It’s not exactly akin to the Year of Living Dangerously, but there is something about the current situation that brings to mind that movie. Maybe it is simply the title that makes me think of my weeks of living dangerously, each time I go to the supermarket or pharmacy and expose myself to other people. Or the moments when I really lived dangerously and invited a friend to sit on my back porch to share a bottle of wine from separate glasses while we sat a safe six feet apart.
I, of course, am not living dangerously, not when I compare my relative seclusion and the appeal of seductive self-isolation giving me time for myself to the brave and selfless actions of health care workers, first responders, and essential service personnel like grocery store, pharmacy and supermarket employees among others. However, just like for everyone else, my life is very different from what I had envisioned for myself BC or Before COVID-19.
For starters, there were my travel plans, now squelched of course. The journey to Portugal and Spain to walk one of the routes of the Camino de Santiago that was to have occurred in May is not happening. The trip to Baltimore to visit my son in late March and see the cherry blossoms in Washington, DC — cancelled. An editor’s conference in Salt Lake City — is gone with the wind. During one of my endless days at home when I decided to tackle a small pile of paper clutter,
I came across the travel section of The New York Times from Sunday, January 12 with a front-page story that highlighted 52 places to go in 2020. Hmm… I have a lot of catching up to do. So far my list for 2020 includes two city parks, three supermarkets, one grocery store and three restaurants for drive-through take-home meals as a small gesture of support for local service workers.
The park visits occur twice daily, once in the morning with friends at a proper social distance, and again solo in the early evening. Call it waddling for wellness, keeping my Fitbit and me happy as I get in my 10,000 steps. The walks help keep the pounds from piling up too much. I am eating and drinking more, but my meanderings keep me at a break-even point when I step on the scale. These twice-daily strolls also establish a routine, which the experts say is mentally critical to handle the stress of quarantine. They bookend my day — coffee and two miles in the morning, wine and two miles in the evening.
I seek to hold onto the good in a not very good situation. I know I am among the lucky ones; I am not ill and do not personally know anyone who has been infected by COVID-19. One son is among the nearly 17 million people who lost their jobs; another son is a federal employee whose job is still safe. I struggle to hold onto my humanity and find contentment, if not unbridled happiness. The presence of two little girls who live in my neighborhood and ride their bikes down the street past my window every day does cheer me up.
I have been in semi-lockdown since March 23, when Alachua County, where I make my home, issued its Emergency Order 2020-09, aptly titled “It is Time to Shelter in Place – Stay at Home.” Of course, large swaths of the nation had been shutting down before that – but Florida was late to the game. Alachua County, home to the University of Florida and Santa Fe College, was ahead of the curve as far as Florida goes, but in the week leading up to the order, I still went to the gym and to restaurants. My son, living in Baltimore was horrified. His comment was “it’s about time” when I told him we had jumped on the shelter-in-place bandwagon.
Since that moment, every aspect of my life has changed drastically. My social and work life revolves around Zoom, a cloud-based video conferencing service. I have become addicted to Zoom, which is my new best friend, because it allows me to stay socially connected, even as I remain socially distant.
I got to know Zoom in a training session at Santa Fe College, where I teach public speaking. We actually learned in person, because ironically the sessions took place in person, in a classroom, where we sat within shouting distance of each other – although still six feet apart. This was just two days before the school closed its doors “in an abundance of caution” – and we were collectively disconnected and disenfranchised in terms of in-person contact.
I now conduct my classes on public speaking via Zoom two days a week. I have office hours on Zoom daily, which only a handful of students have attended, but I am there. I attend faculty meetings on Zoom. I sat in on a Zoom session about fundraising for political campaigns geared toward getting progressive women elected to office in Florida. I am on the boards of two local organizations and we meet on Zoom. We even hired someone through an interview process we conducted on Zoom. My writer’s group is meeting on Zoom. I attended Zoom lectures from international journalists covering the global pandemic in the Philippines, India and South Africa. I took a yoga class on Zoom and I went to a Zoom dance party hosted by a group of academics in Michigan. How did I make that connection? By briefing the mother of one of the organizers on how to work on Zoom.
