Walking in L.A.
Antoinette Samardzic, Los Angeles USA
Retreating from L.A.
The reason I didn't contribute to last week's journal is because my sister and I were away in the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree to be precise (a three-hour car ride east of Los Angeles), for a three-day yoga retreat organized by our yoga teacher Saska. We were seven women, not including Saska and her friend/business partner Luba who cooked all the delicious vegan meals for us. We had all tested negative for Covid beforehand so it was a joy to be able to mingle freely and without masks for three days, in other words to forget all about Covid for a short time. The temperature during the day hovered around 70°F and at night in the 50's so it was perfect for all activities. Our chi gong and yoga classes were au plein air, as was brunch, during which our resident roadrunner kept us company.
The general area where the retreat is located is called Wonder Valley Hot Springs and the retreat boasts hot mineral springs 100 feet down. We had a choice of tubs: one an actual old fashioned claw foot tub and the other two circular granite tubs for two people so we worked it out between all of us who would soak in the afternoon and who would soak at night. Chantal and I elected for the afternoon one before it got too cold. We lay (au naturel) in the tub as the sun sank and the stars came out. What a show! In LA there’s so much light from the city that one can rarely see anything but the evening star.
We were sorry to leave, especially as we had bonded with our fellow retreaters during this short time. Everybody departed feeling relaxed and at peace, our spirits uplifted, after all that is the point of a retreat isn't it?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, upon our return we were glad to find that my husband had succeeded in not killing off our chickens in our absence. I also found our apricot tree to be covered in blossoms with the promise of a good crop.
Mary Fisher, Norfolk UK
Until this week, I was only vaguely aware that there were over six hundred ‘fever’ hospitals in England and Wales between the wars. Many were built in places isolated from the community with outside spaces and verandas, used for fresh-air therapies by tuberculosis patients. Most of the hospitals were deployed as a type of pop-up facility during epidemic outbreaks and remained closed the rest of the time. By the 1950/60s a combination of mass-immunisations, antibiotic development and the establishment of the NHS, rendered infectious diseases less of a threat, and the need for isolation diminished. Fever hospitals were morphed into other facilities or were closed. Today, countries such as the UK have fewer hospital beds per head of population than many other countries. We do not, therefore, have the capacity for lethal pandemics. We are told that Covid-19 is here to stay and will become a continuously circulating, or ‘endemic’ virus. Maybe this is a time to re-think the concept of ‘fever hospitals’ and the need for a flexible response in times of pandemics, such as the one we are living through.
Just about everything that could go wrong when I visited Barbara this week did. We are still only allowed window visits, which have to be pre-booked so that only one person turns up at any one time. When you arrive, visitors ring the bell to let staff know they are there. The member of staff then goes to tell the resident or, as in my aunt’s case, brings her from her room in a wheelchair. Well that’s the general idea. I ring the bell. Staff are busy. No one answers the door. We are asked not to repeatedly ring the bell as this disturbs the residents. After some minutes a gardener comes along. He knocks on the outside kitchen door. I wait some more. The gardener comes round the building for some more equipment from his van and suggests I ring the old broken bell. I hesitate. Is the bell wired into the mains or just a battery system? Courage Mary. I ring. Success. Three staff members arrive all at once. Someone goes to fetch Barbara. I wait outside the visiting window. Carer opens the window and tells me the baby monitor is awaiting new batteries. The monitor is perfect as it has a built in microphone and Barbara can hear me. The carer asks me to ring the care home on their landline and then talk to Barbara. I mention that Barbara can’t hear on the phone. Back to my car to fetch my mobile. Ring the care-home. Barbara can’t hear me. Carer is needed elsewhere. Barbara and I struggle. Go back to front door to ask if I can have the old wipe board and a pen to ‘chat’ to Barbara. A board is found. Alas the pen provided is a permanent marker and not a wipe-off pen. I only discover this after I’ve written over the board and find I can’t rub my message out. Back to the front door again. No one can find the special pen. Barbara and I decide to abandon any further attempt at ’conversation’. Forty minutes of non-communication. Barbara and I are both frustrated and unhappy. I go home feeling guilty for having prevailed on over-pressed care staff and cross at the invisible care providers who own and run the homes.
Shortly after I arrive home, an email comes from the care home. Next week visitors will be allowed back into the pod. Or the confessional booth as my eldest grandson likes to call it. Hurrah! I am taking my own wipe board just in case the baby monitor hasn’t had its batteries changed!
