Archive for March, 2020

Letter From the Vineyard 28 March 2020 On a sea of hope…

March 28, 2020


           The day began with lances of light pouring into my bedroom; muting to grey by scuds of clouds crossing the sun, a bright wind howling outside the windows, bending trees, the first soft and distant suggestion of spring on their boughs. Then, mid-morning, sun banished clouds, yielding to sky of powder blue, unbroken, as I island wandered, doing the few errands allowed.

The island wants “shelter-in-place” while the state demands it only be advised. From errand running, the island is winning on a wave of self-concern.  Since returning, I have washed my already raw hands as if Pilate, washing away sin.

This week, I had FaceTime drinks with my friend Larry; we virtually toasted while roasting Washington chaos.  Even as the nation buckles, self-interest roared, and shouting echoed through the normally sedate American Senate.

There were martinis on FaceTime with Lionel, sequestered across the street from where I once lived with a bonus visit from his husband, Pierre.  We talked of Verizon, his employers, their response to the disease, how they are working to help employees.  It was good to hear.

Ten or so from our train group had a virtual cocktail party on Zoom, the newest way to mingle without touching.

It appears the two point two trillion dollars is the down payment on surviving the pandemic.  In the bill, there is five billion for New York City; Cuomo calls it a drop in the proverbial bucket as he faces the need for 40,000 ICU beds.  Forty. Thousand. ICU. Beds.

The Javits Center, the labyrinthian convention complex on the Hudson, is being converted in a week to house hospital beds.

Across the country, governors are standing up, the galvanizers of the COVID-19 fight. Most prominent of them is Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, a normally polarizing man who has risen to the challenge of being governor of the American epicenter of the disease, where almost 5% of the world’s cases now reside.

Each morning brings more bad news; I read it gingerly while working my way into the day, then shower to wash it away, if it were only possible.  This reality lingers around us; infuses everything we do. Passover and Easter are upon us.  How will we celebrate as we are quarantined?

With much effort, I got the store’s phones forwarded to my mobile.  The people who work for Comcast Business are quite wonderful – the technology not so much.

New realities face us each day; we work through them as we can.  An impoverished nation is facing grim choices, including which bills to pay or not, and the stories will only grow.  And I ache as I read them.

Though shut-ins are finding ways to reach out.  My sister sent me this and it moves me to tears each time I watch it. [I am certain I am not the only one finding tears near these days.] A friend sent me a video of Rita Wilson rapping; I laughed.  If interested, see it here.

I shared a letter from Fitzgerald, only to discover it was written as a parody for McSweeney’s, though it has been circulated probably hundreds of thousands of times in recent days because it issued hope and hope is what we need.  If curious, read about it in this article.

Reading is a savior and people are reading all those piles of books they have set aside for just this kind of rainy day.  Or they are binging on all the television shows and films stored on some electronic device or bookmarked on their streaming service[s].

It is a dark, strange world in which we live though not devoid of hope, because it is hope that has kept us puny humans going since we climbed out of the primordial mud into the light of some long lost day, and have kept on hoping since then, all of us some version of Mother Courage.  If we didn’t have hope, we’d be long gone by now.

Knowing that, I have hope we will sustain ourselves through this so bleak time and find a way to revise the future story and make it better.

Letter from the Vineyard 03 21 2020 Hasn’t it been just…

March 22, 2020


Letter from the Vineyard

March 21, 2020

Well, hasn’t it been just…

First of all, thank you to all who have reached out to check on me.  I’m fine, right now, and doing all I can to stay that way.  And I am concerned all of you are doing fine…

Morning came with a mystic fog snuggling the island, a sight which would have made me smile though today it seemed emblematic of our lives, moving through fog.

The week has been spent making homemade disinfectant and homemade hand sanitizer as none is to be found, a task adding to the surreal nature of the moment.

Everything seems life or death right now, wiping cardboard with disinfectant before unloading books, looking at every surface as an enemy, washing my hands with the frenzy of Lady Macbeth at Dunsinane, crying “out damned spot.”

It is rumored, not confirmed, Monday will bring an order to shelter in place in Massachusetts, becoming another state to do so.

