Sure you could watch “Tiger King” on Netflix during the pandemic, but how about something a bit more medieval?
I picked up the third book of Kristin Lavransdatter written by Sigrid Undset and published in 1920. I have read the entire trilogy a few times already, so this way I know I can get to those plague scenes. It happens at the very end of the book in a flash of action, people die, she stops some people from sacrificing a boy to try to appease whatever divine power they think is causing this and she risks her life to practice the corporal work of mercy, burying the dead. But before all that, this is a tragic and epic story of the fictional life a medieval Norwegian woman who marries a man.
Undset possesses the ability to impeccably draw characters in remarkable detail, demonstrating their personality strengths and weaknesses and how those bear out against the strengths and weaknesses of those around them. In relationship lies all the action, though the horses, axes and swords help too. The book has something for everyone but I find it resonates in particularly powerful ways with mothers.
Joseph Pearce, a literature scholar and Director of the Center for Faith and Culture at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, wrote an online article about The Betrothed, an Italian pandemic story written by Alessandro Manzoni and published in 1827 in which one village learns that maybe they should have practiced a little more social distancing. I am sure it is about more than that, but that was what I gathered from this article.
The Seventh Seal
I am thinking of watching The Seventh Seal (Swedish, 1957) again. Another Black Plague setting. It is thoughtful and provocative, but undeniably silent, and after social distancing, staying-at-home, the slow pace of something visual and intellectual might just be what I need as I rock my three-month-old baby to sleep. It is a great movie for the artsy types, the types who want to check-off something iconic, and those who want to show off their cultural savviness during a Zoom chat.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (British, 1975) is more my husband’s style. It took a few weeks but I finally saw an online reference to the scene in which peasants are carting around bodies and yelling, “bring out you’re dead!” This is a movie for those who enjoy dry, dark humor.
Your Friend the Rat
If you have only eleven minutes, in 2007, Pixar and Walt Disney Studios released Your Friend the Rat. This offers a more educational take on the role rats played during the Plague.
There are undoubtedly better lists out there, but this offers at least a passing survey across time and cultures. According to Merriam-Webster, a pandemic is an outbreak of a disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.
The Black Death was a global epidemic of bubonic plague that struck Europe and Asia in the mid-1300s. It changed the face of Europe and influenced art, literature and music for hundreds of years to come. It still stands out in our mind as a singular event.
Living now through the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Pandemic, we are experienced something that will also alter the course of history. Our economy has shut down and what once was an epidemic of loneliness in our country has become a government-mandated call to action to stay home and distance ourselves socially.
Things many Americans could take for granted, free access to education, online shopping, a postal and delivery network, 24-hour grocery stores, and abundance of food and paper products, easy and widespread mobility and transportation have become scarce, hard to come by, or risky.
This is a time to grieve. We will grieve the loss of life as we knew it. We will grieve relationships. We will grieve those who die.
But, as in all times of darkness, there is still hope. The projections are improving. As Queen Elizabeth II said in a rare public address on April 5, “Using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal, we will succeed, and that success will belong to every one of us. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again. We will be with our families again. We will meet again.”
So until then, read, watch and hope.
Previously published as part of “Here’s to the Good Life!” my weekly column in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.