from Nike in Katerini, Greece: lockdown to ease on Monday

poppies appearing in the streets

May 2. Melina Mercouri once said, ‘Enthusiasm is a wonderful thing. In South America they throw flowers at you. In Greece they throw themselves.’
It’s true.
Lockdown begins to ease on Monday. I even have made a hairdressers appointment. We can only go in one at a time and all must be masked and gloved. I’m prepared. I’ve bought my mask and gloves supplies, Just hope everybody else has.
Pre-Covid, Neighbours would stop me for a chat and pull me into their homes or onto their balconies for a coffee. People stopped me on the street to enquire after father, mother, cousins, children. Greece is a crowded place. We have a small population of around 11 million but we also have a small country. Greece holds three spots in the List of top ten most concentrated areas of population in Europe. (with those statistics in mind it is truly phenomenal what Greece has achieved).
Streets are narrow, our pavements and narrow, most shops are small, fabulous – but small. We get close.
On my last outing two days ago the weather was magnificent and more people were out as restrictions ease. I stopped walking to take a video call from my son in Australia. My little grandson was blowing me kisses. A neighbor spotted me, rushed over, put her arm around me and wanted to share my joy. She blew kisses back to him and gave the cautionary spits to shoo away the devil. She ftou-ftoued all over me. Two months ago we would have linked arms and strolled to the nearest cafe to keep talking, the olive seller could wait. Instead I froze, clamped my mouth shut and fretted if I’d inhaled any of those mine-shaped polemic bacteria.
Overcoming paranoia might be my biggest problem. I silently scolded myself for not wearing a mask. Around 50% of people are wearing a mask. Government directives are as of Monday we will all be wearing masks until further notice.
But, the poppies have appeared. They are brightening up dreary urban landscapes. I must remember to pick some to collect seeds and scatter them through the garden at the Olympus house. I’m aware nothing will happen but hopefully some of them will lock into the earth and next spring sprout between weeds offering spots of colour like the flushed cheeks of blushing maidens. Ah, Olympus. I can go there as of next week.

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.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: A walk in the park

Hove Park, UK

“Thinking about the things we used to do! 🎶🎶 – like a walk in the park …”

Most days I go for a 20 minute walk (government guideline time!). We are fortunate to live abutting a park so we are very familiar with the seasons and many of the people who walk there. Many are walking their dogs and often one stops for a chat. There is a small cafe selling breakfasts and lunches and tea and coffee.- and, among others, lots of mothers with small children meet there. There is also a gym as well as people with personal trainers doing their thing. There are tennis courts and table tennis facilities. Altogether, a friendly, active, humming kind of place – that was! 

It is not like that any more. It strikes one as anything but relaxed. People walk at a two metre distance and they do so in a purposeful way. Cyclists go past you, children on scooters, runners – all going about their daily activity as if their life depends on it. There is little in the way of eye contact, no tarrying, no chatting, no bird watching, no photography (despite the breathtaking beauty of the cherry blossoms at this time of the year).  The cafe is, of course, closed – as is the gym. The young mothers have disappeared. No tennis. No table tennis. A police car cruises around the boundary from time to time. I don’t know why they bother. A more orderly bunch of people would be difficult to find. 

Yesterday, a woman called across the path to me “it’s very cold today.” She had a slightly desperate air about her. “It is,” I said. “Just when we thought the winter was over.” “I don’t have heating in my flat”, she said. We had a short conversation about keeping warm and not mistaking a cold for corona virus – and I awkwardly exhorted her to keep warm and safe – and moved on. I thought of all the lonely people whose daily routine included a coffee or meal at the cafe and a walk (and chance encounter) – and how a walk for some is an important contributor to their mental health. For those who suffer from depression this corona virus has visited a double crisis upon them. Many live alone and even their short venture out provides no contact. If you add in the fear and anxiety that many people must be feeling, not just about the virus itself but about their jobs and mortgages and future, we have a serious issue which must be causing enormous suffering. 

A Guardian columnist (#AndrewSolomon) writes that “from now on, when someone who hasn’t experienced clinical depression and anxiety asks me what they feel like, I won’t have to resort to florid comparisons. I’ll say: “Remember when the Covid-19 pandemic hit town?”  And they will understand.”            

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!

From David Maughan Brown in York: Thorny issues

11th April

The rules governing daily life under lockdown are wonderfully ambiguous and open to interpretation, as, I suppose, one might expect from a country reluctant to eliminate ambiguities by having a written constitution.  The disjuncture between ‘government advice’, broadcast to the nation every hour on the hour, and the law governing what the citizenry can and cannot lawfully do, leaves a multitude of gaping loopholes.  So, taking care not to offend the ‘social distancing’ principle behind the advice, and taking full advantage of the underlying notion that exercise is ‘a good thing’, my civic conscience isn’t overly pricked by the potential abuse of the rules involved in getting on my bicycle to ride to my allotment and, once there, doing some gardening. An officious policeman could probably regard this a two different forms of exercise rather than the one allowed, but it is clear that the police are as confused about the precise boundaries of what is permissible as anyone else, and they have recently been coming in for a good deal of flak for overstepping the mark.  So I don’t think I am likely to land myself with a criminal record.

