Monday, March 30, 2020


When I was a boy in Brooklyn, horses were still used to pull delivery wagons, and the gutters were spattered with the droppings of those animals. It always amazed me to see songbirds alighting on the fresh manure to extract oat grains that had passed through the equine intestinal tract.

You must find it difficult to believe that anything good could possibly emerge from a disaster like the coronavirus pandemic we are presently experiencing, but I will tell you how something positive came out of a pandemic like the present one when a germ that normally sickens animals made the jump to humans. In the 14th century, a disease called the Black Death or Bubonic Plague invaded Europe and killed about 25 million people -  25-50% of the population.

The city of Florence was overwhelmed with the disease, attracting the attention of Giovanni Boccaccio, a prominent writer. He decided to write a story that would help alleviate the distress of the plague.  His story, The Decameron, describes how seven young women and three men departed the stricken city for a safe location in the countryside a few miles away.

One of the women was elected Queen for the day. She used her authority to determine what the rest of the party would do to remain happy. Some of their hours would be spent in wandering around the pleasant pastoral surroundings. Later, after dinner, all would gather together and each would relate a brief tale for the amusement of the group. All were pleased with her decision and each new Queen behaved in a likewise fashion. The subjects of these tales involved every type of character- monks, abbots, and bishops to miscreants of all sorts including lovers, faithful and un. Some of the tales were ribald and involved descriptions of sex. The group was delighted with this arrangement and so each day was spent with joy in a pastoral setting.  In this manner, over a period of ten days about a hundred tales were told to the delight of all.

Thus, we have an example of how days of tragedy were lightened. I wouldn’t be surprised if some creative forms of entertainment utilizing current technology appear in the days that follow, and of course, there’s reading.