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  • Writer's pictureNikko Norte

Free cheese in the mouse trap …

Liberté, egalité, demasqué, a graffiti screams at the side of a building in Quimper, in Brittany, France. As far as I know, mouth and nose coverage in the open air is no longer mandatory in France, but in Quimper, only a handful of people walk the streets bare faced.

June 3, 2021. The day before yesterday, we crossed one of the three bridges over the river Bidasoa, which, at Hendaye, marks the border between France and Spain. I had not expected all three bridges to be guarded, but I am not a gambler and learned why after I had picked a bridge. A white tent on one half of the road, four customs officers next to it, vive l’accord de Schengen. As his colleagues continued their chat, one customs officer moved slightly toward us, his demand clear.

Next to the officer, we halted, and I lowered my window. My age, I estimated him, the fingers of both his hands in the armpit openings of his flak jacket, which only partly covered his non-impressive though massive upper body. Benevolent beady eyes, which was as far I got, physiognomically, the lower half of his face, grayly bearded, covered with a white mask.

Vous parlez français?’ I heard a voice from behind that mask.

Je peux me defendre,’ I politely answered, at which the beady eyes narrowed, leading me to conclude that we had partly crossed into France.

‘Where are you headed?’

‘Don’t know,’ I probably forfeited our luck.

‘Would you mind me having a look in the back of the car?’ with a nod in the direction of the closed rear part of our Citroën Berlingo.

‘Useless. We travel with a dog and with our equipment to camp. That’s it.’

‘Well, have a good trip then.’

Only when I drove on, rather surprised at that, did Heidi look up from her cellphone, on which she planned the next phase of our trip. ‘What were you two talking about?’ she asked.

‘Vaccines don’t work in France.’

‘You’re the funniest. I put Saint-Renan, in Brittany, in the TomTom. Let’s see how far we get.’

Traffic did not die down after 7.00 p.m., France’s curfew likely no longer in effect. No traffic from 9.00 p.m. onward, France’s curfew likely still in effect but retarded. Past Bordeaux and over the rivers Garonne and Dordogne, we found an empty campsite. The barrier was open, the reception unmanned. Just after we had set up camp, and just after Heidi had asked me to cut the vegetables for our evening meal, the owner of the campsite knocked on the entrance of our Sibley tent. I suggested to join her to the reception and left Heidi shaking her head.

With nine euro and eighty cents for the night I could not agree, but we shook hands on fifteen euros. As was the case at most campsites we visited the last few weeks, the machinery to facilitate an electronic payment was said to be out of order, and ... man, I feel for those millions of hidden corona victims, who, like most people, have little to fear from the virus itself.

The leek and bell pepper in the dish Heidi prepared I could not have cut any better. Plates on our laps, we watched a part of the Netflix series Outlander after which we roamed the farmlands around the campsite, on the alert for police patrols, and ... Quimper. Mouth and nose coverage everywhere but not on the crowded sidewalk terraces lining the car-free downtown streets.

Corona is among us for about a year and a half now, and no two government-affiliated scientists in two different countries have been able to align their conclusions when it comes to measures to possibly reduce the virus’ impact. That is as ridiculous as gravity supposedly working in a different direction in neighboring countries. In their conclusion that a vaccination experiment will save the world’s population from demise, those experts conclude united, which is odd. Usually, conclusions are being drawn after an experiment, and ... uproar. Moos! The German shepherd has smelled something edible, has estimated my level of being lost in thought, has changed her course, and now scares some people on a sidewalk terrace – humanity less brave with each day passing. I turn, register some chaos indeed, suppress a fit of laughter, whistle softly, and see Moos emerge from under a table. Her tongue slides over her upper lip as she approaches me, and for no apparent reason, I wonder who submitted to whom when a wolf once beggingly looked at a man and was thrown a piece of meat.

Again, I turn, and I walk on, Moos playfully biting my hand. Heidi scans the display window of a sports shop, and I realize our relationship would end today if one of us would wear some form of nose and mouth coverage in the streets of Quimper to take it off on a sidewalk terrace, people only inches away from us, left, right, and center. No prothesis for lost pride, a voice in the back of my head murmurs, and I wonder why the words who submitted to whom keep coming back to me until it dawns on me that it is because we joyfully submit ourselves to those who stage a digital coup.

