The Week’s Not Over Yet

Between the years 1350 and 1353, Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio wrote a collection of one hundred tales published as The Decameron. I’d never read them, and in the interest of full disclosure, I admit that other than a few translated excerpts while writing this post, I still haven’t. But I am intrigued by the premise.

Written in the common man’s Italian (at the time), the collection is set against the backdrop of a 1348 outbreak of the Black Death. The stories are presented as though they are shared among ten friends holed up in a villa outside of Florence, responsibly minding their social distance and avoiding the plague like . . . well, the plague.

Thanks to this guy and Project Gutenberg, you can spend your time stuck at home with nothing to do reading about a bunch of people stuck at home with nothing to do. Raffaello Sanzio Morghen, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Seven women and three men during a fourteen-day period are tasked with entertaining the others with a story each night. Two days are reserved for chores and two for worship, leaving ten evenings of ten stories, one hundred stories in all.

If you’re familiar with the Canterbury Tales you may realize that Boccaccio’s work probably had a pretty big influence on Chaucer who pretty much did the same thing several decades later except in the common man’s English (at the time) and with more religious pilgrimaging and less plagueyness.

I have read the Canterbury Tales, both in modern translation and in Middle English, and discussed them pretentiously, and written academic papers about them. But I’ve never been on a religious pilgrimage.

I have, however, been in quarantine, holed up for two weeks at a time in my house during a plague. If the last time I read the Canterbury Tales, you’d asked me which of those I was more likely to experience, I’d have guessed wrong.

I can see why isolation and storytelling might have been a pretty good idea. Spread of the Black Death in Europe Flappiefh, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been thinking about Boccaccio and The Decameron because I’ve had a lot of time on my hands. This has been quite a week here in the household of practical history. I know that by now most of us have had those weeks at one point or another since early this year when the world went sideways, but this has definitely been one of ours.

It actually began a little bit before this week when my husband who works in healthcare was informed that his hospital system plans to close the department in which he works. His job as he knows it will apparently be gone at an occasionally determined time in the near future. Except we recently learned that might not really be true, except that it definitely is sort of true. Probably. We’re confused, too.

And then there’s our fifteen-year-old who was told two weeks ago that he’d been potentially exposed to Covid-19 in school. That meant he had to remain home in quarantine for 14 days, or for 10 days after developing any symptoms if he tested positive and took a couple days off for chores and two for worship. Or something like that. It’s also kind of confusing.

It was bound to happen at some point. Tistip, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

So that’s some of the background. Then this past weekend, our 13-year-old, who had been doing his thing with mask and appropriate social distancing while more or less keeping away from his brother as much as possible, developed a fever and tested positive for Covid-19. Apparently, the wrong kid was quarantined.

Now he’s isolated and the rest of us are homebound, including the 15-year-old who proved negative for Covid-19 when tested after his brother’s positive result. Originally, he would have been released from quarantine yesterday, but since he has presumably been exposed to his brother, the 14 days begins again. From what point, we’re not entirely sure, as the answer to that questions seems to depend primarily on who you ask and what they had for breakfast that day.

Of course, that no longer matters anyway. On Tuesday of this week, after a painfully long publicly broadcasted meeting in which the elected members of our school board proved they don’t read emails or listen, it was decided that our district’s high schools and middle schools would move to virtual learning due to staffing difficulties caused by rolling quarantines.  

Virtual school isn’t ideal, but I think it’s much better than 45% percent attendance and constant staff shortages. Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

So, we’re at home. And that’s fine. There are a lot of people all over the world in similar predicaments, and we’re fairly well set. Symptoms have so far fallen into the short-lived and mild range, and we have the supplies we need, or the ability to have delivered whatever we don’t. We just have to figure out how to fill our abundance of extra time.

I’m thinking we may start requiring family story time each evening. There are only four of us and I haven’t done the math, but as we might all be in quarantine for fourteen days after each of us develops any symptoms, I think we could make it to a hundred.

We probably have the material. Boccaccio’s narrator Dioneo offers some guidance to his tale-tellers on eight of the ten days, demanding examples of power and fortune, examples of the power of human will, tragic love stories, happy love stories, clever stories that save the storyteller, tricks women play on men, tricks any person plays on anyone else, and examples of virtue. I bet we have it all covered.

And the week’s not over yet.