It is the states which are leading the fight against this contagion.  On the Federal level, it beggars the imagination, which adds to the surreal feel of the moment.  The center from which we expect guidance dances the light fantastic; localities are banding together to direct us.

Shame on Washington.

Though God bless Dr. Fauci, the man who knows too much.  Read about him here. He is a national treasure and thank god he is still here.  He has led us through AIDS, Swine Flu and been the medical voice of reason for generations.

The Italians, having now passed China in the number of deaths, isolated in their homes, go to their balconies and windows to sing, god love them. View the video here.

The other night, in a text exchange, my dear, dear friend Lionel sent me this.  Would I had the way with words of Fitzgerald; it captures this time, as it did his moment as Spanish Influenza marched its deadly way across the world.


Dearest Rosemary,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza? I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloud line of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.

Faithfully yours,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

So, I too, “focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.”

May it be so for all of us.

God bless us all, however you perceive god.


Letter From the Vineyard 09 March 2020 A sign of the times…

March 9, 2020



A Letter from the Vineyard

March 09, 2020

The Via Condotti, Rome’s Madison Avenue, a street where years ago I was pickpocketed by two Roma women to whom I had just given money, is deserted.

Italy is one of the coronavirus epicenters; Italy, a tourist dependent country, is empty.  One of Rome’s five-star hotels ordered eleven pounds of potatoes last week.

Today, Monday, Italy has locked down the whole country.  No large gatherings, sports or otherwise. Even Catholic Mass has been cancelled.  You can go to work, if absolutely necessary, and that’s about it.

We have coronavirus, we have a toxic political environment.  Biden, who pulled off a political miracle, may well prevail in winning the nomination.  After that, it will be an ugly, ugly fall.

A friend, who was with me on the Via Condotti when I was pickpocketed, asked me in a text how I was, and I replied:  fine while living in a surreal world.

We have a coronavirus all the time as well as politics all the time news cycle.  It is dizzying, inescapable, making me sometimes yearn for a time there wasn’t a 24-hour news cycle.

Seminars are held on how to work remotely for jobs not normally remotely done, like teaching grade school.  This may be a tipping point for the way we work and live, forced by COVID-19 into different patterns from which we will never return.

It will be fascinating to see how it all works out, provided we live through it.

My godson, Paul, in New York on business for a couple of weeks, told me some stores were empty of toilet paper.  Certainly, they are empty of hand sanitizer.  On Amazon, two regular size bottles of Purell go for $100 or more. That’s panic.

When I went to pick up some prescriptions, I checked my pharmacy; sanitizers all gone, and none at the grocery store, when I went to pick up milk and bread.  The toilet paper section was not yet denuded nor was it robustly populated.

While I stopped at a local restaurant for some dinner [not easy this time of year on the Vineyard; I had already been to two which said they were open online but were not], the State Department advised against cruise travel as ships have become hot beds of infection.

On Sunday morning there were 30 states with COVID-19; by sunset [can we just stop daylight saving time, please] there were 33.  It is on the march. Part of what is fear inducing is we do not quite know with what we’re dealing.

Sunday at church, no one knew whether they should shake hands at the peace or not.  Most didn’t and a few did and when a hand was offered, I took it, remembering I had hand sanitizer [bought long before this madness] in the car.  My hands are actually tingling from washing and sanitizing.

The CDC has suggested if you are over 60, you stock up and just stay home, wait this out.  That’s not really an option for a lot of people, including me.

The markets are cratering, fuel on the coronavirus fire from an oil price war between Russia’s Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS [Mohammed Bin Salman].  Among the victims will be American shale oil companies. Some analysts say oil will be worse for the markets than the coronavirus.  Oil is at $30 a barrel.  When was the last time?  I don’t remember.

You know what I am doing?  I am collecting recipes.  It is probable I will never make them, yet it gives me comfort, a bit like comfort food without the calories.  Sam Sifton of the NY Times, thank you for your wonderful, witty food columns.  Mark Bittman, you are my Brad Pitt.  It is a refuge in the sea of chaos in which we live.

So, this is what I am going to do: do everything to stay healthy, live to write more blogposts, keep washing my hands, take my vitamins, avoid crowds and say my prayers, not just on Sunday.  You do the same.  Please.