I meet up with a friend three or four times a week to watch Jeopardy together, courtesy of Zoom. His TV is suitably positioned so that he can set up his computer in a way that we can watch and play Jeopardy together. I’ve also raised my glass of wine to my friends during a few Zoom happy hours. I attended Shabbat services on Zoom from my local reform synagogue. I used to belong to that synagogue but let my membership lapse years ago. The way they are stepping up to the plate during the pandemic via Zoom is making me want to be part of that family again.
Zoom helps keeps me sane. I don’t feel bored, I am as busy as I was when I used to be outside, but I don’t have to waste money or time on getting from Point A to Point B. Now I don’t have to go anywhere; I don’t have to dress up (except when I have class, and only from the waist up; the camera doesn’t see my ever-constant sweat pants.) I do not have a partner and live alone, but I don’t feel like I am in solitary confinement, in great part thanks to Zoom. You can talk and meet as a group or one-on-one in real time. The gallery view on Zoom is like the clip from the movie Love Actually. I love seeing everyone’s face and hearing their voices.
I relish being alone together.
I even had a Passover Seder of sorts on Zoom on April 8 with my two sons. Mike, who lives in Gainesville, hasn’t been to see me since the stay-at-home decree was issued. He is a bartender and is taking the warnings seriously. He insisted we meet al fresco, on my porch. We zoomed with my son, Tiffen, who lives in Baltimore. We had our own family Seder with matzo ball soup and other Passover staples at our respective locations. Zoom facilitated two wonderful hours of family time.
I do have other diversions. My friends and family share funny videos that are Coronavirus related. One I particular like is a montage of videos clips, most likely from Spain that include scenes of people playing ping pong from window to window in an apartment building and a man hiding behind the cushions of his couch when his daughter comes looking for him. I also liked the photo of a woman who was simulating curling her hair with Crayola crayons with a caption that read, “Coloring my hair.” A student doing a class assignment related to Twitter shared a Tweet that said, “I don’t use LOL anymore, I have time to write out ‘laughing out loud.’”
My favorite minstrel is Chris Mann who does parodies including one moaning the lack of toilet paper and others lamenting different aspects of being stuck inside. Then other videos shared that are truly extraordinary and moving like the French National Orchestra playing Ravel’s “Bolero” with each musician at home. Other offerings have included the Metropolitan Opera’s nightly free opera streams from its encore Live in HD presentations. Andrew Lloyd Webber is giving fans a chance to view some of his biggest musicals by streaming them free on YouTube. CBS has jumped into the game by organizing musical potpourris where artists like Brad Paisley and John Legend perform live from home. My personal favorite was the living room concert by Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood.
What else do I do to pass the time? I maintain social connectivity outside of Zoom with one or two lengthy phone calls each day with a friend or family member, frequently people with whom I had lapsed in terms of staying in touch. The calls are intentional. Again, the experts say this is important to keep from feeling isolated and after a lengthy chat on the phone I do feel good.
I have signed up for French and German classes on Duolingo, a language-learning app. Sometimes I wonder why I am spinning my wheels to try to learn some basics of these languages when travel to countries where French or German is spoken is definitely not in my immediate future. But hope beats eternal.
I also read books and watch movies and binge on series. I have about 30 books lined up to read both online and in hardcover editions. I have subscriptions to Amazon and Netflix and get HBO and Starz with my cable subscription, which I had been about to cancel until the pandemic kept me home. I also just rediscovered Turner Classic Movies and am enjoying film noir from the 1940s and 1950s. My plans now include the TCM’s Home Film Festival in mid-April.
I do have my personal traumas. I have some dental issues, which I had planned to address in June – finally, after putting things off for way too long. Turns out, June hit me in April when a bridge in my mouth popped out. But it’s not considered an emergency, and I can’t get a dentist to see me, except for one who wrote me a prescription for antibiotics and painkillers to have on hand if I need them. The dentist told me they are worried because they are at the bottom of the list right now in the health care field and can’t order replacement personal protective gear for when they are allowed to see patients again.
