Saturday, April 25, 2020

Spring 2020 ... simple pleasures

During this confinement, a "bol" of strong coffee, a croissant and a picture book of Paris is a comfort, and a pleasure.  Another pleasure is to search for photos, write a post, then read the comments that my blogging friends were kind enough to write.  For over a month now I have been alone in this house, with my cat.  Reading the comments makes me feel as if I am entering a circle of friends; they may be "e-friends" but I still feel the warmth as if they were close by.  I am grateful that you took the time to read my long posts and leave comments - it is a pleasure to read them, indeed.  As I wrote in my last post on spring, finding flowers near my house is another pleasure.  Some irises just bloomed in the back of the driveway - here they are.  (Please click on collage to see flowers closer.)

I ventured out to a couple of houses nearby.  One of them has a border of lavender irises and roses going to their front porch.

A couple of days ago I had to finally get out of the house.  I needed to collect my medicine at the drugstore.  I took mask and gloves and picked it up at the drugstore window.  It was a beautiful sunny and warm day, around 75 F (23.8C.) The drugstore is only 1 mile from my home so it's a quick ride in the car.  I did not want to go back home - it was so lovely outside.  There is a very large park close to the drugstore.  I decided to drive there.  It was still early and I thought if there were few people in the park I could venture out of the car.  This park is called Centennial Park.  In 1897 it was given this name in honor of the 100th anniversary of Tennessee's admittance into the Union of the United States.  The 132-acre (0.53 km2) park has a lake, paths, sunken gardens, recreation center and a replica of the Parthenon of Athens, Greece.  It is a full-scale replica of the ancient Greek temple and can be visited; although right now it is closed.  Years ago I did walk up the hill to the original Parthenon in Athens, Greece, when I stayed with my father's Armenian cousins there.  Here are several vintage postcards of the Nashville's Parthenon.

I visited this park once before but did not go inside the Parthenon.  I'll do that in the future and will write a post on it.  As I parked by the lake I just noticed a gaggle of geese.  They swam toward me.

It did not feel as though downtown Nashville was only 2 miles away or the large Vanderbilt University complex less than half a mile away, too.  In the drugstore parking lot was a policeman sitting in his patrol car.  I asked him if the park was open.  He told me the entrance to the park was closed.  He then gave me detailed instructions on how to enter it through the back.  I found the way.  It was so peaceful there with no one around.

Wearing my dust mask, I walked a bit around the lake to check for spring flowers and shrubs.  There were pink azaleas in full bloom.

Below are more azaleas in a darker shade of pink.  I just read that there are over 10,000 types of azaleas and approximately 800 species.

Azaleas can also be cut and replanted.  I had not thought of that, but now when I go back to my house in Georgia I'll take cuttings from my three azalea shrubs there and bring them back to Nashville.

Coming around the bend I saw a bench.  I sat to watch the geese.  A little duck came ashore toward me, as if he had been waiting for my visit.  I guess the birds have not been fed by visitors for a long time.

I walked toward the side of the Parthenon.  Then I walked back to my car.

It was strange in a way, walking in that large empty park.  It reminded me of the pictures I just saw of my old home-town Paris right now - totally empty of tourists.  Even the river Seine has no traffic.  (Photos courtesy La Parisien.)

It also reminded me of Paris during the war.  I was a wee child then but I remember walking with my mum in the streets - no tourists.  But the streets were not totally empty, there were some cars (mostly of Germans,) people walking, or on bicycles or motorbikes.  There even were funny motorcycles with seats attached to them, called "side-car" pronounced seed-carr.  Some bicycles with a cargo carriage were used as taxi-cabs, like the bicycles below, called "velo-taxi.".  Below are some old photographs from that era.  (Don't forget to click on collage to enlarge.)

Paris does look like a ghost town.  Policemen give tickets if people are out without a good reason that has to be stated on a signed document - they take confinement very seriously there.  But Centennial Park in Nashville, even without visitors, did not feel empty.  It was alive with birds, geese, ducks and squirrels.  It was radiant with colors of the flowers, shrubs and the varied greens of plants, grass and trees.  It was as if I had stepped through a magical place.  I was so glad I had come - a true pleasure.

My first time in town in over a month and it had been successful.  There is much fear, grief and sorrow right now, but still, simple pleasures do happen and should.  "Be happy for this moment.  This moment is your life."  - Omar Khayyam, 1048-1131, Persian philosopher.

Back in my kitchen I could still watch the sun from all the windows. We had a skylight installed in the kitchen of the Georgia house.  While sitting by the table I could look up and watch the sky.  I got used to that.  Luckily the Nashville bungalow has many windows.  There are 4 tall and large double windows in the kitchen plus a window over the sink and a glass door leading to the covered patio.  The covered patio has 8 windows and another glass door going to the back deck.  For a bungalow built in 1930 it is surprising how many windows are in each room.  While drinking my coffee of a morning I can follow the squirrels jumping on the back porch and watch all the birds flying tree to tree.  It is cheerful (and a pleasure.)

