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Living under COVID-19 (3)

April 29, 2020
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It’s been nearly three weeks since my second COVID-19 post, because, after all, if there’s one thing you can say about living in these times, it’s that the days just roll one into the other with not a lot of differentiation. You have to work hard, sometimes, to remember just what day it is. At least, we Gums do. However, we haven’t been totally inactive, and I do have some things to share, so here goes …

First, a disappointing thing. As the lock-down continues, more and more events are being cancelled. We have now been notified that three concerts of our six-concert Musica Viva season have been cancelled, and two or is it three of our Canberra Theatre subscription package have also been cancelled. More of these may still be cancelled. Excitingly, however, one Canberra Theatre show, so far, has been able to be moved to later in the year. Woo hoo. Any win is cause for celebration!

I realise that if these cancellations are our biggest disappointments, we have nothing to complain about. I also realise that in being happy for our Chief Minister to be cautious about easing restrictions, I also have nothing to complain about. The lives of others are not so easy …

The lives of others

Like Tolstoy’s unhappy families, every family’s experience of COVID-19 is a bit different. My brother, for example, having been here helping with elder care for a month, had to go into two weeks’ quarantine upon his return to Hobart a fortnight ago. Holed up in a two-room suite – it could have been worse – in Wrest Point Motor Inn, he entertained the family with daily epistles. Those epistles will be donated to the local museum for future historians (remember that video conversation between Frank Bongiorno and Chris Wallace I shared in my last COVID-19 post?) Fortunately, Ian has many solitary interests and is not uncomfortable being alone, so he managed the quarantine as well as anyone. It was gratifying, however, to know that as well as friends and family checking in on him, the government and the Red Cross did too.

Another person experiencing COVID-19 a bit differently is my Californian friend, Carolyn, with whom I have been corresponding weekly since we left California in late 1993. Her personal situation, like ours, is not difficult, but she is a high school language teacher – and that has not been so easy. With the end of their school year in sight, there has been much uncertainty and confusion regarding teaching and assessment. What would the IB administrators do, for example? Should students be graded or just marked as pass or fail. How would that affect college enrolments? Minds changed as circumstances changed! The big problem is – and this might surprise you when I tell you she lives in Orange County – that her school does not serve a wealthy area. This means that a good proportion of her students do not have internet access at home. It also means that many students need to take on the care of younger siblings because their parents need to work. However, my friend, like many of us, has become a Zoom-pert, and is developing a range of teaching strategies to do the best for her students. For many teachers, this time has been one of intense work and emotions, as well as of demanding self-education. I admire them immensely.

These lives are nowhere near as tough as many are confronting, but they are just two different experiences I’ve been close to.

Literary and cultural stuff

First, some booklists. I know there are many, many out there but here are two that might interest:

  • Picture of a book stackPandemics: An essential reading list: I know some people don’t want to read gloom and doom books, but others of us are intrigued by what novelists have had to say. This list, sent to me by the above-named Carolyn, is an excellent one. Organised chronologically, it starts in England with Daniel Defoe’s A journal of the plague year (1722) and ends in Zambia with Namwali Sherpell’s The old drift (2019).
  • Comfort books: For those wanting some “gentle reads for difficult times”, this book pile pic posted by Brisbane’s Avid Reader bookshop will provide a start!

And then, there’s this little piece, sent to me by Carolyn again, about Ernest Hemingway experiencing isolation! You will see that they tried their own socially distanced drink parties!

Then, a couple of online events/activities:

  • Terror Australis Readers and Writers Festival – a festival based in the Huon area of Tasmania – has responded to the pandemic with a Facebook “event’ called Booklove Tuesdays. It occurs each Tuesday at 7pm on their Facebook page, and involves author chats (text and video), readings and giveaways. I popped into one a couple of weeks ago, in which Dorothy Johnston (see my reviews) took part. It was rather delightful.
  • National Portrait Gallery’s The amazing face: The National Portrait Gallery released this week their course/program on the art of portraiture. It comprises 14 lessons/sessions, each based around a different portrait. The program is describes as follows: “How is a portrait created? What makes one great? How exactly does this genre of art convey character and personality? Learn about some inspiring Australians and discover how portraiture works through text, video and audio, alongside activities to boost your creativity and resourcefulness.” I’ve looked at the first one, featuring Howard Arkley’s portrait of Nick Cave. It’s clearly positioned to serve a range of interests, including teachers and students, those who’d like to do portraiture, and those interested in the portrait as an art form. Well worth a look if, like me, you like portraits.

