Moving Mountains: Day 228

So 228 days of coping with isolation, terror diminishing to apprehension of Covid, apprehension building to terror about democracy, …

I stand in my entry way going over my armour – ok, glasses, sunglasses in case, scarf and hat for the other in case. I stare in the mirror. Oh yes, mask. It’s routine. Nothing happens except grocery shopping once a week. And recycling while I’m going down in the elevator and have to take the bundle buggy any way. There is so much recycling in the 15 storey building now that I have to hit the right day and hour or keep it til next week. Sometimes there is a parcel from Amazon, sometimes a Door Dash food delivery.

Then last week all hell broke loose.

So far as the family is concerned, I’m the eldest and centrally located. The latter is immaterial now since no one can flee to me and sleep in my solarium. There were video calls. The ones from across the sea had valiantly tried to wait but I am such a later sleeper. The ones from across the continent were more a slow burn. But, at least, the two took turns.

Our family gives us lots of opportunity to lose it. Past generations gave us a gene pool of psychosis, borderline personality, bi-polar disease, clinical depression, sociopathy, suicidality. Did I miss any?

In the course of my long life, I have had 5 therapists and 2 clinical psychologists. I have tried Christianity, Buddhism and Taoism, Transcendental Meditation, self hypnosis, hospitalization, journaling – I have 150 hard cover journals of 200 pages each, group therapy, primal therapy and a curious kind of mutual therapy, sort of damaged friend to damaged friend. My friend had a lot of money and all I learned was that the rich are more worried than the poor.

When someone calls in deep despair, I know what to do. Which is listen. Then listen and finally listen. It is also useful to inquire whether they are taking their meds. Across the ocean felt much better after taking the correct dose for the occasion.

Across the continent was a harder problem. Young person shooting himself in both feet, ending up with no income and no transport. Young person does not seek help because he is all powerful. If broke and possibly hungry. So we adults mull it over and over. We consult each other, even cross continent and ocean and conclude we have to leave him be. No more rescue ‘fish’. He needs to learn to ‘fish’.

I don’t mean to imply that I am beyond needing help myself. Depending on the problem, I can choose my sister, Georgia up the street or Julia, across the continent. Can’t breathe from acute anxiety, I usually choose Georgia in case she has to come down and apply a paper bag. Recently, a news item managed to pitch me deeply into PTSD. A family can’t have that many serious psychological problems without ‘breaking eggs’. Events from 40 years ago caught up with me, events I couldn’t stop then and have even less power over now. Twenty five years ago, we went to the police, but they were never able to substantiate our allegations. Recovered memories are shifty that way even when recovered by half a dozen members of the family subsequent to a funeral.

In Canada, we have almost 10,000 deaths from Covid with 1/3 the population of the U.S. which has about 220,000 deaths. We are glad to have Justin Trudeau leading a more or less effective national government and Doug Ford, our province. The number of cases is rising. Toronto and environs and Ottawa have closed bars and dine-in restaurants down again. It doesn’t materially change the way I have been living. Basically, a boring, long-haired life.

The U.S where most of my immediate family lives is either going to explode in two weeks or start repairing damage done. I can’t bear it, so I don’t watch anything but Netflix. I am reading Fareed Sakaria’s Ten Lessons from a Pandemic and intend to read Dan Rather’s What Unites Us. Please don’t assume I have not already read Bob Woodward, Mary Trump, Michael Cohen, John Dean, Brian Stelter, Michael Wolf, and John Bolton. But now I’m trying to read only more positive books. I also like a good mystery.

Why do I care? I’m Canadian. Why does the whole world care? And I have the kid who has no job or transport in L.A., the one I have to let be, as well as a willowy, red-haired 3-yr-old and her blonde little sister who is just getting words. And their dad and mom, both doctors in Texas.

And, as a child, I fought Hitler, scavenging metal and paper and meat fat for the war effort and praying for the Warsaw Jews. We won. So why is this starting up all over again?

Remember the line from Waiting for Godot: I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

Depression, Aspiration and Paris

Paris from Notre Dame

Well, the news isn’t good, we know that much. It’s October, 2020 and the number of Covid cases is rising everywhere, except Antarctica. Places are moving backwards, closing down bars and restaurants and gyms again. The people next door have moved their previously allowed 50 person party from a bar into their apartment. They are yelling and singing and smoking pot. Does this mean aerosol whatnots are flying through the wall?