There are, of course, moments of sadness and stress. These come with the news, as we watch the death toll spiral and collectively shake our heads at the lack of leadership exhibited by our president, whom the author of an opinion piece in the Washington Postrecently labeled as the worst president ever. I am annoyed at being hailed as a “superhero” just for staying at home. I wanted to do something to help. I went to a local website looking for volunteers but was hit with the news that if you are over 60 you are at risk and we don’t want you. Stay at home! I get it. but for the first time, I really did become aware my age. But I rebelled in a fashion by walking over to my local blood bank to make a donation. I left behind a pint of my blood, which has allowed me to make plans to visit there again at the very end of May when I have met the requisite eight-week lapse between blood donations. So at least I am not too old and at too much at risk for that!
So that’s my coronavirus story and I’m sticking to it. Here I am going to borrow from the 1948 film and later television series The Naked City, which ended with this line: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them." In our times, there are tens, if not hundreds of millions of coronavirus stories to tell, and this is one of them.
Shoppers wait outside a Publix Supermarket in Gainesville under new Coronavirus restrictions
That's Zoom the new video conferencing tool that is taking over academica and the non-profit world. I have been on Zoom conferences about a dozen times in the past few days. I have given two classes on Zoom. But I am zoomed out now for the day and about to visit my local bar -- the one in my living room. that is. Staying at home is exhausting. Time for a break.
I made a brief side trip to Provence in France this weekend. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see a small bit of southern France.
Visiting two friends who I know from my days in San Francisco, Ken Kobre and Betsy Brill. They have a second home in the small village, of Carcès, France, somewhere between Nice and Marseilles.
The day I arrived on Thursday was the National Fête de la Musique, a nationwide music festival where in every town, village and city there was music in the street. It is a national day of music and it started out to be something where everyone played music at home. Now it is a national street festival. We went to hear music in Entrecasteaux. I had never experienced music in this kind of setting. The Bar Central set up a long, long table on the walkway across from the restaurant. Then there were plenty of smaller tables out on the street. Lots of rose -- the new vin du jour, du mais, du annee. I think I am hooked. You sip it in small glasses, some are pinkish, some are whitish. All are good.
On my last night here we went back to Entrecasteaux for another concert in a repurposed olive mill. We heard from the San Francisco-based Vinifera Trio. It's hard to describe the ambiance, because it was so different from anything else I have experienced. The room was small, perhaps with enough space for no more than 100 people We had front row seats, but when I say front row, I really mean Front row, we were three feet away from the violinist and clarinetist. They played an eccletic selection but ended with thier own rendition of Gershwin's An American in Paris. And of course, when the performance ended, glasses of rose were passed around for all.
Other highlights -- to market, to market. every day there is a different market where wares of all kinds -- foods, herbs, clothes of course, but also mattresses and even grandfather clocks. We went to the markets in Carces on Saturday and Salerne on Sunday before our concert. Another feature of the market is to grab a table outside afterward for some people watching, and, of course, a glass of rose.
On Friday we went to Aix-en-Provence, a city for sure. What were supposed to be majestic tree-lined boulevards weren't -- some kind of tree disease has meant a lot of trees had to be cut down. So it didn't look as nice as we all expected. But it will get better. However when we got to the older part of Aix, another story. Endless crowds of people sitting at endless tables out on the restaurant watching endless others walking by. And drinking endless verre du rouge.
Even my approach into Provence at the airport in Nice, France was noteworthy. You could see the coastline and hte long stretch of beach. It was exciting to get my first view of Provence from my window seat on the plane. I got the same glimpse when I said goodbye, adieu to Provence Monday.
June 16 – Another walk around Prague today. I actually feel as if I am starting to know my way around a bit. Not by street names of course, but by reference points or puntas de referencia. So I can get from the dorm to Café Slavia and I know how to walk up there now to Wencelas Square (check speling).
The plan was to meet Heidi from Germany there today. And we met up perfectly. Using old school meet-up techniques. Pre-arranged Be there at a certain time. End of story. It worked.
We had lunch at a place her tour guide recommended across from the Metro stop after you walk up the street where the #18 tram and #22 bus go up.