As for me, my reading has been very slow – even slower than in “normal times”. This is disappointing, but such is life. However, my reading group is continuing to meet, this month via Zoom, having tried the more low-key WhatsApp last month. Being a thorough lot, we had two practices with Skype and one with Zoom before deciding that Zoom – despite its 40-minute limit for free accounts – was the way to go. The practices were worth it. All 12 attended our actual Zoom meeting, and everyone managed to have their microphones and video cameras working. Go team! We discussed Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (my review), which, although universally liked, still generated an in-depth discussion that lasted over an hour. The only thing missing was the wine and cake!

Finally, there’s nothing like colourful plants to raise the spirits.

Meanwhile, as I’ve asked before, how are you faring?

46 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2020 5:59 pm

    Most enjoyable, ST – thank-you.
    Having listened myself into a semi-comatose state with “Bruny” and wished I could tell Heather how much I enjoyed it (told her agent, but ..), I’m back to knitting. About to start on “Gut” by Giulia Enders. There now ! – not wanting to appear negative, but I do not think this book has much chance of winning any writing awards. 😀 (If it can explain mine to me, it will definitely win a mrsmrs award ..)

    • April 29, 2020 6:21 pm

      You told her agent? Good on you.

      Is this the book that was very popular a couple of years ago? I can think of some “guts” that might appreciate the knowledge too. Let me know what you think about it.

  2. April 29, 2020 6:01 pm

    I saw the National Gallery’s portrait presentation. It was interesting. We have a friend flying in from France for a couple of days. She has to quarantine for two weeks in Melbourne and then two more weeks in Hobart. All she wants is to get home. I know it is hard to complain when others have it so much worse. Just so happy I’m not in the USA where there is little leadership. Tasmania is doing well and we won’t be opening up things anytime soon. We’re grateful for that. Stay well.

    • April 29, 2020 7:23 pm

      Why are you going into moderation on my blog again, Pam? Weird.

      Re your friend from France, I think Hobart may be a bit flexible re the double quarantine. My brother was aware of at least one person who had done quarantine in Melbourne being released from the Hobart one early.

      I think we have done pretty well in Australia overall. Fingers crossed we can keep it that way, eh?

  3. April 29, 2020 6:04 pm

    I’m faring okay, Sue, thanks for asking. Feeling excited about a forthcoming bumper issue of The Victorian Writer, which I think will be a valuable historical document about writers and writing in this time of COVID-19.

    • April 29, 2020 6:23 pm

      Excellent Angela. It’s great hearing organisations like yours working with what we are in right now – keeping the creative juices going while also, as you say, creating a valuable historical record for the future.

  4. Meg permalink
    April 29, 2020 6:16 pm

    Hi Sue, I am surprised how well I have coped. I used to have something on every day of the week except Sunday. In isolation I have knitted two cotton face washers – 4 years they have been waiting for me. Of course I have read more, and I bought four more books. A bit of good light reading I would recommend is Good Dogs Don’t go to the South Pole. I helped my daughter with her students. She teaches English as a second language and is working from home. She organized me to ring 5 of her students who had to ask me questions. They now have to write a short biography on me. My garden and house are looking very neat. A few downsides; I am exercising, eating and drinking more, and missing my friends.

    • April 29, 2020 6:29 pm

      Thanks Meg. I’m glad you are happy overall with how you have coped. I love your daughters project with her kids. Our son used us in ways like that when we visited him at his school in Japan. It was fun.

      One of the silver linings for me has been reducing the rushing-around busy-ness. I loved everything I do, but it did become a bit of a treadmill at the same time. But, I miss the lovely times with friends, the lovely meals out chatting over a meal, etc. And, of course, I miss being able to see our family in Melbourne, and wonder how long it will be before we can do that.