David Horovitch, Twickenham
An uneventful week, I suppose, at least no events that I can remember. Since my first jab a few weeks ago I have gradually eased away from the rigour of almost total isolation that I had imposed upon myself; I go to the shops, walk by the river or up to Richmond Park with friends, one at a time of course, I have regular, scheduled zooms and Face Times - Alison and Michael mid-week, Margaret and Peter at midday every Sunday, my support bubble, Sue, and I alternate fortnightly suppers in each other's houses after which we watch old dvds (the latest was His Girl Friday with Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant, famous for the astonishing pace of its wisecracking dialogue), and once a week Francis and I get together. I'm trying to think what I really miss about my pre-lock-down existence and find that there isn't much. I'd like a new pair of shoes which I don't want to buy online and a haircut. Occasionally I fancy going to a gallery, never oddly enough do I fancy the theatre or the cinema. I would like to visit Peter and Margaret in Norfolk, I'd like to amble along a country lane and have lunch in a pub and I'd like more people to come through my front door. Last week Francis had lunch here, after which we went for a walk. It was bitterly cold. When we returned home for tea, stepping together across the threshold into my warm flat out of the bitterly cold afternoon, taking off our gloves and putting on the kettle, I felt a quiet elation from which I deduced that, although I had accustomed myself to my confinement that didn't mean I liked it, there was some deep recollection of a contentment that I had once taken for granted that, though quite simple, was worth more to me than Matisse or The National Theatre.
I've almost finished the sonnets. Only two to go now. Last week Stephen Fry emailed me a ringing endorsement - ‘An incredible achievement,’ he said ‘and beautifully done. You do them so well, with a deceptive apparent plainness that really makes them speak, but so skilled and intelligent in the performance’.
That put a spring in my step. I shall post it on the website.
It's warmer now and brightening outside. The daffs are coming out in the pots on my courtyard. A walk this afternoon with a friend and tomorrow over to Forest Hill to see Francis. Last night I binged on 'It's a Sin', Russell T. Davies five-part series about AIDS which I thought quite brilliant. Life could be a lot worse.
I hope all my fellow journos are keeping well and occupied and wish you all the very best.
Mary’s projects mostly
Mary Hildyard, Totnes, Devon
Last Sunday the Quarantine Book Club had a zoom Valentine’s Day Party. It was dubbed a Gal - entine’s Day Party because we are all women. This party was the suggestion of my sister, Janet, who celebrated her 78th birthday the next day on the 15th February. Ahead of the party, Janet sent everyone in the Book Club (including me across the Atlantic) a heart-shaped box of chocolates to eat at the party. We played appropriately themed games - a point for anyone wearing red or lace; true or false questions about Valentine’s. Day; name the partner/lover of some famous people. One person scored 13 points total. I scored only one point. Luckily I was wearing lace or my score would have been zero.
Because of the different time zones, this was a lunch time or tea time party for all but me. Simon felt it was a little unfair for me to be on zoom at 8 pm, without him, on Valentine’s night. He nevertheless cooked a terrific supper while I zoomed, which we enjoyed together later that evening.
On Monday night I celebrated. Janet’s actual birthday with her at a zoom games night shared with another sister and a niece. For this party Janet sent us all nuts to eat. The postage alone for my parcel was a horrendous price but the two parties really did feel celebratory.
It looks like all the Springtime birthdays in my immediate family - Simon’s, mine, my son’s, my grandson’s - will once again be celebrated at home/on zoom. When the pandemic hit in March of last year I never imagined that a year later we would still be isolating.
Hilary Q, North Norfolk
Watching the snow melt has been like watching a film rewind. Perspective - light and distance - all altering. But then so too has our broader perspective.
Mum and I had our first jab. Much hilarity as Mum couldn’t believe she wasn’t asked to sit down and was piqued that she wasn’t given a plaster. On reaching home my husband welcomed us with piping hot whisky-infused tea followed by an early supper of chicken cooked in fragrant freshly made coriander chutney - a favourite from Meera Sodha’s ‘Made in India’ Cookbook. Hot baths and hot water bottles completed his remedy and indeed neither of us have experienced any of the much publicised side effects. So much so that Mum wonders if she was given a dud dose!
