Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 10: Creature Comforts: Smells

Cinnamon, spice souk, Dubai, UAE. January 2012.


Each time I venture out into the COVID wildlands, I bring back with me some creature comfort. A Survivor Island comfort item. A treat.

In my most recent expedition, I picked up two slender, plastic cylinders of herbs: dried rosemary and dried oregano. At home in my cave, each time I pop or twist a lid, I draw in their aromas. A slight eucalyptic vapor of the rosemary, and a nostalgia for my childhood's Saturday-night-homemade-pizza dinners that the oregano summons.

These herby perfumes give me so much pleasure for so little cost.

A twist of herb, Yerevan, Armenia. March 2012.

I remember my visit to the Celestial Seasonings tea plant near Boulder, Colorado, a few years back:

Walking through waves of scent. An aroma bath. Breathing deeply to pull in those biological perfumes. Sheer sensual pleasure.

The mint room. It's in its own room because mint's perfume is so sharp, so pungent, that it invades all other fragrances in its wave. Some visitors cannot even stay in this room for longer than a few seconds because they are overcome by its power.

My humble herb garden, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

I remember an ode to the intoxicating fragrance of ripe mangoes, written by Ngishili:
And I am just here breathing the sweet air. If this day’s oxygen were a drink, it would be served as a brightly colored tropical cocktail with two olives, a tiny umbrella and a fancy pair of drinking straws. It might as well be, considering that taking a deep breathe leaves one heady; at the brink of being intoxicated. But all I can think about is mangoes. I know that the mango trees are laden with fruit at this time of year. The mangoes are still green and will be ripening en mass in a few short weeks. At that time, every mango tree will litter the ground with yellow ready fruit, with such mischief that it would be impossible to walk past the tree without being dunked on the top of your head.

I remember how swoony the scent of guavas made me in Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico:

The guavas' fragrance wafts over me as I work at my laptop. It is the stuff of cliches - "heady" and "intoxicating." I don't know of any other fruit that has the same effect. Maybe a freshly-cut lime. But where a lime's scent is sharp and energizing, the guava's is a silky perfume that makes you inhale slowly and deeply. Why don't we have guava-based perfume?

Guavas and lime, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

Excuse me while I go to my cabinet for an olfactory hit of oregano and rosemary.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 9: A New Kind of Dance Bag

On the Blue Goose Walk at Sabine Natural Refuge. Louisiana. July 2014.

In South Louisiana, as I immersed myself more into the zydeco and cajun dance scene, I fashioned myself a dance bag, which evolved into this.

With COVID, although I stick to home most of the week, I generally venture out once a week for provisions. Each time I've gone out, I've observed new small things that require touching. Money. Plastic cards. Reading glasses. Purse straps. Seat belt straps. Car door handles. Steering wheel. Sunglasses. Hat. Wallet. Produce. ... etc.

I'm not a germphobe, thank goodness. My goal during the time of the crown is not to achieve an unattainable, sanitized perfection. My goal is to be pretty darn good at doing stuff that protects me and others who might come after me a few moments later.

(So, I saw a man and woman at an intersection. The woman raised her leg to tap the crosswalk button with the sole of her shoe. She couldn't use her elbow? And, yes, I know there are those who use their shod feet to push a toilet handle, too, completely oblivious to, for example, a child coming along afterward and putting their chubby sweet fingers on the handle to flush the toilet like a big girl. FFS.)

So anyway, my corona expedition bag for when I go out for supplies, in two categories:

I keep these in my car, so I don't bring them back in the house. Between excursions, they sanitize-in-place for days in the car, untouched by anything except the sun bathing them all day.
  • Pair of sunglasses
  • Pair of reading glasses
  • Utility gloves 

I've also got a container of sanitizing wipes in my car, which I use to wipe down the steering wheel, interior door handle, gear shifter, starter, etc.

Gogo wristband with pockets

From inside my place, I bring:
  • My plastic cards in a washable terrycloth wrist band (think: sweat band with a pocket)
  • Some cash in a pocket.
  • My driver's license in a separate pocket.
  • Bandana face covering

I pull my hair back into a pony tail to avoid flyaway strands tickling my face, which tempt me to touch it while I'm on an expedition.

When I return home, the wristband and cards, the bit of cash, and my driver's license go onto a table by the door, to just sit for days til I go out again.

The bandana goes into the laundry, as does the outer clothing I wore on my expedition.

What I leave at home: 
  • Phone
  • Wallet
  • Purse

As with sheltering-in-place, the only indicator of success is if ......... nothing happens.

