Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Pandemics, Protests, Locusts and Earthquakes

Just when we thought it was safe to come out of our houses ...

The long lockdown for the coronavirus was mentally tiring. Most of us put up with the restrictions because we fear getting sick and dying alone.

We were cautiously thrilled when limited freedom was granted. Masks? Social distancing? No problem. Killer germs are still floating around. But it felt good to be outside, walking the streets, driving the autoroutes, seeing familiar things again, even if the palpable fear/concern continued. Try a restaurant or two, though preferring takeout, at least for awhile.

Freedom, even if relative, felt good.

Then America exploded. And even though we don't live there, family and friends still do, and we are afraid for them. (At the moment, work from home is a good thing.)

Typical of recent years, the rhetoric almost immediately devolved to political polarization. The underlying cause of institutional racism and the trigger of a murder-by-cops was quickly ignored as eye-on-the-election politicians seek to blame whomever their base is most likely to hate.

The virus was frustrating for elected officials. They can't beat it with a baton or shoot it with hollow points. At least locusts and hornets can be gassed, like little protestors.

Except for the people getting killed or hurt, and the small businesses whose storefronts and livelihoods are smashed, the chaos is a game to the looters, a temporary high, a video game come to life. To some of the police and military, much the same; what's the purpose of all that training and expensive gear if you don't use it against someone? 

To Trump and his sycophants, it's a game show. Optics. They didn't like the image of a blubbering president cowering in a subterranean bunker and the lights turned off. So they parted the peaceful protestors with tear gas and concussion grenades so the Don, like Moses (one of the characters in the Bible he was given to wave for the cameras), could march through the Lafayette Sea to preen in front of a boarded-up, graffiti-tagged church.

Those urging him to try to unify the country were ignored. His total focus is re-election. The only winning that matters to him.

More than 100,000 people dead in the US. Approaching 400,000 worldwide. Economies in shambles with millions unemployed. Government debts rising exponentially with bailouts and fiat money. Travel quarantines. Hospital staffs exhausted.

And yet, from my view, not a single major world leader, or their opposition, has stepped up with a solution for any of it. They're all making it up as they go, from knee-jerk to knee-jerk, as their people are whiplashed by the outrage of the day.

I see two likely scenarios later this year. The police state pounds the population into submission, the economy shows glimmers of growth (where else can it go but up), and Trump is re-elected for four more years ... to complete his destruction of democracy, the courts, human rights, clean air, clean water ... Or he loses the election, claims the votes are rigged, and refuses to leave the White House peacefully, attempting to declare martial law and shred the Constitution.

Will the military stand with him in such circumstances? Or will we be "saved" by Yellowstone?

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Sounds of Saturday

Walking Sherlock in the early morn ...
... the rat-a-tat-tat of the neighborhood woodpecker, carving his favourite tree
... happy songbirds in the trees
... the coo of a mourning dove, calling its mate
... the whirr of the leash line playing out as Sherlock runs ahead
... the stutter of the retraction as he pauses and I catch up
... the jingle of his harness hardware when he shakes his whole body
... a hay-fevered-triggered sneeze
... a strange-sounding bird, perhaps a duck, or a platypus, but coming from a yard behind a hedgerow
... straining jet engines as a plane takes off across the lake to the east, a rare sound these days, probably a cargo flight
... the scratching of nails against moss and dirt as Sherlock proudly covers up his business
... the gentle lapping of the waves against the shore
... the crunch of stepping on small stones on the beach
... the unexpected bark of a small westie from the chateau near the dock
... later, a whimper at the gate, a plea to play
... a seagull caw as he soars above the trees
... the rippling water as a duck paddles away
... the buckle of a weak board on the dock, riding down a nail
... the crunch of Sherlock's paws on dead leaves around a flower bed
... the faint ringing of church bells, half a mile up the hill
... the hummm of tires on asphalt from a solitary car
... the cough of the engine, idling, then shutting off
... the scarfing of a reward treat being inhaled
... the muted soft rubber click of the security fob
... the faint mechanical grind of the driveway gates opening
... the clang of metal on metal as one side closes, then a double clang as the other bounces
... the intrusion of the world, via the TV news, as we step through the door.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Oh, the Places We'll Go

At the risk of triggering a rush of people doing the same thing and creating a shortage in the market, I'm going to reveal our travel plans, ostensibly for next year.