Working for decades in the aeronautical field, in a large office with numerous cubicles and no windows, as soon as I'd go out for lunch or home I would immediately look up at the sky.  Was it sunny or raining?  Was one of our cargo aircraft taking a flight test?  Which one was it?  Air Force, Coast Guard or maybe a foreign air force customer?  I could tell by its color.  I could also recognize if it was a C-130, a C-141 or a C-5 by their sound.  I always looked up, a habit I never lost.  Here is a quote I really like.  It is by one of our past chairmen:

"There is a certain feeling of courage and hope when you work in the field of the air.  You instinctively look up, not down.  You look ahead, not back.  You look ahead where the horizons are absolutely unlimited."  - Robert E. "Bob" Gross, Lockheed's Chairman/CEO 1932-1961.

Walking to the back porch from the covered patio I can look up and see the sky much better.

I like to sit on the front porch in a director chair with my back to the street because I can I get a better view of the sky that way, toward the back (and don't have to watch people walking by, close together without masks; my Nashville zip code has the highest number of cases of Covid-19.)  Looking up at the sky always fills me with joy.

Often I bring my iPad with my little speaker and listen to music.  Looking up at the sky and listening to music - is there anything better?  Such a peaceful pleasure!  Here is the last piece of music I listened to yesterday, played by a Greek musician.

"Keep your face to the sun
and you will not see the shadows   
- Helen Keller, 1880-1968, American author

Gardez votre visage vers le soleil
et vous ne verrez pas les ombres.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Spring 2020 in Nashville ... and a tense shadow

Last Saturday morning the sun was filtering through the window curtains and I thought - it's going to be a beautiful spring day!  But then this feeling of unease, this apprehension in the background was like a shadow hanging over me.  Where did I hear that line before?  It was in the Beatles' song "Yesterday."  But the shadow is with us today because of this dreadful coronavirus all around us - a frightening shadow, indeed.  I had planned to go to a park to look at the pretty spring blooms.  Instead I walked to my small enclosed patio to take pictures of the flowering house plant there.  I had found it as a puny little plant in a broken pot left by the garbage bin at work years ago and took it home.  It has grown and produces delicate red flowers.  I don't know what type of plant is is, do you?

A couple of weeks ago I had two Japanese flowering quince shrubs (Chaenomeles spp.)  planted in the front yard.  They are flowering already, bright red.  This is an old species that has been cultivated in Asia for thousands of years and came to the US in the 1800s.  They are supposed to be tough, tolerate urban conditions and withstand drought stress; this is why I selected them.  On the lawn was a beautiful pure white mushroom.  On the other side of the front yard were a blue daisy and a cluster of lavender flowers that reminded me of the wild hyacinths I used to find in the woods near our house in France.  I'm not sure what the daisy is but I researched the lavender flowers and, indeed, they are Wood Hyacinths or Hyacinthoides non-scripta.  (Click on collage to enlarge.)

Across the street, in the front of my neighbors' yards were some flowers, too.  I like the minute pink flowers, so vivid, a true ground covering.

 No fancy blooms in my backyard though.  I had a Redbud tree planted and it was showing petite pink buds - hopefully next year there will be many.  Near the fence were small purple flowers, wild I guess.  The ground was covered with weeds, violets and wild daisies.  Still, they were pretty.

Since I could not go outdoor for a walk and take photos of spring blooms I'll go through some of my old photos and post them instead throughout this post.  Looking at these vibrant flowers may take away some of the anxiety we all feel.

But these flowers cannot completely obliterate the virus shadow.  I talked about covid-19 in my last post and received a couple of emails from readers who were upset about my comments on President Trump.  They said that he had not known about the virus and it was unfair to say he had something to do with the deaths.  That was their opinion.  I mention facts, not opinions, unless I state it.

The world was told about the virus as early as last November and by January 3rd, 2020, Robert Redfield of the CDC informed D. Trump and the White House about this lethal virus.  By the end of January memos were sent to the White House warning that this virus could kill thousands of Americans and hurt the economy.  Countries like Vietnam, South Korea and Singapore took immediate action and their case numbers and deaths are low.  But President Trump dismissed the virus as just another type of flu.  At his rally he even said it was a "hoax."  I did not read this on an internet site, I saw him saying it.  Here is the video -
-     .  Actually several of the attendees to this rally became infected with the virus. Now his daily TV briefings serve as rallies.  Even the conservative newspaper The Wall Street Journal admitted a few days ago that his briefings were too focused on himself.  He quickly called this "fake news."

