Susan D in Ottawa, Canada: Isolation

17 July 2020

The solitude of my initial isolation was quite pleasant as I prepared the rental house for our granddaughters, and ranged through a too large selection of books culled from the many not-read options in my library.  In the end, I read When We Were Orphans by Kasuro Ishiguro (acquired from the sale of books at our local library), The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (bought because I wanted to know whether I agreed with the award of a Pulitzer prize) and Factfulness: Ten Reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think, by the wonderful Swede, Hans Rosling.  The first I found a beautifully written story.  The second I found a gripping page turner, much to my surprise.  And the last I loved; I had truly saved the best for last.  I bought the book when it was released after Rosling died, but being quite familiar with his work I had never read it.  Our current worldwide situation, made it rather attractive: the title promised a more optimistic reading and thinking than current events, and it more than fulfilled the promise.

I came upon the work of Hans Rosling while working at the Paris based UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (better known as IIEP).  He used software called Gapminder to graphically convey his messages about the state of the world over time.  In those days when graphics were not so well used as now, I found it very powerful and potentially interesting for the educational planners studying at IIEP.  Rosling himself was a very powerful and entertaining communicator.  As a youngster he had wanted to become a circus artist – his parents preferred that he get an education and so he became a medical doctor and eventually professor of international health at the Svenska Institute in Sweden.  There he set himself the task of sharing and explaining a worldview gained from analysis of large data sets – that things are getting better in the world – even though we tend to think they are getting worse.  Through his many presentations and TED Talks he energetically shared this vision, and occasionally gave a sword swallowing performance at the end.  Before he died, he worked along with his son and daughter-in-law to put his messages in a book.  His heartfelt address to the reader is on the fly leaf, and concludes thus:

This book is my last battle in my lifelong mission to fight devastating ignorance …Previously I armed myself with huge data sets, eye-opening software and energetic lecturing style, and a Swedish bayonet for sword swallowing.  It wasn’t enough.  But I hope this book will be. *

Then two weeks ago, our granddaughters finally arrived in Ottawa from Florida.  Heart could be removed from mouth and put back where it belonged.  As pre-arranged, they phoned when they had crossed the US/Canada border that is currently closed to all non-essential travel and there was relief for everyone watching the progress of their three-day journey north.  They were very well prepared for the border crossing with a folder of documentation, including negative test results.  The official just stuck to a series of questions, and satisfied with their answers he sent them on their way with the specifics of the required fourteen-day self-isolation.  They were directed to stay in the house or in the garden.  No one could come on the property except for deliveries.  And they were contacted by telephone to ensure they were complying with the rules. They have worked, gardened, cooked and today their period of self-isolation ended. We are celebrating with dinner together in our garden.

And to conclude, I would not be a Canadian if there was no mention of our foe, the weather.  We have been having extremely long heat spells, even the mornings and evenings, that keep us indoors most of the time.  Even with a spacious home, this additional restriction weighs on one, and is yet another unpleasant indicator of advancing years.  Heat that was once bearable, now saps all energy and turns me into a limp, lethargic lump.  Nonetheless, I am continually heartened to see the smiling faces of our granddaughters across the street, safe from the rising numbers of COVID cases in Florida.

* Hans Rosling. February 2017

Susan D from Ottawa, Canada: COVID time – a reflection

14 June

I feel time is playing tricks, behaving like an elastic band.  Time seems to have stretched out: it feels like forever since we were enjoying ourselves in Paris.  Now each week dissolves, leaving hardly a trace.  I have finished my nightly meetings with Alec Guinness in his “positively final appearance”, but a bit from the December chapter stuck in my mind. “The days, they say, are drawing out. All that strikes me is that in spite of the slowing up of time, the weeks gallop apace; Sunday comes sharp on the heels of Sunday.”