29 thoughts on “The Week’s Not Over Yet

  1. Gosh – I guess if there’s going to be a plague it’s educational to be part of it. May you emerge into the light soon (I’m not talking about entering into the Beatific Vision but simply going out into the street!) The Decameron is one of my favorite books – possibly because it’s a little risque! They are rollicking good yarns and have much in common with Sarah Angleton’s “Glimpses” and her “Launching Sheep”. Perhaps you’ve read them? I’ve been meaning to join up some of my own stories in the manner of Chaucer and Boccaccio and was hoping to start on December 6th when I’m thinking of having a rest from blogging. (December 6th is my 71st birthday and the day story number 2020 hits my blog!) Stay well and creatively busy, Sarah!

    1. Thank you. I hope you don’t feel sorry for me, though. Things are really pretty good. It’s just that kind of year for all of us, and it’s been that kind of week. Lots to be thankful for here in my corner of the world.

  2. cindy ferguson

    Sorry. Up until the last 48 hours I knew no one personally that tested positive. Now it’s 3 or 4. I get confused. Thanks for your great reads.

    Cindy Ferguson

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. It’s definitely out there, but if it’s mild, it really is mild and unless it disrupts your schedule, I think you may not even hear about it. It’s the very serious cases we do hear about and percentage-wise, that’s far fewer. My sister-in-law recently lost her elderly father to it. But seriously, if my kiddo hadn’t gotten a fever, which lasted for maybe 18 hours during which time he felt bad, we’d have never guessed he was sick.

  3. And then add to that the confusion announced by the governor today that exposed students don’t need to quarantine if the school has been appropriately masked (that would have to be a mighty large mask) and they aren’t showing symptoms. And whatever state is was (Texas, maybe?) that said asymptomatic doctors and nurses who’ve tested positive can keep working. Makes me want to stay home even more.

    1. Well, the governor’s decision is in response to the data that tells us when students have been masked but exposed to others who then pop positive but were also masked, infection rate has been almost zero. Healthy students (and teachers) have been getting sent home for two weeks, coming back for a day or two and then going home for two more weeks without ever actually having Covid. It’s been pretty impossible for education and it turns out, probably not doing anything for spread prevention anyway. Districts will make their own decisions for their own communities still, but this gives them a little breathing room if they need to make a different choice. I’m not familiar with the situation in Texas, but the CDC has always had looser parameters for healthcare workers in high volume situations because if the rolling quarantine situation happening in schools occurred in healthcare, we’d all be in a lot of trouble.

      1. That makes sense if the data is pointing to that. However, it doesn’t explain people who always wear a mask but still get it. The whole situation is a major fiasco. Hope you all stay healthy – you certainly didn’t need this one top of everything else.

      2. True. The masks help, but they’re not perfect. I wonder if they really do make people a little too overconfident and so they aren’t as careful about hand washing, which at least in our schools, they are drilling into the kids as if they are all in Kindergarten again. Or maybe kids just don’t catch it as easily? Who knows. Stay safe!

  4. 😦 Sounds like it’s been a stressful time around your house, I’m sorry to hear of it. Sending prayers and good vibes for healing, job questions answered, and safety! But I do love the story idea, I think that would be an excellent way to pass the time.

  5. Sounds like a rather dramatic week in your household. Hope all works out OK. This week’s news of a possible vaccine has offered rays of hope, though with all the short-cuts taken in the testing regimen I suspect it’s got plenty of unknowns attached to it. Here in NZ, incidentally, anybody who gets or is possibly exposed to Covid isn’t allowed to stay at home – they get whipped off to quarantine in one of about a dozen luxury hotels being used by the government for the purpose.

  6. i hope your son recovers soon and that you all stay well. I;ll be thinking about you all.

    If anyone can entertain other people with interesting stories it’s you, I love the fast you come up with every week and your take on them.

  7. Oh goodness. The rates are pretty high in IL. I checked Sangamon County the other day as I have relatives there. I’m glad everyone’s symptoms have been mild so far. But what an idea of reading the Decameron now! It had not occurred to me to read plague literature (I’m going for complete escapism for the most part). Let’s hope there are multiple vaccines out by late spring. It would help.

  8. Phyllis Parker-hinkle

    Sarah, sorry to hear about the “covid flair-up” at your house. Story time is a great idea. Dave and I have read a ton of books during the pandemic. Maybe our favorite author/friend will come out with a new book soon-hint hint. Great blog. I think I’ll download Canterbury Tales and read it again. Great blog! —phyllis

I love comments! Please keep them PG, though. I blush easily.

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