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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seven


Music to Our Ears



 Keep the mind cold and the heart warm.


Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Director, Philadelphia Orchestra

in a conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air




Many of my friends and family are glued to Govenor Cuomo's press conferences, and for good reason: they are music to our ears. Not only are they sober and informative, they are personal, warm and caring. First we get the facts, well scripted and projected onto easy-to-understand charts, and then an anecdote, often about the Governor's own family. Yesterday, the anecdote was about his younger brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, who tested positive, and is now quarantined in the basement of his home. "Not even the dogs want to come down here," Chris told his brother, the Governor. Even worse, Chris and Andrew's elderly mother, Matilda, had been in Chris's house just two weeks before. She was feeling lonely so Chris had invited her over. Not a good idea, the Governor said, returning to his stern expression and strong delivery. But we could all hear the love and concern bubbling under the surface of his sonorous voice.


To be able to selflessly convey complex and disturbing information every day, to stay on point while folding in illustrative, personal stories is a great gift, the gift of a natural storyteller and a mature political leader. It is also the perfect, necessary antidote to the dangerous regime in Washington. It is, therefore, no suprise that there is a "Draft Cuomo for President" movement gathering steam. Whether it has any viability is moot right now. For those of us who live in New York State--the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States this week--Cuomo is our President.


My other thought this morning is about storytelling itself. The Cuomos are Italian-American, a sub-culture that has maintained its oral story-telling traditions. This cultural legacy has served the Governor well at his press conferences, which are mostly written by his staff. But the personal stories do not sound scripted; they sound improvised, conversational and heartfelt. Most importantly, even the anecdotes never veer away from a responsible government official's singular purpose: to both serve and protect us.



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Take Me To Your Leader


Speechless, wordless, paralyzed, mentally exhausted after the weekend's political events and the threat of a pandemic. I'm in the middle of revising a book, which is diverting, and reading my students' manuscripts for class this week, which is diverting, and took two beautiful walks in the sunshine yesterday, and saw a spectacular art exhibition (more another time), but apart from that, what's a writer to write on her blog this week?

For some reason "take me to your leader," popped into my head as I was writing in my journal this morning. Now where did that come from? Is it a meme, or a trope, or a cliché, buried in our cultural unconscious, if Jung were to describe it, that I have somehow digested into my personal unconscious? When I looked the sentence up on the internet I discovered its actual origin: a 1953 Alex Graham cartoon in The New Yorker. It then turned up again in 1957—Season 5, Episode 12—of the TV Superman series.

It was probably the vision of 45 at the Press Conference, his faux tan, comb-over, strange top lip wrinkles and too-small mouth that looks like the entrance to a straw that began my saga. I started spinning a story out of the apparition, a man without a moral rudder who purports to be a leader of the American People. Good grief, what a strange story/allegory emerged. I offer it to you here, dear reader:

ALIENS have landed on Planet Earth, their platter-shaped ship tossed by high seas has now landfalled on Greenland's moss green permafrost. Greta Thunberg is in their craft's contact list. They wish to speak to her. And though the ALIENS don't completely understand the words "climate activist" or "democracy," as these concepts are inbred in their DNA (yes, even ALIENS have DNA), they do understand exactly what Greta is doing: saving, or trying to save, or hoping to save the small world—Planet Earth—among so many other worlds in our shared Universe.

They have landed in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, population 16,800 humans, Danish humans, Inuit humans, and Danish-Inuit humans. They are kind people who love children as much as they do. They request an airlift to Washington DC. Will Greta be there? Or is she still on Trevor Noah's late night television show? The ALIENS like him too. He has a child-face, and though he speaks English a bit funny, they can understand all he says. Remember when he took his crew to Soweto to visit his 91-year-old grandmother? How can one not love such a person as Trevor Noah, a sweet man who calls his grandmother Coco?

Love. Children. Family. An inter-planetary lingua franca.

The ALIENS are fast learning the conditional tense, however. They have sent a message to the President of the United States, as follows: We would hope that you might appreciate our contention that war—domestic or international—is not good for the environment. Kindly confirm. It is because they did not receive a reply that they compiled a mission to Earth. They request an airlift to Washington DC from the kindly Greenlanders.

Helmets off, the ALIENS are in compatibility mode, breathing the heavily oxygenated albeit polluted air. They board a vehicle that spews big smoke and vibrates on take off, unlike their smooth-floating craft. Sadly, their transport is not permitted to land in Washington DC; the president is in self-preservation germaphobic lockdown and refuses diplomacy with all ALIENS, who he considers a HOAX. They are forced to retreat to Nuuk where they are consoled by the locals over a hearty home-cooked meal and bed down for the night in a warm inn. Their mission has failed. They will return to Planet Earth when there is a new leader.

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