Nothing happening is a good thing.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID Unfolding, Part 8: Sounds of the Normal

Palapa roof repair, Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico. November 2010.

On Tuesdays, the lawn care people come, as always. The grumble and whine of a mower and edger, in the recent past, sometimes an irritant, is now a reassurance. Good, I think. These folks still have jobs in this hard time. Good, I think, some normal routines continue.

Every several mornings - early! there is the grunting and groaning of the trash truck. Good, I think. These folks still have jobs. Good, I think, some normal routines continue.

I note the lawn care guys seem well-protected in their gear and also their social distancing. I hope the trash pick-up folks are doing the same.

Trash day, Jefferson City, Missouri. December 2006.

My apartment complex owners have been undertaking roof repairs. Good. Some people still employed. The sounds of their work, reassuring. There's a truck. It emits airful beats, like a ventilator, pumping. For these folks, I worry for their health, as I'm not confident about their care in maintaining a safe distance in their collaborations.

When I hear the whine of police sirens, I don't think of normality. I worry about the cops' exposure to the people they interact with. ... Or the exposure of their detainees' from the police officers. How do you maintain a healthy physical distance in such intimate, tense interactions?

The other night, I heard the whip-whip-whip of a helicopter as it circled someone, something, across the street from my apartment. Whip-whip-whip, it circled, shining its beacon downward. Eventually, it left.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 7: Creature Comforts: Ginger Beer / Ale

Swamp Pop ginger ale. Lafayette, Louisiana. February 2014. Which I never tasted; I just admired the brilliant local-centric marketing.

The phrase "creature comforts" has come up in several of my English lessons recently.

In the time of corona, it soothes the spirit to indulge in small comforts. ("Soothes" also emerged in a lesson the other day.)

Last week, I indulged in a two-liter bottle of diet root beer and a bottle of ginger ale.

A ginger beer-ale thing seems to be shaping up for my corona confinement, a term more typically applied to post-partum mothers.

It all started with a stunning experience when I drank a glass of CeeDee's Jamaican Kitchen homemade ginger beer. 

At the very first sip, my taste buds sprang up in shocked awe – BOING!! – the drink had an intense ginger flavor with a sharp, spicy bite that invigorated. Kind of like riding a roller coaster that was really scary, but after it was over, saying, “Let’s do that again!”

You may know this already, but even though the name is ginger “beer,” it is typically non-alcoholic. (I did not know that.)

It likely has a ton of sugar, though, so it’s not something I can indulge in too often.

Last week I bought Canada Dry ginger ale.

This reminds me of a CCD (Catholic catechism) class when I was around 16. A married couple taught it. One day, they addressed pre-marital sex. The couple made a case for not having sex before marriage, mostly dealing with sin, of course, but they also presented this argument, which they seemed to direct most pointedly at the girls (because it was the girl's responsibility to keep her legs closed, because boys will always be boys):

Let's say you want to buy a car. 
You've never driven a car. 

You go to a Cadillac dealership.
You test drive one of their cars. 
Hoowee! This is nice! Looks good! Feels good! Yeah!

And then you visit a Ford dealership. 
You test drive one of their cars. 

Moral of the story: Do not test drive boys. Or something like that.

Speaking of cars, boys, and girls (especially bad girls), it's time to revisit one of my favorite girl-power songs:

Getting back to ginger beer / ale.

Too bad I had that CeeDee's homemade ginger beer before I had a Canada Dry ginger ale.

So in my most recent hunt-and-gather foray, I pulled down a six-pack of zero-calorie Live Soda Ginger (packed with MILLIONS of probiotics, which I didn't care about).


Even so, I'll try a different brand next time because now I'm on a ginger beer / ale quest. Kind of like my instant coffee quest in Longmont, Colorado.

May 4 update: Oh, no, Blue Sky ginger ale. More disappointing than the Canada Dry experience, as my expectations were higher for you than CD. Bland and weak. For shame.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 6: Fissures

Near Mora, New Mexico. August 2013.

Within a 48-hour period, I learned that:

A niece's husband has been laid off.

My daughter works in a business considered an essential service, so (good news!) she still has a job, but (unfortunately!) her employer has not set things up for remote work, so there is daily exposure among co-workers for potential infection.

In Tucson, a friend (and all of her co-workers) abruptly lost their jobs. Two weeks of severance plus any accumulated personal time off (PTO). Bang. Done.

In New Orleans, a friend's daughter has been ill with the crown for two weeks, going on her third. She's feeling better. She's isolating at home. She works(ed) in health care and a co-worker had the virus.