  5. April 29, 2020 6:27 pm

    I have briefly bobbed my head up into the blogging world after a long absence. We are in the midst of moving to Melbourne. Black summer ended and a few weeks later our second grandson was born. A few weeks after that I drove back to Sydney from Melbourne on the day when the full enormity of the situation hit everyone. I stopped over in Goulburn to get 6 masks for our household and when I arrived in Sydney went straight to the supermarket for the big shop. Then we packed boxes but the restrictions hit and we are stuck here working on positioning our business, a long way away from the rest of our family.

    I reckon our authors, bookshops and publishers need any support they can get so on my day off yesterday I reviewed the new histories published by Australian publishers this year. I have been reading a lot of fiction, particularly short stories over the last few months. I’m currently reading the Life of Pi and enjoying it.

    Great to touch base with your blog again. Thank you for your post!

    • April 29, 2020 6:37 pm

      Oh lovely to hear from you Yvonne. Moving to Melbourne? What part, dare I ask? Congratulations on the second grandchild.

      Both our children and our one grandchild are in Melbourne, so we visit there regularly. We were there on the weekend before the real situation, as you say, became apparent. Indeed, we attended the last performance of the Australian Ballet on Saturday 14 March, which was our Christmas present from our kids. Whew. We felt so lucky We also felt lucky, given the shutdown that’s come, to have seen them all so recently. BUT when will we see them again?

      Glad to hear you’ve been doing a lot of reading. Would love to hear what you think of the Life of Pi, particularly its ending. I enjoyed it.

  6. April 29, 2020 9:17 pm

    I like the sound of the National Portrait Gallery project. I’m signed up for a Futurelearn course on The History of the Book, but when I’ve finished that, I might give it a go.

    • April 29, 2020 9:19 pm

      You are getting into a lot of things Lisa. Good on you.

      • May 1, 2020 10:17 am

        There’s no virtue in it. I”m pretty much just doing what I normally do. But *sigh* I would like a haircut…

  7. April 29, 2020 9:18 pm

    Hi Sue. Like you, we’ve settled into a routine – if it were not for still working, I doubt I’d know what day of the week it was! I think the thing I am really enjoying is leisurely meal times – despite aiming to have the family eat together every night, my teenagers often have sport etc on in the evenings so we eat dinner anywhere between 5.30pm and 9pm – far from ideal!
    Also like you, I haven’t been doing as much reading as I might normally… I think it’s because reading is normally my ‘break’. I tear around, busy, busy, and then give myself 10 minutes off to read. I’m not tearing around now so I’m not reaching for my book as often. I am doing lots of jigsaw puzzles though!

    • April 29, 2020 9:33 pm

      Thanks Kate. It’s really interesting how different people are doing it. I love family meals. It was something we really tried to do when our kids were home too, and we usually managed it, because they rarely had evening activities. We mostly could eat around 7pm. I miss that. Enjoy it while you can!

      I love doing jigsaw puzzles too, though I haven’t done any now. The last one was over Xmas with my daughter.

      I can’t explain my reading issue like you can – but I think part of it is that I’m just mentally distracted.

  8. Jim Kable permalink
    April 29, 2020 11:51 pm

    Thanks for the colours. Why do you call the beautiful red-leaved tree Chinese pistachio? It looks to me like rhus – and in Japanese known as haze-no-ki (all vowels pronounced as if Italian – ha – ze – no – ki – otherwise known as “wax-tree” – and when the leaves turn red – best avoided by the skin – the irritation can, apparently, last a long time. The waxy berries and stem juices yield a natural lacquer (used in traditional lacquer-ware craft). Be careful of the leaves – enjoy from a distance – as you appear to have done – with your camera, too!

    • April 30, 2020 8:22 am

      Interesting Jim. Its botanical name is Pistacia chinensis, and is known in Canberra as Chinese pistachio. However I see Wikipedia gives it four synonyms, one being Rhus argyi. They are popular here for their colour, but I’ve never heard mention anything about the leaves. We have an older, much less colourful one in the back corner of our garden. It was here when we bought our house 20+ years ago. It produces berries and is I think female. Presumably they are the ones used for the lacquer ware. I really wanted to avoid another female when we bought the one you see pictured because they tend not to produce such glorious odour. Certainly, ours doesn’t.

