In a State of Siege: Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Days 3 & 4

So much has happened, so little has happened. Those eight words sum up Days 3 and 4 quite nicely.

But with having time to reflect, it became clear to me that quite a bit actually happened, despite my not leaving the  four walls surrounding me … .

Day 3:

People mention how long Anne Frank and others like her lived in enclosed spaces. With nothing but perhaps a few books, paper, and pens to keep the horrors at bay, these people valued their lives, and the lives of the people hiding them, more than the freedom to do whatever they felt like doing. They certainly wished for carefree meals at a restaurant or moving music in a grand opera house, all forbidden because of the menace just outside on the street.

Right there, I am reminded of how lucky I am. Why?

Despite the threat of the coronavirus to the world’s population and economy, I have it much better than Anne Frank, much better than the people who withstood the Siege of Leningrad.

  • I have four walls and a roof protecting me.
  • I have food to cook and eat.
  • I have family I can call and text.
  • I can surf the internet.
  • I have books to read.
  • I can cook, yes, I said that already, but … .
  • I can walk around outside freely, as long I stay away from other people.

And I know that dedicated scientists and medical people are working hard to put an end to the scourge that is killing people so fast  in Italy and Spain, where there are probably not enough coffins for all the dead. Hopefully, eventually, we will see an end to this, but I hope we learn some lessons from it, such as how to be better prepared for future pandemics.

On day 3, I dabbled briefly on my latest project, but lacked the focus to stick to even one paragraph, rereading the same words over and over. As noon approached, I opened the front door to nice warm sunshine. What better than a short walk? Off I went, greeting a few other walkers who kept their distance, as did I.

An email notice popped up on the computer screen when I returned. A sister-in-law wanted me to scan our mother-in-law’s recipe for sugar cookies, so I did.

Reading the handwriting of a woman I dearly loved, who died almost 30 years ago, brought back memories of her refrigerator, which she rarely cleaned out, keeping things for years. She’d lived through the flu epidemic of 1918 as a young child and the Great Depression as a young adult and the rationing of World War II as a married woman, cooking for a family of five (and later had three more children after the war ended). She knew a thing or two about hardship.

For dinner on Day 3, I noticed an almost-empty jar of capers in my refrigerator, so what would be better for dinner than Chicken Piccata, a take-off on that Italian classic, Veal Piccata?

Chicken Piccata prep (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

Before I fell asleep, I decided that I would cancel a doctor appointment I’d scheduled weeks ago for Friday, just too risky even though my county claims there’s no community spread. Not yet.

Day 4:

Day 4 did not get off to a good start, no indeed. Again my ability to focus on mental efforts dwindled, no matter how hard I tried. News of the virus’s spread among younger people brought my mood down to the level of my toes, quite low.

Then I opened my email, to be greeted with a message from a friend who proceeded to, well, basically lecture me about how I needed to get a grip on the situation, for there’s nothing I can do to stop the virus, quoting a section the “Serenity Prayer” at me, with which I am quite familiar:

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

My response to this, as you can imagine, was something along the lines of  “What???”

So, in my reply, I wrote this:

Supposedly there are stages of grief, and I’m still in the anger stage about this virus and the idiots who let it start to get out of hand, the people who poo-pooed the whole thing. And still are. I am quite concerned about what’s going to happen. Actually, a good way to look at all this to think of it as grieving, each in our own way, for something dire has befallen the human race. In another way, it’s poetic justice. I read with joy that dolphins are swimming in the canals of Venice, apparently an unusual event, thanks to the cleaner water.* Mother Nature may be cleansing the earth of her own virus: us.

It’s tempting to tell people what to do right now, and I have been as guilty as anyone in a few circumstances, but since most people have never faced anything like what’s happening now, there’s no telling how anyone will react. It’s complicated.

So a much-needed walk blew off the steam shooting out of my ears and I came home to cook, which is my spiritual practice, I guess. The result:

Chickpea Soup with Pasta and Tomatoes (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

As I scraped the leftovers into a plastic storage container, I thought about M. F. K. Fisher’s 1942 How to Cook a Wolf, “wartime economics for the table,” as James Beard wrote. A treatise on the difficulty of cooking during times of shortages, How to Cook a Wolf reveals Ms. Fisher’s fine prose, which – if you’ve never read it – will enthrall you. More about Fisher and her work in the days to come.

Be well.

  • Sorry to tell you, but National Geographic has disputed the story of the dolphins in the Venetian canals.

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