken me a lifetime
[Boland, Eavan (1994) In a Time of Violence. Manchester: Carcanet.]
Today’s walk was long, inspiring, wonderful, still a bit grim. The home of Sam Wild, who fought against fascists first in Manchester and then in Spain, a piece of history to explore further but I am glad his house is just down the road. The birthplace of actor Robert Donat and a chat at….possibly just one metre with the lovely couple who now live there. His son visited with the Oscar — it turns out Oscars are really heavy! She volunteers at the local food bank which initially shut down, but was about to start up again with different patterns of work.
Talking to strangers, these are mad times.
A Russian Orthodox church. A synagogue. Stone entries falling apart in a way I didn’t know stone could, all student rentals. A bridge club. Pubs shut. Police tape closing off courts. Old moat park with no real exciting history behind it. A huge queue to get into Sainsbury’s (not Nando’s as Mark hoped in vain) so we walked on by.
Sadly the best thing we saw that day might just have been the cat sitting in the window just down the street as we left. But no, Sam Wild won hands down.
Germany: Behrens & the Werkbund
Germany played the leading role in the development of the new architecture. Long before the war the Deutscher Werkbund had been formed in Germany. At that time such an outstanding leader as Peter Behrens was not a strange or isolated phenomenon. On the contrary, he already had a powerful backing in the Deutscher Werkbund, a body which formed a reservoir of the forces of progress and renewal. I well remember the animated discussion at the Werkbund’s public sessions during the Cologne Exhibition of 1914 which so many foreigners attended; and the publication of the first of the Werkbund’s well-known yearbooks at about the same time. It was in active collaboration in the latter that I gained my first comprehensive insight into the movement as a result of drawing up a sort of inventory of the existing state of architecture. Between 1912 and 1914, too, I designed my first two important buildings: the Fagus Factory at Alfeld, and the Office Building for the Cologne Exhibition, both of which clearly evince that emphasis on function which characterizes the new architecture. (61)
France: Auguste Perret
During this same prewar period Auguste Perret was the leading personality in France. The Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris, built in 1911-13, was designed by Perret in collaboration with the Belgian Van de Velde, who was then living in Weimar and working in close contact with the Deutscher Werkbund. Perret’s chief title to fame is his extraordinary constructive skill, which altogether surpasses his gifts as spatial designer. Although more engineer than architect, he indubitably belongs to the founders of modern architecture, for it was he who succeeded in freeing architecture from its ponderous monumentalism by his audacious and wholly unprecedented forms of construction. Yet this great pioneer for long remained a voice crying in the wilderness as far as France was concerned. (61)
Austria: Otto Wagner
In Austria, Otto Wagner had built his Post Office Savings Headquarters in Vienna at the tum of the century. Wagner dared to expose plain surfaces entirely free of decoration and moldings. Today, it is almost impossible for us to imagine what a revolution such a step implied. Simultaneously Adolph Loos, another Viennese, began writing those articles and books in which he set forth the fundamentals of the new architecture, and building that large shop in the Michaelplatz, immediately opposite the Hofburg in Vienna, which so inflamed the passions of a population accustomed to Baroque forms. (61-62)
U.S.: Louis Sullivan
Root built a brick skyscraper in Chicago in 1883. About the end of the century Sullivan–Frank Lloyd Wright’s far too little recognized master–constructed buildings of this type which are epoch.making, and also formulated architectural principles which contain the pith of the functional doctrines of today. We must not forget that it was Sullivan who wrote, “Form should follow function.” Intellectually speaking, he was more articulate in his ideas than Frank Lloyd Wright, who was later to inspire so many European architects in both a spatial and a structural sense. Later on, and more particularly in the postwar period, Frank Lloyd Wright began to manifest a growing attachment to romanticism in his lectures and articles that was in sharp contradiction to the European development of the new architecture. At the present moment the Americans have the most fully developed constructional technique of any nation in the world-as I had an opportunity of seeing for myself in the course of my investigations in the United States. But in spite of Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright and a very highly developed technical organization, their artistic evolution has remained in abeyance. The intellectual and cultural background necessary for its preparation does not as yet exist. (62-63)
England: Housing, Planning and Raymond Unwin
England’s contribution has been confined to housing and town planning; but Sir Raymond Unwin’s ideas and the English garden cities have influenced the whole European housing movement. (64)
Gropius, Walter ( 1966 ) Scope of Total Architecture. New York: Collier Books.