  9. April 30, 2020 12:03 am

    It’s been very quiet in my rural area for the last month, and it’s still early spring so quite chilly, with a danger of frost for another few weeks. I’m thinking about putting in some seeds and plants, but I don’t dare go in the places that sell them because the parking lots are so full every time I drive by. It seems like people are tired of staying home and so they’re taking more chances.

    • April 30, 2020 8:27 am

      Thanks Jeanne. It’s lovely hearing reports from other people. It’s autumn here and has been glorious until now. Tomorrow, we are expecting a maximum of 7°C which is VERY unusual for us. That sort of maximum is even rare here in winter where our coldest days tend to be 9-10.

      Anyhow because it’s autumn, we’ve done some gardening. Our favourite nursery has been busy-ish but less than usual which means parking and social distancing there has been easy.

  10. Jim Kable permalink
    April 30, 2020 12:43 am

    WG – I’ve searched and found that the rhus or sumac or wax-tree can be confused for the Chinese Pistachio (at least by persons such as me at any rate) – my apologies! Fearful you might touch the leaves…but it seems you can go right ahead… Jim

    • April 30, 2020 8:34 am

      Ah, thanks Jim. I didn’t see this when I did my own research. According to Wikipedia “a” Rhus tree is a synonym for ours, but is not the Japanese wax tree, which Wikipedia says is this:

      “Toxicodendron succedaneum, the wax tree,[1] Japanese Hazenoki tree (Sumac or wax tree) or sơn in Vietnam, is a flowering plant species in the genus Toxicodendron found in Asia, although it has been planted elsewhere, most notably Australia and New Zealand. It is a large shrub or tree, up to 8 m tall, somewhat similar to a sumac tree. Because of its beautiful autumn foliage, it has been planted outside Asia as an ornamental plant, often by gardeners who were apparently unaware of the dangers of allergic reactions. It is now officially classified as a noxious weed in Australia and New Zealand. It is one of the city tree symbols of Kurume, Fukuoka, Japan.”

      I’ve learnt something more even!

  11. April 30, 2020 5:07 am

    Something that is striking is how people from all over the world are experiencing that same thing.

    I actually read a bunch of books from the pandemic list. Over the years I seem to have read a lot of book book about plagues.

    Stay safe and stay healthy.

    • April 30, 2020 8:35 am

      Thanks Brian. I’ve heard of many but have only read a couple. Many interest me, however.

  12. piningforthewest permalink
    April 30, 2020 8:55 am

    I have no idea where all the time is going, we’ve been at home for about 6 weeks now apart from daily walks for exercise, but I’m not getting much of anything done. I’ve never even heard of a Chinese pistachio tree, it looks fabulous.

    • April 30, 2020 10:45 am

      I know exactly what you mean Katrina re not getting things done.

      How interesting about the tree. It’s one of our most fabulous exotics here in Canberra. The colour is luminous in certain lights.

  13. April 30, 2020 8:40 pm

    Interesting to hear how life is slow everywhere now. And yes, if I’m not bothered by taking it slow and steady on re-opening I’ve got it pretty good – so much better than so many. I’ve been on lockdown for 6 weeks now (since March 20) and like so many, got almost nothing done. I seem to be reading less due to poor concentration and what I’ve read has been mostly lighter weight crime novels and nonfiction. I’ve only got 2 barrels put into the yard – now to fill them with dirt and plants.. My cooking seems to be adding pounds so why am I hungry? Oh bother – it will work out. Yes, the US is very messed up with an unorganized president who makes a lot of noise but really only thinks about his image and the polls.
    Thanks – for the peak at life down under.

    • April 30, 2020 9:07 pm

      And thanks for a peak at how things are going for you too Bekah. Interesting how a few of us are finding it hard to concentrate on reading, while others are going completely the other way. Wish I were one of those!

      I hope you Mum is continuing to improve and is OK.

  14. May 1, 2020 9:34 am

    Thank you for the mention, WG. ‘Booklove Tuesday’ is fun and a way to share ideas. My prose muse has deserted me for the present, but I’m writing poems. They seem to be a good way to try and capture small moments of communication. Here’s my latest. I hope you don’t mind me sharing poems on your blog. Other readers might find something of interest?

    Second hand bookshop under lockdown.