This is Thanksgiving weekend here north of the 49th parallel and we are not supposed to mix households. Unless we are one-person households. We are. Three of us. So yahoo! I’m bringing champagne. Only problem is there were only three real champagnes left. One was rose, so I snagged a lesser known brand, weeping softly as I paid almost as much as I would for Veuve Cliquot. They just can’t get it, they told me. I’ve heard that first class Scotch is also scarce. All the first class Scotch islands were shut down for weeks and production suffered. But I gave up Scotch to save my stomach a long time ago. I gave up Scotch before most of you were born. Unless you are over 40.

So number two cause for some degree of unhappiness: I am 84 years and 5 months and 5 days old and at the present rate, it looks as if I will live the last years of my life in isolation reading e-books, watching Schitt’s Creek, and ironing my tastefully colored masks for my once a week grocery shopping expeditions.

But then I thought why should I? I have evaded Covid for nine months. I know how to do it. Just a question of discipline. Not that that is easy, but spending a couple of hours on video calls every day talks me down from rushing out with a bare-naked face looking for human touch. A hug! A hug! No, the problem is mortality in general. Actuarial tables. That sort of thing. So I came to a very serious decision – I will just have to go on.

My grandmother set an example. She was born in 1900 and passed on in 1996.

Now she lived her entire life on a farm surrounded by forest, high on a hill and under a mountain. She drank spring water, ate simple food and breathed clean air. I haven’t. On the other hand, I prepare all my own food and live on the 14th floor. Not good enough. All right. I’m up for this. I used to study and teach tai chi. I’ll start up again. I’ll learn to breathe. I know just who can tutor me on a video call. My goal is to get strong and healthy enough to have a few good years post virus.

But I need a carrot, something to pull me through the dark, isolated days of the next six months. Then it comes to me. There is an empty apartment in Paris. It’s a lovely old place with high ceilings and a balcony. It’s next to a subway stop and close to a grocery store. It belongs to my daughter’s Persian/American friends. They live in California. They don’t rent it out. They feel indebted to my daughter, who doctored their parents. Daughter assures me they would say yes in a minute. They have already sent her there on a first class ticket. Not that I expect they will send me, of course. But, if I keep saving the money I used to spend in bars and restaurants, I should get together enough to fly. If anybody ever flies for the hell of it again.

I invite my Brussel’s brother to join me. I have forgotten he hates Paris. He worked there for many years and lived in a 500 sq ft apartment in an iffy district. He talks my bizarre idea over with my sister Georgia. Who also hates Paris. She tells me. I don’t tell him, but I revoke my invitation. It would be better to go with my daughter anyway.

I love Paris. Did I say I love Paris. I went there long ago with the only man I ever really loved and our two young children. We separated 6 years later, about the time I reluctantly gave up Scotch. When he was in his last weeks with cancer a year ago, I said to him, “Do you remember that crazy little hotel near the Arc de triomphe in Paris? The children were across the hall and every time the subway passed the leg fell off the bottom of our bed. We thought the managers were gay but then…” “No,” he said.

“Well, I’ve been there so many times since,” he pleaded. With other women, I heard in my head. So no, we won’t always have Paris. I will have Paris.

I made my brother take me back one Christmas when I was in Brussels. We went to the Shakespeare bookstore across from Notre Dame. Ah, yes, Notre Dame! The centuries old trees in the attic. Well, who hasn’t suffered the ravages of age?

I will go back to Paris. I love the architecture. The city that Haussmann rebuilt, the ancient buildings like the Louvre, the bridges. I will go to look at the many-floored hotel de ville where the Ephrussi family lived. I will take a Cara Black mystery or two and visit where they are set. I know there are Cara Black tours of Paris.. I don’t do tours. And I don’t visit galleries. Too much standing and slow walking for me now. I have never taken a river boat. I would like to do that. I would like to see the tower that way. I think you can.

One wall of my home has black and white photos and sketches of Paris. One is a series of postcards depicting the construction of the tower in 1888-89. One is a photo taken from underneath, up into the woven iron work with a blazing rectangle of light in the centre. One is of the River Seine at night, all the bridges lit and Eiffel’s tower golden in the background. I know the gold is photo-shopped.

As is my dream. But how remarkable it will be if I rebuild some strength into this old body and survive and prosper and go to Paris once again.