‘The Magic Mountain’s like a coronavirus lockdown but with better food and worse company’ | whynow

Lord of the Rings references stretched to atomically thin levels and musings on the natural world’s cold indifference to this human pandemic can only mean one thing. You guessed it! It’s the moderately popular column of Charlie Mitchell.


Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain author and 1929 Nobel Prize in literature recipient

With zoos closed across the world, the pandas have started mating again. Who’d have thought they’d prefer to reproduce in private? Separately, a Canadian grizzly bear was recently captured on film emerging from hibernation and was advised by thousands of quarantined social media users to return to his slumber. “As if,” thought the grizzly, before catching a female scent and vaulting a fence.

Who’d have thought pandas would prefer to reproduce in private?

Perhaps we don’t need to be reminded that the natural world doesn’t much care about us, or the dreaded virus, and is enjoying our retreat no end. Goats have occupied a Welsh village, stags were filmed gracefully patrolling an empty French town (“Je m’excuse, Jerome said it would be more atmospheric”), feral hogs continue to terrorise livestock and polish off whole crop fields in western Canada.

Mountain goats were witnessed happily trotting the streets of Llandudno, Wales

Overcome with a sense of injustice that grunting, hairy swine are having a better time than me, I sensed the time was right to bake my first banana bread. I replaced eggs, which I didn’t have, with coconut oil (same colour, ish) and bunged it in the oven. Knife clean, rack, cool, spread with butter. Oh, the satisfaction, of presenting it to my girlfriend’s family. Tell me more, I hear you plead. Did they like it?

Let’s just say, sweet reader, that after 7 days, there’s still two thirds left.

I sensed the time was right to bake my first banana bread.

Spring is upon us. At least I thought as much, until Tuesday when, after six bright sunny days – light jacket weather – great globs of snow began to shower down. It reminded of that scene in the Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf tells that big brute with the horns that he shall not pass, but as the monster falls it whips its tail and grabs Gandalf, who comes back as Gandalf the wise or something, so it all works out in the end. “Very Tolkien,” my uncle agreed, his face too close to the camera.

The end of the winter, alongside the pandemic, means barbecue smoke fills the air in my neighbourhood. I haven’t yet partaken, but a neighbour is loading the coals daily. I think it’s mainly to smoke a cigarette without his wife seeing, until she finds the deodorant in the porch that is. “Coronavirus is, after all Keith, particularly fond of the lungs.”

The hellishly distressing, and ultimately fatal, encounter between Gandalf the Grey and the overwhelmingly ferocious Balrog (diabolically gargantuan supernatural god beast shrouded in flame, shadow and death), reminded Charlie Mitchell of his journey from Canadian winter to false spring and back again

Having woken up on Thursday with my ankle inexplicable sore, I am now reading Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, a novel of truly epic proportions, far too much of a task in peace time, but now rather possible. It is fairly remarkable, set in a sanatorium in the Swiss mountains. It’s like a coronavirus lockdown but with better food and worse company, primarily strained dialogue and quiet contemplation on balconies, as well as anxiety-inducing musings on time and space.

Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann is like a coronavirus lockdown but with better food and worse company

While reading a particularly evocative passage, I wondered if Mann had predicted the coronavirus. Then I remembered that he published the novel six years after the 1918 Spanish Flu, which was altogether more vicious, killing the equivalent of Britain’s entire population.

Monsieur Michelle kicked back with 2019 Spanish flick The Platform. It helped him take the edge off lockdown nerves by observing graphic cannibalism packaged in a philosophically allegorical narrative

That reminds me, an extraordinary Spanish film came to my attention this week. The Platform (2019) takes place in a futuristic prison where just enough food to feed every prisoner is cooked and placed on a platform, which descends floor by floor. Naturally, there isn’t even a puck of gristle left by floor 80, leaving those beneath it to slip into cannibalism and murder to survive.

Greed and violence, all too human, emerge very quickly from scarcity. Of course, this is precisely how we as a species currently live, but in the age of coronavirus, it is a little too raw. I therefore watched it very much as a superb piece of cinema, rather than a rather unsettling social comment. I suggest you do the same.

Rampa  They Will Be