    The books form towers, in shadows
    by the doorway and around the walls.
    We are here, they say, our words are here.
    Our spines face outwards to the dim room and closed door.
    We are not arranged by date or author,
    but known to the old man who has given us a home.

    For many years I have been a customer,
    coming in from the hot light of Hesse Street
    in summer, or in winter,
    having crossed the road against the slanting rain.
    Always it has been the same inside,
    the same smell, old and welcoming.

    The owner sits outside on a wooden bench,
    eating an ice-cream, affecting nonchalance.
    I take a few steps forward, then ask, ‘Are you open?’
    ‘I might be,’ he says.

    I stand on a chair and read titles with difficulty
    in the corner furthest from the door.
    If I were so rash as to choose one
    from near the bottom of a pile
    and attempt to remove it,
    all those above would fall down and crush me.
    It would be a way to go, I think.
    For a wordsmith like myself, not a bad way to go.

    The owner has come in, still eating his ice-cream
    as though it were some kind of prophylactic
    or excuse. ‘How are you coping?’ he asks.
    I turn awkwardly, careful not to dislodge
    by even a puff of breath, the tower
    which seems to me now a statement in itself.
    ‘I’m alright,’ I say. ‘And you?’
    ‘I’m a bit lost,’ he says.

    I nod and point. ‘I’ll have that one.’
    It’s not the old friend I imagined finding and re-reading,
    but in a bookshop under lockdown beggars can’t be choosers.
    We exchange a glance. The old man, keeping his distance, smiles.
    The libraries are all shut, of course,
    and the proper bookshop up the road.
    I pay the princely sum of seven dollars
    and leave with my purchase underneath my arm.

    Can books transmit the virus?
    I hope not. Can I catch it by touching any one of them?
    I believe not, but will wash my hands in case.
    I realise I wasn’t watching the old man
    get down the book I wanted without causing an avalanche.
    No doubt he has his methods.
    I would like to turn back and ask, but do not.
    Instead I climb into my car and drive home.

    • May 1, 2020 10:29 am

      Of course I don’t mind Dorothy. And I love your poem. It’s a perfect COVID-19 story.

    • May 2, 2020 9:52 am

      This almost made me weep…
      I feel so sorry for the small businesses that I patronise. it’s always been a struggle for them to compete against big retailers, and now…

      • May 2, 2020 10:05 am

        Yes, I do too … though one of our favourite local cafes, Fox and Bow, has been inspirational. They’ve worked their b***s off, and re-made their service and menu to suit the new order. I fear they’ll run themselves into the ground but they’ve been so cheery and upbeat it’s been a pleasure supporting them. And the businesses are all so grateful for the support. The other sorts of businesses I know less about.
        and really hope they will return in force.

        Of course, big retailers provide jobs too so we don’t need them going under right now either. It seems that here, so far, the little IGAs seem to be hanging in. Most of my friends have been doing our best to keep using them. We ask how they are and they indicate it’s tough but they’re still standing.

  15. May 1, 2020 6:54 pm

    My biggest problem is…I find myself getting swept into the news cycle rather than a book.
    It is the FOMO-syndrome…”fear of missing out’ …of something. The news will draw me in more than a book…and I can’t fight it. Now I am going to try: keeping a journal of the interesting articles I’ve read by excellent journalists (New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Yorker). My next project will try to start a book in French today. I spent the last 5 years reading French books (…completed the Zola Rogoun-Marquart series), so it shouldn’t be too hard to start again. The ‘interactive’ part of reading (…looking up words and experssions I don’t know)..should help me stay focused on the book. I’ll just have to give it the old college try!

    • May 1, 2020 10:32 pm

      I’ll be watching your blog to see what happens – but remember there’s no shame in giving up!!

    • May 2, 2020 9:50 am

      I’m going to enjoy your blogging about the French books! I’d love to be good enough to read Zola in French… maybe one day.