In Missouri, a friend and her sister were hospitalized on Monday (March 23) and placed in isolation. My friend, "Cherry," suffers an underlying condition that has rendered her already physically fragile, with chronic pain, and easily fatigued, even by talking on the phone or writing. On Wednesday morning, when talking with a mutual friend, Cherry continued to feel very weak from the new infection, and couldn't speak for long. Tests have come back positive for the virus.  Inexplicably, the hospital discharged Cherry and her sister on Thursday (March 26), and they made their way to a relative's house, over an hour away, for self-isolation.

The sisters became ill in one county, hospitalized in another, and are now in a third for isolation. Whether or not the hospital reported the confirmed test results to any of the county health departments is in question. Or if the hospital or any public health entity informed the extended stay hotel where the sisters had been staying, so that their staff might be made aware.

Caution: Although my information comes from mutual friends who have direct contact with Cherry or the local health care system, it's possible - even likely - there are variables that are unknown to any of us, and which make my narrative flawed. 

Here is the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control's infographic for hospital discharge criteria. Two criteria are two consecutive negative results and the lessening of symptoms.

Magical thinking

Based on what I have heard about my friend's situation, it suggests there is a grave lack of coordination between hospitals and public health entities. At least in some communities or some states. And even though they are not yet in one of the red zones, such as NYC.

I share this story because there are some folks who seem to take a city, county, or state's minimal infection numbers as accurate - or close to accurate. Or we hold unrealistic confidence in systems that work smoothly in fair weather, but are not equipped for a hurricane, even though we "know" it's headed our way.

To me, this is magical thinking.

We've got to "act as if" community spread has already occurred in our community, notwithstanding its size or population density.

And don't get me wrong - plenty of smart, capable, experienced, well-educated women and men are on the job! They are working their asses off. They are not stupid!

However, I've observed over the years that intelligence, training, and experience are not reliable indicators for effectiveness, especially in a crisis. Often, an ability to quickly assess a situation and then timely execute on same - that's the key.  Like this guy in Bristow, Oklahoma.

I hope, as COVID-19 continues to unfold, that I acquit myself well as a responsible and supportive member of several community circles. I'm already doing some things of support for others (including, of course, keeping to home most days and social distancing when I do go out), but I will do more.

Recently, I've come to realize there are some forms of action I'm not good at.

On one hand, this grieves me because I wish I were good at them. On the other hand, there are kinds of action I am good at. So as COVID unfolds, it's useful for me to understand this, to go with my strengths, and, therefore, be more effective for others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 5: Grups and Onlies

Rustavi, Caucasus Georgia. May 2012.

In a day when serious news, lunatic fringe news, a "balance" of op-eds, and celebrity news all enjoy equal status in one's news feeds, even from such venerable organs as the New York Times, Washington Post, et al ........... my mind reels from a whirl of old movies and TV shows that turn on unbidden.

Sacrifice the old! 

Kill the grups!

Turning 30? Enter the Carousel!

Or the more recent horror movie, Midsommar, in which old folks sacrifice themselves for the greater good by dropping off a cliff. Not showing a clip as it is so grisly.

Everything's fine! 

The socialist, commie, leftist, liberal, snowflake, stoopids are just exaggerating! Come to the beach! The house of worship!

Remember Jaws? Keep the beach open!

Hoarding, buying ammo .... 

From Panic in the Year Zero:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 4: A Second Kindness

This morning I went to the food rescue at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Fort Lowell. I arrived near its 8:00 opening, thinking there wouldn't be many people there, at least not at the start. Hoo boy, was I wrong! A crowded parking lot and a long line.

OK, then.

I gave the people in front of me and behind me a generous portion of space for their protection and mine. I brought gloves with me. Exact change ($12) so neither the intake guy nor I would have to handle any more bills than necessary. I inserted my paper "account" card into a plastic ID carrier so I could clean it later. Prepared to read aloud my card's number instead of expecting the intake guy to hold it so, again, neither of us would have to handle this stuff unnecessarily.

Waited in line. Did some stretches.

And you know what? When I arrived at the front of the line, I learned that someone way up ahead had paid for FORTY people behind him! Just to save you the math energy, that's almost 500 bucks!!! As each of of us approached, we had the option, of course, to continue paying forward or to accept gracefully the gift. I happily paid it forward because, damn, I still have work, I don't have a lot of bills, and I don't have young'n's at home.

The intake guy wore a mask and gloves, and the usual taking-down-of-the-card-numbers was in abeyance for this week.