Ne’er cast a clout til May is out but the following day we were rearing to go and set about clearing a tangle of brambles and nettles from a bank at the top of the garden. It was satisfying work and we felt doubly ebullient - to be outside doing something useful and to be a positive statistic when we listened to the news!
Vie de château
Marie-Christine, Blois, France
Question for the present:
What am I prisoner of? exhaustion from doing not enough? regression of imagination, mental stasis, indefinite fear about the political state of the world, and democracy even in those countries where it still exists? accountant's appointment to shut my locum business? reading two gloomy books (Hannah Arendt, and Primo Levi's collected essays)?
Even if it's very important to read some Arendt and Levi, to read them both at the same time in the same week, when it's cold and rainy, during a pandemic, throws the brain into a kind of depression, although Arendt declared that she was an "optimist" about human kind.
Luckily, today, the sun is shining, it's warmer and the birds are singing in the garden, the blackbirds are back in numbers.
And after all, everything went fine this morning: appointment with the garage in two weeks' time to service the car (ready, we hope, for post lockdown journeys), the accountant has prepared the required legal document, now duly signed, and no urgent administration still to be dealt with. The house could do with a hoovering, but that's another matter. E-mails sent for my professional legal insurance - can you believe it, after retirement as doctors, we still have to be insured, in case we give the wrong drug to a friend when sick in our house, or fail to succeed in resuscitating somebody who collapses in the airplane or train... these obligations persist up to one's death if you are a MD, at least in France.
Very short today. There has been a sudden domestic emergency this afternoon. Everything now fine.
John Underwood, Norfolk
A literary legacy
My best pal at Book Fairs, Michael, died of Motor Neurone Disease in his sleep just before Christmas. He had been ill for a couple of years and had been declining in the last few months. We used to chat at fairs about what we had sold or bought, and would socialise in the evenings over a beer or three. In particular we used to talk about a small collection of Shakespeare material that he had tucked away in a drawer. Typically, he couldn’t remember having bought it, but thought that it must have come with a bundle of other prints and maps at auction years ago. The small folder consisted of a pencil portrait of Shakespeare, two copies of Jonson’s introductory verses which sit opposite Shakespeare’s portrait in the early Folios, and two copies of the Martin Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare. We speculated about what he should do with the two portraits, what they might be worth, and where they might be sold. We both thought that the paper looked “right” at first glance, which raised some intriguing possibilities. If you think that a First Folio would sell for millions in tidy-ish, complet-ish condition, and that a copy without a portrait might sell for quite a few tens of thousand pounds less, then the difference makes you sit up straight in your chair somewhat. All copies are different. The pages were trimmed to size by binders, and usually not entirely on the square. My friend and I discussed the possibility of sending the measurements to the Folger Shakespeare Library who have I think 80-something copies, some lacking the Shakespeare plate, and asking them if the portraits might perhaps have belonged to their incomplete copies, and would they perhaps like to buy them at a fat price to be agreed upon?
And then my friend’s health declined, and he died without doing more about his Shakespeare prints.
I suspected that Michael’s wife might not know of the potential of these Shakespeare items, or be aware of them but not aware of their potential value, and it kept me awake at night. A couple of weeks ago I contacted her, and asked her if she knew of the prints. She said that she did, but was at a loss to know what to do about them, but felt that it would be good to find out more about them to see if Michael’s hunch about them was correct. And if they turned out to be of no value, her daughter in law would hang them in her home. I felt that it would be a great way of celebrating my friendship to do the research, and conclude our long conversation. And so this week I have been checking the paper used, any watermarks, and details of the original engraving and the subsequent re- engravings .
The mid c19th pencil portrait turned out to be a copy of the “Venice” portrait of Shakespeare - an oil painting after the Droeshout engraving, produced by using an original c17th painting of an anonymous gentleman and patching in a new head. A c19th amalgam, no doubt produced to feed the frenzy for all things Shakespeare related. My research for the prints ran to several A4 pages, and I concluded that although three of the four printed leaves seem to be printed on to old laid paper, they are not “right”. One of the portrait plates though… has a rather interesting countermark which might, just might, relate to the Crown watermarks known to have been used in the First Folio. The Folger Shakespeare Library has a few similar examples of the portrait printed on to antique laid paper, and so my hopes are not high, but... but...
