Illustration of a doctor dressed to protect himself from the plague. The spiked mask held spices to purify the air and the wand was used to avoid touching patients (c. 1656)
A little over a year ago we were amazed at what the world had prepared for us . Spring was to be hijacked by a virus of uncertain origin. The dead numbered in the thousands and the god Pan played the syringa with force. They were the first bars of a macabre dance where there are still melodies to dance today.
When we saw the NBC (nuclear, chemical and bacteriological) isolation suits appear on our streets, we thought it was a nightmare. At best, they referred us to a science fiction movie. Something unreal. The people who wore them were the closest thing to extras escaped from one of those street shoots for a commercial or for a low-budget movie. We still did not know the dimension of what was coming and we saw them armed with hoses, watering the streets infected by a virus of which little or nothing was known.
A year later , we have become accustomed to the presence of isolation suits. Moreover, the other day, on the occasion of the elections in Catalonia, we could see the images of the polling stations with people dressed in these costumes. Because the only urn that knows this virus is made of pine wood, worth the black humor
However, if we look for the antecedents of these isolation suits, we will find them in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in Europe, when the outbreaks Plague devastated the world and the so-called plague doctors appeared in an outfit that today is carnival-like to us, but which in those years was sinister. It was not be for lowerly. They were covered with masks in which a prominent nose stood out, shaped like a beak and with two holes at the ends to allow them to breathe. They were designed so that their interior could be filled with perfume, vinegar or triaca which is a polypharmaceutical preparation, a mixture of herbs, opium and powdered snake meat, along with cinnamon, myrrh and honey.
The plague doctors walked with a white cane that served to keep their distance when touching patients
In this way, the inhaled air was impregnated with odorous elements before it reached the respiratory tract of the physicians. To make matters worse, their eyes were covered with thick spherical lenses and, to protect their heads, they wore a wide-brimmed hat made of Moroccan leather; goatskin that was also used for clothing and footwear. To finish off, the plague doctors walked with a white cane that served to keep their distance when touching patients.
This outfit was designed in 1630 by the French physician Charles de Lorme (1584-1678) , a renowned doctor who practiced at court, becoming a doctor to Henry IV, Louis XIII and Louis XIV, as well as a personal friend of Richelieu who would grant him a life pension. Long-lived and of a pleasant life, Charles de Lorme was married three times. The last time he did it at the age of 78. Between one thing and another, Charles de Lorme had time to devise the protective clothing of the doctors who were going to face the plague epidemic; a clothing that from Paris would spread throughout Europe, becoming the NBC costume of those times. Needless to say, this outfit also made a dent in the Venetian carnival, becoming his mask one of the most popular of said carnival. Along with Harlequin, Polichinela, Pierrot and many other characters inherited from the Commedia dell`Arte , Dottor Dea Peste joined with his beak mask. It is curious to see how, of all the characters, it is the plague doctor who has the most terrifying past. That is because its reality was far from the fantasy of a patched Harlequin or the entertaining evil that the evil dwarf who represents Punchinel wears. In the nights of Venice, during its carnival, the figure of the Dottor Dea Peste does not completely lose its dark past. The peak of his mask, sharp as a scythe, digs into the depths of our unconscious, where the collective traumas that have been inherited from generations reside.
Already on, it is possible to imagine that, in the future, when the suits NBQ have evolved to I do not know what forms, we find those of now converted into the exclusive disguise of a farce in which life will be celebrated.
Then we will remember these times that we now live with the perspective of the centuries, just as we do now when we approach the pandemic chapters of our history and imagine those doctors who, dressed in their peaked masks, walk through cobbled streets where corpses they pile up and the black rats celebrate death as if it were the nightmare of a collective trauma.
The stone ax is a section where Montero Glez , with a will to prose, exerts his particular siege to scientific reality to show that science and art they are complementary forms of knowledge.
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