Change everything or go back to how things should be?

24th March 2020

Like many of you, I am writing this post while remaining in partial isolation. In the course of a few days, the world has changed beyond recognition. A paralysis in transport, the slow downfall of the economy, empty streets. I wanted to write about what’s going on from the point of view of someone who has been preparing for this eventuality for many years now. I would like to share some loose thoughts that you can expand on yourselves. I’ve always hated cities and felt that in the case of any crisis, life in a city can become hell. This is what’s happening now, with people stuck in their flats. What if they run out of water? So remember: live in a place where you are 100m away from a source of water.

In a crisis, what matters is family and close friends who live nearby, within a brisk walk’s distance. After all, who will hand you water when you have a fever? Until only a few days ago, one of my daughters was doing an internship in New York City. I told her a few weeks beforehand not to go, I told her everything was going to collapse. She took the last flight back from New York to Scotland. My other daughter is also in Scotland. I sadly failed to convince them to come to Subcarpathia.

Tradition, with family at its forefront, is our best bet in a crisis. It’s good to know that my parents and sister live only a few villages away, and that I am now self-isolating in my log cabin in the countryside with someone who is very close to me.

Traditional taboos – such as those to do with kissing and embracing strangers – often protected us from epidemics. The veils covering Muslims were like masks that protected them from infection. They are mainly worn by women, who were at great risk of viral infections and their repercussions on foetal development. Traditional wisdom is often something tested by dozens of generations. Knowledge about wild plants is a kind of such knowledge. The fact that some plant has been traditionally eaten by generations is a hundred times more important to me than some lab results from one scientific publication.

Isolation forces us to meditate on the local. To limit travel. To grow our own potatoes. To visit places close by, not the ones further away. To take care of our gardens. In the past 18 months, I visited Laos 4 times to conduct my research in the markets of Luangprabang. I felt guilty for flying so much, but I could also sense that this might have been the end, that I might never get the chance to go there again, or at least not be able to visit anytime soon… Every time I go away, I have all of my affairs sorted out beforehand, I always take into account that I might not return, and I take a lot of cash with me.

The global crisis will turn everything on its head. It will mark the end of capitalism as we know it. No, I don’t want communism, but the sort of capitalism we’ve been living in is unhealthy. Maybe finally the culture of loans will come to an end, and international corporation owning more than some countries, tax resident in offshore locations will fall. It’ll be the end of a world based on usury. Let those dodgy guys who took loans to make money on renting out flats in Kraków suffer, I’m not at all sorry for them. Let them go bankrupt.

From the point of view of this crisis, I think I live slightly too deep in the countryside. I’m a 1.5h walk away from the closest town, Frysztak, and 2h away from Krosno. I think I would prefer to live half that distance from some traditional market settlement.

I look at my shelves of preserves. I see dozens of jars of plum jam and marinated mushrooms. There’s always a lot left, and some go to waste. Now, however, I treat them like a treasure for the time of crisis. They might come to use. I hope I don’t have to eat them all… I hear people complaining about others making food provisions! But that’s the way people used to live… They worked in the fields from spring to autumn to then be able to eat what they’d managed to pick for the remaining half of the year. Grains, pasta, a barrel of sauerkraut, dried mushrooms and 300-or-so jars of preserves (and homemade alcohol, of course) are not only a safety measure against the coronavirus crisis. They are a safety measure against any crisis. An asteroid, a volcanic eruption, cholera. We should always have provisions for a few months in our house. Let yourselves have that in your homes, too. Some countries practiced this very recently… for instance, Croatia and Bosnia during the war in the 1990s, or Georgia at the same time, after the fall of the Soviet Union. When I went to Croatia a few years ago, many houses had large provisions of alcohol and food, the memory of war still being fresh. I met many an old lady with a few hundred litres of rakija. And now they’re better prepared than we are.

I’ve been living in self-isolation for a long time. For over twenty years, I’ve been sorting out most things online and living in the countryside. I go to work at the University of Rzeszów once or twice a week to run classes and attend meetings. I do all of my work remotely. I hate the city, even a shithole like Rzeszów. Now perhaps more people will be able to live like I do. Because some have wanted to yet couldn’t. I think that in a few days we will switch to working online to the extent of not wanting to go back to driving into the city, often pointlessly. How many times did I have to drive for 50 minutes in traffic to some stupid 10-minute meeting. We could save so much petrol! Shopping once a week, homegrown potatoes, maybe a sheep instead of a lawnmower. Don’t worry!

In the case of a crisis, we begin to see what’s really important. Food and doctors are important, while Wi-Fi, petrol stations, car mechanics, some shops and factories are in second place. The rest are parasites: the clergy who take money for funerals, the boring teachers, the officials who have you stored in their databases. In a crisis, anarchy takes over, but it’s also quick to self-organise. However, everything begins with food and having someone who can make us a hoe, a spade and an axe.

I would always get worked up when I heard on TV that Poland should consolidate farming and arable land in the hands of a small number of big owners. No! Poland’s fragmentation is its strength. The fact that in a month’s time, something like 1/3 of Poles will have access to their own land and will be able to plant their own potatoes on it. The fact that so many families have access to half an acre of arable land is a real treasure.

And, to end on a positive note, the death rate of the virus is very low. A maximum of 0.1% of the population will die and the virus itself will die down in a few months. You might want to limit your social activity, but don’t let yourselves go crazy. Let’s treat this as allowing our system a few more weeks to get themselves together, make tests, relieve hospitals. But don’t let your government limit your rights. Closing borders, locking people up in prison for not going to hospital, surveillance, the right to confiscate cars and property. We shouldn’t be fooled by people who will try to enslave us on the sly using the virus as a pretext. Maybe we’ll come back from this to a different country – with a basic income, a clean garage, a new book, the skill of growing potatoes and foraging for wild vegetables, cleaner air and better people to rule our beautiful world.

The picture was taken in Georgia, a country which never lost its gastronomical autonomy and spirit of companionship. I’ve used it here to comfort us. Let’s drink to countries free to maintain their orchards and traditional farming and shepherding. I bought some Georgian wine for the time of crisis, so I’m now raising a toast to this!

If you want to read more about my way for economic safety and foraging go to:

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