from Nike in Katerini, Greece: No Alarm Clocks …

Albin Hillert/WCC (World Council of Churches)

February 10, 2021.

No one needs an alarm clock in Greece. We have church bells. Every morning at 7:30 am sharp the bells toll for morning service. It’s a cheery burst of eight bouncy peals in bouts of ding, ding, dings. And ends in a burst of dings like a mother clapping her hands in her children’s bedrooms to wake them up and prepare them for the day, ‘Come on guys, up and at ‘em!’ The bells toll again at 8 o’clock, and again at 8:30 in case you missed the first two. At 5:30 pm the bells toll again to raise you from siesta slumber for vespers. You always know what time it is because there are churches, ranging from cathedrals to tiny chapels, everywhere to gladden our hearts.

It’s the sombre single peals in between which pierce them. Each time we hear the mournful tone like a long low groan we all wonder for whom the bell tolls. In our neighbourhood alone nine people have been lost to Covid. (Make that ten, another one died this morning) Beyond our neighbourhood, at the end of my street is a snazzy electrical goods store. It’s owner is a flirty silver fox. I mean, he was. He was taken too. As was the sister of the owner of one of the boutiques in which I shop. As was the real estate agent’s wife and the city’s top lawyer and, and, and. It’s the Grim Reaper. The average age of the victims is dropping. Here in Greece it started at around 78. It’s down to 62. Now, with the mutated strains, there’s a terrifying development. It’s striking children. For that reason, and because our case counts have been steadily rising, Greece just ended its third lockdown.

The pandemic is colour-coded. Red means lockdown. Here in the north we just exited red and have entered Orange. We are doing everything we can to stay out of the red. So, we wear two masks now. Doubling up does help. Also, there are psychological effects in a society like Greece’s of having no physical contact with anyone but your direct family. We’re not used to standing far apart, we’re not used to seeing someone and stepping back. We are all about being up close. In your face, but in the best way. I don’t remember the last time I was hugged, I don’t even remember the last time I’be shaken anyone’s hand. In a society where all people, women, men, other and children greet each other with the traditional double kiss and walk along arm in arm, not being permitted to touch is creating an atmosphere alien to the Hellenic way of life.

It’s been unseasonably warm. We are literally having the famed halcyon days. And they are glorious. It’s a divine feeling walking around in a light shirt in the middle of winter. But in a couple of days it will all be over. The Halcyon phenomenon has passed for this year. The forecast is a severe drop in temperature, to around -10, and snow. At least if we are housebound the pandemic doesn’t seem so bad. A positive can be made from this negative by keeping the home cosy.

So, I will shop this week for more groceries than usual just in case the streets become snowbound. Something will always be simmering on the stove. The home will always have the aroma of freshly baked bread, pies, cakes and cookies and I shall keep doing my 7 minute high intensity workouts to compensate. I find I’m watching television a lot more, and videos online. It’s my version of conversation. I watched the famous interview of Cormack McCarthy with Oprah on YouTube. In it McCarthy says he was never bothered by anything as long as he had food and shoes. He says you can get by without lots of things but without food and shoes you can’t do much.

We are all spending a lot more time in our slippers seeing as we are indoors most of the time so the shoes are not a problem. And I’ll just keep the food coming. I cook every day for my mother and her sister who lives on the fifth floor of our building. They love traditional Greek food as well as the old byzantine recipes. So today I’m making them Imam Bayeldi the sumptuous eggplant dish that was so delicious the imam for whom it was cooked fainted, either from the intense flavour or from the amount of olive oil it takes to cook it in. That’s what Imam Bayeldi means, the imam fainted. To go with it I made them one of their favourite comfort foods, Atzem Pilaf. It’s a divinely fragrant pilaf, cinnamon scented and studded with slivers of toasted almonds. April, they say. It will take until April to bring the situation under control. That’s what the modelling is telling the health experts. Until April we must remain on full alert and in some form of lockdown. Until April.

From Nike in Katerini, Greece: Golgotha

January 28, 2021.

Nike in Katerini, Greece

“Ahead of us is Golgotha.”

That’s what the news reader said last night. Golgotha. The hill upon which Christ was crucified. It’s the term Greeks use for a difficult journey. The journey is the year ahead. I would rather refer to this as our Odyssey. At least after the Odyssey ended, Odysseus was home again on Ithika with his beloved wife and family, safe and sound, Back to all that was familiar. On Golgotha there was just suffering and death.

Speaking of death, my father died a couple of months ago. It was not a tragic death. He was almost 93 years old and had well and truly lived his own Odyssey. The tragedy was that he died during this pandemic and only eight people were permitted to attend his funeral.

