Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

Yesterday evening Michael and I went for our antibody tests. Earlier this week, our county announced that anyone who wanted to be tested now could be. Up until now it had only been first responders who were allowed. I was sure thousands and thousands would flock to be tested and was surprised when I managed to schedule our appointment so quickly. For our tests, we had to go to the Westchester County Center in White Plains, New York… about 20 minutes from here.


It is one thing to have seen on tv all the medical preparations made for the projected onslaught of seriously ill pandemic patients as well as to be aware of so many first responders bravely working at the forefront of the virus battlefield. It was another thing to see some of the monumental preparations in person for the first time. When we arrived at the County Center, the area in front of the building was no longer being used for vast parking areas. It was now filled with enormous marquees stretching all the way down the boulevard. These had been set up as temporary hospital space for the expected mass overflowing of deathly ill people who could no longer be accommodated by hospitals who were expected to have overflowed their capacities. It was shocking to see all of that and to realize how many people the government had expected would need to be cared for in an annexed situation. Hundreds if not thousands.


We went into the main building of the Center. Our temperatures were taken and we were then processed at the first checkpoint with our IDs and insurance information. After this we were sent through a door into what had once been the area used for concerts and conventions. A huge space. It was now set up with pods of numerous ICU isolation chambers for seriously ill virus patients… again… for people who would have been unable to be accommodated by hospitals. We were so relieved to hear that they as well as the marquees had not been needed.


We followed the signs to the next checkpoint which looked like a long check in desk at Heathrow. Here we were asked more questions, our IDs were checked again and we were issued “Visitor” badges and then directed to another desk where they printed out labels for the blood samples we were about to give. Next we were pointed to a room in which a heavily masked and gowned medical technician was waiting to take our blood. We talked while she worked. She told me that she worked for a physician whose office closed because of the pandemic. She had volunteered to continue working at the County Center. She had been working 12 hour days for many weeks with only a few days off here and there. On those few days in which she did not come in, all she did was think about the Center and would constantly wonder what was happening while she anxiously waited until she could go back on duty and return to help. All of this generosity of spirit and bravery made me a bit weepy and awe struck… and so grateful.  


While I was finishing up, Michael was out talking to someone else working at the Center. He was told that the facilities will stay in place for two years in anticipation of another large virus flare up. That is obviously very frightening.


After I had finished and had finished thanking the woman who took my blood, Michael and I were directed to another long reception area. On top of the counter was a long row of quilted fabric gift bags… we were told we should each take one. Inside was literature about the virus and testing, the Medical Center who was running the testing, a granola energy bar and a pen.


On the way out as we walked down a long corridor, we were greeted by two members of the National Guard in camouflage uniforms. And then we were out the door and then we could take off our masks and gloves.


This afternoon we received our test results… we were both negative.


Vie de château

Marie-Christine, Blois, France

Silver lining of Covid-19


I got a lot of different pleasures and knowledges out of my hard work starting at 9 AM in from of my computer, looking at the Met opera. I considered it as work in some aspects: discipline, concentration. Partly in order to go back to work more easily, and not leaving my brain untrained. 

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Opera said in an introduction video, that opera is about redemption. After 60 different operas, I am convinced that it is the most christian art, or equal with painting. It is OK for me, being a kind of free lance catholic. And even out of religion, it is about human feelings in an expanded diversity. 

Today it was historic Don Giovani 1978, with Joan Sutherland as Donna Anna and Gabriel Bacquier as Leporello (who died on the 13 this month aged 95). 

Every day, it is a new emotional experience, today I feel more like Zerlina, Robert will be my Don Giovanni. Yesterday I was Princess Turandot and Rob Prince Calaf... after 35 years of companionship, even with all the vicissitudes of life, it is quite a discovery and refreshment to have an intense vison of an old companion. In Wagner, it was more difficult to adjust, may be Wotan and Fricka, more imagination needed, not so far I am a bit bossy... why not a little bit of ambition.

This way, I discovered a very romantic side of myself, which I am not usually, I hope that I will not be to permanently affected by this unexpected secondary effect of the Covid-19. And not yet published in The Lancet. Rob doesn't complain for the moment.


Eratum et addendum


I made a mistake: Nabucco's magnificient interpreter, on the photo I included last time, is Placido Domingo.


Among the different poets portrayed in operas, my favorite is Jaufré Rudel, seigneur de Blaye, the famous troubadour between 1110 and 1130. The opera worth seeing and listening to on the Met website. "L'amour de loin" first representation in 2000 (love from far away) was composed by Kaija Saariaho, libretto Amin Maalouf (Académie Française), and the beautiful interpretation of the poet is by Eric Owen. Full of surprises. 