At first, it seemed that enforced isolation would have one positive aspect.  Time without without socializing, shopping, travelling or hosting travelling friends would free up time to address some of those things one can always find a reason to leave for another day, month or year.  There is the basement, never sorted out after moving, and the perfect thing to do during the winter months of which Canada has so many.  Then there is the idea of learning and doing something new – writing a children’s book based upon a doll that belonged to my daughter.  When rescued from the garbage and cleaned up, he looked just fine as the main character for a story – perfect for spring creativity and increased energy.  Spring would also be a good time to address some landscaping at the front of the house, of which there is really none.  And then there are all those bookcases full of books, in fact, a whole library of unread books, good at any time of the year.  However, there is another side of COVID confinement – no cleaning help.  Now too much time is filled with cleaning a rather large house, and Monday comes sharp on the heels of Monday as the dust rolls down the halls and the cleaning cycle starts up again.  No new tasks get taken up.

Right at the moment, time seems to be collaborating with its colleague, the weather.  Early summer arrived with 30 degree days several weeks ago, but down jackets have been donned again, and tonight the temperature will descend to 6 degrees.  As Ontario has begun to open up further, although cases are still not falling consistently, the weather seems to be intimating that it is April or perhaps early May in COVID time, and too soon to be tossing aside so many precautionary measures.  I read a comment today that COVID is very young as a virus, mere months old, and we have hardly gotten to know it.  Nonetheless, the more than three months of self-isolating feel much longer: time is still playing its tricks.

from Susan D in Ottawa, Canada: more snow

Spring time snow in Ottawa

21 April. Snow again. This morning it snowed again. Surely it is time for the third Winter to be over and done, and if not, it needs a new name – third Winter of Despair.

Yesterday near noon, just as we were returning from our brisk walk in the Farm in brisk temperature, my favourite (unacknowledged of course) young neighbour roared out of the little lane that joins our street just across from us and stopped to say hello. On her bicycle and with her helmet, she might not be recognisable as a senior bureaucrat tasked with working on the federal government COVID-19 Economic Response Plan. She explained that now she had someone on her staff covering for her in the mornings and Saturday, and that she was working at the office from noon till 8.00 pm or so the rest of the time. I congratulated her on the very positive public response to the release of the Canada Emergency Response Benefit that provides a taxable benefit of $2,000 every 4 weeks for up to 16 weeks to eligible workers who have lost their income due to COVID-19. “Hmmm, yes” said she “but we are digging deeper and deeper into the bucket as we keep expanding coverage and support”. Then she brightened up, “But it is very interesting” and sped off. It was very heartening to know that her bright cheerful self was devoted to “saving Canada” (words of her husband).

20 April. Up then down. I feel unmoored today, although thankfully not unhinged. The daily list of chores did not serve as a framework for the day, just gave me a vague sense of ennui as I moved from one to another finishing one but not others. I feel like I am wandering aimlessly about the house and not sure where I misplaced my compass.

Yet yesterday was the opposite, with a most enjoyable first crack at not-quite-Spring garden clean-up. Lovely to be outside and not worry about anyone nearby coughing or sneezing or just getting too close. The sun was out (obligatory weather comment) and after a bit of strenuous raking, it was even possible to exchange the winter down coat for a lighter one. And in the evening we took a quick look, and then stayed till the end of the 25th year celebration in the London Royal Albert Hall of The Phantom of the Opera, offered free online. We may be closed in, but if we have Internet access there are so many offerings to help take our minds off the restrictions and the news – theatre, opera, concerts, movies, series, virtual museum and garden tours, e-books and so on.

17 April. Snow. The snow did melt a couple of days ago, but yesterday and today Nature provided follow-up reminders of Spring’s absence with little ice pellets and small snow squalls. Our walks some time ago in plus10 degrees seemed quite balmy for Spring, much as minus 10 degrees in winter seems, if not quite balmy, at least bearable. There is something most Canadians seem to need to talk about, no matter what – the weather. It might be, as some humourist has suggested, that we have been given extra seasons: Winter, fool’s Spring, second Winter, Spring of deception, third Winter, mud season, actual Spring, Summer (some descriptions substitute “road work”), False Fall, Second Summer and actual Fall.

Why do we have to have this inclement third Winter when reading the COVID-19 news and watching the escalating numbers could be ever so slightly more bearable if we were able to go outside without a parka and wave from correct distance to our wonderful neighbour-friends.