September 30, 2020

And it’s another evening of feeling a bit like Neville, my favorite Gashlycrumb Tiny with whom I have always identified. I should be celebrating as the sale of the old house closed yesterday but there’s not a lot of joy in life and society and I really don’t have anyone much to rejoice with once I leave work these days. I did get to meet the new owners of 4334 Clairmont Avenue South at the closing yesterday morning. (I knew who they were through some mutual friends but had not yet had the pleasure of meeting them). They seem sympatico with what Tommy and my ideas for the house were had life turned out differently and we had stayed there for a few decades as originally planned. Their plan for the much needed kitchen remodel was pretty much exactly what we had intended so I feel the house is in good hands and I wish them much joy in the years to come.

Not much exciting going on in my new abode other than a few lessons learned in regards to the production of Zoom theater. The Kelly Green plastic tablecloths from Party City ($1.49 apiece or a roll of 100 feet for $10) make an acceptable green screen for inserting virtual backgrounds, but if you cut them too long and they hand too low, your cats will love batting at them and trying to pull them down at inopportune moments. Those projects are taking up a little time and creative energy but I still have more hours to fill so I bought myself the unlimited access Rosetta Stone language plan and am going back over all the basic languages I have learned over the years for some additional ear training and grammar. I’ve started with French, which I learned as a child and is still fairly intact when I need it but I have to use it routinely to have it come with any fluency.

Where are we with the accidental plague diaries? One million dead world wide, 200,000 dead in the USA and a significant portion of the population still refusing the most basic public health precautions through some sort of misguided political allegiance that I just don’t understand. I did not watch the presidential debate last night. I prefer not to torture myself after hours. From the continuous comments on my Facebook feed, it seems it turned out pretty much as expected and the inability of the federal government to handle a crisis in any sort of measured or logical way was on full display.

I haven’t come up with a new or interesting angle on Covid-19 to write about this evening. That’s been the thing I’ve been most worried about since I started writing these missives more than six months ago. How can I make this one subject fresh and impart fresh insights without getting awfully repetitive. I think I generally do a good job but there are times, like this evening, when the pandemic has dropped to a dull roar out there in the world and I can’t think of much of anything to say about it without going down a path I’ve trod before. New things are published routinely and there are constantly shifting battles and skirmishes between the population and the microbe so that’s unlikely to last. The thing I’m looking for is what’s going to happen later this fall in response to the outbreaks traceable to college and university reopenings? For the most part, the students won’t be overly effected but what’s going to happen to the populations of college towns and institutions in close proximity to colleges such as hospitals and elder care centers? There’s a well recognized pattern. Population behavior changes. Case numbers reflect that change three or four weeks later. Mortality statistics reflect that change another month or so after that. We’re about a month in to fall quarter. Cases are rising in places like Utah driven by University exposures. What happens a month from now? What happens when flu starts circulating? I am keeping my fingers crossed on flu season. As a goodly percentage of the population are being careful about viral exposure, this will interrupt seasonal flu transmission as well as Covid-19 and hopefully keep the flu season on the lighter end.

I haven’t told a story for a while so I’ll end up this evening with one. This one goes back to the summer I was 22. I had graduated from Stanford and was to start medical school in the fall. As a graduation present, my parents gave me a plane ticket to Europe, a second class Eurail pass, a knapsack and some traveler’s checks (remember those?) and told me to go have fun. I had never been off the continent before and was uncertain when I would be again so I was determined to see as much as I could squeeze into my eight weeks as I could. (Fourteen countries by the time I arrived back in the US, exhausted and fifteen pounds lighter from all the walking and cheap eats). About a third of the way through my jaunt, I had taken the train from Paris to the French Riviera and then, after a day or two, onwards into Italy. One Sunday in July, after touring Rome for most of the previous few days, I realized I had a relatively free day as I still had not made it to the Vatican museums and they were not open on Sundays so I decided to take the train down to Naples and visit Pompeii. I caught the first train of the morning. Five minutes after we were to depart, there was an unintelligible Italian address over the PA. Much groaning and everyone detrained and headed over to the second train of the morning and reseated themselves. (I hadn’t a clue what had been said but I could follow the crowd.) Forty minutes later, the same thing happened and the swelling number of irate Naples bound passengers detrained again to board the third train of the morning. This one actually departed and off we went around the bay.

Naples with the Bay and Mount Vesuvius

I arrived in Naples later than I had anticipated, toured the museum and then boarded the local train that headed to Pompeii. I made a mistake with this train and ended up getting off one stop too early. (Apparently the stop labeled Pompeii was not the stop for the ruins) and I headed down the road thinking I was in one place when I was, in fact, in quite another. When I realized my mistake, I thought, oh well, and, having taken orienteering in Boy Scouts, that I should be able to get where I needed to go by wandering down the country lanes as long as I kept Vesuvius on my left. Off I went and after about half a mile, passed an Italian farm house where a huge extended Italian family were having Sunday dinner in the courtyard. They leapt up excitedly at the strange young tall blond and obviously lost young man wandering past their compound and soon, I was being dragged in and invited to share the meal. They spoke not a word of English and I not a word of Italian past Prego but we finally found some common ground in French and were able to roughly communicate for an hour while I was offered several sorts of pasta and what I think was veal. I thanked them for their hospitality and departed with one of the sons who looked to be about fifteen who escorted me to the right road towards the entrance to the ruins.

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

I had a lovely (if somewhat warm) afternoon wandering through Pompeii, and as the sun was going down, headed off to the correct train station to take the train back to Naples. When I arrived in Naples, I was hungry again so I found a little seafood restaurant right on the harbor where they were frying up the catch of the day so I ordered the special (which contained mussels, octopi, seahorses, a couple of kinds of fish and who knows what else) and a bottle of the house wine. It was lovely watching the sun set into the Mediterranean and I kept eating and drinking and then I suddenly realized I had finished off the entire bottle of wine by myself and it was starting to hit. I stumbled to the train station to get a seat on the overnight back to Rome, found myself with a few hours to kill before boarding, and promptly lay down on the floor of the train station and sort of passed out until I was roused by a not overly friendly carabinieri. I was able to get to my feet, produce my ticket to the train, and stumble in the right general direction so I managed to avoid a trip to the drunk tank, get on the train, and more or less pass out again until it pulled up to the station in Rome. By that time I had sobered up, taken a couple of aspirin, had a cup of coffee and headed off to see the Vatican thoroughly hung over. I quite enjoyed the Vatican other than the Sistine chapel. Every time I tilted my head back to look at the ceiling, it would make the headache worse. The moral of the story. Don’t visit buildings with famous painted ceilings when you’re hung over.

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