Should we truly believe in the existing vaccines in the fight against corona, we would, worldwide, roll them out among the vulnerable among us, say, those deliberately unhealthy, and we would leave the healthy part of the world's population to gain natural immunity. Instead, potentially dangerous vaccines make the steppingstone to a digital behavioral passport, and scared that my thoughts can be read, I bend my head and look at the cobblestone pavement I walk on, ashamed in a way. I am a heretic. I am not allowed to think what I think, which is painful, at least to me, because I too clearly see mankind embrace a life that is in fact the life of animals that still live in swarms, shoals, and colonies, a life, in our case, that is being managed and controlled by computers, not even by the collective desire of the swarm, shoal, or colony. Whatever we owned until a year and a half ago, we give up laughingly to occasionally get it on loan from computers in exchange for obedience to those same computers. And of course, people program those computers. People who act according to the late Churchill’s words never let a crisis go to waste, I once referred to in a blog I wrote. But who cares about that now? We are in the midst of the holiday season, busy to get our right on loan to travel to a holiday destination for a week. Apart from that, the people programming the computers that will soon regulate our lives mean well, don’t they?

Maybe those people mean well. The problem is that we don’t know them, don’t democratically choose them. They transcend the power of our governments, and they are ruthless in their pursuit of a new world order. But like they were some ten years ago, during the outbreak of the swine flu, they are too eager. Corona, after all, does exist, and it does not have itself intimidated by hastily developed vaccines. That apart, there will come a day that social media computers can no longer shield us from reading the scientific reports on the efficacy of vaccines and on the side effects they have. There will come a day that some journalists regain their pride and start doing the job they are supposed to be doing: to safeguard our democracy. And my irresponsible traveling? It is the traveling of spike proteins, among things, that should worry us. We are placing bets, and it will not be long until the croupier announces rien ne va plus. Man, I am glad I am not a gambler.

I know more epidemiologist, statisticians, and virologists whose written statements, podcasts, or movies have recently disappeared from social media computers than I know people who have been sick with corona, which, I blame myself, is a bad comparison, for I know no one who has been sick with corona. Hell is truth seen too late, I think as I look up at Quimper’s cathedral, gothic and majestic. Was that Hobbes?

The sight of that cathedral forces my thoughts to the similarities between religion and corona, and, somewhat despairingly, I admit, I wonder why masses of people, as if they truly make part of a swarm, shoal, or colony, grant their governments the freedom to turn corona into a game for which most leaders of dubious regimes would turn up their noses. Freedom of speech has already become a relic, and equal to how, for centuries, the catholic church enforced the teaching of Aristotle, we are forced to agree to one corona teaching. Together against corona, however, serves a different purpose than fighting corona, like the catholic church never truly sought to better the conditions of this world, and ... I trip over Moos as I step in the direction of a toy store. Wildly, I wave my arms to keep my balance. A girl, maybe ten years of age, looks up at me. Above a blue mask, her eyes form slits in a swollen face, physiognomy impossible although the word joyless comes to my mind.

The girl stands a head shorter than I stand, weighs some twenty kilos more than I weigh, and unashamed this time, I wonder where love ends and child abuse starts. Her gaze is impossible to follow, but her nose points in the direction of a collection of Barbie dolls in the shop’s display window. Barbies! I eh… I would not be surprised to learn that a Barbie with no waist-line exists, listening to the name normal-look-Barbie.

Reflected in the glass in front of me, I see Heidi and Moos joining me. ‘You know which Barbie used to be the most expensive Barbie?’ I ask Heidi.

‘Someone will likely soon tell me.’

‘Divorced Barbie.’


‘Comes with a car and a house.’

‘Very funny. But you said used to be, so I expect things to get even funnier.’

‘Normal-look-Barbie is the most expensive Barbie today.’

‘Normal-look-Barbie ...?’

‘Comes with an operating suite in which Barbie and Ken of the old variant perform lifesaving operations on normal-look-Barbie and install artificial knees and such.’

‘Very funny, but eh... there comes the cavalry.’

‘Infantry,’ I mutter as we break free from the display window and walk toward three gendarmes, masked in black. As I calculate the number of crimes we commit, one of them taps her mask with a finger and points at me. In turn, I point at the beige-painted wall behind her, graffitied with the same words I earlier read on a wall: Liberté, egalité, demasqué and added to that: Ouvrez les yeux ! The gendarme looks over her shoulder at the graffiti, looks back at me, winks, and walks on …


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