These plans are predicated on generally avoiding people on public transport, such as trains and planes, as well as minimising contact with things other people touch, such as hotel rooms. It also takes into account taking Sherlock with us as often as possible.

And yet we still want to see interesting things.

Our plan is to rent a campervan. A tiny home on wheels, if you will. A couple of beds, a kitchen, a WC. We'll be able to go pretty much anywhere we want on whatever schedule we choose. (Well, some of the schedule may involve hickory golf tournaments around Europe.) Stay as long or short as we like and move on.

Our first trip, perhaps, will be what is known as the Grand Tour of Switzerland (https://grandtour.myswitzerland.com/en/) - 1,600 kilometres if we do the whole thing, including a dozen UNESCO World Heritage Sites. (We've already been to a couple of them.)
On another jaunt, we might mosey down one coast of Italy to Pompeii and Rome, then back up the other coast to continue out honeymoon series at San Marino, an independent principality.

Later we may roll through Austria into Poland and back through Germany.

On another trip, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. Probably Sweden as well (as they have many hickory tournaments).

So we can work along the way, we'll get a portable WiFi subscription.

In general, we'll travel in the spring or fall, when it's not too hot. So the target for the Grand Tour is Spring 2021, or maybe Italy, or maybe ...

Cue Willie Nelson ...

Friday, May 15, 2020

Imposed Limitations, Self-Limitations and Risk

We may never go to a concert again. In person. Or a movie in a theatre. Or a play. Any event which involves large numbers of people in an enclosed space.

As various countries are starting to "re-open their economies," ie relaxing the restrictions imposed in March and April, it reintroduces or reinforces self-responsibility. It's one thing to be confined to your house, where we were caught in the near-total lockdown in France, only allowed out for basics such as grocery shopping and dog-walking. Now that we're back home in Switzerland, where the restrictions were never as severe, and where more and more activities are being permitted every other week or so, the real danger is irresponsible people.

We're not done with the virus by any means. It will be with us at least until there's a vaccine, and there may never be one, despite medicine's best efforts. We have to assume, at least for those of us in our 60s and above, we may have to live with the threat of the virus the rest of our lives.

The basic question that each of us needs to ask with regard to any activity we may consider doing is - is this worth my life? Harsh, maybe, but that's what it sorts down to.

Buying food? Necessary, of course. But try to do it while avoiding other people to the extent possible. For example, yesterday, we bought some meat and eggs from the local charcuterie: small shop, two very pleasant proprietors, allowing only one customer inside at a time. We buy as many basics as we can from a small local grocery, and we've ordered a service which delivers vegetables each week direct from the farm. In addition to minimising our contact with virus carriers, asymptomatic or otherwise, we are supporting small businesses.

Doctor and dentist visits? Yes, as necessary for major check-ups, but we won't waste their time for niggly issues.

Going to a restaurant? At least for now, takeout only, or maybe outdoor tables if available and well-spaced. And only places where the food is truly worth a little risk. (Would hate to have a mediocre meal that ended up killing us.)

Seeing friends? Yes, some, and at a safe distance. And not inside a restaurant. Coffee together at an outdoor café - when the weather finally warms up.

Airplane flights? As necessary, though fortunately not for a few months.

Oh, there is an exception to the no-theatre guideline: if my grandkids are performing, and I am able to be in the area, I will attend. Their theatre group, I am confident, is being very careful for the actors and the audience.

Playing golf? I'd like to say absolutely necessary, but even for me it's not. However, golf courses are taking good precautions, and often I play alone early in the morning when the nearest person is hundreds of yards away. Indoor simulator? Probably not so much. Hickory tournaments - where the camaraderie is as important as the golf - yes, with precautions.

Long walks with Sherlock in relatively isolated areas? Bien sur. Good for all of us.

Yes, life has changed radically. Three months ago, we had virtually total freedom to do what we wanted, go where we wanted, whenever we wanted. No more. Even when / if restrictions are totally lifted, some things are now much less important than staying alive.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Do you hear the people sing!
Singing the song of angry men?
It is the music of the people
Who will not be slaves again!
When the beating of your heart
Echoes the beating of the drums
There is a life about to start
When tomorrow comes!

Monday 11 May is Liberation Day in France. The beginning of the lifting of the eight-week lockdown to try to limit the spread of the virus of 2020.

