A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 100

Our victory garden.

Monday, June 22

“With remarkable speed, social life revived. People’s ability to forget what they do not want to know, to overlook what is before their eyes, was seldom put to the test better.… The population decided—out of sheer panic at first—to carry on as if nothing had happened.”—W.G. Sebald, On The Natural History of Destruction

That was Germany at the end of World War II, but across history, human responses to catastrophe can be much the same. As the U.S. lockdown restrictions ease—and Phase Three arrives on Wednesday—will Americans behave in a similar fashion, carrying on as if nothing had happened?

So far, near sanity seems to be prevailing. The flopped Trump rally in Oklahoma suggests that the survival instinct is stronger than any American desire for torchlight parades and scapegoating.  “Kung Flu,” as Orange Man dubbed COVID-19, was said to be both a Chinese import and a hoax invented by the liberal media. In a Tulsa stadium that seats 19,000, only 6,200 people were persuaded. Others stayed at home with their Swanson frozen dinners or delivery pizza. 

Phase Three allows restaurants here to reopen with a 50% capacity so long as tables are six feet apart. Personal services such as nail salons and massage joints can reopen, too. But, even though Long Island has been spared the worst of the pandemic, I don’t envision long lines outside of Sam’s or Babette’s on Newtown Lane in East Hampton. Few people are that desperate. 

Here I still struggle with our petty daily tasks, primarily menu planning and cooking. (We don’t do a lot of cleaning, and I pay others to attend to yard duty.) Considerations include using fresh vegetables before they turn bad, and keeping dinners interesting by avoiding repetition and introducing new dishes. Emily has discovered that Peapod will deliver fresh sugar snap peas, so I’ve made sugar snap peas with mushrooms; a sugar snap peas, yogurt, and dill salad (I threw in cucumbers and used goat cheese rather than feta); and I am thinking about a stir-fry with sugar snap peas, water chestnuts, and some kind of Asian sauce.

Tonight we’ll use the fresh mushrooms in an oft-served dish, chicken with mushrooms and balsamic vinegar. One remaining chicken breast from a package of three remains in the freezer. I’ll likely use it in a chicken salad with apples and celery. Maybe the snap pea stir-fry would make a good accompaniment. In between the two chicken dishes, I might make a pasta dish we’ve also had several times, penne with roasted red peppers, goat cheese, and toasted walnuts.

And in-between, there can be more beans and rice or a lentil salad with scallions and walnuts.

Dinner tonight: Along with the balsamic chicken, there will be couscous (we’ve got lots) and a green salad.

Entertainment: more episodes of Broadchurch.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 76

Yet another visitor.

Sunday, May 24

Now, we have a rabbit visitor. Twice he’s come to hang out and nibble weeds in our side yard.

There have been numerous reports of usually wary animals suddenly entering spaces that humans created but now are avoiding. Wild goats in the streets of Welsh towns. Sheep in California burgs. So, maybe this is our version—mice in the kitchen, rabbits in the yard.

Are you finding that, under lockdown, the days seem to spin pass quickly? It’s already Sunday again—even though last Sunday seems like it was only yesterday. A BBC article offers an interesting idea about why this may be the case.

“When you get to the end of the week and look back…you have made fewer new memories than usual, and time seems to have disappeared,” says Claudia Hammond, who writes about time perception. 

In other words, there are few markers in time—like when you met up with a friend for dinner or spoke with a doctor—causing many past days to seem to merge into one.

These blog entries might serve as markers for me. It’s incredible that I have written 75 prior to this one. But many of them seem like vague memories—often differentiated in my mind only by the photos I used to accompany individual posts. There was that one with the photo of people lining up at 8 a.m. to get into the Amagansett supermarket. And that one of the moon shining through the very early morning light. And the one with the image of 19th century states-rights philosopher John C. Calhoun.

There’s always a little anxiety about just what subject I can focus on next. Maybe I should skip a day or two, I think, since there’s little new to report.

This afternoon, for example, we’re doing a load of laundry. That’s not very exciting—but it’s one of the very practical incentives we had for leaving the congested city: Here you don’t have to stand shoulder to shoulder with a stranger in the apartment building’s laundry room. 

The BBC audiobook reading of Rose Tremain’s Trespass has led me to begin reading another of that author’s books, The Road Home. Several of her works seem to focus on people who are forced to cross national boundaries either in hopes of maintaining a way of life that seems to be slipping away, or of finding a new, more tenable life when old ways have been destroyed. What was it, I wonder, that prompted her to think about these subjects? And more than once, she has touched on the matter of incest. Does she think that’s more common than we imagine?

Dinner: leftover chicken with artichokes, couscous, and a side dish of snow peas with mushrooms, scallions, and teriyaki sauce.

Entertainment: two final episodes of British thriller Retribution