26/04/2020

At Home

Nicky, Vermont, US

Potatoes. I picked up a large bag of vegetables from a local farm, and at the bottom of the bag were potatoes and radishes. The potatoes are about the size and shape of thumbs and they’re almost black. Yesterday I washed some, sliced them which exposed purple innards, and then boiled them.  When I drained them the boiling water was a quite bright green. And the potatoes were utterly delicious. Purple all the way through. The radishes were also purple… large turnip shaped radishes. Daikon. I grated the radish, which was the same purple as the potatoes, and was also delicious. New purple culinary adventures for us.

 

On the more difficult side of things, our friend is now actively dying and this is infinitely complicated by the social isolating… we can’t hug her partner, can’t say goodbye, can’t go in the house and be helpful. And then I wonder how will the funeral happen? What next?

 

We’re now on our second day of sun and what passes for warm here in the spring. Daffodils are blooming at lower altitudes, not our place. And people are driving around. Not going anywhere. Including us.

26/04/2020

Tropical thoughts

Paul Lowden, Malaysia

In the estate various building projects have ground to a halt, perhaps from some time before the current lockdown. As a result the empty shells of these buildings are being reclaimed by the rapid growth of vegetation producing a perfect interior decorator's eco-friendly effect of walls covered in cascading plants. In style these houses are clearly modelled on a fusion of Lloyd Wright and van der Rohe both of whom advocated a pretty minimalist approach to architecture; little did they think that the ultimate expression of their vision might be in these incomplete structures, lacking any exterior walls, windows, doors... all is open to the air!

 

Frank and Mies in Inspiration Park

 

Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe, geniuses drew

Out of the land inspiration that grew 

From prairie, wood, history, form and function

Without compromise; re-fusing the home,

Office, the lives within. For de Rohe

It was always “less is more”: Farnsworth House. 

Wright’s extension of lines, simplicity

His trademark elegant design: Robie.

For both, space, light, openness, air, vision

Were sacrosanct, blueprints for their mission.

Here plain unfinished concrete floors protrude,

Horizontal tributes; no windows, doors.

Within, walls float draped, graceful greenery,

Without, all is cascading space, space, space.

26/04/2020

Hello From the Hudson Valley

Sue, Lower Hudson Valley, New York

Historically, our neighborhood has not been very social. The house above us was once owned by someone in the Mafia. While the thought of it made us a bit uneasy, he was actually a lovely neighbor. There were several times when he did us favors which also made me nervous but he didn’t seem to expect anything in return. His wife never left the house and collected Cabbage Patch dolls which she kept in their original boxes propped up on brocade chairs in one of the ornate sitting rooms with emerald green carpeting and crystal candelabras. Eventually the wife died and the mafia man moved away. Then an orthopedic surgeon moved in. Sometime later he married a gastroenterologist. But that didn’t last (we heard disturbing rumors about why) and she moved away and then so did he. Next came a lawyer. Single. Sometime after he moved in, he got married to another lawyer. Once Michael was asked up their house to talk to them about something and while he was there, the husband told the wife her make up was smudged and that she had better go upstairs and fix it... and she did. Then we stopped seeing him and she became very strange. About three years after he disappeared I spied him in the grocery store with a small child who looked about three years old so that could have explained why he moved out of the house here. His ex wife still lives in the house but we never see her. Except for the time she came down here and asked if Michael could climb through the garage window and unstick one of the garage doors so she could get her car out. He obliged. Another time, late at night, a few years ago, when an ice storm had knocked out power throughout much of the area and petrol stations couldn’t pump petrol, she called from a city about half an hour away and asked if Michael could bring her some petrol because she was low and didn’t know if she would make it home. Michael did not oblige. I wonder if she is okay up there all alone during this stressful time. 

 

Beyond that house is a house in which lives a man who looks like Santa Claus. We have never met him although one time he waved to me when I was out looking for our dog who had gone missing. Another time, I was in my pajamas and had not washed my hair and a strange man appeared at our door (no one ever comes here so I was not at all prepared). He turned out to be an FBI agent and was questioning Santa’s neighbors because Santa had applied for some sort of high security government job. I told the FBI agent that I didn’t know Santa. He asked if I had ever seen him doing drugs, drinking alcohol, flying a strange flag or praying in another language. I answered “no” to all four. Meanwhile I felt so self conscious in my ratty pajamas and bad hair. The agent kept asking me the same questions over and over and I finally got tired of repeating that I did not know Santa and turned the interrogation around and started asking him questions about what it was like to be an FBI agent in the era of "Drumpf." Eventually the FBI agent left, but not before handing me his card and telling me to contact him should I notice anything strange going on up at Santa’s House. I have not seen Santa since we have been on lockdown. I hope he is alright.

