Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My Life in the Time of COVID-19: March 2020

Attack of the Furies
March 2020 is the month of before and after. "Before" when grocery stores were fully stocked except for hand sanitizers. And "after" when grocery store paper aisles were empty, when on my first "after" grocery store visit, there was no chicken, no ground meats of any kind, most breads were gone and the flour/grain aisles were decimated. "Before" when I was a healthy, active 65-year old woman and 60 was jokingly called the "new 40." "Before" when I was hiking 8.5 miles with the El Dorado Senior Hikers, and "after" when my gym is closed and I'm limited to neighborhood walks.

At the beginning of March I finished renovating the condo I owned when Dan and I met. It has been a rental now for almost 30 years. It took 10 weeks of extensive repairs and replacements, but on March 1 I had an open condo day and found renters. They signed a lease and moved in on March 8. Because of that distraction, I was a little behind the curve on getting ready for what was ahead. By the time I thought about it all antiviral wipes were gone as were most hand sanitizers. I did manage to snag one purse-sized bottle of hand sanitizer.

Also, Dan went to Moldova in February for a two-week gig that brought him back home on March 7. He returned home just days before Trump said he was going to stop all incoming flights and goods from Europe which caused Americans traveling abroad to panic and pay big bucks to get home before the blockade was to take effect but then didn't because he "mis-spoke."

In the week before we became shut ins, we had a series of plumbing issues at home. First there was a leak behind the dishwasher that put it out of commission for several days. Then, after the leak was identified and repaired but while we had fans running to dry out the floor/wall area, our water heater decided to die. There were no hot showers and I had to boil water to wash dishes because I couldn't use the germ fighting power of the dishwasher.

On March 15, California Governor Gavin Newsom advised those of us 65 and over to stay home except for essential trips for groceries, pharmacies, banks, etc.

We've been walking 3-4 miles several times a week both in our neighborhood and in our yard. If our cats want to leave the fenced part of the yard, then we walk them on a leash. No free-ranging cats here. We live in a semi-rural area where it is easy to social distance while walking.

Dan and Syd
We travel a lot and have no pattern to our destinations. Last year we signed up for a Rick Steves Tour of Portugal that several friends would be going on. We were to depart on April 18. This month, the tour company canceled the trip, and United Airlines dropped the international segments from our itinerary. The two hotels in Portugal that we were to stay at before and after the tour have credited us the cost of the room to be used at a later time. For our airfare, we have a credit that has to be used within one year of booking the original trip--Nov 1, 2020. So, trying to look on the bright side, Dan and I began looking at self-guided walking tours for Portugal. Briefly, I felt hopeful. September would be a great time to go (if we can).

Our county of El Dorado as of March 31 has 18 reported cases of Covid-19. The first two cases were people who acquired and recovered from the virus in other states/counties. So far one person of the 18 has been hospitalized. At this point, the county is waiting for results of 100 tests recently administered.

Because I thought I would have time on my hands, I decided to make a sourdough starter and then bread. It was a slow process that began on March 22. So far, my bread hasn't lived up to my expectations. My product of my first attempt was rather dense, but slather butter on it and it was pretty good. I have also been making sourdough pancakes from the starter discard. They have been amazingly light and tasty. I'll continue working to perfect my bread making process, but now I don't feel like I have that extra time.

After making this bread I put aside the plastic wrap that had covered the dough while it was rising. I figured that I should conserve resources and reuse it. I left it on a clean pan on the kitchen counter. The next day, I found what was left of it. There was a big hole in the middle. One of our cats had decided to eat it.

On the last day of the March, our little Pandora cat just didn't seem her normal self. With the plastic wrap culprit still unknown, I now assumed that Pandora was ill because she was the perpetrator. Normally, after she eats, she runs through the house, up and down the stairs. She always has so much joie de vivre, but today, nothing. After calling the vet office and finding out the "new normal" procedure, we took her. The procedure is to park, call the vet's office, and wait for a vet tech to come out. The office entrance has a big sign telling clients to wait in their cars and call. There were several of us in our vehicles with our sick pets. When it was our turn, the vet tech (wearing mask/gloves) took Pandora inside for an examination. We waited outside in our car. Eventually, the vet (wearing mask/gloves came out and standing at least 6 feet from our car, discussed her findings. She found that Pandora had no obvious issues and we should just watch her for a couple of days. The vet tech returned with the bill and left with our credit card. Once the payment transaction was complete, she returned Pandora cat to us.

Back at home, Pandora seemed perfectly normal again: running around, bothering everything.

