An Athens “staycation” with lovely fall mountain walks. Anyone interested? We’ve been in a second lockdown for over a month now, which may or may not lift next week as stores start to steadily reopen for the holiday season.
Some nights ago in the middle of the night I got up and followed a thin ribbon of light trailing along the living room floor. Out the sliding doors to the balcony a golden sphere was hanging low in the western sky. Wasn’t it just a full moon a few days ago I thought. Or maybe it was a few weeks ago… Just another instance of “free floating” lockdown when days just drift by.
The pandemic has really become a time marker like a major war. In the future we might be saying “Oh yes that was BEFORE the pandemic,” with a dreamy nostalgic look. Just to pick up some object that you bought or a book you read or remember a restaurant meal or trip or something right before the pandemic can fill you with longing. That’s the past. But now we’re stuck in the present, because it’s so hard to imagine and dream about the future.
Our nostalgia for the past leads us to “Yesterday.” Though it’s sung by Paul, I dedicate it to the memory of John, whose assassination 40 years ago (December 8th) is surely for some a time marker of its own. Being New Yorkers then, we remember shivering in the bitter cold night of the candlelight ceremony in Central Park
So here we are in the 2nd lockdown in Greece, now for over a month, (hopefully) soon to come out in a very limited way. What’s different in the 1st vs. 2nd lockdown? Last spring, we couldn’t get enough information about this mysterious new virus, how it was caused, what was happening in Wuhan, how was it affecting different countries, how the virus was spread exactly, and what were we supposed to do. Coins were to be avoided and we were urged to use credit cards. Youtube was full of videos on how to wipe down your supermarket products because of potential contamination. A lot was made of how long the virus lasted on various materials and how they became contaminated. Using this new information, and being in a macabre mood, I imagined Covid boasting about itself in a poem written last March. Just eight months later the poem seems a little dated and my apologies too for sounding flippant, but it shows our concerns then.
THEY CALL ME COVID
You’ve seen me in purple and pink, blazing sunset sky hues.
Or blown up with a body of bright green or blue.
Ain’t I a sight? Like a crazy Shrek, with my spikes or wedges
That I use to bind to your mucous linings. How poetic.
I take over your cells and they do my bidding, which is?
To create more and more of me! The cell will burst and infect
Other cells. And there I am off and running! Racing through
Your respiratory tract. So I’ll formally introduce myself. You know,
I’m not a living organism. I’m a protein molecule
Covered by fat. Doesn’t sound so glamorous but oh I am.
Number one on Facebook and Google. Big time.
Forget antibiotics and bactericides; they’ll never strike me dead.
I need no food, my only job, to duplicate and spread…
My decay depends on the material I lie on. Fabric, fleeting time.
But how I love doorknobs and switches. Plastic, metal.
For three whole days I can hang in there.
Just touch me. Then your nose, your eyes, your mouth..
That’s how I grow and hold you in my power.
Now my final goal to get invade your lungs. Where I live best.
My favorite environment, cold, wetness, and yes darkness.
Ah my pretty. But you can melt me with soap and disinfectant.
Hot water, foam, cuts my layer of fat.
Disintegrates me. As simple as that. I hate
open spaces, fresh air, sun. Confine me in a room,
watch me move. Birthday parties, dinners, drinks in early March.
How I thrived. My golden age, sports! concerts!
I infected hundreds, that became hundreds of thousands.
But then they learned social distancing, donning masks.
Harder time surviving now. Even cutting their nails
so I can’t burrow there like I used to do.
They discuss me all the time and wonder
About my summer absence, my winter return.
Charting my peaks, valleys and rolling waves.
Then my antibodies. Let’s keep the level low, don’t test.
Delay this vaccine, so when I reappear I can reinfect.
Millions no billions of Google hits to try to comprehend
my modus operandi, why some I gently touch
why others feel me as the wily killer of the ages
indeed the very deadliest of deadly pests. Ha ha!