 

On the other side of us once lived a couple who never said hello. But then a magazine did an article about our house and the neighbors suddenly became very friendly and invited us over for dinner. They eventually moved away and a man moved in whom we rarely saw. He completely changed the way the house looked. He got married and they moved away and in came a young couple who proceeded to have a couple of kids who never seemed to play outside even though there are a lot of places kids would enjoy playing including a forest and a stream. Then they moved back to Poland. After they left in came another young couple. They have turned out to be lovely. Occasionally we have dinner together… sometimes at our house and sometimes at theirs. We share a lot of the same interests and just as importantly, we seem to have the same sense of humour. We appreciate their enthusiasm for the beautiful property on which they live and for the many things they are interested in. Our drives have a common area at the top which we have co-landscaped and in which we work together to improve. During our lockdown, we have been careful to mind our social distancing rules but we share food deliveries and sometimes talk through the bushes. Not too long ago, during lockdown, they got a french bulldog puppy. It has been so frustrating to see that beautiful, goofy, big-eared baby through the bushes and not be able to physically meet him. Jay, our dog whines and wags his tail but we have all kept our distance… that was, until today, when we let Jay and the puppy meet on long leads. It was so sweet… they sniffed and danced around each other and we all agreed how lovely it was that they would soon be playmates. And then the puppy, who had been shy at first but had gained more confidence as he spent more time with Jay, danced around Jay once more and Jay got annoyed and lunged at the puppy which frightened the puppy and made him cry and so the slightly illicit playdate came to an end. And I left, feeling slightly like a bad neighbor.

26/04/2020

From St Just

Jane G, St Just

Isolation

 

As it might be, a sea-mist.

A lighthouse, with nothing to say but in saying it

finding its beam is broadly contemporary.

 

As it might be, a chance perspective: small boats

imperially holding six feet off from shore – or,

empirically, a distance of two meters.

 

The same sea-mist, meaning differently from before.

The houses’ white-outs within the white-out

all together now, but separate –

 

or so someone might say, lightly, walking out

into it along the long lines of telegraph poles,

skirting a field of gulls that dip in and out

 

its furrows like a flock of waves under mist,

listening in on the infinite present of the world

all alone: the chatter and sough of it over

 

rock-fall at the foot of the cliff as it was and ever

shall be when these words speak to nothing,

when they are hieroglyph, when there is no one left

 

to say how in that time, the time of pestilence,

people looked for signs. And how the boats, the mist,

the coast and lighthouse were nothing, but.

26/04/2020

View from a balcony

Constance, Southern France

This lockdown has been kind to me. I am considered a key worker so I am lucky to be working which is far enough to fulfill my social life. It has taken me four weeks of lockdown to maybe consider that the idea of a burger and beer or an outing to a sushi restaurant with friends could be nice. A thought which was quickly brushed away by a large bowl of hot soup. Of course things have changed as I can't do my outdoor activities, but there is so much I want to do indoors. Needing to concentrate on reading and craft has given me creativity, concentration and calmness. On my outdoor adventures to and from work and my only non-work related outing, I have noticed the houses and gardens on my commute as traffic has trickled down to a few cars. I have observed the wisteria blooming, then its flowers falling, the fig trees starting their fruit, the roses coming out. I have walked and cycled down streets which were Terra Incognita until now. 

I feel lucky to have a healthy family, space, work and a rich inside life. I try to not get sad thinking of all the suffering throughout the world and take a (rather selfish) refuge in my bubble which bring me to the question: how will I cope once lockdown has been lifted? My own little introverted bubble is a very nice place indeed.

26/04/2020

Florist in lockdown

 Jane, Near Manchester, England

Apparently sales in home pregnancy test kits from Poundland have soared. The weather has been completely glorious, so dry for April. My allotment is an absolute lifeline, I’ve never done so much gardening! I am on to digging my third bed now and the robins come closer and closer. I heard a couple of weeks ago that Joanne, another allotment holder, was poorly with symptoms of the virus. Yesterday I was told that she and her husband are now both in hospital! This is the first person, that I actually know, who has the virus. I hope they both recover. Saturday saw the total number of hospital deaths rise to over 20,000. That figure doesn’t include deaths in care homes and the community. I sense people are now getting restless, we have had no clear instructions or advice lately. The roads are much busier, we don’t know whether face masks are a good idea or not? Even our in-laws in New Zealand have noticed the absence of Boris Johnson, feeling that he was too slow introducing lockdown and not direct enough when giving information. 

 

Donald Trump this week! Words fail me. Anyone reading this in generations to come I am sure will be able to google his speeches. How does he get away with it?? The saddest news this week was to see on the news the newborn babies whose mothers had died of Coronavirus. Both ladies were very young, just heart breaking. My daughter is 22 and is missing her friends and social life. She’s introduced cocktail hour, she runs the ‘bar’ and mixes the drinks! She made a jug of Mojitos the other night. We were very tipsy before the hour was up!!

