A penny for your thoughts.

The Spike

The spike on the graph pops up like a mean acacia thorn. Covid is claiming bodies at a fast rate. Still, our quixotic leader insist on fighting wind mills. His ego always in the way, he is now using his loved quid pro quo as he deals with the governors asking for help. The ones praising him get his ear and he is deaf to those complaining about the lack of equipment or criticizing his response to the pandemic. It’s a daily litany of fuckups. The health community is stretched already thin and we are only a few weeks into the spread of the virus here. For the virologists, we are in for a long time. For the administration, all may be fine by Easter, less than two weeks from now. It’s with conflicting informations and projections that we live our lives. It’s scary. It’s scary because, in a crisis, be it a catastrophic event, a natural disaster, a war, or as now with this pandemic, citizens expect the experts and the government to work in unison. It’s scary because we are in a situation where our leader believes his gut feelings and whatever motivations ferments in his brain, are more in line with the way the quarantine should be orchestrated and than what the experts are recommending. The experts have no specific  time line but they have the data and the projections calculated from covid casualties in China, but also most importantly, from Italy, where the data may be more accurate. Adding to the fact that test kits are still not readily available, our curve is not expected to flatten any time soon.

Every day we wake up feels like a nightmarish Groundhog Day, unfortunately without Bill Murray.

I try to sleep longer but still wake up around the same time before 6am. So far, isolation has not been a big bother, there are enough undone chores to be completed, stuff to do that procrastination bumped to the proverbial tomorrow. Covid’s silver lining, if there is one,  gives us plenty of time to tie up loose knots. Having moved into our loft only a few months ago, we still have multiple boxes and totes of unpacked items . We moved from a thirty five hundred square feet house to an eight hundred square feet loft. Even though  we sold or gave at least two thirds of our belongings, the process of emptying the house still required several fifteen feet box trucks. My bookbinding studio alone, in the oldest part of the house and overlooking the garden, a space that had been used as bulbs and other plants in need of storage,  took four trucks of machinery, cabinets, file drawers, supplies, tools and other stuff relating to the trade, all that was moved to storage, paid a year in advance, thinking that, in a year time, I would dispose of it. The plan was to work at it this summer. It is now derailed by covid. The studio did not include books and artwork which took a full truck to move. We still have a lot of stuff stored at my son in law’s garage. I slowly bring it to the loft, a couple of boxes at a time, to sort through. Quarantine time is a good time to do that. It cuts into the doldrums of the day in this time of confinement. Unpacking brings memories and longings of the near past, before the virus descended upon us. Nostalgia can deal a languorous sorrow to someone living in a cage. I did not know how easy my life was.

Twilight of the Gods, the fourth and last part of The Ring of the Nibelun has started. The first scene shows women weaving the rope of Destiny and predicting the destruction of Valhalla. The virus is destroying our Valhalla. It is the danger facing us now. It will take a concerted effort, “like nobody has seen before” to overcome this pandemic. There are signs of people working towards that effort. Yankee ingenuity picks up when necessities are short, like ethanol. A distillery nearby is turning its spirit production to disinfecting grade ethanol. Quilters and sewing hobbyists are sewing masks, pop stars posts songs, or other pertinent messages from their homes, giving us free entertainment and lifting our mood.

I can now tell new tv broadcasts from reruns, pre-covid, hosts and guest are close together, since covid, they stand or sit six feet apart. More nostalgias. The choirs of men on the tv screen, plotting to kill Siegfried, some fifty or sixty of them, reminds me of the artists stranded in New York City, and the rest of the New Yorkers and I felt sorry for them. I spent close to twenty years of my life in Manhattan and still have a great love for the city. I miss the hubris. New York adopted me when I arrived in the USA, I have memories of the place, bad as well as good and sublime, and some tragic. New Yorkers are resilient, they’ve suffered greatly not so long ago. They bounced back and will again.