I did’t think the restaurant was that good, although Heidi seemed to enjoy it. But they did give us an after dinner drink which seems to be the standard that I had never heard of before, which I reailly liked, and which I think might make interesting little gifts for a few people. It is called Becherovka. Lemon and herb based. Liquor. They served us the lemon,
I also found a travel agency o the street with no name to which I may go on Monday to set up my trips. It may not be useful. I actually just realized sitting here that if they do have tours they will probably be organized for people from here and the tours will be offered in Czech, so think I will stay on my own.
I also found, thanks to Heidi, the Tesco supermarket and department store where one can find everything. Jim hadn’t mentioned it and because I am not familiar with Europe I had never heard of it. I never would have found my way into it, without her.
After we parted, I came to the Marina Restaurant to begin writing because I do want to try remember as much as I can about my trip. I came to dinner here with Dannelle last night and it is a wonderful Italia restaurant right on the water with a view of the Charles Bridge. I am sitting and writing here right now with just such a view. She got a wonderful dessert last night – strawberry lavender cheese cake and it was so soft and creamy with a wonderful light graham crust. I tasted hers, and thought it was delicious. So with two hours to kill after leaving Heidi, while I wait to meet up with my Charles University writer’s group with a Jim-led tour across the Charles Bridge and into Lesser Town, I thought why not just come and sit here. So here I am, with the cheesecake now gone as well as the cup of coffee that accompanied it.
General Prague Thoughts.
I thought Prague would be less costly. It is wonderful, but NOT inexpensive. Coffee and pastry ends up being about $10. Dinner averages out at $20. But on the other hand, it is all good, so who can complain.
Lots of walking. Up hills. Down hills. You don’t notice because there is so much to look at that is just so beautiful, but at the end of the day, boy do my feet hurt.
I thought there would be more English spoken here. Before I left, I was told,
Everyone speaks some English, especially in the tourist areas. Not true. English is NOT widely spoken here. I have learned to conduct more complicated communications with Google translate tool. Other simpler things get done with pointing.
Yesterday on my free walking tour across the Charles Bridge and into Lesser Town I learned:
There are more dogs per capita in Prague than anywhere else in the world.
Prague ahs the third highest number of aethists and agnostics after China and Japan. This is attributed to the old days of Communism. Interesting, because there are so many churches here, old elaborate buildings from different styles and eras that I can’t quite explain. Our guide says that is why so many concerts and musical presentations are offered in churches. And that is true. At first I was struck and wnted to go to a classical musical concert in a particular church because I thought it was unique and special. Then as I kept walking about every 500 feet another concert was being hawked from a church front. Our guide said one church even doubles as a discotheque and dance club. He said that is because the churches are hardly used; if anything generally just one morning service. He says they need to be used for something.
Here at the dorm where I am being housed. So now I have am actually started the class on screenwriting and poetry writing which is being offered by a man who is much more renowned than I had realized.
Internationally recognized poet and screenwriter and former dean at University of Southern California. His name is James Regan who if you wish to google him. He is of Czech descent and quite
well versed in all things Czech and has been coming to Prague to do these classes for 25 years. So I may have gotten much more than I realized when I signed up for this adventure. I have learned
a lot about Prague in just these two days here — and even a thing or two about screenwriting should I wish to venture off in that direction (which I don’t).
I have been in Germany for five days now and it has been a whirlwind of activity and getting to know this area of central Germany in what is known as the Rhineland. To list things here briefly, Monday we visited the stone quarry (see previous post). Tuesday we roamed around Darmsdadt, Wednesday to Frankfurt and Thursday to the reconstructed, and with somee relics and finds, Roman fort at Saalsburg.
When we fisrt set out for Saalsburg, I did not realize it was going to be such a complete reconstruction. But you definitely left with an idea of what life was like at what would have been an outpost of the Roman Empire in the early 200s A.D. The limes was set up, you could get an idea of the stone structures that would have kept the fort safe and well-guarded, the village/s that would ahve sprung up outside the fort. Inside were various rooms set up as mini-museums with many of the actual archeological finds at the site -- tools, weapons, coins, household items, dishware, and more. I also liked the virtual display where lifesized drawings were set up around the room depicting different scenes of life, incuding the public toilets.