I was grateful to bring home good vegetables for the coming week:
  • Grape tomatoes
  • Roma tomatoes
  • Baby acorn squash
  • Green beans
  • A honeydew melon
  • Mini red bell peppers
  • English cucumbers

 In other shopping news, the shelves are still bare of these items:
  • Toilet paper
  • Paper towels
  • Bleach
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Gallon water jugs
  • Eggs

In the event I come down with the crown, I laid in a supply of some symptom-relieving meds. As my liquid hand soap supply is running low, I'm transferring to bars of soap, and I bought some of those today.

For my comfort items on Survivor Island, I bought a two-liter bottle of diet ginger ale and one of diet root beer.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 3: Salt

It's no secret that I like my salt. For example: January 2011: Must-Have Travel Item #2

A few days ago, as I considered what items I might stock my pantry with in the event of a two-week self-quarantine, I checked my salt supply. It was probably OK, I thought. Besides, I'm trying to unload extraneous pantry items before I head out of Tucson the end of April.

But then, I re-thought. Is probably good enough?

Noooo, maybe not, a little brain worm niggled at me.

"Remember, Mzuri," the worm whispered. "Alas, Babylon. Alas, Babylon."

Yes. The 20th century tale of life after a nuclear war, by Pat Frank.

On the third day, Helen finds that all the food in the freezer has thawed. Randy goes into town to get salt to preserve the stock of meat. The supermarket shelves are empty, but he finds Pete Hernandez, the manager, in the stockroom guarding the last of the supplies. Randy pays him $200 for two sacks of salt. ....

 .... August, at the end of the summer, brings about scarcity; they run out of oranges and grapefruits, armadillos destroy the yam crop, the fish stop biting, and they run out of salt. Everyone in Fort Repose has depleted the salt supplies, and everyone is suffering. 

So I added salt to the list, which already included coffee, some canned soup and vegs, Crystal Light, and fresh fruit.

Only to discover that all of the table salt had vanished from the shelves. Sure, there were glass figures of pink and other "gourmet" salt, but no plain, ol' salt. Sheesh.

Except, there were three boxes of these remaining:

Salt. Tucson, Arizona. March 2020.


Another shopper and I looked diligently for a more reasonable alternative, but none was to be found.

Sheepishly, I bought a box, as did he, after calling his wife for an executive consultation. 

Fortunately, it was only a dollar and a half, so I don't feel that ridiculous.

And by golly, I've got the salt issue licked.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 2: Neighborly Kindness

Neighbors helping neighbors make churchkhela. Kardanakhi, Kakheti, Caucasus Georgia. October 2011.

I walked to my car, noticing that various cars had a folded, white page of paper tucked into their windshield wipers. Ah, as did mine, I saw.

Opening it up, I read this, which was printed in both English and Spanish:

Hello! Do you need non-perishable food items or supplies right now? 

We are a group of neighbors who want to make sure that everyone in the neighborhood has the food and supplies they need in the coming weeks. We are not a church or an organization. 

Please call or text this number if you need non-perishable food or supplies: xxxxxxxxxxx. 

We can drop things off at your door. You can call or text now or at any time in the coming weeks. 

You can also call or text the number if you would like to donate food or supplies for your neighbors, or if you would like to volunteer to help deliver supplies. 

Please do not hesitate to call or text this number: xxxxxxxxx. 

I admire folks who see, early on, a problem they can help with, and who have the wit, grit and capacity to act right away, whereas I am a slow thinker.

My unknown neighbors' act reminds me of populations that survive because of neighborliness, such as in Caucasus Georgia, for millennia the target of invasions from other lands. And in rural South Louisiana, in which cyclical hard times and the isolation of  'otherness' at the hands of others, coalesced neighbors into local, informal circles of social services.

A beautiful thing.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Tucson, AZ: COVID-19 Unfolding, Part 1

Jícama on sale at Food City. Tucson, Arizona. March 2020.

As with many of us, I am watchful of the phenomena surrounding the eruption of COVID-19 née coronavirus or, as I've heard from my English-studying students, simply "corona."

I am fortunate. I have the luxury to be watchful in a detached way - for now.

I work remotely in two income streams thus far unaffected by the pandemic, so I can simply continue working as before. At least, that is my reality today.

And as an introvert who enjoys her cave time, the encouragement for all of us to stay home to help #flattenthecurve is a pass for guilt-free solitude.

But the ripple effect on so many from the closures of school, restaurants and bars, musical performances, festivals, museums ... It is awe-ful. Both awful and, at the same time, a phenomenon that compels one's respect for a lumbering, bellowing storm that bends low the trees around you, and darkens the sun.