I still have no idea when I can return home to Australia. They’ve done such a magnificent job there but then they’re in such a unique position with their geographical isolation they could simply shut the borders. Also I believe the Australian lifestyle contributes to its success with Covid as well. I wonder if my fellow Australian citizens would agree with me. We tend to stay out of peoples business. Many of us go into our homes at night and don’t leave again till the morning. The once sacred ritual of morning or afternoon tea has almost disappeared. We simply don’t invite many people over and most of us don’t even know many of our neighbours names. Here in Greece it’s a completely different story. Life is lived outside – hail, sleet, snow, wind, rain or shine. Everybody knows everybody’s business. It’s the law almost.

People always go out. The lifestyle has been built around it, making people stop in the middle of the day to go home and have a nap so they can go out again. In Australia the first question someone asks you is – what do you do? In Greece the first question someone asks you is – whose child are you? Everybody knows who you are, what you’re doing there and what your background is and if they don’t know they will stop you to find out, many, many times till the whole neighbourhood knows exactly who they are dealing with.

Still speaking of death, I’ve discovered something since the passing of my father. He feared death more than anything. I once caught him praying to God to keep him alive, not for any noble reason such as to live to see a certain event or to achieve a certain goal but just to keep existing. The saga of his illness, his weaknesses, his dramatic decline and the intensive care he required – all administered by me – is a huge story itself. I’ll just go straight to the end and the moment I found him in his bed. He’d passed away in his sleep. The look on his face was of sheer wonderment. It was so beautiful all I could do was sit next to him and gaze upon him for several minutes. His wrinkles had gone and he looked young and handsome and happy. He died looking at something beautiful. Again, it’s so much to go into and it’s not appropriate on a forum for Covid 19 I suppose but the point I’m making is it made me not fear death. Let’s just say there were some experiences I felt and saw that made this cynical nonbeliever realise there is another dimension and it’s not a bad place.

I now know what we must fear and act against – is illness.

Death is not hell, illness is. When there is someone ill in the family the entire family get sick with them – in one way or another. Again that’s a whole other huge story but I think you all know what I mean.

I know there are so many other things to fear and act upon such as fighting for equality and preserving our environment and all that but taking care of our personal health and being responsible for our actions is the single greatest thing we can do for our family, our community and our planet. A healthy world needs healthy people. Other than non-Covid illness and accidents, take care everyone.

Here in Greece wearing a mask is not questioned any more – it’s just a fact. I’m developing a mask wardrobe. I have a nice leopard print one too! Boutiques are selling glamorous sequinned ones for night time – not that we can go anywhere yet.

However, the government made one significant step last week. Shops were permitted to open. Cafes and restaurants are still not permitted to operate normally but the shops opened up. They did declare it an experiment because people were becoming stir crazy after so much strict lockdown. We are still under curfew, no one is allowed out after 9 pm, but we can go shopping.

We are all very nervous about it though. Before the shops opened our daily case count was sitting at around 500. It dropped to low as 250 a few days ago for the last couple of days it’s gone up to 800 to 850. Tonight’s numbers might change everything again. We fear having to enter a third lockdown so much that I must say we are all super careful. You no longer see anyone unmasked on the streets and the shops have people at the door to ensure distancing is adhered to. There are no longer any arguments or declarations of lack of rights. Everyone now realises we are all responsible for each other.

So my friends I don’t think this forum is over. We still have our Golgotha to climb, our Odyssey to travel. Fortunately we live in this age with such technology and the ability to communicate and advanced medical treatments. It’s nowhere near as bad as our poor ancestors had to endure back in 1918.

It’s time for me to go out now. I’m masked up and I’m going to buy cod roe to make taramasalata, the real stuff not that pink dyed stuff you buy in plastic tubs.

How is everyone doing? Be great to hear updates from everyone else on how good or not good the situation is where they are.

Yia sou

Do you know what that means?

Yia sou? It’s the traditional Greek greeting for hello and goodbye and yelled out joyously before taking a drink. Yia sou is short for Στην υγειά σου. To your health. Stay healthy, look after your health, go in health, health is everything – all those cliches, but one thing I know is when you’re healthy you can do anything and everything, make money, make love, travel, explore, experiment, experience. When you’re not healthy you can’t do anything.

Στην υγειά σας.

from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: Level 3 Lockdown

December 29.

author: Louis van der Merwe. PhD, Strategy process consultant and executive educator

An emotional President Ramaphosa last night announced a return to level three lockdown to combat the second wave Covid-19 currently raging uncontrolled through SA. Hotspots isolate cities and specific communities while super-spreader events, mainly teen music-driven rage events, act as incubators and catalysts for infection of families and communities by returning teens. A further surge is expected when holiday-makers return to their city and town communities. A general disregard of mask-wearing other than to gain entry after which masks are discarded. Other safety measures such as sanitisation and self-distancing have with a few exceptions fallen by the wayside.

President Ramaphosa announced last night that we had passed the 1 million confirmed Coronavirus cases.

