Swine Flu – Notes on a ‘Pandemic’

Posted by Cila Warncke

I find it very difficult to take seriously an alleged nationwide emergency that I find out about by reading the Guardian website. Surely if swine flu or influenza porcina as the locals call it, were a hovering shadow of death across the fair land of Mexico someone would have thought to mention it? It was Saturday I happened across the UK headlines. The first local clue anything was up was the bored-looking attendents wearing surgical masks (tapa bocas) while handing out leaflets at the coach station when I returned to Merida on Monday.

Awful, isn't it?

Awful, isn't it?

Yucatan is for all intents and purposes a separate country, and the only reaction here seems to be mild boredom. The schools are shut, a fair few of the businesses (presumably because someone has to be at home to mind the kids) and the morning tae-bo class at the local stadium has been called off. This means us runners can hang out at the edge of the track and talk without being blasted by pumped up mariachi music, which is kind of nice. Jaime, my 10K buddy, put things in perspective: “They’ve shut the restaurants in Mexico City, but not the Metro.”

When he said that my already limited interest in swine flu bottomed out. The Mexico City Metro is a cross between a batteryfarm and a sauna. It is one of the most horrible, germ-spewing environments I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter. If they haven’t shut the damn thing down they clearly aren’t that bothered.

Mexico City is a teeming hellhole. A city of over 22M people set in a natural bowl so every particle of smog, filth and germs sinks into lungs and skin. The fact 150 people have died after having flu symptoms is nothing more than a statistical blip. If this flu were anything to worry about there would be a lot more than eight confirmed deaths. As for the people who’ve travelled in Mexico and taken the flu home? People get sick travelling. I had terrible respiratory illness within 72 hours of landing in Mexico City purely from the poison air.

The hysteria is a massive PR job on the part of the drug companies and the WHO (aka the OMS Organizicion Mundial de Salud). It’s a slow news week, someone felt the need to stir shit up and hey, bird flu was fun.

Not that this total nonsense doesn’t have its good side. My boyfriend is off work so we’ve had two days of painting his office, eating popcorn and watching DVDs (because the cinemas are all shut). Also, it prompted me to go and look up the defintion of “pandemic” — an unjustifiably abused word at the moment.

Medicine. Epidemic over a wide geographic area and affecting a large proportion of the population: pandemic influenza.

Wide geographic area? Possibly. But a large portion of the population? Hardly. According to The Economist there are 99 confirmed cases in Mexico, 91 in the US and 19 in Canada. The only other nation in double figures is Spain, with 10. I would love to hear the mathematical justification for construing those numbers as a pandemic.

One down, the Great American Short Story collection to go

Finally! A day off

Finally! A day off

I suspect my four blog followers are down to one or two now, thanks to my egregious neglect. For once, it’s not wilful laziness on my part. At least not entirely wilful laziness. Right after my last post Britney-blizzard struck and my lovely interlocutor Helen Skyped me a bunch of revision notes. A rush of freelance work (most of it odious) came rushing in at the same time. So I did the usual: panic. Cue 10 days of hyperventilating, staring at my laptop screen until my eyes wouldn’t focus then working more anyway (hurrah for being able to touchtype! It’ll come in double handy when I go blind) and going to bed every night with an unwritten-word tornado churning in my head.

It got done, somehow, in a flurry of strong coffee, biscuits, midnight MSN chats and the odd sneaky drag of a menthol. My last deadline proper was this morning. It was a strangely silent afternoon. Having no pressing work is far worse than having too much. After exhausting the entertainment potential of Facebook (about seven minutes) and a largely unsuccessful bash at making cheesy potato mash patties I decided to start studying for my UK driving theory test. Abandoned it to go running, then spent half an hour reading hostel reviews online.

I have a half-baked lot of short story ideas I want to tackle next but can’t bring myself to put my feet properly under the desk just yet. Hence blog-waffle. Ten days of hard writing-to-order has squished all the creative cells in my brain. They need a little time to ping back into functioning order, I figure. That, or I’m being lazy.

It’s Britney, Bitch

Posted by Cila Warncke

Answered prayers?

Answered prayers?

Though rarely alluded to, I suppose most of the four people who read this blog know I’m holed up in Mexico with the intention of turning out a book on the many facets of pop culture bellwether and post-modern princess in the tower, Britney Spears.

To my surprise/delight/terror I seem to be somewhere in the neighbourhood of accomplishing my self-appointed task. I have written 14-and-a-half essays-come-chapters titled things like: “paparazzi subject”, “mother” and “American Dream”. Half-biography, half-theory, it unpicks Britney’s many lives with a view to understanding what we think about her says about us.

Now the “send to agent” line is actually in sight the usual surge of paranoia and pessimism is troubling the sandbags. I don’t want to let it go for a number of reasons. Principally, and selfishly, because I like being able to say: I’m writing a book. Practically, because once I do the odds are fixed: 50% it gets a deal, 50% it doesn’t. No kidding.

I am trying to keep myself sane at least long enough to zip the file and fire it across the pond. Clinging bravely to the wall behind my laptop is a Post-It with one of my favourite quotes (borrowed by Truman Capote for the title of his unfinished novel):

More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones. – St Teresa de Avila

A useful reminder, whether the prayers are answered or not.