When Tahar Ben Jelloun Recounts, with Excellence, the Coronavirus

Tahar Ben Jelloun surprised everyone, even his friends and family members, when the details of his stand were revealed on Friday on France Inter.

Published on the site and read by Augustin Trapenard in his review ” Letters from inside “, this text entitled ” A letter to a distant friend ” caused such a stir that many people believed that the famous writer was really telling his experience.

In fact, Ben Jelloun put himself in the shoes of a sick friend by Covid-19 and in so doing, he wrote about isolation, uncertainty, fear of tomorrow. In this text, he also tells how friendship, beauty and art can help us to hold on. Moreover, Ben Jelloun, who always handles the word and the verb perfectly, describes the positive traces left by this life lesson called Coronavirus.

His full text as published on France Inter:

Paris, April 10, 2020

A letter to a distant friend

Since we have been quarantined, each in our own country, I feel that the time that united us, today separates us.

If I did not give any sign of life for two weeks, it is because I was infected and I am happy today to tell you that I am cured. Yes, I am one of those 95% of people who caught the Coronavirus and were lucky enough to beat it.

My silence was filled with anguish and hope. I didn’t want to add anxiety to the stress you were experiencing.

It started as a minor cold, headache, loss of smell and taste, and then great fatigue. I stayed home alone, didn’t go out, didn’t see anyone and waited. I called our mutual friends to warn them that the party, all parties, are postponed. I experienced moments of high loneliness where I made an effort not to project myself into the future. I tried to live in the present. Then, with perseverance, I managed to hold on to the joy, the idea of happiness, the wonderful hours that raised us to a beautiful friendship.

Tired but not down. I listened to John Coltrane and flew on the wings of his genius. Then I would move on to Charlie Parker and let myself go into his “Night in Tunisia”. I traveled, I sailed and I thought of you, of us. My imagination was helping me to get away from the disease. Deep inside, I was silently fighting to keep the virus from reaching my lungs.

Then I opened the big book on Henri Matisse, and I found myself in Tangier in 1912 in the company of Zohra who was posing for him. I was entering the vision of paradise as he painted it in “Les Marocains”, an enigmatic canvas that we had admired so much together at his last exhibition in Beaubourg.

Art, beauty, friendship helped me to abolish the obsession with death. Yes, I must admit I felt death lurking around the house. But I resisted by maintaining my life ritual. I shaved every morning, as usual; I washed myself and dressed in colorful clothes as if I were leaving to meet you for lunch at our favorite restaurants. I would sit at my desk and try to work.

I discovered that self-isolation is not good for writing. The time, vastly extended, encircled me like ivy, preventing me from moving. So I got up and summoned our tenacious memories. Memories of the times of joy and carelessness.

Since I am healed, I feel that this event has given me new energy; I am alive, as you know, I love life. I look differently at the sky and the sun, I am more attentive to the singing of birds and to the health of others, to my loved ones and also to my neighbors. I will put on gloves and a mask before going to do my little shopping; I will go to the neighbor of the next door, who is very old and lives alone, and I will take her list of things to buy. And then I will wait until the borders open to find us.

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