My escape is editing photographs and creating art. It allows me to focus and forget. I've been working on a series of images I took at a January Photographic Society of America workshop on still-life photography. My favorite was the smoke table. Because the smoke table was outside and not completely protected, the smoke from an incense cone in the ashtray did not rise cleanly. The smoke was so light, so ephemeral, so hard to see. After reviewing my many images I found that, like clouds, there were interesting shapes. I repeatedly incorporated and composited some shapes for my Smoke Signals series.

Mandala of Smoke
So far, we are quite fine and will eventually settle into a workable schedule maybe even adding new things into our lives. Truly, we have nothing to complain about. We are managing. When I do go to the grocery store, I take a list. No more grocery shopping three times a week.

Between NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, and FB, I'm keeping up with both social and virus news. I no longer listen to the presidential press conferences, because I can't stand hearing our clueless cheerleader-in-chief blame everyone else for the appearance of the virus in the US. I am thankful for Dr. Fauci and for living in California.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Holiday Lights, London, England: December 13-17, 2019

At Leicester Square
While we made great use of the London Underground, we also did a lot of walking in London. We strolled through the Borough Market, took in the evening view from the Tate Modern, visited The Royal Courts of Justice to chat with a barrister and sit in on a summary of evidence in an appeals case, walked along both sides of the Thames, saw the powerful theater performance of Death of a Salesman, took in the wonderful Wildlife Photographer of the Year show at the Natural History Museum, met up with the daughter of our Tajik friends in Dushanbe, went to Christmas music events at both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral, and went in search of holiday lights. Whew!

View from Tate Modern

Trafalgar Square Christmas Market

Our favorite street was Carnaby in SoHo. It was so imaginative and colorful that we went twice.

We happened to be at Westminster Abbey in time for their 3:00 pm Evensong service with the Westminster Abbey Choir School (boys) singing. Their voices and the power of the organ within that space was magical. We were seated in the choir next to the boys.

On the third Sunday of Advent we took in a scripture reading and organ recital of La Nativit√© du Seigneur by Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992) at St. Paul's Cathedral. Spectacular! 

St. Paul's Cathedral
The Tuba Carol Band outside St. Paul's Cathedral
Mumtoz, daughter of our Tajik friends Olim and Sarvinoz
Natural History Museum
Ice Rink at Natural History Museum
Great Hall with Blue Whale skeleton 

Happy Birthday Dan and Happy Holidays everyone. Best wishes for a happy, healthy, kinder world in 2020. 

Particulars to remember:
We stayed at the conveniently located Vintry and Mercer Hotel a few feet from Mansion House underground stop and a few blocks from St. Paul's Cathedral.

Restaurant: Tandoor Chop House with its fabulous lamb chops. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Belmond British Pullman To Salisbury, England: Dec 12, 2019

We've been married more than 30 years now and as the years have accumulated, we stopped giving each other gifts opting instead to create memories through travel. This year, for Dan's December birthday, he chose London for our destination. We read that London is a spectacular city for Christmas lights. It was.

Our winter journey began with a luxurious trip from Victoria Station on the Belmond British Pullman train to Salisbury to hear a Christmas Carol performance in Salisbury Cathedral followed by a tour of the cathedral.

These elegant, Art Deco rail carriages were originally built in the 20s and 30s. Each one has a name. We were seated in Audrey which the porter told us was the Queen Mum's favorite. Nelson Mandela sat in Seat 20 in the adjoining Vera built in 1932 with Springbuck marquetry. We were properly impressed by the stories.

On the way to Salisbury, we were pampered with brunch and Bellini cocktails. On the return we had a scrumptious four-course dinner. 

Besides just being in Salisbury Cathedral, one of the highlights of the tour was seeing the Magna Carta. The Cathedral has one of the four remaining copies. Initially, there were many copies, but seven days after King John was made to place his seal on the documents, he began destroying them.

For security and archival purposes, the document is housed in a new glass case within a tent under very low lighting. Not too long ago a possibly deranged man trying to steal the document took a hammer to the document's former glass case. He put three holes in the case, the glass held, and the alarm sounded. He ran out but was tackled by several stone masons working on cathedral restoration. 

No photos are allowed of the document itself, but there is a digital, searchable document nearby. The writing is very small and many words and phrases have been abbreviated to keep the document to one page. The page is sheepskin parchment, and the King's wax seal has long since fallen off. It looks most unimpressive in contrast to the esteemed place it holds in our legal system.

On another day back in London, we made a visit to the British Museum intent on seeing two things: the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone. To my eye, the Elgin Marbles are mostly rubble, and the British Museum should return them to Greece.  Lord Elgin, the UK ambassador to Turkey, somehow acquired the marbles from the Turkish government (at the time Turkey controlled Greece) and had them sent to his own home. Unfortunately, Lord and Lady Elgin eventually divorced and the Lord was forced to liquidate assets in the form of selling the marbles to the British Museum to fund the divorce. 

