Enjoying Books

A Rothko painting

Today is Friday July 17th. Kia ora katoa.

It has been a good week, although I don’t feel so good today.

New Zealand has one new case of Covid 19, a returning New Zealander in managed isolation. It has now been 77 days since New Zealand recorded a case of community transmission.  This seems too good to be true – the US is in dire straits, there are 428 new cases in Victoria, and alarming numbers occurring in random countries overseas. In some places schools have reopened, only to be closed again. I can understand everyone’s frustration: most people want children to be at school, for many reasons, mainly their learning and socialising, but we all want children, and their teachers, and the host of support staff, to be safe. They all have families and networks too.

Back here, I went to hymn singing on Wednesday morning, picked up some woollen jerseys from Farmers, and met my son and grandson at the Johnsonville Library.  It was horrid weather that day – cold and wet, and it was bedlam at the library, with lots of noise and lots of people. It’s the last week of school holidays, but, even so, one wonders how people coped during the lockdown. No one I have spoken to regrets it, everyone survived it all right, but no one wants to go back there again, either, although the Prime Minister has warned that certain regions may be locked down again.

On Thursday I met members of our choir committee for lunch in Khandallah. Then I walked to the supermarket in Khandallah, where they have some good things: donuts in their own boxes, and celeriac! I will make celeriac soup again.

Afterwards I walked in the almost-sunshine to the railway station, and caught a train to Johnsonville, where I was suddenly very tired and JD picked me up. Next week will be busy, with Tai Chi restarting on Tuesday, Hymn singing on Wednesday, and Choir on Thursday morning. It is good to be singing again, and I am looking forward to Tai Chi classes. While there is nothing to stop one practising at home, it is much more fun to do it with others.

While in Johnsonville we bought some books and Lego to send to our grandchildren in the US. The store that used to be Paper Plus is closing down at the end of July, and has some really good bargains on their remaining stock.

Overseas, it is very sad to see countries that had locked down and greatly reduced their coronavirus rates, now seeing rising rates again; and what about Australia?  I think many of us hoped to travel there, or for our friends and relations there to come here. Sadly, that is not to be, for a while yet. The growing Australian rates, especially in Victoria, and now New South Wales are concerning.  Melbourne is my favourite city in Australia! This coronavirus is a very infectious disease, and everyone should take it seriously. While we are thankful that unlike diseases like cholera, Ebola and bubonic plague it does not have eruptions of bodily fluids or bleeding, although the effects can be truly awful. Many take a long time to recover, if indeed they do.

Meantime, I am enjoying novels by Anne Tyler, although in my recent reading she has strayed into some rather dark territory. I am greatly enjoying the London Review of Books; its arrival by post is random indeed, but I quite like that too: recently I got a May and a June edition, followed by an April one. Everyone had a somewhat different perspective back then.

The LRB combines several interesting features: letters, current comment (on the UK government’s response to the pandemic), essays on current thought (provoking!) and book reviews. I have learnt much history from the book reviews, including books about plague and disease. All this is by way of building up towards reading the latest Hilary Mantel novel about Thomas Cromwell (entitled ‘The Mirror and the Light”). I have now read several reviews of this book, and it’s highly recommended by one of my singing friends (he read it during lockdown; I read “Stalingrad”). I always find it’s fun to talk about books; it can be quite hard work to read them, although the rewards are there! I lazily turn to listening rather than reading.

Politics here remains interesting-ish. Once more, I am tempted to switch off completely, getting so frustrated by some of the comments and stories. There’s no question that you have to have a thick hide to be a politician, whether you’re right wing or have a social conscience. I really hope people remember how well Jacinda has performed, including her superb work in looking after us all during our recent lockdown. Some of her colleagues aren’t up to much, in my opinion, but hasn’t Chris Hipkins (now Minister of Health, as well as Education) done well?  Poor Chris, he certainly had a baptism of fire, with four instances of individuals breaking out of managed isolation immediately after he was appointed, and Dr Ashley Bloomfield taking a well-earned week’s holiday.

I just read an account of how quarantine of returning travellers is being managed in one Wellington hotel, and I am heartened by that. I think that for the most part people are being sensible, grateful, and restrained, as indeed they should be. You are so fortunate to be here! Surely you can endure 14 days of managed isolation. It hasn’t been easy for hospitality staff either, who have had to put themselves at some risk.

It is now Saturday, and I am having a better day today. There is one new Covid 19 case diagnosed, in a returning traveller under quarantine. Community  testing continues – there’s a photo of it being done on the Stuff website.

I listened to a New York Times podcast. They are replaying some stories they ran earlier, with updates on how the people interviewed are getting on now. I think that Michael Barbaro is a very sensitive interviewer. It is heartening to hear updates on these sad stories.

This afternoon we went to see “The Booksellers” at the Lighthouse Cuba Cinema, in Wigan Street. The theatre was full – this was a popular movie. I enjoyed it very much, although the sound was extremely loud. It featured interviews with Fran Leibowitz, always a treat.  The main interest of the movie was in old and rare books. This jolted memories in several ways. When we were first in New York, in 2006, I bought a copy of the latest Anne Tyler novel, “Digging to America” at a bookshop on 5th Avenue.   While there, I asked to use the restroom, which, unlike the shop, was surprisingly basic.

There were echoes too of other things: our Indian blanket, used lovingly and often by us; Annie Oakley’s leather gloves; and a Rothko painting.  I was surprised (well, not really) by how muddly and vast the collections were on the whole. Someone just filed books by their size on his bookshelves! I struggle to find books at my house; obviously he does not have that problem (or if he does need to find something, remembers where he put it). Some people have precarious-looking ladders, reminding me of a lovely bookshop we visited in Cleveland when we were there. I do like a good bookshop, although they’re very hard to find now, and there are even fewer used book shops.  I do find it so ironic that libraries are so popular here: they’re warm and welcoming centres for everyone, and all kinds of activities, with rest rooms and cafes; they’re no longer quiet places! Yet one struggles to find a book at a Whitcoulls store – you have to get past the toys, first; and the other book shop in Johnsonville is closing down. Meanwhile, you can buy wonderful children’s books now.

We returned home to learn that John Lewis had passed away, in Atlanta, at 80 years of age. I remember seeing a photo of him taking part in a march in Atlanta the day after Trump’s inauguration, when protest marches took place in many cities in the US and around the world.  John Lewis had pancreatic cancer, but he lived to be 80, despite the beatings and imprisonments he received. He had joined Martin Luther King Jr on the walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, represented so movingly in the movie “Selma” produced by Oprah Winfrey. He was a highly respected politician.

That’s it for now. Nga mihi nui.

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