Wednesday was a visit to Frankfurt. We went to the top of the Main Tower for a 55-story high view of the city and could look out to see the main railroad terminal, the arts district, the river and more. We walked and walked and walked. Walked through the old plaza or Rumer where City Hall is located, walked to a wonderful Italian restaurant named Armonia where spaghetti was served from inside a scraped out wheel of Parmesan cheese. We walked some more and visited the memorial to Frankfurt's Jewish residents; the cemetery that was destroyed by the Nazis but exists now to honor those who died. Some of the old tombstones are still there and a wall has been reconstructed around the old cemetery with 12.000 small plaques to remember individually those who died with their birthdates, and when and where they died. They are flat on top so people can place small stones in remembrance as is the Jewish custom.
We also visited the museum next door about life in the Jewish ghetto that existed in the 1600-1800s. Foundations of five of the original buildings are there and again you walk away with a sense of how real people lived.
This trip was done in tandem with Heidi and Juan. Heidi is another former colleague from the San Juan Star. She and Juan have stayed in touch all these years. We picked her up at the train station in Darmstadt Tuesday. We spent a bit of time in Daarmstadt beforehand in teh arts district near the Russian Orthodox chufrch and around the grounds of a museum that has a whimscal sculpture of a man walking across the ledge of the roof at its highest point. I do have photos.
Then pick up Heidi and back home for a cookout and a wonderful dinner and lots of good conversation and wine.
My time in Switzerland is fast becoming a delightful blur, that I don't want to forget. So here are some quick impressions of a country that I hope to revisit. I arrived on a Wednesday and met my friend and her mom at the train station in Zurich, successfully making my way there on a train from the Zurich Airport. I waited for them at Cafe Oscar where I had cafe creme and a chocolate croissant near the treffpunkt or meeting point. It seems that there are treffpunks at every train station in Switzerland and Germany. The visual reminder is a sign with four arrows pointing in, which makes it obvious that is the place where one should be.
We met and all was well. Took the train from Zurich to Zug As per Wikipedia, Zug i.s an affluent municipality and that showed. The weather was perefect and it was a delight The name Zug originates from fishing vocabulary; in the to go for a meal or a dirnk or a coffee in any one of the numerous open air restaurants. The name Zug, I learned comes from a Middle Ages term that refers to the right to pull up fishing nets and hence to the right to fish. And there is plenty of fishing from this lake, which is also in the early summer when I was there, a place where people gathered to talk, to think, to picnic and watch their children play in the park.
The day after I arrived Deitland and I rode the train throughout Switzerland crossing into a number of different towns and changing trains at different locations. Our aims was to get to the Alps and perhaps take a hike. Our aim was to take a hike at bottom of the moutains and we did get there, But it was wet and damp and not conducive to walking and tramping around, although it was certainly conducive to walking around.
My take on Switzerland based on my all too brief visit is that it a country with spectacular views and scenery. As I write this from the vantage point of having spent three weeks in Europe, I would say it is the best train system which I have experienced. The trains were clean, sparkling and very easy to manuever in terms of the on and off since there are no steps, but rather a slide out user friendly alternative that easily accomodates the disable, more so than the German and Czech trains I have ridden thus far.
And everywhere I looked were spectacular views and this time of year, verdant and green like I have never seen elsewhere. Switzerland actually looked like a fairy tale, expect that it isn't make believe; it is real.
I didn't really pay attention to where we were going that Thursday. On one train, get off at one station, get on at another. Until Dietland said it was time to go home, as it began to grow dark and in theory we were to meet her mother for dinner that night. Fortunately, for me, the GPS on the iPhone lets me know where I was, even when I didn't remember to write it down.
It rained when we got back -- at least on the train. But by the time we got to the plaza in Zuk, the rain had stopped. We went to eat fishes, as Dietland called them, a Swiss equivalent of fish and chips with fish caught right in the lake there. A glass of wine and then a walk of a few blocks to get back to the rental we had.
Then to sleep, and the next day another adventure.