“Nearly 27,000 South African are known to have died from Covid-19. The number of new coronavirus infection is climbing at an unprecedented rate. More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.” He announced. The Covid-19 variant called 501.V2 appears to be spreading faster than the first wave of infections. Excessive alcohol consumption is driving up the trauma cases, including a spike in gender-based violence, in hospitals, putting an unnecessary strain on the already stretched public health facilities. During the month of December 4,630 public sector health employees contracted COVID19 bringing the total number infected since the start of the pandemic to 41,000.

Pitiful cries for help from doctors in the front line. They cry out; “Our hospitals are FULL, No oxygen points. Private hospitals are full. No beds anywhere. And we have not yet reached the peak. Unless we act now and act decisively the number of new infections will far exceed the number of infections in the first wave and thousands more will lose their lives.”

The National Coronavirus Command Council has decided to put the country into Level 3 from Level 1 with immediate effect. Several of the level 3 regulations have been strengthened while trying at the same time to keep the economy open.

  • All indoor and outdoor gatherings are prohibited except for funerals and other limited exceptions such as restaurants, museums, gyms and casinos
  • Funerals no more than 50 people with social distancing
  • Every business premises must determine maximum number of staff and customers permitted at any one time
  • Nationwide curfew extended from 09:00 pm to 06;00 am
  • Non-essential establishments must close at 08:00 pm

In an open letter to President Ramaphosa, Prof Thuli Madonsela reminds him and his cabinet that “People’s resistance to colonial and apartheid laws has taught her that when a law is unjust, violating it is not only justified but legitimate-it is exalted as heroic.” She goes on to state that any regulations must withstand the test of social justice and reasonableness, both protected in our constitution. Public policies must not only pass the test of reasonableness in a court of law but also in the court of public opinion. She warns that more people will push back against perceived excesses since parliament has been missing in action during the pandemic.

Food parcels are delivered randomly in a process tainted by corruption. As the ANC loses its moral authority as a result of duplicity, factional friction and lack of unity its ability to lead and demand compliance also declines. Modern government is built on the rule of law, accountability and capability. The leadership of President Nelson Mandela provided a  glimpse these foundations, not to be seen again since those heady days and the promise of a rainbow nation. President Ramaphosa must feel like the captain of a ship in stormy waters where the helm has become disconnected from the rudder, as the ship of state drifts inexorably towards menacing, submerged rocks.

The best he can do is light a candle at midnight and pray for the best outcome. May God bless him and his cabinet.

from Anne in Adelaide, Australia: more about the Sewing life …

Quilt making

August 6. Further to the sewing life: since my blog about sewing, I came across a ‘good news’ story.

Patricia, my cousin in northern-NSW, Australia, responded to tell me about creating quilts. Various community sewing groups with this specialised skill make quilts for hospitals as well as home-made face masks. They create a range of quilts and kids who are in hospital can choose one to keep. My cousin says it is so much more homely to have a bright quilt covering your bed rather than hospital blankets. They also make smaller quilts for newborns that did not survive. The parents can use the quilt to wrap their tiny baby.

a kid’s quilt

This little story is but a reminder of the thousands of people in small communities doing selfless things for others during these challenging times.

From Brenda in Hove: Another Thing for the Chop!

4 July

I saw a poster recently to the effect that the rush on toilet paper a few months ago wasn’t a patch on 25 million women trying to get a haircut this week when hairdressers opened. I wasn’t desperate but I was on the hairdresser’s list and he emailed me some time ago asking if I wanted an appointment – in the manner of bestowing a favour. I did.

What a performance! Before you cross the threshold your temperature is taken – after being asked to lift your hair from your forehead (fair enough). Through his spectacles, the visor and over the mask the man is not sure what he is seeing. I sympathize. I assure him I do not have a temperature. He takes it again to be sure (so far, so good). Nobody is allowed in without a face mask and at the door I am asked to put on surgical gloves and a plastic gown. All these had arrived from China only the day before (I would have thought the UK could extend itself to manufacturing such simple gear).

The staff are wearing face masks as well as plastic visors and surgical gloves. If I didn’t already know them, I would never be in a position to recognize them again. I have been going to the same place for years and get on very well with the owners. We usually have spirited conversations about politics – although we vote very differently. This time I don’t have on my hearing aids (they quarrel with my mask) and he is incapacitated by all the gear he has on. It is uncomfortable for him and he is still getting used to the whole thing. Very little conversation. He did manage to say he didn’t think much of Joe Biden. What did I think? “He is not Donald Trump,” I say. “He will do.” “Oh!” he said. “I hadn’t thought of it like that.” My heart sinks (for  reasons unrelated to him)  – and so does the conversation. Too difficult through all the masks and whatnot. It is a pity. I used to enjoy our conversations.