Chicken liver omelette from Bobo's. Tucson, Arizona. January 2020.

It is odd to stay mostly at home in these days, where virtually all of one's conversations (both social and work-related) touch on "corona," and then to make a shopping or visiting foray, and things appear - on the surface - normal. (Well, except for some of the empty shelves at the markets.)

As I write this, it reminds me of my visit to Bayou Corne in South Louisiana, the epicenter of an astonishing sinkhole that released billows of methane gas, and threatened to suck the town into its dragon mouth. From appearances, animal and plant life seemed almost to throb with robust health, like a person whose rosy cheeks belie a burning fever within.

And this brings me to my photos in today's post.

I went to Food City yesterday for my jícama re-supply, and lo! There was a gigantic bin of jícama! On sale! And it was gloriously fresh jícama, with smooth, baby skin, promising juicy-licious crunch within. As I approached the bins, with angels singing in my head, a man also approached. We each stood before the bin, reverently. Albeit strangers, he and I exchanged words of love over the smooth infant heads. "With lime juice and Tajin?" "Oh, yes!" We smoothed our hands affectionately over the tender globes. We gathered little ones into our respective carts. And parted.

This morning, a Sunday, en route to visit a friend, I passed an iconic Tucson restaurant: Bobo's. Just like every Sunday morning, people hovered around the entrance, waiting for their turn at a breakfast table.

I had entered this holy temple with a friend in January, and I ordered a chicken liver omelette. About as rare a delicacy as fettucine alfredo with chicken livers. In the photo, you can see how plump the omelette is, shiny with flavorful grease, pregnant-to-popping with the chicken livers and sour cream within.

The semblance of normalcy.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Flashback to 2013: Alamogordo: The Disappearing Mountains

The mountains had presence in Alamogordo, except when they disappeared.

A re-post below from 2013.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Alamogordo: The Disappearing Mountains

I live perhaps half a mile - maybe less! I will clock it - from a front line of the Sacramento Mountains.

My apartment is oriented north-south, and I'm near the easternmost edge of town, and whether I look out my front window or back window, I see the mountains right there, so very close.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2013
The constancy of their presence is pleasing. I like to see how a day's changing light creates shadows on the mountain planes, shifting colors and depths in interesting ways.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2013

Some days the mountains disappear.

Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2013

Could be dust or snow or fog. It's uncanny.

The other day, I took the video below going east on Indian Wells to show how a dust-wind can completely obscure the Sacramento Mountains. You're looking right at the mountains in this video - but you can't see them, not til about 1:24.

Below is a video of the exact same route on a clear day. Mountains!

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Word of the Year 2020: Build 3: "House"

A family. Dia de los Muertos, Concordia Cemetery, El Paso, Texas. October 2016.

On Build thus far

Word of the Year 2020: Build 1
Word of the Year 2020: Build 2

Sometimes we must build a new family.

This was the case with a friend of mine, whose story inspired a poem I included in Build 2.

The idea of "family of choice" versus "family of origin" is not new, of course. As one familiar (ha, get it?) with 12-step culture, this is a common theme. I have at least one Irish ancestor whose blood-name we don't know because, as the story goes, he fled his abusive family of origin and was taken in by another family, whose surname he adopted.

Recently, I met a young dancer, "Zoe," whose moves I admire. We both attend a weekly blues fusion dance event here in Tucson. I asked Zoe about her dance history, and she cited some typical school-based experiences, such as color guard, etc. and then rolled off "femme" and pole. The pole I caught, but femme dance was new to me.

When I looked up "femme" dancing, it took me on a path back in time to the origins of vogue dancing, back to "house" and "ballroom." Where the human foundation of ballroom troupes is the "house." A dance "house" has a mother and father and children. A house is a family of choice for, the most part, young gay kids who were not welcome (or believed they were not welcome) at home. A house is a built family.

I'll defer to a house and ballroom alumnus, Ronald Murray, as he explains the culture that includes a built family. His TED talk here:

"When populations are overlooked they develop their own systems." 

From the December 2019 Philadelphia Inquirer series, 30 Years of Philly Ballroom:
"The houses of Philadelphia ballroom are black LGBTQ chosen families, people who aren’t related by blood, but who commit to support each other and compete against other chosen families at balls.
Within the culture, participants take responsibility for youths as if they were their own. This happens both under the house system and individually, through tight one-on-one mentorship. Ballroom veterans explain that the bonds closely mirror those of a biological family, down to steering children to pursue college and telling them off when they’ve gone astray."

I like the promises of built families.