The risk is worth it.  The singing of the many birds breathlessly celebrating the warm spring sunshine – up to 23 degrees today – is in itself enough to make me thankful that I was prepared to run the gauntlet of local advice-enforcer wrath.  But no digging today: civic conscience has intervened and pushed that down the list of priorities.  I need to clear a pile of bramble cuttings from the patch of ground I intend to dig next, and it is not an insignificant pile.  The 450-odd square yards of my allotment-and-a-half are bordered by some 55 yards of bramble hedge, which provided local foragers with quantities of berries in the autumn, and generated some 25 wheelbarrow loads of cuttings when I pruned them in the winter.  Every year I make two very thorny piles that I always leave to dry until spring when they can be burnt almost entirely smokelessly. But this spring’s lockdown has led the Allotment Association to issue dire threats to anyone who lights bonfires on their allotments while people are holed-up in their locked-down houses four or five hundred yards away.  Pruning and tying-in the hedge takes around 15 hours every year; burning the cuttings usually takes 20 minutes.  Fortunately I had the foresight to burn one pile, with no detriment to neighbouring households, before the lockdown came into operation.  Today I completed the five-hour task of cutting every branch and twig in the other  pile into two- or three-inch pieces and then wheeling each barrow-load off to an out-of-the-way pile where they can spend the next five to ten years languidly disintegrating.  Even 18 months of lockdown, entirely possible, even if as yet unspoken, would be a comparatively short interval in the life of an allotment.

from Brenda in Hove, UK: Planting Time – the Empty Desk Goal

7 April. April and spring have always meant planting time for me. Having sold our house and lovely garden (and greenhouse), I am now limited to a balcony. I had hoped that a gardener who had looked after our garden before would come and help out but he is nowhere to be found. So, banishing all negative thoughts of the future,  I ordered planters and pots and potting soil and plugs of some my favourite annuals: petunias, daisies, nemesia, verbena, and more. Rather a lot more! They are not arriving in the right sequence! Deliveries seem to have turned into a lucky dip. Today I got a whole box of seedlings (three dozen) but during the week I have received only one small bag of soil. I spent a happy hour planting them all crammed together in one pot and at least they are in the soil and watered (several trips with watering can). I spent considerably more time (in rubber gloves) disposing of all the cardboard containers and packing material in which they arrived. This was no mean feat. They have to be carried two floors down, banisters to be wiped, entry key pads to be wiped, boxes to be dismantled and conveyed into large bins with heavy lids. Several trips, much washing of hands involved. I plan to pack every part of the balcony with flowering plants and leave only just enough room for a couple of chairs. If this is where I am to be confined, so be it: flowers all around me (eventually, courtesy of nurseries and Amazon) and a view of the park, friends on Whatsapp, and a good book.

6 April. Goal: an empty desk

For years and years I have craved an empty desk. One of the main features of my desk have always been lots of post-its and lists. I have always been a great list maker – and get a sense of satisfaction ticking off the items I have jotted down. This has not been a universally admired ritual. One of my ever patient secretaries once said to me “B, if you would just stop making lists for a few days, we could all catch up!” Another said “There is no such thing as an empty desk. The day you have an empty desk is the day you don’t have a day job. Get used to it.” I now have cause to remember them – and I do so fondly. Thanks to being confined to quarters, mirabilis dictu, I have almost eliminated all post-its. At the grand old age of 76, in March I relinquished my last paid employment – and that too has contributed to the fact that in a few days’ time I will have an empty desk. And then I am going to write a book. But first I am going to admire my empty desk for a while.

5 April. What about the rest of my life?

I have been thinking. (My family is not particularly keen on that phrase!) And I have been thinking that, given my age group and dodgy asthma condition, that when this virus is  brought under control (that is, is occurring at a rate that the NHS can handle) it will still lurk around in the same way that flu lurks around. And, as long as it lurks, I will be very vulnerable. So the way I am living now might not be substantially different from the way I will have to live the rest of my life – that is, until a vaccine is found. And then I turned on  the inimitable Trevor Noah and his interview with Bill Gates (#thedailyshow) and found corroboration, from Bill Gates, no less.  He too says that “The ultimate solution – the only thing that really lets us go back completely to normal and feel good about sitting in a stadium of other people – is to create a vaccine.” I am sure a vaccine will be found. Having worked in a university environment for most of my life I have boundless faith in the ingenuity of the human species and scientists, in particular. The question remains then: when?

And so until then I must get on with it. I have never been to a stadium and have no wish to do so now – so that’s not a problem. I have come to hate air travel so having that option removed from me is fine. I have traveled quite extensively so have no great bucket list in that department. Concerts will have to be enjoyed online and the Met and other orchestras are stepping up to the plate. I am taking more tours of great museums – virtually – than I ever would be able to do in reality and I think I am enjoying them with an intensity I didn’t experience before (cabin fever plays its part). I spend more hours on the phone with friends and family than I ever would have been able to manage if I had to travel to meet them. I play bridge online with friends and with our Whatsapp phones on throughout the game we have just as much social interaction as we had when we traveled to each other’s houses. We might never play face to face again. On the other hand, you still can’t beat a good dinner party. And a lovely long rail journey would be a treat and I love going to see the great gardens to be found in the UK and I love meeting friends in London and enjoying all the city has to offer. And I love walking on the beach and, and, and. Oh dear. I do hope they hurry up and find a vaccine.