The whole salon has had to be reconfigured to accommodate the distancing measures. Much carpentry, electricals, plumbing and paint work. Expensive – and done before the government changed its mind about the distance to be observed (from two metres down to one metre). Really.

Colour applied, hair washed (holding face mask over my mouth and nose), much desired cut done. He makes a remark about the cuts my husband has done. “He won’t get a job here.”  “He neither trained for it, applied for it or wants it,” I say (the cut was rather good in the circumstances I thought). He was amused. Before I paid, my contact details had to be recorded for tracing purposes (yeh, right!).

I  realise that face masks make human interaction minimal – only doing what need be to get the transaction done. Quite apart from not being able to recognise each, no smiles, no frowns, no facial expression at all registered. It completely changes the small pleasures that social interactions provide in the normal course of events. The hairdressing salon was one of those places where people chatted – with the person cutting their hair, with the people in other chairs, people waiting, people providing tea and magazines (the latter two a thing of the past). It wasn’t high society but it was pleasant. That is no more. Sad.

My hair can go grey again, my husband can cut it in future and I can get used to both very easily. One more thing I really don’t need.  

from Susan A. in Ottawa, Canada: April snowfalls and fines for dawdling …

15 April. April is the cruellest month.  When I awoke this morning just after 5.00, the little park behind our house looked strangely light.  Although the sky was clear, there had been a snowfall in the night!  It will surely melt during the day, but it was Nature’s rude reminder not to think about Spring just yet.

And then, checking Facebook while having a first cup of coffee, there was the sad news that the husband of one of my former colleagues at Statistics Canada has died from COVID-19 and that she herself is in critical condition in the hospital.  We had planned to get together after they returned from their stay in Toulouse and ours in Paris.  We returned at the beginning of March but they seem to have stayed till the end.

14 April. And that exchange with my daughter sapped my energy for the week as I waited for a decision.  In the end it was good news, for the time being, and she is at home with her husband and girls, tending her garden.

Now for a little recap of the week that was. 

Fines for dawdling in the parks. Last weekend was quite lovely as mentioned earlier and people were out and about in numbers, but parks had already been closed except to walk through.  Early in the week it was reported that a man had been fined $880 for walking his dog in one closed park, and a man playing with his autistic child in another park had been given a warning.  There were some subsequent negative comments in the press about the harshness of the action, but the mayor noted that warnings were not working.  Still, the communication about what is OK and not OK is as vague as the fines are steep.

Masks. One of my sister’s sons works for 3M Canada, a manager in the Personal Safety Division.  He was slated for a new job just before COVID-19 came to Canada.  Now he remains in his job, is one of the only workers in the offices, and seems to be working all his waking hours.  As one of his self/US protective measures, Mr Trump invoked the 1950 Defense Production Act allowing the government to stop 3M exporting N95 respirators to Canada and Latin America.  In response 3M cited global humanitarian issues as a reason to continue its supply to other countries.  Canada noted that some of the materials used in the masks come from Canada.  Eventually an agreement was reached after the sword rattling and subsequent diplomatic efforts.  That nephew of ours must be learning a good deal about business in a pandemic with an overlay of politics.

Street cleaning. On Monday evening our street was posted with the no parking signs which usually signal that it has finally become almost impassable due to snow banks and the impressive show of heavy equipment would restore it, albeit temporarily, to its two-way status.  Early the next morning there was a very impressive show of heavy equipment, this time to remove winter debris and all the salt and sand that accumulates over the course of an Ottawa winter.  The usual routine of a truck with a sweeper and water spray proceeded up and down the sides and the middle of the street and all quieted down for a bit, then there was a heavy rumble that put in mind the parade of tanks down the Champs Elysees for July 14th festivities.  The rumble was caused by a line of eight trucks spraying again, a sight never seen in previous years.  Later a neighbour told us that it was chemical disinfectant that was being sprayed.  Not confirmed by any press, but very unusual if true.

Easter. Easter Sunday was drab and drear, and we felt sad even though our dear youngish neighbour delivered home-made hot-cross buns for our breakfast.  We had a long phone conversation with our daughter, and caught up with the girls who are at home completing their school years.  The cheerful multi-coloured arrangement of tulips I had picked out to send to them was replaced by the florist with some blue bouquet of odd flowers.  Perhaps it was a representation of the mood of all of us – a little blue.

On Easter Monday we had a Zoom session with a group of our neighbours who we used to meet regularly for dinner or movie nights.  We are four couples, – all retired but one from interesting jobs, and we have a fine time together.  We were immensely cheered by one couple who appeared in large pink bunny ears and related their morning walk wearing same.  They had passed a mother with a little boy, at a six-foot distance of course, and the mother had said to the child “Oh look dear, it’s the Easter bunny.  “Thank you for my chocolate rabbit” said the little child.  The Easter bunny said it had cheered his day!