Another grim milestones today, came from Italy. Ten thousand have died so far. It’s a miserable day outside, grey sky and drizzling. Although the temperature has not changed on the nest stuck on the wall, it feels cold in the loft. Our governor is on the news, looking as confused as we are, and telling us about it in no uncertain terms, about a muttered line by the president today, something about a possible three states lockdown in strict quarantine. He is kept in suspense and in the dark as much as we are. In the meantime, the spike on the graph rises sharply. A military hospital ship is sailing towards New York harbour to help house the sick if needed.

I went to bed feeling depressed, but woke up in the same mood I always have, happy to open my eyes and see what today will bring. I knew already that another Wagner Opera would be on the schedule today, this time a lighter story taking place in Nuremberg, a town I knew well. In my early twenties, I travelled around Germany studying life and drawing Madonnas with colored chalk on the sidewalk. The town had been mostly destroyed by allied bombardments, but rebuilt faithfully after the war. The sets on the screen brought back memories. Nuremberg is a city with ample walking space and pedestrian shopping area. When drawing on a sidewalk, chalk is the perfect tool for the task, cheap, easy and ephemeral.  I would pencil a grid on the original to be copied, usually a postcard. The postcard was divided in a grid of equal squares, and the same pattern was transferred to the sidewalk. That method, classic for painting murals, helped me keep the drawing proportionate and true to the original. Once the rough sketching was done, the rest was easy, a bit like a glorified paint by numbers. This type of work was not done in a day. I would set up early in the morning and choose a spot. By noon, the painting was laid out and some color was already applied. I paid attention to the faces, often a Madonna and Child, because people’s attention was more likely to be retained when they saw eyes or a mouth born out of the sidewalk. As the chalk evolved and the drawing progressed, crowds of people would gather, distracted from their shopping. They often appreciated my efforts, enough to leave a coin or a banknote in the box.

The large paintings, four feet by eight, took three or four days to finish. If the weather was good, without rain, and the forecast was clement, I would linger a bit longer, slowing down the completion of the painting. At dusk, I would cover the art with a transparent plastic tarp, secured by tape on all edges. Many mornings, coming back to the drawing, I would find bills slipped under the plastic, five, ten and even twenty Deutschmarks notes, left there since the evening before. The German people respected art in all its forms, I liked that. When the painting was done, it was time to move to another town and start again.
Sometimes, when I was gone, leaving the painting to the elements, a homeless person would sit by and collect a few coins. Eventually, elements erased the artwork, cleaning the concrete until only a ghost of an image remained and eventually totally disappeared. There was something soothing about that, not unlike the Tibetan colored sand paintings that, once finished, are destroyed.

Meistersinger, Wagner’s Opera on the podcast today, is over four hours long. There must have been quarantines when he wrote it, plenty of time to think about circumvoluted plots when one is locked up.
Earlier on, this Sunday  morning, we drove to Litchfield to my son law’s house, were we still have stuff stored. A young couple from Europe, who used to rent an apartment from us, will occupy it for the next few weeks. They are more or less stranded here between an expiring lease and travel plans cancelled because of covid. They are moving in and we are still moving out after three months. I should have listen to George Carlin’s litany about “stuff”. We were still occupied when they showed up at the door. With all the reservations we had about close proximity in this covidian time, it was a pleasure  to be with familiar faces, and I think we all appreciated the moment. Never mind that we looked each other a bit suspiciously, the immense pleasure to be close to friends made us loosen our guard. It must be hard to be Monk. When we came back to the loft, Carolle settled down with Wagner and new boxes of stuff to sift through. I donned my hazmat suit and went to the liquor store for wine. I went through the routine, taking all precautions. This time I came in with a double bag that I used to carry my purchase to the the cashier who insisted to have me sign the credit card receipt. I told her that I would not touch the pen she was holding with a gloved hand. A quick look at the glove and one could bet they had not been changed for awhile. She was adamant and as was not going to convince her, I asked to see the manager. He agreed, my chip card did not need signature. I was good to go, in time to pick up a pizza on the way, sidewalk order only. When I got back Wagner was still on. The sun did not shine today, but it turned out to be a great day.