The Rosetta Stone, however, is worth seeing in person. It is a surviving fragment of a stone stele; the inscription dated 27 March 196 BC is written in three languages: Egyptian hieroglyphics (traditional script of Egyptian monuments), Demotic (everyday script for literate Egyptians), and Greek (used by the government). It was the key that enabled the meaning of hieroglyphs to be discovered.

Hieroglyphs record both the sound and image for the word as in the British Museum's example for cat. There is an image for each letter of the sound a cat makes followed by an image of a cat. Simple once the Rosetta Stone was unlocked.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Honolulu, Hawaii: October 20-24, 2019

Leaving Shanghai behind, we stopped in Honolulu for a few days to celebrate my grandnephew's 9th birthday on the 23rd and to hang out in a beautiful city while he was in school and his parents were working.

The view from the Airbnb apartment on the 35th floor was mesmerizing. Each day we woke to a changing view with clouds rolling in, planes landing, and boats gliding into port. It was located downtown on the edge of Chinatown and the former red-light district.

We visited the nearby Foster's Botanical Garden with its collection of many trees and plants that we've never before seen.

Young Date Palms above and Canonball Tree below

Breadfruit tree
The Chinatown area was gritty but interesting. Apparently brides and grooms come from all over Asia to have their pre-wedding photo shoot in this area. On consecutive days we watched the same photographer with two different couples going through the same poses except that the groom in Couple Two was clever enough to hold his bride's hand as they crossed the street while being photographed.

We strolled through the exotic Oahu and Maunakea Markets selling fruits, meats, and fish in abundance of the types that we rarely see on the mainland. My favorite sighting was the sign for "Big Chicken Feet."

We watched two ladies in a floral shop stringing leis. Around the corner, another florist shop displayed decades of old and new orders.

The former "Club Hubba Hubba with Live Nude Shows" now has a Yoga Studio. It's right next to Smith's Union Bar which the sign says is "The Oldest Bar On The island/Established in 1934." The sandwich board sign out front in an effort to distance itself from the Yoga Studio and any chance that someone would think it is a Hipster Bar says, "This is not a Hipster Bar/This is real people having real drinks making really bad decisions/it's what we do." The sign on the window says that this bar is the "official watering hole of the USS Arizona" which has been underwater in Pearl Harbor since December 7, 1941.

We visited the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

The underwater portion of the rusted USS Arizona has new life as a reef. It is a truly touching, profound memorial. The memorial was designed by Austrian architect Alfred Preis. Preis fled the Nazis in 1939 settling in Hawaii. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Preis was arrested and put into an internment camp. At the dedication of the memorial in 1962, Preis said America stood for peace, prosperity, and freedom. The shape of the memorial is like a WWII timeline showing America as strong in the beginning, becoming weak in the middle, but regaining strength at the end.

On our last full day we found Shangri La. Shangri La is the name of the house built by Doris Duke. Duke (1912-1993) became the richest girl in the world in 1925 when her father James Duke, the tobacco and hydroelectric power tycoon, died and left her his assets. At 18, Duke, finally free from her mother, traveled the world. This is when she became a collector of architectural ideas and art from the Islamic world. In 1930 she found her way to Hawaii where with the help of Duke Kahanamoku, native Hawaiian, Olympic swimmer, and father of surfing, she purchased land on the southern shore for the house she named Shangri La.

The Syrian Room
To visit Shangri La tickets/tours must be reserved in advance through the Honolulu Museum of Art. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour and tour guide for our visit. My photos don't do justice to the Shangri La, but there is a virtual tour of the property and collection at Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art. Even the virtual tour doesn't do justice to Duke's collection of Islamic Art. Go and hear the stories of how she acquired the art and how she built Shangri La.

Guanyin, Bodhisattva of Compassion, at the Honolulu Museum of Art
An exhibition at the Honolulu Museum of Art that captured our attention was an exhibition of contemporary Chinese ink landscape paintings by Li Huayi. His art so perfectly followed the foggy mountain vistas we had just seen in China. 

Gangsta Kent almost 9
While it may not look like it, our main purpose in stopping in Honolulu really was to be there for Kent's 9th birthday on October 23. In advance of that momentous event, Kent's grandparents (Jerrene's parents) took us all out to dinner to celebrate. It was a fun night with great food, sake, and lots of photos.

Kent scored an iPad from his grandparents.

Two days later on Kent's actual day of birth, his parents, Lary and Jerrene, also hosted a pizza/cupcake party for Kent.  

The next day, Jerrene picked us up and treated us to a late breakfast at the country club before delivering us to the airport for our flight home.