Looking Out

Once again, we find ourselves in the midst of stay-in orders due to the rising cases of coronavirus across the country. It reminded me of the time earlier this year, when Italians with stay-in orders spent their evenings on the balconies – socially distant yet connected with their neighbors – singing songs together and trying to make the best of a very difficult situation.

This gave me the idea for today’s blog – people in their balconies watching life go by – sometimes wistfully, sometimes happy to be onlookers, sometimes to connect with the outside world, sometimes to disconnect from the world, sometimes spying on others – and occasionally being spied on by others  – like in Caillebotte’s woman looking at and at the same time being looked at by another woman on a balcony across the street!!

Balconies are a special world – a meeting point of the interior world of homes and shelter spaces and the outside world – they can bring a tiny bit of the outside in or take a bit of the inside out – it all depends on the person inhabiting the balcony at any moment in time.

David Hockney, Sur la Terrasse (1971)

Looking out – whether to watch people on city streets, or to become one with nature, or to be mesmerized by the sea…..

Nothing quite like the childlike joy – filled with anticipation – of looking out..

Nicolas Tarkhoff, Children ad Cat by the Window (1907)

(Sources: Google Arts and Culture, Tate Gallery, Art Institute of Chicago, Christie’s, Van Gogh Museum)

Trentino or Quarantino

It almost sounds like I’m going to write about the movie director Quentin Tarantino – but I’m not – not that it’s not the most fascinating name – but I’m actually  writing about something that’s been on everyone’s mind a lot lately – Quarantine.

Quarantine comes from the Italian word Quarantino, which comes from the Latin word quaranta giorni – which translates to “space of forty days.” The policy of quarantine was first enforced during the bubonic plague in 1348 in Venice. Ships carrying sailors and cargo had to stay on the ship in Venetian lagoons for 40 days before they could enter Venice.

Medieval Dubrovnik

Even before the Venetian quarantine the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia became the first to pass laws requiring a mandatory order for all inbound ships and sailors to stay away from the city for a period of 30 days for fear of carrying infection into the city. The sailors were sent to an uninhabited rock island for 30 days – and this was called trentino. This is the first known evidence of isolation and is remarkable that the officials of Dubrovnik had this much understanding of diseases and incubation.

Biblical importance of 40 days

The 30 days was later changed by Italians to 40 days – and this makes us question – why 40 days? The period of 40 days has numerous biblical references – and may have been picked for that reason. According to the bible when God flooded the earth it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days. Even today, in many countries, women have to rest for 40 days after childbirth.  

Another interesting and related term is Lazaretto – which is the place where the quarantine took place, or a place where people with diseases, especially lepers, stayed. The term traces its origin to the biblical Lazarus who was covered in sores. So for instance the rocky island near Dubrovnik where the quarantined (or should I say trentined) people were sent would be a lazaretto.

Dubrovnik Lazaretto

“the German War is at an end”

This is how Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced the end of World War II 75 years ago today. On May 8, 1945, after six years at war in which millions of young lives were lost, the guns finally fell silent over Europe. The Allies defeated Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany, and the day became known as VE – Victory in Europe – day.

75 years later the generation that fought this war remains undoubtedly the greatest generation. The sacrifices made by the young men and women of this generation defy understanding, and we owe them an unpayable debt of gratitude for the freedoms we all take for granted. The men that fought this war, those that are still alive, continue to inspire and amaze us to this day. One such hero is World War II veteran captain Tom Moore who turned 100 years old on April 30th.

Captain Tom celebrating his 100th birthday

War veterans like Captain Tom know how to inspire – they have seen the worst of humanity, they have lived to tell about it, they choose to see the positive instead of dwelling on the negative. Captain Tom has singlehandedly brought the UK – perhaps even the world – together at this time – across generations and across all financial and racial boundaries. Captain Tom, a lifelong fan of Britain’s Health system (NHS) decided to walk a 100 laps of his garden by his 100th birthday to raise $1200 for the NHS.

Captain Tom completing his 100th lap for charity
Captain Tom as a young man in the army.

A world dealing with a pandemic found its hero – and Captain Tom raised $40 million. He received 125,000 cards on his birthday, a Royal Air Force flypast, and a possible knighthood. And like all people of his generation, Captain Tom told the world to remain positive and hopeful: “For all those finding it difficult: the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.” What an amazing man!!

As the world battles with an enemy of a different sort, on this day when six years of darkness ended, we should pause and remember the heroes of World War II that sacrificed so much, and learn to live life with the same grace that they showed during and after the war, and continue to show to this day.

Sunday Seven – Elizabeth Regina

Today I heard a speech by Queen Elizabeth on TV – she was speaking to her nation to remain united and resolute in the face of the current epidemic.  What was startling for me about the speech was that she referred to a speech she and her sister gave in 1940 – that was 80 years ago!! I can’t imagine that there is any other world leader, part or present, that can say that. That got me thinking about all the brilliant, funny, and poignant things she may have said over the course of these years, and I decided that I would find some of the ones I liked and make that my Sunday Seven for this week.

