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

From the Big Six

Here I sit again on the six o’clock train. It is five past six and I am praying that they shut the damn doors and get going. I call this the Train of the Lame, the Crippled and the Insane. I, sadly, fall into the latter category, but at least it is not out of choice.
Early this morning the Lame and the Crippled and the voluntarily Insane assembled in train stations in Cork and Limerick, Tralee and Mallow, in Limerick and Tipperary and elected to travel up to Dublin for the day. All of them agreed “let’s come home on the six o’clock train”.
Of course they are not commuters. They do not realise that I am condemned to this train if I am to get home at anything like a reasonable hour. They could take the 5pm train, or the 5.05, or there is one at 5.25. I cannot make any of those beautiful, half empty, spacious, comfortable trains, but they could. Or they could elect to get a bite of food in Dublin, relax for an hour and take the 7pm train. But do they? NO! They must all cram into the Big Six.
Why? Well if you put absolutely no thought into your decision, 6pm seems somehow right. If you have to visit a hospital in Dublin (Crippled) for elective treatment the appointments will get you out in time…..for the 6 o’clock train.
If you want to go shopping for the day you know you will be footsore (Lame) and tired out by 5pm. Then you will get on the Luas, or onto a bus, or into a taxi and get yourself down to the station in good time to relax, grab a coffee, and make….the 6 o’clock train.
If you are up in the city for the day on business a morning train that gets you to Dublin for a morning appointment requires a very unreasonable hour to get out of bed. So they arise at a reasonable hour, and arrange an afternoon meeting, and get away in time for……the 6 o’clock train.
Brides to be with their wedding dresses, teenagers with bags from Hollister, senior citizens clutching their free travel pass, revellers in party mood, small children on school tours, hospital patients on Zimmer frames, surfer dude replete with board, middle aged couples with holiday tans or legal papers and briefcase wielding fools like me, all crammed into the Big Six.
But I have a seat. I have a signal. I have a book. I have an apple. I was not late. I will be home. The train is clean, and relatively on time. I have a job, a wife, a home, three healthy happy children, a purpose for being on the Big Six.
If you are happy now you know it will not last. If you are sad then it too will pass. But if you are content and appreciate this sentiment, I wish you nothing more in life than further contentment.

The Weaker the Wine
“The weakest wine is better than warm water.
Rags are better than no clothes at all.
An ugly wife and a quarrelsome concubine
Are better than an empty house.”
The weaker the wine,
The easier it is to drink two cups.
The thinner the robe,
The easier it is to wear it double.
Ugliness and beauty are opposites,
But when you’re drunk, one is as good as the other.
Ugly wives and quarrelsome concubines,
The older they grow, the more they’re alike.
Live unknown if you would realize your end.
Follow the advice of your common sense.
Avoid the Imperial Audience
Chamber, the Eastern Flowery Hall.
The dust of the times and the wind of the Northern Pass.
One hundred years is a long time,
But at last it comes to an end.
Meanwhile it is no greater accomplishment
To be a rich corpse or a poor one.
Jewels of jade and pearl are put in the mouths
Of the illustrious dead
To conserve their bodies.
They do them no good, but after a thousand years,
They feed the robbers of their tombs.
As for literature, it is its own reward.
Fortunately fools pay little attention to it.
A chance for graft
Makes them blush with joy.
Good men are their own worst enemies.
Wine is the best reward of merit.
In all the world, good and evil,
Joy and sorrow, are in fact
Only aspects of the Void.

SU TUNG P’O (1036-1101) Translated by Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982)