  16. buriedinprint permalink
    May 2, 2020 8:50 am

    I thoroughly enjoyed your own update and those of your friends and family (and a poem to boot). Here our weather is warming which is making things more difficult for the public health officials and the politicians who are trying to sustain the earlier efforts to flatten the curve; on the weekends, particularly, so many more people are out and about, their impatience blooming into selfishness. I’m the sort who would much rather batten the hatches now and avoid a second wave then go up on deck too soon and be ordered back down below after a short respite. We’re getting up earlier and earlier, partly because the sun is rising earlier but also because it’s easier to navigate a daily walk and not have to negotiate quick tempers of those who are either offended because you’re social distancing or those who are angry that you’re not social distancing enough (or to their specific liking)! It could all be so much worse and is, for so many, in so many places, here and elsewhere. Keep on keeping on! Maybe you’ll even get back to reading…

    • May 2, 2020 9:11 am

      Thanks Buried – and particularly for adding your reflections. I’m with you about wanting to be sure in order to avoid a second wave particularly as we are heading into winter. My Californian friend and have been discussing the pros and cons of being locked down in summer versus winter, and we’ve found arguments for both being easier? Anyhow, good luck over there. We are having some slight easing here as Australia is doing very well. My state/territory has no active cases as of two days ago. They are being cautious though.

  17. May 2, 2020 9:49 am

    Now, not to annoy people who are having trouble settling to anything… but *drum roll* last night at about 11pm, I finished scrapbooking my New Zealand trip last year. I started it at the beginning of lockdown, and have worked away at it steadily in the evenings after Masterchef (while listening to Stephen Fry narrate ‘Heroes’): it’s 80 pages of photos and journalling all nicely placed in layouts that show the photos to their best advantage. Like all the scrapbooks of my travels since 2001, it’s beautiful, full of the artworks and architecture that I love, and I really enjoy browsing through these books or pulling them off the shelf when we have friends over and are talking travel stories.
    So now that that’s done, I can continue with another scrapbook project I’d started, which is about all the homes I’ve lived in. 23 up to 194, when I bought my house and I have stayed put ever since!

    • May 2, 2020 10:14 am

      Haha, Lisa, not annoying at all. Well done 👏👏👏 I have just got back to cataloguing our photos – not as beautiful as a scrapbook but useful. I am currently doing our 2019 Japan trip (which is not to say that I have done everything before that) and am enjoying remembering the trip, the things we saw, and most of all the experiences. I love looking at old photos. A picture tells a thousand words, eh? BTW, I think I count 17 homes for me to our current one we moved to in 1997.

  18. May 2, 2020 6:19 pm

    These days do all merge into one don’t they. The only landmark we have is that Saturday night we don’t cook burn arrange for a delivery of food So we can pretend we are doing our usual restaurant date. Candles, wine, the best glasses….
    The days are busy though, even without exercise classes and volunteering activities. It’s a busy time in the garden, I’m blogging daily (will be glad when the challenge is over) and have just started making bags that nursing staff can use to carry their scrub clothes home. There’s a real cottage industry going in making stuff for hospital and care home staff…

    • May 2, 2020 6:44 pm

      We are doing that on Saturday nights too, Karen, though Saturdays are not our regular nights out.

      I guess it’s spring in your neck of the woods isn’t it, which must mean gardening is busy. We are busy rating leaves. Good on you for making bags. I know things are tough in the UK, but how is Wales going in particular?

  19. May 2, 2020 6:28 pm

    That’s very interesting about your friend in California. I’m curious about schools and how they are managing this compared to our own (occupational hazard).
    I thought I might have been reading more but I only read 2 more books this last month than my regular monthly average. I guess, without realising it, I am filling my time in a variety of ways – including working from home.

    • May 2, 2020 6:46 pm

      that’s better than I did Theresa. I read less than I do most months, in fact, less than every month except when I travel. Terrible.

  20. Lakshmi Madhuri Sakhamuri permalink
    May 2, 2020 8:40 pm

    So, I just stumbled upon this amazing post of yours after just launching my site here on wordpress. It is an irony that “The nature heals while the world bleeds”. I just read that somewhere. I’m just waiting for all of this to be over and be normal again but never to forget the fact that we are all in this together and we will win this. Lots of love to the entire world and stay safe you guys.

    • May 2, 2020 9:17 pm

      Welcome Lakshmi. Lovely to have another member of the WordPress family pop in here. I hope your blogging journey is as enjoyable and fulfilling as mine has been and still is.

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