Spanish Flu

Alfonso XIII

Alfonso XIII

What’s in a name?  Diseases are often named after places, and who wants to be remembered for a disease?  Early outbreaks of Syphilis in Europe for instance occured during a French invasion of Italy in 1494.  The French promptly called it the “Italian” disease and blamed it on Neapolitans.  The Neapolitans blamed it on the French soldiers and called it the “French” disease.  The truth is that the strain probably came from the New World, transmitted to Europe by the men who sailed with Christopher Columbus.  Which would make it the Spanish disease.  Or the “Indian” disease since Columbus thought he had found a Western route to India.

Spanish flu was confirmed in the USA in March 1918 in Fort Riley, Kansas.  There is much debate now about the origin of the flu.  What is certain is that it exploded all along the Western Front at the end of World War 1 in the crowded and unsanitary conditions in which troops commonly live.

One theory is that it migrated from the herds of pigs that were kept penned nearby to feed troops.  Another theory arises from a forgotten piece of war history.  Thousands of Chinese coolies were recruited by the allies to provide labour along the western front.  There was an outbreak of H1N1 virus in China around the same time.  Did it originate in Europe and spread to China or vice versa?

In France, England and Germany the wartime propaganda machine was in full swing.  There was no reporting of deaths from flu as this might encourage military action by the enemy.  However Spain was outside of the conflict.  When the Spanish king Alfonso XIII became ill with the flu the pandemic was reported widely, giving the impression that it was rampant in Spain.  As a result it became known as the Spanish Flu.

Now a truly international poet.  Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki.  Born in Italy to a Polish family he was wounded in WW1 fighting for France and died of the Spanish flu.  He coined the terms “Cubism” and “Surrealism”.

Le Pont Mirabeau; Guillaume Apollinaire

Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away
And lovers
Must I be reminded
Joy came always after pain

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

We’re face to face and hand in hand
While under the bridges
Of embrace expire
Eternal tired tidal eyes

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

Love elapses like the river
Love goes by
Poor life is indolent
And expectation always violent

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

The days and equally the weeks elapse
The past remains the past
Love remains lost
Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away

The night is a clock chiming
The days go by not I

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