My 13 year old son, Wren, and I made a visit to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle,WA. It was both inspiring and peaceful with a festival + BLM protest + collectivist atmosphere. We wore masks as did most people. Groups of people sat at good distance in the park ( there were dense crowds in places). People seemed happy and supportive, just walking about.
April 28. Casual walking out of a house, down the street, into a park or out to the countryside, has long-been the most practised and least studied form of recreation.
For most people in most times, it was the basic form of relaxation. Until the twentieth century, domestic over-crowding meant that it was often the only means of escaping the press of people and finding some privacy. Because it was essentially unstructured and unrecorded, it has rarely received the attention of historians. Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, to which I referred on April 24, is, like a handful of other such books, essentially an account of literary walkers, from Rousseau and Wordsworth onwards. The one exception is the now elderly account by Maurice Marples, Shank’s Pony (1959).
In Britain, however, one of its most common forms, walking the dog, has long been counted. During the nineteenth century an increasingly firm distinction was drawn between walking with a dog, and dog-walking. Next to the immobile pedestrian, the greatest fear of polite town dwellers was the uncontrolled dog. It was at best a source of noise, pollution, and unwanted physical contact for other pedestrians, and at worst a threat to life through the widely-feared disease of hydrophobia, or rabies. Taxing dogs, which began in 1796, was a means of policing their mainly urban owners. Rural working dogs were exempt. Following reforms to the cost and efficiency of taxation in 1867, reliable records were kept. By 1877, there were nearly 1.4 million licensed dogs in Britain, mostly in towns and cities. At least as many owners again were believed to be avoiding the tax. By the second half of the twentieth century the figure had reached four million, doubling again before the licence fee was finally abolished in 1987.
In most countries in the coronavirus lockdown, some kind of exemption has been allowed for exercising a pet. Last week a story went viral of an Italian woman who had been fined for exceeding the time limit for this activity. Her excuse was that the pet was not a dog, but a tortoise, and there was a photograph to prove it.
Initially I had much sympathy for the woman. In my adult life the only pet that I have owned myself, as distinct from the family cat, was a tortoise, named Herodotus, or Hod for short, after the first historian. It always seemed an appropriate companion for an historian, or indeed anyone engaged in the slow business of writing a full-length book. At this time of the year Hod would be trundling about the garden, eating buttercups and clover as he recovered his strength after the winter’s hibernation.
But then again, a tortoise really does, in Kipling’s terms, walk by itself. Cats are in fact always aware of human company and generally seek to be close to it. But a tortoise is entirely indifferent. That is what makes it so relaxing a pet. No complex emotional interactions. Our cat would walk surprisingly long distances with us when we were out on an expedition. Not Hod. It is not so much about mobility. On a hot day, especially if there is a tortoise maid in the offing, a tortoise can manage a turn of speed. Rather it is a matter of independence. There is just no way in the world you can get such an animal to follow you down the street.
I am afraid the Italian police had the right of it.
Cathy Buckle. Dear Family and Friends,
On an early morning emergency dash to collect supplies I was anxious about venturing out and what I would see. It was Day 5 of Zimbabwe’s 21 day Coronavirus lockdown and I knew that by now people who live hand to mouth and eke out a living selling fruit and vegetables from roadside stalls would be getting desperate. Our taps were dry for the second day running and with gloves and a mask on I set out. People were out looking for water already, so far there was no news on where there were supplies of maize meal, the staple food.
I passed a man pushing a wheelbarrow with five empty yellow water containers, heading towards a public borehole. Fourteen people were already there ahead of him, standing in line at the borehole waiting for their turn to use the hand pump and fill their containers with water. This is coping with Coronavirus Zimbabwe style.
Further along a policewoman in uniform ignored me, she was busy taking a selfie photograph of herself on the side of the road, a block or two from the town centre. She wasn’t wearing a face mask. A group of four police men and women armed with truncheons were having an altercation with a man carrying a small cardboard box. None of the police were wearing face masks despite being a few inches away from the man. This is coping with Coronavirus Zimbabwe style.
All week we’ve been seeing pictures of big crowds of people desperately trying to buy maize meal in Harare and Bulawayo. No chance for social distancing, no sign of masks, just a massive squash of people trying to get food for their families, people who have to choose between hunger and an invisible virus. Almost five hundred people have been arrested this week for being on the streets in breach of lockdown, crammed into police lorries and taken away but in the same week 1680 prisoners have been released because prisons are overcrowded and congested. This is coping with Coronavirus Zimbabwe style.
On Day 5 of Zimbabwe lockdown, news had already filtered out that in the early hours of the morning police had raided Sakubva market in Mutare and confiscated three tons of fresh vegetables which were later set alight. Burning food when the country is in lockdown, people are desperate for food and over half the population is dependent on International Food Aid to survive, is very hard to understand.
Almost home from my early morning dash, two police details were standing in the middle of the road and indicated for me to stop and open my window, asking where I was going and why. The police woman who came to my window wasn’t wearing a mask or gloves and the obvious question that came to mind was: what if she’s got Coronavirus, isn’t she passing it on to every person she stops and questions? Isn’t this making a complete nonsense of lockdown, defeating the whole purpose of confining people to their homes to stop the spread of Covid 19? This is coping, or not, with Coronavirus, Zimbabwe style. God help us.
Until next time, thanks for reading this Letter From Zimbabwe, now in its 20th year, and my books about life in Zimbabwe, love cathy 3 April 2020. Copyright © Cathy Buckle. http://cathybuckle.co.zw/