View from the top of the hill
Linzy Lyne, Pateley Bridge
The snow has melted and been replaced with dark skies and dreary rain. I was planning a walk yesterday but got my timing wrong and gave up on the idea when another downpour started. This lockdown has definitely been harder, as others have reported in the Journal. Whether it's lockdown fatigue or the weather, or both, I don't know. We have been on a diet, getting rid of the excess weight from the first time around, so we don't even have comfort eating to cheer us up. The highlight of my week was skyping with the grandchildren, once for a game of chess and again to hear the eldest practice his new piece on electric guitar, which is Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac. He is saving the big guitar solo for next time. They have been pretending to queue for the rides at Disney, then enjoying the roller coasters virtually on You Tube. They were about to leave for a holiday in Florida this time last year, cancelled at the last minute. What times these are.
Already it seems like an age since the impeachment trial. Is it only a week? It ended much as expected, with the “Retrumplicans” letting Trump off. The major surprise was the unbelievable hypocrisy of Mitch McConnell's speech afterwards, fully blaming Trump for the insurrection although having just led the party to acquit him. Self interest has won the day yet again. Perhaps he thinks no-one noticed how he delayed the trial until Trump left office and then said it was unconstitutional to try him as he had left office. He must think we're all stupid...
Well, now that's over we have had to try and get interested in the news on our side of the pond, but it's nowhere near as exciting. The government are basking in the success of the vaccination roll-out and hoping this will erase all blame for their previous mistakes. I'm pleased to hear that Boris is playing to the world's gallery in offering our left over vaccines to the poorer nations. He will want to keep up with Macron, who is advocating that the West gets in first with humanitarian help before China and Russia take charge. I looked at a book this week called Disaffected Democracies, which discusses how the public of the major democratic nations have become more and more dissatisfied with their governance while other nations around the world are desperate to achieve democracy. If I get a chance to read it, I will report back what they think might be the reason for this. In my simplistic fashion, I think it's just that we're never happy and have to blame someone when we don't get everything we want!
We followed with great excitement the landing of the Mars probe Perseverance the other night and applauded happily along with the exuberant NASA workers. However, I have to say that the lack of meaningful progress with the space programme has been a source of great disappointment to me. Did anyone else believe, back in the Sixties, that by 2001 we would be going to Mars on our holidays and travelling around in little flying cars powered by solar energy? What have we achieved instead? One very cramped space station relying on Russian rockets for supplies, the space shuttles already decommissioned and maybe, just maybe, the chance of the ten richest people in the world being able to afford to go for a little pleasure trip out of the atmosphere. Added to that the damage done to our climate in the name of progress and the vast amount of debris circling our planet from thousands of satellites and you really have to think there's little hope for the human race to advance at all. The samples found by the mini-helicopter on Perseverance will be collected by a later mission, some years in the future. This is all taking too long. I'm not holding my breath to find out if there has ever been life on Mars, it looks like it's all extinct now anyway, which is very disappointing.
After the rather depressing reading of A Journal of the Plague Year I searched through my huge pile of “books to read when I have time” (ha ha!) and found Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I devoured in two days. It was somewhat reminiscent of my all-time favourite The Handmaid's Tale, absolutely gripping. Loved it so much I bought the DVD and was not disappointed, although a lot of the dialogue at the beginning is whispered in the dark, which I could only follow because I'd just read the book and had to keep explaining it to Richard. Anyway, that's my book recommendation for the week but don't expect to be cheered up by it as it is a very bleak story of an alternative world created by scientists to solve society's health problems! I am now going to have a go at Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything, which I've been putting off for years. Will let you know next week if I make it to Chapter Two.
Stay safe everyone, as always.
Restrictions for many
Hilde Schöning, Buchholz, Germany
After another weekend with snow, ice and happy people on toboggans in splendid sunshine, it is by now very mild and a glimpse of spring can be foreseen.
The news is mixed, on the one hand a delivery of 10 million doses of vaccines has been announced for next week, on the other hand a steep rise in the proportion of B.1.1.7 in infections has occurred (around 22% as opposed to 6% a fortnight ago). There is also a debate about the AstraZeneca vaccine and possible side effects, but the leading virologist considers it to be highly recommendable for usage and he usually explains his assessments very well in regular podcasts.
I bought the first Daffodils and Tulips today and look forward to the coming season in the garden. To add to this, I read some spring poems yesterday evening and maybe we are going to listen to Schumann's spring symphony tonight...