Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Bodies


The protests against (and counter-protests in support of) pandemic restrictions on personal freedom in the USA are interesting. At one level, this is an almost uniquely American phenomenon, a manifestation of their collective identity as the most adolescent nation on earth. Founded (for understandable reasons) in rebellion, the US has never really moved on from their foundational charism. Their history since then is an ongoing story of individual rights kicking against collective responsibilities. Adolescents, attempting to navigate from childhood to adulthood.

Yet, on another level, the protests are a manifestation of the need for all of our bodies to be free, to move, to explore the world around us, to burn off energy and feel alive, to encounter others. In one sense, in this strange moment, we are all adolescents, and the USA is simply better-versed.

Here in the UK, we are not natural adolescents. We are older. We are, in many ways, in the middle of a prolonged mid-life crisis, which began long before the world had heard of novel coronavirus COVID-19, and was most recently manifested in the fraught divorce from the European Union, in which we wanted to keep everything. And here, our bodies have responded to the public health crisis lockdown in a different way. While our American cousins protest, we have bought all the flour and yeast that can be found. We are making our own bread.

This is not rational. The supermarkets are short of many things, flour included, but not, especially, bread. Smaller artisan bakers are struggling to source flour, but those with bigger purchasing power are not. So, why are we stocking-up on flour?

Just as the bodies of Americans are telling them something—that they need to get out of the house—so, too, British bodies are telling us something. And what they are telling us is our greatest need. For a long time now, our greatest need has been presented to us as sexual intimacy, that to be single is to somehow have failed. But coronavirus has shown us that, in fact, our greatest bodily need is not for sexual intimacy, but for companionship: literally, someone to share our bread with.

Our bodies are telling us to make bread. To share our creations with other members of our household, if we share a house with others; but to drop Tupperware boxes of cake or brownies or jars of sourdough starter off on a friend’s doorstep during our daily exercise, if we live alone—and even where that is not possible, to learn skills we hope to deploy once the lockdown is lifted.

Our bodies are telling us this—and that is why we are making the bread to share, not simply buying it. To kneed bread is a physical workout, and it turns out that we need to kneed the bread we need.

It will be interesting to see what happens once restrictions are lifted. Americans, no doubt, will find something else to protest. But will the British continue to make their own bread, and enjoy companionship; or will their recipe books (and as a nation, we are obsessed with buying recipe books) retreat back on the shelf, to gather (flour) dust?

[Here is a link to an excellent article on our bodies, and what they may be trying to teach us in quarantine.]

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