Remember those videos last March that showed you how to wash your hands (sing “happy birthday” twice) or how to make a mask, which few people here were wearing outside, only inside at the supermarket, but not always there either. Now epidemiologists above all stress mask wearing and the danger of indoor air transmission. Knowing what we do about the aerosols that can linger in the air for 48 hours in indoor spaces, seeing someone without a mask makes you both nervous and indignant. T.V. News show people walking around (crowded) streets without a mask, with the comment “how dare they?”
Too, remember all those humorous memes about the virus? I don’t see many these days. Here’s one, with a video showing how we’re going to celebrate New Year’s eve. Arrivederci 2020.
In its form, lockdown #2 is similar to #1: sending phone messages if you leave the house (6 for exercise and walking your dog, 2 supermarket etc.), with all non-essential businesses closed. Fines for not being out “legitimately” and for not wearing masks: the 150 euro fine in the spring has turned into 300 euros. That’s for individuals. For businesses caught in violation, it could be thousands. Or for parties or gatherings. But there’s a lot of heavy traffic on the streets, people have noted; where is everyone going? That’s what the police want to find out: they’re out on main streets on blockades. They’ve given thousands of fines to violators from drivers to taxi and bus passengers, as well as pedestrians.
There’s confusion about #6 exercise. The first few days you could hardly walk on the sidewalk without being knocked down by a jogger! Some ironic comment by the government noted that everyone suddenly had become athletes. Actually it was great to see. The area of confusion is if you’re supposed to be on foot in your own neighborhood. People walking by the sea in the first week were fined if they didn’t live in that area. But last week the prime minister posted a photo of him on social media with five others bicyling in Mt. Parnitha, an area only approachable by car. Is that allowed? Endless discussion on late night news…
In any case, we suffer from pandemic fatigue now, we just want this nightmare to end. Though we might be weary of Covid, it sure isn’t weary of us. After a month of lockdown, the number of cases in Greece has stayed about the same as it was before , as well as the number of patients in intensive care and the deaths. Hospitals and health care workers continue to be overwhelmed and strained beyond their limits.
Unexpected discoveries though color the drabness of the quarantine and depressing quality of the news. One day in downtown Athens, workers on a busy street near Monastiraki pulled out a marble head in perfect condition from under the pavement that was built into the wall of a drainage pipe.
The head was identified as Hermes (or Mercury in Roman mythology). Usually shown in his winged sandals, of course Hermes is the messenger of the gods and also protector of travellers and merchants. This head, examined by the Ephorate of Antiquities, is said to be an original, sculpted in the 4th or 3rd century B.C. and was part of a herma, a head or bust on top of a rectangular base. The herma were used as road signs or markers in ancient Athens. So how did the noble Hermes, son of Zeus, end up in a sewage pipe? That’s the mystery. But it’s not the first time that a herma was vandalized. Apparently in 415 B.C. when the Athenian fleet was ready to set sail for Syracuse during the Peloponesian War, all of the Athenian herma were vandalized! An anti-war faction in Athens was blamed, along with Alkibiades, a student of Socrates. But the mystery remains.
Recently, as many know, an even more mysterious object was found in the Utah desert, an 11 foot stainless steel looking monolith. Visitors who saw it described it as indeed “otherworldly.” But just as it suddenly appeared, it disappeared a few weeks ago. The Bureau of Land Management had a great comment, that such an action, placing this monolith in the desert, is illegal “no matter what planet you are from.” The police say they’re not going to investigate (I guess there are too many other concerns but where do you hide an 11 foot monolith?) A couple of days later an even taller monolith turned up in Romania in a remote region. Well it’s either an art installation, a fan of 2001: A Space Odyssey or the work of aliens…Or maybe all three. As if that wasn’t enough, a monolith was also found on a mountain in California and was destroyed by a “Christian group.” What’s next?
Speaking of monoliths and marble antiquities, another weird bit of news (I feel like Stephen Colbert’s “Meanwhile…”) Last month an American tourist mailed to the National Roman Museum, a marble artefact that she’d lifted from the Roman forum in 2017. She had actually written an inscription on it “To Sam love Jess 2017” and tried unsuccessfully to scrub it off before she mailed it back with an apology saying among other things “I apologize for being an American asshole.” The director of the museum explained her action saying that 2020, this year of Covid, has made many people “reflect and be moved by their conscience.”