Robert read to me the poem written by Robert Browning: "Rudel to the Lady of Tripoli".


From our feline in St Just

Smokey, St Just

I have discovered that I have an Enemy. He has been going silently about and about the house.


I thought I saw his tail scaling the garden wall. I thought I saw his shadow slip by the wood store - but I wasn't sure until, this morning when I was sitting in my sun in the bathroom, I saw his face.


He came stalking slowly across the roof to the window with the tip of his tail twitching and on monstrous paws. He saw me and I was afraid and made myself small. He put his nose to the glass and snarled. Jane chattered at him while I went and hid under the bath. I think she is almost as big as he is, and was disappointed she didn't chase him across the roof. But I sat with her and purred to show I understood she had done her best.


He is not at all like the cats on the other side - Rufus who used to come politely in by the front gate, and Boris who didn't mind when I went into his house and sat in a chair. He is three times my size and I don't understand why he hates me when I have not run at him with my teeth bared and I am quiet and indoors. I am afraid he will come again when I am not looking.  


I understand better now why we are confined here together and why Jane is worried when I try to go up the garden path.


The Enemy!


Restrictions for many

Hilde Schoening, Buchholz, Germany

We finally get rain, so much needed by the garden, and stay at home listening to BBC 3. Next week I shall see almost all of my students being back at school. On the whole the restrictions in Germany have been loosened to a great extent and one state even thinks about lifting them all. On the other hand two outbreaks of infections after a celebration in a restaurant and after a church service took place a few days ago. Going to a restaurant and attending a church service have just been allowed recently.    


I look forward to my cycle to school and all of my students as well after a long weekend starting with ascension day or father's day as it is unofficially called here. Normally, crowds of drunken young men who are usually not fathers at all roam the streets on that day. But that was prohibited this year. I enjoyed that fact and could take part in an open air yoga lesson with my yoga group, normally we get instructed via Zoom, at least we have been for the last two months.


Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

The long way round


Let’s go the long way round

And see what we can see.

Let’s go the long way round

And back in time for tea.


We’ll cross the wobbly bridge

We might see dragons there.

I saw one just last week

I think we’ve found its lair.


Who knows what birds we’ll spot

While strolling round the lake?

That one with legs like stilts

Its bill used as a rake.


We’ll look for furry beasts

The special secret ones.

They live in special trees

With fat and furry bums.


Don’t step on any cracks

The bears here are quite fierce.

They love to eat small folk

Just piece by little piece.


We’ll stop at swings and slides

And see how fast you’ll go.

You’ll stretch your arms up high

To show how much you’ve grown.


Let’s go the long way round

While there is still the time.

Let’s go the long way round

Before the sun goes down.


Notes from a factory in the Midlands

MFS, Midlands

We had a surprise visit yesterday afternoon from our son Thomas and his girlfriend. They had brought us a magnificent lemon meringue pie, the result of a morning’s baking. We sat outside in a rather chilly wind and enjoyed a cup of tea together. Thomas is a mechanical engineer working in body structure design at Jaguar Land Rover and had been working from home for the last couple of months, but last week he was actually back on site. He is currently based at the prototype plant near Coventry, where the first 20 or so examples of the project he is currently assigned to (a 2022 upgrade of one their bestselling models) are being assembled by hand. He described to us the social distancing measures that have been put in place, including pedestrian one way markings, alternate desks blocked off in office areas, and lots of warning and reminder notices. The motor industry is struggling at the moment, but at least he is not working in aerospace, where I find it difficult to imagine that we will ever return to the world of frequent inexpensive air travel. 


And talking of cars, last autumn I treated myself to a classic mid-life crisis car, an F Type Jaguar, which is a stunningly beautiful but somewhat impractical two seater sports car. My tongue in cheek justification for this purchase was that it demonstrated support for the British car industry and in particular for local jobs. The car is an example of wonderful imagination, design, craftsmanship and engineering excellence, and quite justifiably, when launched, a model was presented to the Design Museum in London. And this morning I got it out of the garage for the first time in weeks and together with S we went out for a spin in the deserted Warwickshire countryside. The petrol heads amongst you will know that this car, with its 380hp 3 litre V6 engine, produces the most thrilling exhaust noise and has blistering acceleration. Most of the journey, however, we just trundled gently between the hedgerows, past sadly shuttered country pubs.


Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Lord knows, I am bemused enough that the symptoms of Deadly Covid did not seem to be so debilitating as to prevent a 250 mile dash to Durham with a small child in the enclosed fug of a luxury vehicle and not result in the multigenerational death of the entire House of Cummings. But now I am SERIOUSLY outraged! 


This morning, on Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’, the ever-civil Paddy O’Connell questioned The Father of THE House about the wisdom of Dominic Cummings’ behaviour. The Father of the House answered with his mouth full of breakfast! 


Slavering into the microphone, swilling his Full English with his Guatemalan, he pompously praised the paternal instinct of Cummings before nit picking, by way of congenital gamesmanship, the use of a Latin term introduced by the interviewer.


It was appalling audibly, but more so for the sheer arrogance, lack of decency and respect demonstrated by The FATHER of the House AND on a SUNDAY morning!!! 


Yours, Disgusted of North Norfolk.


Broadland type

Sheila, Norfolk

In 2018, Chris and I took a trip to Rome. I had been before as an Uncle of mine, a "retired" Jesuit priest was living in the Gesu. Some members of my family (including me) went there and celebrated his 90th birthday with him.


I loved it then and wanted to go again with Chris - I knew he would love it.


Anyway, it was a wonderful trip all round but a small significant (to us) event remains vividly in my mind to this day. It was raining quite heavily and we'd been out and about in the city returning after a long day to our apartment in Via Giulia. We were dodging the intermittent heavy showers and as we hurried down our street we became aware of a church with open doors and a sign outside. Although we were near to 'home', we dashed into the church to avoid a sharp shower only to find a small assembled crowd sitting on rows of obviously specially laid out benches. We were rather dishevelled from the rain and I felt uncomfortable about 'gate-crashing' the event. No-one asked us for money so we simply sat ourselves down at the back to wait and see what was to come.

Well, to say it was magical wouldn't do it justice. Suddenly a group of musicians came to the front of the crowd and began singing and playing a range of instruments - it was astonishing, unexpected and quite the highlight of our trip. They played one piece of music in particular that I found enchanting. As we left, about an hour later, still in a bit of a daze, I took note of the programme at the doorway and made a mental note of some of the music.

On returning home I searched the internet and found the piece of music. It is a rarely performed Opera by Vivaldi called Farnace. I have now got the whole opera (very long) and created a shortened version (removing a lot of the libretto) to play on our Sonos system here at home. Chris has a constant search to find a performance - we have vowed that if he finds one anywhere in the world we will try to make a trip to experience it in full.


We may never get to see it now but I would like any Opera fans to seek it out and enjoy it as much as we do. The music is divine - I haven't a clue what they're singing about, but it really doesn't seem to matter at all.


The recording I like is: Jordi Savall - Vivaldi: Farnace (Full Album) and I'm listening to it as I write this journal entry. The cover is shown here.



Then and Now

Peter Scupham

Masks ? Well, I am not quite sure about a designer mask, or the new trikini of mask plus bikini. In the land of Then, masks only meant gas-masks, and the importance of scampering to school with a cardboard box swinging from the shoulder with the rather romantic mask inside. I recall playing with it, trying it on for fun, and as I have already mentioned before, sitting in a row on a school bench flatulently making it fart, misting up the visor and feeling the elastic straps crawling over my scalp. I don’t think I ever considered what the contraption was really for. It was simply part of the background of living. My sister’s mask, though, was the horrendously unlovable Mickey Mouse mask in red and blue, with an even more elongated red nose. It was one of the survivors of the war and was kicking about until my own children savaged it by cutting its nose off, after which the poor creature died the death and it has now gone where all good gas-masks go.


Oh, Mickey Mouse, you ruined man,

Your wrecked face bobs in the garden grass.

Who wrenched your flapping nose askew ?


The projector hums. Through smoky light

You drive like mad in a baby car.

Fat wheels spin in a wavering dust.


Your slippery flesh embraces mine.

I choke on a smell. You flubber and snore,

Elastic rucks my prickling hair.


My head contracts. I am tight shut.

My breath makes mist. I stare at time

Through deep-sea eyes with metal rims.


Oh, yes. Mickey Mouse in his baby car was one of the films I had for my Bingoscope Projector, wound by handle.
I believe Mickey and Goofy are still waiting for me on spools of 9.5mm film up in our attic. They last came alive in about 1944, I guess. Rest in peace. And since the poet tells the truth but tells it slant, I think in my poem I see myself wearing my sister’s mask, which would not have fitted anyway. You can fit the right mask for me from the pictures!  Happy Days!