  • We know, every one of us that in the end all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world a better and happier place (Radio address to the children of the Commonwealth on Oct 13, 1940).
  • It has been women who have breathed gentleness and care into the hard progress of humankind.
  • The upward course of a nation’s history is due in the long run to the soundness of heart of its average men and women.
  • I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.
  • Work is the rent you pay for the room you occupy on earth.
  • It’s all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you’re properly trained.
  • True patriotism, doesn’t exclude an understanding of the patriotism of others.
  • In remembering the appalling suffering of war on both sides, we recognize how precious is the peace we have built in Europe since 1945.
..my strength and my stay..
  • He has, quite simply, been my strength and my stay all these years, and I and his whole family, and this, and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know. (About her husband Prince Philip).

Contactless Delivery – in Medieval England

Many comparisons are being made nowadays of the current pandemic to Spanish flu in the early 1900s and the bubonic plague in the 1500s. Then, as now, the quickest way to stop the spread of the disease was through voluntary and enforced quarantines and keeping a safe distance from others. In towns across England one such reminder, of the social distancing that occurred, remains to this day.

Sitting unnoticed beside main roads, or near the outskirts of many towns all across England are stones that tell a story of the plague. These Plague Stones were hollowed out from the middle, filled with vinegar, and placed at the edge of town. Farmers were terrified to bring goods to market because of the plague, as a result of which there were severe food shortages in the towns. 

People from the town left coins in the vinegar and retreated a safe distance (one would assume of 6 feet or more) away from the stone. Farmers then came to the stone, picked up the – now sanitized with vinegar – coin from the hollow and left their farm produce, eggs, bread, etc. by the stone for the person standing a safe distance away.

And that was how Plague Stones played their part in stopping the spread of the plague the 1500s – they were the contactless delivery of today.

These Plague Stones teach us the importance of social distancing in fighting any pandemic. And more importantly, they teach us the value of knowing our History and learning from it – knowing how our ancestors got through the plague will teach us how to get through our current crisis. (Images courtesy of UK town travel websites – exploreperinth.org.uk etc).

Sunday Seven – For All My Teachers

I am dedicating today’s Sunday Seven – with some teacher quotes I found on Instagram – to all my teachers. We have gone from classrooms to online learning without skipping a beat – and I can just imagine the herculean effort this has required on all your parts. Hats off to all of you – you are amazing!!

  • Parents saying they’re now “teachers” is like saying you’re a carpenter after putting together IKEA furniture.
  • I hope the phrase “just a teacher” disappears after all of this. Teachers are rock stars.
  • Dear Educators, Together my wife & I have four college degrees and 40 years’ experience working with children. We have three elementary-school kids, two jobs, two computers, an old iPad, and slow internet. We. Are. Still. Overwhelmed. A Parent.
  • After a week of “Home School”…the teachers have been lying to me all these years. THEY ARE NOT A PLEASURE TO HAVE IN CLASS. A Parent.
  • Don’t ask school leaders and teachers if they are happy to “have time off.” No, we are not happy and our hearts ache for our students. We want to be at school. We want to see our kids. We want to meet their needs. We want our normal back. A Teacher.
  • Been homeschooling a 6-year old and 8-year old for one hour an 11 minutes. Teachers deserve to make a billion dollars a year. Or a week. A Parent.
  • Shout out to all of the amazing teachers doing everything they can to continue teaching during the quarantine. You are heroes. Ellen DeGeneres.
  • AND MY FAVORITE:  My professor is 74 and he isn’t confident using Zoom so he’s prerecorded the rest of our classes. Today, I watched the first one. He has a Pinocchio doll in the front row because he isn’t comfortable teaching to an empty room. I’m social distancing for this man and this man only. @macho_montana

Some literary humor for an otherwise dull day

This letter is a parody written by Nick Farriella in the style of Fitzgerald – something he might have written as he quarantined in the South of France during the Spanish flu of 1918. We recently read The Great Gatsby and I’m amazed at how wonderfully Mr. Farriella has captured Fitzgerald’s spirit in this piece of writing.

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 are 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 the future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward 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 cloudline 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

How absolutely brilliant!! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did.

Sunday Seven – the Surreal Spring of 2020

In these uncertain times when people all over the world are suffering immeasurably, the only thing that is giving me hope and joy is nature.  The skies look clearer, the birds are chirping – telling us to hang in there – and flowers are blooming everywhere. For this week’s Sunday Seven I want to write about the beauty and hope that comes with the arrival of spring, so we all remember that even the toughest and darkest of times are followed by spring.

  • The deep roots never doubt spring will come. Marty Rubin.
  • If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Percy Bysshe Shelley
  • We sat in silence, letting the green in the air heal what it could. Erica Bauermeister.
  • Despite the heart numbing frost, my soul is blooming like spring. Debashish Mridha.
  • You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming. Pablo Neruda.
  • Even the hardest of winters fears the spring. Lithuanian proverb.
  • April…hath put a spirit of youth in everything. Shakespeare.
  • Is the spring coming? he said. what is it like?…It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine… Frances Hodgson Burnett.