No doubt that people are doing kind things for each other. (Though in walks around our neighborhood I’ve heard more people than usual shouting at each other.) Nerves are frayed, people want to get out. Besides hearing a lot of yelling, I’ve seen some unusual sights. The woman who has hung her dancing shoes up to dry, will be ready when the lockdown is lifted.
And there’s definite solace to be found in nature. As in the spring, we’re walking in Mt. Hymettus near our neighborhood, and the woods surrounding it.
Although most trees are evergreens, every once in a while you see a splash of color, almost startling in its brilliant yellow or red.
The walk we’re taking leads us up to the Monastery of Agios Ioannis Kinigos, (St. John the Hunter), dating from the late 12th to early 13th century. I can’t seem to find out information, if it’s used as a nunnery as I read somewhere, but it always seems closed. You can’t see it so well, but here it is behind the wall and surrounded by cypress trees. On a pleasant weekend the area is packed with walkers.
Off the path someone had found a good use for two old tires.
Most of the patches of cyclamen are without blossoms but we suddenly stumbled on this brilliant cluster of lavender flowers.
The park across from our house draws many people in the mornings, mostly parents sitting at picnic tables with take-out coffee while their young kids are doing the sports equipment (schools are closed). We go there after 3 pm when people have gone inside for lunch and do some of the machines and walk around the park. The elementary school kids, kindergarten too, have remote learning during this time as well.
A little further into the park is a branch of the Agricultural Ministry where they keep sheep. They seem interested in my presence.
In our walks too that take us to the main road, we notice the plant nurseries, which have been allowed to stay open, are full of color and getting ready for Christmas. The lettering in the upper left says “for a green world.”
Actually, “seasonal stores” that sell Christmas decorations were the first to open yesterday (from 7 am to 8:30 pm to give you plenty of time!) as we approach the holiday season. The economy of course needs to start moving a little. Black Friday ads for local stores swamped my email but it’s understandable, that the stores are trying to make up for their lost revenue with online shopping. We’re still not sure we’re coming out of quarantine on the 14th — it’s the health vs economy issue.
The award for the most overused sentence on the news: “This year will be a different Christmas.” (Actually I do hear that Santa Claus will still be coming to town but “he’s making a list and disinfecting it twice.”) Most retail shops will slowly open but restaurants, bars and cafes, it seems, won’t open until January 7th, the same opening date of the schools. And travel to different prefectures of the country will remain closed in the coming weeks. Travel has not been allowed except for those who make revenue from seasonal agricultural products away from their house, such as olive trees, as it’s been olive oil production time.
Hairdressers are scheduled to open before most other stores in a few days, though this is still uncertain. Personnel are inside getting ready and it’s said that phones are already ringing off the hook. If you want an appointment in the first few days, you can get one for around 9:30… at night.
As mentioned earlier, people seem to be not taking 2nd lockdown as seriously and Covid is doing its stuff. To the question that was going around “do you know anybody who’s actually gotten the virus” now most people can say yes. It’s not just empty statistics. Still, you keep hearing about birthday and name day parties, even though gatherings are illegal and participants are given a fine. What would the police do to events in the States like the “Naughty in N’awlins swinger event” for which the organizers drew up “safety guidelines” and thought everything would be peachy.
Besides seeing friends over coffee, I do miss my nights of walking out and looking up at the night sky. (we must be inside by 9 pm), as well as walks by the sea. I feel a little guilty saying what I miss, thinking of the hospital situations and overworked heroic hospital workers. The vice mayor of Athens, it was noted, didn’t seem to feel bad about posting a picture of himself outside his house in Baden-Baden, next to his new Aston Martin, and saying how much he missed them.
Our cars are more than 20 years old. But they’re not the only indication of what laggards we are in getting new things, and adapting to new technology. We have now joined though the Nespresso club, having been given for our wedding anniversary a Nespresso machine. Wow, this is indeed exciting. Select your “pod” of the day, Napoli or Ethiopia, decaf, espresso, cappucino. And the real smell of coffee! And it happens instantly. What could be better!
