Love in the Time of Corona

“The only thing that would allow them to bypass [other passengers] was a case of cholera on board. The ship would be quarantined, it would hoist the yellow flag and sail in a state of emergency. Captain Samaritano had needed to do just that on several occasions because of the many cases of cholera along the river, although later the health authorities had obliged the doctors to sign death certificates that called the cases common dysentery. Besides, many times in the history of the river the yellow plague flag had been flown in order to evade taxes, or to avoid picking up an undesirable passenger, or to elude inopportune inspections. […] Everyone knew that the time of cholera had not ended despite all the joyful statistics from the health officials. […] So the New Fidelity weighted anchor at dawn the next day, without cargo or passengers, and with the yellow cholera flag waving jubilantly from the main mast.”

Towards the end of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, newly widowed Fermina finally unites with her first love, Florentino. They embark on a riverboat journey and consummate their relationship after more than 53 years. But the prying eyes of the world and the ongoing cholera epidemic threaten their peaceful reunion and so Florentino convinces the captain to sail under the cholera flag. They are told to self-isolate by the harbour authorities and are eventually sent back to their port of origin, where a similar fate awaits them. The Captain asks Florentino how long he intends to continue this charade and he replies: “forever”.

“Love in the Time of Corona” is meant to be a blog for the SOAS anthropology community to share thoughts, impressions, opinions, interventions, diaries, and reports from self-isolation and beyond. It is openly accessible but not intended to be facing the public. Posted items are not peer-reviewed and do not have to adhere to scholarly standards of objectivity. The opinions expressed are those of the authors alone. Please send submissions to me via my SOAS email account.

The site icon is a rare depiction of a so-called amabie, a kind of mermaid whose likeness is said to ward of epidemics (Kyoto University Digital Archives). The header depicts four heads sculpted out of now very valuable toilet paper rolls by the French artist Junior Fritz Jacquet.

While the SOAS buildings stand abandoned and empty, we, rather like Márquez’ aged lovers on the New Fidelity, are secluded elsewhere. In our absence, I hope that these contributions will raise a different flag; not jubilantly, but pensively.

Fabio Gygi

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