It’s like having a sore tooth.
Every time I tell myself I’m going to direct my mind to something more pleasant, maybe a day at the beach or the last meal I savored at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia, my devious brain waves haul me right back to the present, to the virus currently flattening everything in the world as I know it. Sadly, the Inn closed on Friday, March 20. And I hope that it, and all the other restaurants, will bounce back in the future.
But today there’s a villain out there. And it will not disappear for a while, neither from my mind nor from the increasingly empty streets of my city.
Its presence causes me to wonder over and over again just how people in the past dealt with their pandemics. By coincidence – another one I think! – someone mentioned Geraldine Brooks’s The Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, which I myself mentioned here just the other day.
“I open the door to my cottage these evenings on a silence so thick it falls upon me like a blanket. Of all the lonely moments of my day, this one is always the loneliest. I confess I have sometimes been reduced to muttering my thoughts aloud like a mad-woman when the need for a human voice becomes too strong. I mislike this, for I fear the line between myself and madness is as fine these days as a cobweb, and I have seen what it means when a soul crosses over into that dim and wretched place. But I, who always prided myself on grace, now allow myself a deliberate clumsiness. I let my feet land heavily. I clatter the hearth tools. And when I draw water, I let the bucket chain grind on the stone, just to hear ragged noise instead of the smothering silence.”
And I wonder if this will be my fate as well.
It’s interesting that sometimes I start thinking of something and suddenly that “something” seems to be everywhere.
And sometimes, there’s more than one “something.”
Right now, of course, one of those “somethings” is the plague. Last night, I realized that, for some reason, I’d started watching “NCIS: New Orleans” at Season 6, so I dialed back to Season 1, Episode 1.
The main story line concerned bubonic plague! By sheer coincidence, I found myself watching the whole thing, despite having turned to television to ease me out of thinking about the pandemic lurking in the streets of my city.
The other “something” popped up via a New York Times article about movies carrying a strong opera theme. Just a week ago, in so-far-vain attempt to learn more about opera, I posted a question on Facebook on how I ought to go about that. Friends came up with many helpful hints, which I’ve been thinking about ever since.
Of course, these two “somethings” just served to reinforce my increasing sense of otherworldliness, thanks to COVID-19.
Grocery shopping now has taken on that surreal sense of not quite being present in reality.
Take the following anecdote as a case in point.
Around 11 a.m., my mother called me. She’d just tried to go to the grocery store.
“I opened the car door, and started to get out. Then I saw all these people lined up trying to get in,” she said.
“Were they standing 6 feet away from each other?”, I asked.
“Well, I think so,” she said. “But probably the store managers were greeting people, do you think?”
“No, Mom, they were keeping people out, because of the Stay-at-Home order our commissioners put in place last night.”
Only one person is allowed inside for every 1000 square feet of any non-medical building. As one commissioner said in an interview, “We want grocery shopping to be more difficult, not easier. We want people to go only if they absolutely must.” I just wonder how they will deal with people who need to use the pharmacy at Publix or any other place that offers that service?
Speaking of food, my taste buds rebelled against yet another “from-the-freezer” meal, never mind that I’d been digging out homemade stuff from the far recesses of my upright freezer for several days. I decided on Chicken Divan, an old favorite, according to Damon Lee Fowler, a very erudite food writer with a great food column for the Savannah Morning News & SavannahNow.com. He went on to say that ” the original (which actually wasn’t a casserole) [was] from the Divan Parisien in New York in the 1940s. I think it was served in an individual gratin.”
I first learned of this dish in one of the very first classes I was required to take in grad school for my degree in Human Nutrition and Foods, a class in basic science of cooking. White sauce, blanching, proteins and heat, etc. The difference between that dish and the current crop of recipes on the internet was that we cooked all the ingredients separately, there were no mushrooms, and we served it all on a piece of toasted bread, layering broccoli first, then chicken, then sauce. I don’t remember any garnishing. Anyway, it is really great for saving as leftovers because the broccoli doesn’t get all nasty olive green upon reheating. Deconstructed Chicken Divan!!!
Pretty soon, I know I won’t have the luxury of a whole crisper full of fresh vegetables, thus providing an even more realistic sense of cooking as my ancestors did. Making do will become my mantra.
Be well. Stay safe. Stay home, if you can!