In the midst of all the articles predicting the 2nd wave turning into a winter tsunami, the ray of light of course are the vaccines about to become available, actually just starting in the U.K. So many questions: is the vaccine safe, what are the side effects? If you’re vaccinated, can you still spread the virus? How long will antibodies last? If you’ve already had covid, do you need to be vaccinated? (short answer: probably yes). It’s said that to slow the virus or even stop it, about 70% of the population need to get the vaccine to achieve the necessary herd immunity. Though it will be voluntary not mandatory, the idea of a “vaccine passport” is being tossed around in order to travel. There are lots of logistics to overcome like keeping it at -80 C (the Pfizer one) to distributing it to poorer countries, to deciding who has priority to get the vaccine first.
The vaccine is not a panacea. Many people feel we need to give more attention to taking vitamins — C, D3 and K2, omega 3 in particular,– as well as being good to your body with exercise and good food. Of course there’s solace in cooking and eating well. The salad we made one day with grilled sweet peppers, olives, mushrooms and greens went great with the roasted chicken thighs with sweet and white potato cubes.
A simple dish of green beans with potato and fresh tomato and herbs, cooked in a skillet, was really tasty. And finally, with the last of the eggplant in season; we made colorful caprese, baked stacks of eggplant, mozarella and tomato.
We haven’t gotten around to baking yet, but here’s daughter Suzanna’s karydopita, walnut cake with syrup, which she assures me is delicious.
Newspaper stories asking you if you’re “interested in learning how to knit your own socks, make cheese or grow medicinal herbs during quarantine?” are not so common now. But keeping busy is certainly key. Besides solace in nature and food, I can’t omit music. I’m struggling to learn some new pieces on the piano. And laggards that we are, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve decided that it’s time to organize our CD collection. I know nobody listens to CDs any more! But what to do with our hundreds and hundreds of them. We’ve pretty much got the classical ones in order but the rest have become hopelessly disorganized; on one shelf I saw Gilbert Becaud, Aretha Franklin, Giorgos Dalaras and Stephane Grapelli side by side: oh no, this won’t do at all! After organizing last spring the cassettes dating back to the 80’s, now it’s the CD’s turn. Or maybe I’ll wait for the 3rd wave… the Dvd’s, I’m proud to say are in order.
Music for sure is therapy. I remember stories that circulated in the spring of opera singers singing from their windows in Italy. I love another story I recently saw in the news of Simon Gronowski, 89 year old Holocaust survivor in Brussels, and self-taught jazz pianist, who plays jazz music on his piano for neighbors and passersby through his open window. New York city has had even more jazz musicians playing on its streets than usual over the last few months. And the news just showed a band of young people in Thessaloniki in northern Greece (which is the most overwhelmed part of the country with coronavirus), that played and sang several days ago for the workers and patients inside the hospital.
It’s a rough time all right, a strange time, but I feel grateful for many blessings. And besides taking care, we need patience, for this too will pass.
Wishes to everyone for happy “different” holidays. Be smart, stay well, stay safe! To health! To life!
7 thoughts on “Riding the Second Wave”
You covered all the aspects of the corona situation in an interesting way. I enjoyed reading all the facts as well as the personal info you shared. Congratulations once again, Sherri. Be well. Happy holidays!
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Thanks for the comment Sue. And wishing you and family a good holiday too. Stay well and hope to see you one of these days!
Sherri, I thoroughly enjoyed this post. You wove so much into it and it moved seamlessly from one topic to the next, with always a natural connection between them – Covid, antiquities, the return of a stolen one, walks in beautiful nature near you, food, history, music and much more. And I loved the poem! It was a poem waiting to be written. I didn’t find it at all flippant. All in all, your writing about Covid and the lockdown is something to be remembered.
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Thanks so much Natalie for your comments. Finding a bridge from topic to topic is always challenging… and I’m really glad that you liked the covid poem!
Being in lockdown here in Athens, I must agree with all that you’ve written. I find myself cooking (and eating!) more than I did before and so I loved your food pics, especially your eggplant enhanced caprese salad. Brilliant!
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Eating definitely on the increase… I’m always looking for something different to do with eggplant but it’s the sweets that have suddenly piled up that are tempting me — well, we need more comfort in these difficult times …