Some people are planning to have a ceremonial burning of the attestation forms we have been required to carry (along with ID) whenever we leave the house - whether to the grocery or just to walk the dog.

It's a shame there are not physical barricades in the streets that we could knock down together (with masks on, two metres apart, of course).

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Winding Down, Winding Up

A painting we commissioned from Marco,
which he will turn into a 6-by-8 foot patio mural when we return to ASM
One of the disadvantages of living in two places (and there aren't many because both places are wonderful) is the time lost getting ready to leave one place, then the time lost getting settled into the other place.

Now that the Swiss border is partially open and the French lockdown will be partially lifted on Monday, we are going to attempt to drive from Argelès sur Mer to Genève next week. Even though France will still have a limit of staying within 100 km of your domicile, and the Swiss border is about 600 km, we do have the right to return to our home in Switzerland.

That means, of course, packing clothes, electronics (including electrical adapters), prescription meds, dog toys, writing research, maybe even toilet paper (don't know the hoarding situation in Genève at the moment). Probably some sandwiches so we don't have to stop along the way. And, vitally, as many copies of documents as we can muster that demonstrate our right to be in Switzerland.

If we start packing too early, we sometimes forget what's in the suitcase, so we're not quite sure if we have everything we'll need. And depending how long it takes us to unpack and get organized on the other end, we may not realize for a few days that something essential is missing. (D-L tends to unpack and put things away almost immediately; I don't.)

Before we leave ASM, we also have to button up The Nest, especially if a guest has been there, to make sure there's no food that will spoil and the electric is turned off. Sometimes we're also asked to check on a friend's house.

Of course, if we're going to be gone a long time (and at this point, we have no good idea when we will be allowed back into France), we will shut off the refrigerator/freezer, which means planning the last few days' meals to use up as many perishables as we can creatively eat.

Sherlock is not a fan of traveling back and forth. He likes both places, but he hates the long drive (and usually upchucks once enroute). He starts acting uneasy when he sees the suitcases, briefcases and golf clubs being staged near the door.
The view we have to look forward to.

Thursday, May 7, 2020


The pandemic has brought out some of the worst - in nations and individuals. The evolving concept of a one-world globalist supply chain unraveled quickly as the US, China, Germany and other countries took a hard "Us First" stance, hoarding critical medical supplies as if they were toilet paper. Now there's a reverse movement, an uber-nationalism that demands a nation be self-sustaining in all things essential. Bring manufacturing back, don't allow foreigners in, don't sell anything overseas that might be needed in the future. (Even an uber-statism in the US which has pitted so-called red versus blue States in the scramble for PPE.)

It will be interesting to see which nation, or group of nations, is the first to develop a viable vaccine for Covid-19 (if anyone does). If France produces a vaccine first, are they obligated to share the formula with others? Or only after all of their own people have been inoculated first? (Citizens only, or expat residents too?) If a US company develops a vaccine, will it be available free or at low-cost? Or will the government allow its BigPharma friends to hold the populace hostage at outlandish prices so they can make huge profits?

I'm thinking more in terms of sustaining us as a couple, each of us as individuals, should something happen to one or the other, and of our family members and friends. Without exorbitant hoarding, for which we don't have the space anyway, how long might our food supply last if the local charcuteries run out of meat and the green grocer's fruits and veggies supply chain dried up? (Worst, the French bakeries run out of flour!) What would we do to pay for things if the banks start freezing accounts, or inflation from runaway money-supply-pumping drives prices of even basics out of whack? What if we lose electricity, as we did yesterday, for an extended period of time - no internet (aaaaghhh!) and no way to chill foods or cook meals. If I were not around, would D-L have difficulty getting heavy things down from high shelves? Or opening cans with her cancer-damaged fingers? (Or even the protective covers on ice cream cups - those can be tough!)

At our apartment in ASM; we don't have a garden, though we could probably grow edibles in containers on the patio. If we were here on a more consistent basis, I would try to buy one of the nearby allotments (pictured above) and plant tomatoes, potatoes, beans, aubergine, melons, and the like. Sherlock could help with the digging. In Geneva, there's a large expanse of lawn and landscaped perimeter; not sure the landlords would appreciate us ploughing it up for legumes. But if things get desperate enough, they may have the idea themselves! #UsFirst!