Monday, January 3, 2022

Sick City on a Hill 1813

While reading this yesterday I kept asking myself  - What is this? How could it be? Fable? A fortelling? 

 (I’ve liberally edited for space and humbly ask the author’s forgiveness.)  


People were almost afraid to breathe, lest the contagion should be floating in the air,… addressed each other only at a distance; letters, when received, were fumigated and delivered by means of a stick slit at one end, being refumigated before they were opened and read; all the exterior marks of friendship were forbidden, and no one dared to make enquiries after his relations or friends, for fear of hearing that they had died."

"On August 26 [The Leader] ordered all buildings where people might gather in large numbers—churches, the commercial exchange, courts, the custom house, and the theater—to be closed. Markets were allowed to remain open, but new regulations were put in place to prevent loitering. The smell of vinegar wafted through the sparsely populated bazaars, as merchants soaked their money in the liquid to kill whatever []was thought to carry the disease…Notwithstanding these precautions, the number of deaths soared." 

"As with any epidemic, information was the chief weapon. [He] ordered the city divided into several districts and assigned deputies to make daily reports, based on household surveys."

"[He] ordered the city’s borders to be sealed and established a general quarantine in all neighborhoods. It was a bold, even foolhardy, move. He had virtually no military forces at his disposal to enforce the quarantine... All doors and windows were to remain closed. Only people in public service were permitted to leave their homes, and even they were required to have a special identification ticket. To provision the shut-down city, police and commissary officials conveyed food through each district twice a day. Meat was dipped in cold water and bread was fumigated before distribution. Each house was inspected twice daily, and anyone exhibiting signs of illness was taken to a separate surveillance area until he either died or, much more rarely, recovered."

"Despite the regulations on public gatherings, some citizens ventured outside…to watch the spectacle of their city’s ruin…A city that had imagined itself as a shining example to the outside world…had found itself building walls against the unseen dangers that could come floating in from the sea."

"Odessa had gone through the first episode of an internal struggle that would last well into the twentieth century: a conflict between a self-image of openness and grandeur and one of insularity and terror."

August 1812 – January 1813  Excerpted from Charles King’s, Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams. W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

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