Donald Trump declares now that he took quick action and started the fight immediately.  As of March 8, 2020, with already 528 confirmed cases and 21 deaths he stopped and played golf on his way to Mar-a-Lago (easily verified)  and then attended a party where several attendees caught the virus.  The doctors and healthcare staff did not receive what they needed, such as masks, ventilators, emergency equipment and medicine.  Tests are still hard to obtain.  Lives could have been saved with early preparations.  How can it be said that President Trump made American Great Again, when dozens of other countries fared much better?

 Even Dr. Fauci said on television last Sunday morning that recommendations were made and added "if you had started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives."  We don't have to read right wing or left wing sites on the Net, but just need to look at the results: as of today, April 14, 2020, there are 612,380 confirmed covid-19 cases in the US and 25,949 deaths.  We lead the world.  Unfortunately we are number one.  Dr. Fauci ended by saying "But it is what it is.  We are where we are right now."  What we are doing right now is grieving, grieving for all the lives lost.  The virus does not discriminate, it hits rich and poor, young and old, of all colors, medical staff and personalities.

Here in Nashville we mourn John Prine, a beloved artist who died of coronavirus complications on Tuesday April 7, 2020, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, about a mile from my house.  He was 73 years old.  He was a singer, a song writer.  His songs transcended styles and era: country, folk, Americana and bluegrass.  He was a musical story teller dubbed the Mark Twain of American songwriting.  He had been living in Nashville since 1980 and had moved to his new house in 2018 (about 4 miles from mine.)

John Prine was a prolific and quick songwriter.  His songs captured the human experience.  They were offbeat, full of wisdom and humor.  They could be poignant, angry and funny as well.  He won several Grammies for his songs and was inducted into the Songwriter Hall of Fame in 2019.  He had been chosen to receive the 2020 Grammy for Lifetime Achievement.  He was revered by his peers, such as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.  For those who do not know John Prine I have selected two of his songs.  The first one was written for his April 2019 album The Tree of Forgiveness.  A music video was filmed for the song where Prine goes around Nashville with several top Nashville musicians.  It is called "Knockin' on Your Screen Door."

John Prine wrote the second, and one of his most famous songs, in 1971 when he was 24 years old.  It is called "Hello in there" and is about old folks.  He said "I've always had an affinity for old people.  I used to help a buddy with his newspaper route, and I delivered to a Baptist old peoples" home where we'd have to go room-to-room...That always stuck in my head."  Both Brandi Carlile and Joan Baez performed the song a few days ago as a tribute to John Prine.  He made a great impact on Nashville and will be deeply missed.

...You know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder every day...

It's a touching song about elders.  Old people are not expendable.  But then, no one is.  We are all very sad right now.

Sunday was Easter Sunday and it rained here.  I counted that I have been in my Nashville house, alone with my cat, for 31 days, a month already, only out on my front porch or backyard.  I needed something to lift my spirits: music always does.  I watched the tenor Andrea Bocelli broadcasted live on YouTube.  He sang in the deserted Duomo di Milano cathedral in Milan.  The largest church in Italy.  It took almost 6 centuries to complete (1386-1965.)  I had visited that cathedral twice, a long time ago, and took many photos with my Zeiss-Ikon film camera, in black and white.  I am not a churchgoer but enjoy visiting historical buildings of many periods and styles.  Below are a couple of postcards of the cathedral.

Il Duomo has been closed because of covid-19.  For this live Easter performance Bocelli and Emanuele Vianelli, the organist, were invited to enter the cathedral by special permission from archpriest Mgr Borgonovo and Giuseppe Sala, mayor of Milan.  It was called "Music for Hope."  The singer performed in the deserted cathedral.  Andrea Bocelli started with introductory words, in Italian.  They were translated into English on the screen.  Here is a passage from it:  "Grazie alla musica, trasmessi dal vivo, riunendo milioni di mani giunte in tutto il mondo e abbracceremo il cuore pulsate del mondo ferite."  Which means "Thanks to music, streamed live, bringing together millions of clasped hands everywhere in the world, we will hug this wounded earth's pulsating heart."  (I miss speaking Italian, a great language.)  While he spoke, images of Bergamo and Brescia were shown, the two Italian cities that suffered the most coronavirus cases and deaths.

It was poignant to watch him alone in this huge and empty historic place, doors closed with no audience or applause.  His solo performance lasted about 25 minutes.  Here is the link to the YouTube:

Then he exited the cathedral and stood on the empty piazza.  His last song was "Amazing Grace" in English.  If you'd like to watch him singing it, go to 18:56 minutes on the video.  During the song images of other cities touched by the virus were shown:  Paris and London, looking abandoned and desolate.  There were views of New York at the end, another deserted city.

This broadcast has been seen now, worldwide, by over 33 million people.

After this long post I can just add that the shadow is dissipating with the delight of seeing delicate spring flowers.  It fades while listening to a moving rendition of a piece of music.  It fades when we feel united in gratefulness for all those who selflessly stay to fight and help.  In the end, we are all touched by this tragedy.  We are interconnected on this planet.  We care.  This is comforting.

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