A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 80

Polish dictator Wojciech Jaruzelski

Thursday and Friday, May 28 and 29

These two days have contained little but routine: a trip to the recycling center, meal preparation, dish washing, videos. I paid a telephone bill and considered whether or not other bills were due. I thought about foodstuffs we need to order—mayonnaise, goat cheese, candy. Should I try to make a pizza on Sunday? No, I would have to get some mozzarella, so we’ll just have some Progresso soup and corn muffins.

The Netflix thrillers seem to be declining in quality. Both Retribution, a tale of a family conspiracy against a murderer, and Safe, a story of a missing teenage girl, had worthwhile moments then plodded their way to unsatisfying, operatic conclusions. Each contained red herrings involving drug use. In one, the villain turned out to be an otherwise appealing police officer. 

Better than either of these is the cold-war-era Polish whodunit The Mire, with its uneasy journo-buddy principals confronting a double murder and a possible double suicide. Appropriately, the colors are dirty greens and blotched flesh tones. One journalist is old and seedy, the other, young and Clark Kent nerdy. Everybody guzzles vodka, smokes, and indulges in extramarital sex when it’s available. Citizens stand in long lines in front of butcher shops. Prostitutes only accept U.S. currency. Newspaper stories get rewritten to the satisfaction of Stalinist officialdom; reporters are made to forsake investigations of shocking crimes and encouraged to write happy-talk articles on a new cafeteria. It all makes one long for the days of Wojciech Jaruzelski.

The Rose Tremain novel The Road Home had a disappointingly happy ending. In today’s climate, who needs Pollyanna? Give me despondency and pessimism, please. 

Dinner: Balsamic and garlic chicken with mushrooms, couscous, green salad.

Entertainment: two episodes of the wacko fantasy-thriller Ragnarok.

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

A Journal of the Plague Year 2020–chapter 75

A kitchen visitor.

Saturday, May 23

Three of the world’s smallest mice showed up in the middle of the kitchen floor this morning. 

They’re so tiny they must be newborns, which I suspect means that more will arrive. They moved very slowly at first, then as I attempted to sweep each one into a dustpan, they became more energetic. I was able to get each one outside onto the brick patio, where they scampered around attacking small weeds that towered above them like redwoods.

Where do these guys come from? Are they inside this old house’s walls? Up from the basement through the heating vents? Why wouldn’t they want to be outside where there is more stuff to eat?

Back to the issue of our food. Emily says that meal prep here is like one of those television cooking shows where would-be chefs are presented with a bunch of incongruous ingredients and told to use them all in making a meal. Maybe calf brains, rainbow chard, a grapefruit, and Israeli couscous. And, unlike here, the cooks always come up with surprising and delectable results.

Here it’s easy to get into a rut and just repeat the same dishes over and over. The challenge: What will go with leftover southern corn pudding and a salad? Then I realized I could combine some of our many chicken breasts with canned artichokes and cooking wine to make a chicken and artichoke stew.

Emily and Peapod also surprised me by delivering a bunch of snow peas and two packs of mushrooms. So tomorrow I’ll probably combine some of each in a stir-fry that also involves walnuts and scallions with either hoisin sauce and sriracha or a sauce composed of soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine vinegar.

It’s almost time for Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me. Some time back we were discussing this very funny NPR panel show with friends, and one of them complained that he wasn’t allowed to talk while the show was on. You might miss something.

Out to the recycling center. It’s raining, but there are nevertheless lots of cars on the road. Due to Memorial Day weekend, maybe? Or is it simply a further result of people fleeing from the city due to the pandemic/lockdown?

That BBC audiobook that we listened to last night, Trespass, has led me to investigate the author, Rose Tremain, a bit further. Turns out she was nominated for a Booker Prize back in the ‘80s. She lost out to Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day. I’m going to see if I can download one of her novels in e-book form via the East Hampton library.

As I have said, tonight’s dinner: chicken with artichokes, corn pudding, and salad.

Entertainment: Two episodes of British thriller Retribution.