English is not my native language. I write, or at least try to write in it because I’ve been living in anglo countries for many years, and because it has become a sort of universal language these days. But I never seem to master it completely, its mysterious core somehow always evades me; and I think the reason is that its logic and cadence are so different from what seems more natural to me.

I grew up speaking Spanish and Portuguese. Later I learned Italian and French (although my French could still improve). Latin or romance languages feel more musical, more normal. I like to read in Italian especially, perhaps it would be my favourite language, with French second.

English has some advantages. One of them is the extremely large vocabulary, shorter words and a relatively easy grammar (compared to, say, German or slavic languages). But other aspects of it, such as spelling and pronunciation, make much less sense. But I think the main difference is in the little things. Like the lack of diminutives: in Spanish you would say “casita”, in Italian “casetta”, in English you’d have to say “little house”. It’s just not the same thing.

Of course it has other advantages and its own kind of beauty and a certain flexibility that you won’t find in romance languages. I think the real problem, for me, is

There is a theory that language, and in particular the language of our childhood, determine or at least shape our thoughts. There is a certain truth to it, as ideas come also from the means to express them, or, rather, they are interdependent: you need words to express ideas, and you need concepts or ideas to form words. According to what is called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, our experience of the world is based on the structure of the language we habitually use. According to Whorf, the formulation of ideas and thoughts is not a rational independent process but is determined by the particular grammar and vocabulary of the language in which these ideas are expressed. The world is organized and made sense of through language.

I don’t know; maybe there’s something to it, n’est ce pas? ¿No lo crees? E se non è vero, è bene trovato.

There is a lot of discussion about vaccines these days, particularly because fo the “corona” phenomenon. Personally, while I am not an “anti-vaxxer”, I tend to dislike taking vaccines, taking medicines, going to the doctor, etc. I suppose that, instead of being hypochondriac, I am actually a little bit iatrophobic. So I tend to avoid all kind of medical procedures if I can. But of course even I can accept that medicine and in particular modern medicine can be very useful sometimes…

Now there is a big discussion about possible side effects of vaccines, especially in light of the “corona” phenomenon. Of course, since a vaccine is basically an attenuated virus, it can cause side effects, at least in a minority of the population. Also, many vaccines contain thimerosal as a preservative, which is an organic compound that includes mercury, which, as we all know, can not be discharged by the body and is usually not very healthy. And the link between vaccination and a recent increase in autism has not been, as far as I know, completely debunked.

But the more worrying recent phenomenon is the push, famously by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, but also by others, of the “RNA vaccines“. While they do not “alter your DNA” as some argue (although DNA vaccines might), they work in a different way from normal vaccines, making your own organism produce a pathogen. Now, this may not be as scary as it sounds, but its experimental and radical concept seems a bit dangerous, and given that they have not even been tested in large scale in humans, the idea of using one to treat millions of people for “COVID” causes certain concern.

Of course, I should say that I am in general a bit skeptical of the whole “corona” phenomenon, and particularly of the sometimes excessively authoritarian lockdown measures that have destroyed many economies and livelihoods, as well as completely atomized even more social life, not always with an apparent need (I mean, I understand that certain measures needed to be taken by the authorities, but I am not sure if this global lockdown for so long and with such huge effects was worth its worse consequences; also there were so many conflicting regulations, from using to not using masks, and some silly ones, such as telling people to use masks outdoors, or inside your car, as many still do, which seems a bit pointless.) But that’s another story, for another day…

But since this is basically a blog about literature, I would like to conclude by mentioning a few (fiction) books that deal with this issue. The classic “War of the Worlds”, by H. G. Wells, can perhaps be seen as a propaganda for vaccination or immunization (as the powerful and technologically superior Martians are eventually killed by Earth pathogens to which they have no defence).

“The Decameron” also famously takes place during the plague in Italy, and Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year”, which is nor a real journal but a novel, is also interesting. More recently, “Blindness” by José Saramago and “Anna” by Niccolò Ammaniti, are modern takes on very specific pandemics. The movie “La Jetée“, by Chris Marker, is a classic science fiction short about pandemics worth watching (it inspired the more well-known, but less interesting, “Twelve Monkeys”).

But specifically about vaccines, I don’t remember anything right now except H. P. Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Reanimator“, which doesn’t seem to have a particularly benevolent view of doctors, medicine and such…

Evil Doctor trying out new RNA vaccine on his female victim.

This is Altenburg, which I visited some time ago. It means “old fort” in German. A strange city. In demographic decline since the 1980s, it lost 40% of its population since then, and people still seem to be leaving. Currently it has 33,000 people, down from 56,000 in 1988 (data from Wiki). And it shows.

There are lots of empty, abandoned buildings, some almost falling apart. Even the castle, which is actually quite nice, is in bad disrepair, which is strange for Germany, as they usually take good care of their touristic sites. Then again, I didn’t see many people visiting it when I was there — though that could be because of “corona”.

The main square downtown, with the curch at the end of the street, is quite pretty, very “German”, and while not crowded it had quite a few people in its bars and cafes, despite “corona” still going on. But turn a corner and you will already see a lot of abandoned and decaying buildings.

This seems to be a problem in many regions of the former Eastern Germany, which emptied out after the end of Communism (although, to be honest, some towns started to decay even before the fall of the Wall).

On the other hand, bigger towns in the region, such as Leipzig and Dresden, seem to be in renewal mode and have currently a growing young population, some of whom are escaping from “dead” towns such as Altenburg, or from the growingly more expensive rents in Berlin.

Still, its a pity, as Altenburg seems a quiet nice little place. Aesthetically, it looks much more pleasant than several other more bustling cities around, such as Chemnitz, Zwickau, etc., which look more industrial and are in general less visually interesting.

A building needing renovation in Altenburg.
The town square.
Castle grounds. Some buildings here are also in disrepair.
Castle tower – it’s pretty high. Looks like Rapunzel’s tower.

Most people are happy to own a cat or a dog, or perhaps a goldfish, but some prefer other more unusual creatures. Here there’s an article I just published elsewhere that talks about a few writers and artists who had a taste for exotic or unusual pets, most of which I did not mention in the boo “Our Pets and Us“.

Frida Kahlo with Granizo.

Our first Contrarium book, “Our Pets and Us: The Evolution of a Relationship”, is now available for purchase at Amazon or in our own online shop (cheaper price, but only Paypal accepted).

It is a short illustrated book (170 pages) about the history of the relationship of humans with pets (mostly cats and dogs, but we also discuss other animals), from the beginning of domestication to current trends.

Each chapter focuses on a specific theme or historical period, discussing the most varied subjects such as the fate of pets during the French and Russian revolutions, the use of pets in the space race, how the use of dogs as guides for the blind started, the association of cats with witches in the Middle Ages, and many other fascinating curiosities.

It’s a good book for anyone interested in history — or in pets, which I guess would include most of us. It’s also a nice gift for friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, in-laws, etc.

Please buy it! It costs less than a package of dog or cat food.