 

I don’t grow much veg on my allotment anymore, I enjoy growing flowers more. I found these pictures of a beetroot I grew a couple of years ago and thought I’d share them with you. Don’t you think it favours Kenneth Williams?? (Oh mmaaatron!!) Stay safe and carry on gardening! xxxxx

26/04/2020

From the South Downs

Stephanie, Midhurst

Not much change here, but I found myself thinking about some journeys home from Southampton in March before the Royal Literary Fund wisely and generously suspended its fellows for the summer. In the last two weeks, there was a spate of train cancellations. I was already nervous about coronavirus, as train delays resulted in tight proximity to coughing. 

 

One evening, I was stranded at Fareham with a crowd of other passengers. I bought a cup of tea from the barista who told me that she’d woken that morning with a premonition of disaster and that her premonitions usually came true. A football match was imminent at Fratton Park. The Pompey supporters were good humoured but anxious to get to the game on time, the subject of many phone calls. (Pompey lost, so maybe that fulfilled the barista’s prophecy, but I think she had more cataclysmic events in mind.) Now, it seems incredible that we were huddled together on the platform, that people were talking to strangers close-up and hugging each other too, and that a football match was considered feasible in mid-March. 

 

Other conversations I overheard were about being bullied at work, a subject that frequently arises on the homerun with people driven to offload on phones at the end of the working day. I wonder how they’re coping. Is the pressurising manager in the room with them on Zoom? Is home a respite or not? Has the pandemic made managers kinder or better organised? Will some employees reassess and change jobs (if that’s possible in the coming recession)? Once you experience life without the daily bully, it’s hard to return to that situation. But isolation at home could make things worse. I’ve been following the figures on domestic violence. Many victims have nowhere to go for even the shortest respite, and domestic murders have doubled since lockdown. According to my reading, the loss of control through lockdown drives a bully to exert greater control on the household. I can’t help thinking about people in this situation and wishing them freedom, a sunny walk, an escape.

26/04/2020

From Twickenham

David Horovitch, Twickenham

A couple of weeks into the isolation, I texted a friend and said 'I'm a bit bored' and she texted back to say 'I think we're all a bit bored today'. It was as if we were in the same house, it was like the kind of thing your mum might say on a rainy Saturday when you can't go out to the park. (by chance, or perhaps not by chance, it was a Saturday). I wondered if the community had acquired a kind of collective consciousness, that we were all experiencing the same or similar things at the same times. I'm not expressing this very precisely as I'm writing at great haste, because I'm feeling a bit lazy as it's a Sunday and I'm longing to get back out into the sun again with my coffee and crossword or maybe even a small beer. I mean it is Sunday, my day off. 

 

It seems now that we've taken a communal decision to practise just a little bit of civil disobedience and SOCIALISE a tiny bit. I have socially distanced dates in my diary - which has been blank for the last five weeks - for almost every day this week and I'm wondering how I'll find the time for the sonnets and the journal and the bread baking. It's a huge relief. I don't miss the galleries and theatres and restaurants but My God, I've missed my friends and my son.  

 

I've poured that beer.

 

Are we part of a controlled experiment? Is some Nazi geneticist, played by Anton Diffring, saying 'You see, on ze second Saturday of isolation, ze human animal will experience a mild weltschmerz und in ze 5th week it will insist on re-uniting with ze herd.' 

 

The nettle soup was delicious, thanks Catherine. 

Cheers.

26/04/2020

Home Thoughts

Hilary Q, North Norfolk

Having completely blitzed the attic and labelled every drawer and trunk I have been drifting from room to room wondering where else to start. Inevitably the thought has crossed my mind that some of them need more than a damp cloth and vinegar... but I so love the essence of each of them that I fell instead to musing about what my house means to me. I wrote

 

A photograph -

According to Susan Sontag

In her book ‘On Photography’ is

A thin slice of space as well as time.

 

Be in your favourite room and be still -

Close your eyes and

Like the shutter of a camera

Open them.  Click.

What you see is

A thin slice of space as well as time.

Familiar but free of familiarity -

Yourself

 

‘A Way of Life’ by Jim Ede

Is full of such thin slices

Of space as well as time.

Black and white and spare 

Known rooms remade with light 

Made profound by the shadow

Of where Jim Ede’s eye settled.

He photographed -

Himself

 

And Mario Praz in his book

‘The House of Life’

describes every room 

Of his Rome apartment

In minute academic detail.

Thin slices of space

As well as time.

He concludes with

a view of the main room

Caught in a convex mirror -

Every item and every dimension

Receding from what is central -

Himself

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