Holding our Breath

Today is Sunday July 26th. Kia ora katoa. May peace be with you.

On Friday evening we held our breath. A mother and her four children had escaped from managed quarantine in Hamilton. The woman and three children had been apprehended by police, but the 17 year old son was still at large. Oh well, at least he’s not old enough to drink alcohol legally at a bar, I thought to myself, trying to see the upside of this situation. The next morning I learnt that he had been caught at 4:40 am, and was to appear in an Auckland court on Saturday morning. His mother and siblings are to appear in a Hamilton court.

What is the price for unmitigated stupidity, one wonders?  I realise you want to spend time with your father; evidently he had had a stroke, and they had flown over from Brisbane to visit him. I pick there is some ill-will between different sides of the family, or the funeral may have been delayed to accommodate the children and their mother’s quarantine. While the stories of deaths and funerals always tug at the heartstrings, this is an emergency! The Covid 19 infections just continue to get worse, even in countries that had supposedly managed the coronavirus well.  It is a privilege to come here at all. Moreover, the government pays for your quarantine! How hard can it be, to be considerate of other human beings, of other New Zealanders? I read somewhere that the judge said “The police are sick and tired”. Poor things, I don’t blame them for being sick and tired.

There have now been 5 cases of people absconding from quarantine. So far, there seems to have been no harm done, but I fear it’s only a matter of time.  The last infectious person tested negative on day three, and positive on day 12, so this is a very scary situation. We don’t know nearly enough about asymptomatic carriers of the disease, or just how infections are spread, or who may be a “super-spreader”. 

That said, both yesterday and today (Saturday and Sunday) there are no new Covid 19 infections in New Zealand.  As other countries re-impose various kinds of restrictions, we continue to enjoy our coronavirus-free status. It is wonderful not to be afraid, to enjoy freely the pleasures we used to take for granted.

In other news, we went shopping in Thorndon yesterday afternoon. I bought donuts and salads and coffee beans, along with bananas, tea bags and dish-washer detergent. It was very busy indeed, and I had to join a queue for a check out. Needless to say, I chose a very slow one! The customers ahead of me didn’t know the tricks to this game, either: that you load your shopping bags and goods behind the separating bar and push your trolley though as far as you can without hitting the next person. Oh well, there’s no rush!

Last night we watched “Samba” again on Maori television. It’s a great movie, with good-looking leads, and it’s French! And I can understand the dialogue! It has that unmistakeable French flavour. I found it very appealing. While the refugee scenes are sad and upsetting, there is more humanity here that in some other movies. There seems to be a sense of basic dignity and humanity.

Today I made soup for lunch: leek, potato and broccoli, whirred up with my wonderful stick blender. It tasted very good. Normally broccoli is not one of my favourite vegetables, but this soup is a good use for it.

Over the weekend I’ve been doing some reading; the daily newspapers, old newspapers, the London Review of Books and my current Anne Tyler novel (“Breathing Lessons”). Tyler has strayed a little, I fear, from her usual novels which I find quite enchanting.  I am probably reading too much of her writing at present.  I have a great deal of reading matter around me, and I have promised myself to get through more of it. I am told that the Listener will return, and I look forward to that, although I don’t expect it any time soon.

Meanwhile, coronavirus infections are climbing in Spain, In Israel, and in Australia, especially in Victoria and also now in New South Wales. Rest homes are particularly hard hit, with significant numbers of staff and residents being infected.  Despite quick government action, the situation in Victoria seems to get worse and worse.  What about the tower blocks of flats that were under a severe lockdown? Evidently that has not been effective in managing the spread of the virus.

Meantime, I have been watching and listening to news of what’s been happening in Portland, and now in Seattle. I find this news scarier than the ever-rising cases of infection by Covid 19 and death. Those totals, dreadful as they are, are to be expected when some people are just so stupid about taking reasonable precautions against the coronavirus. After all, we New Zealanders know what works!   In the US, for millions of people, federal aid of $600 per week and an embargo on evictions runs out in a few days, with no replacement assistance agreed yet.

But I jest. It’s so upsetting to see unnamed, armed, masked men (I presume they’re men), looking like Stormtroopers or something out of a Star Wars movie.  These people have been sent, uninvited, to Portland, and now Seattle, with threats to Albuquerque, Chicago, Baltimore, even New York – cities with Democratic leadership.  Their mission, supposedly, is to protest federal property. They arrest people, seemingly at random, driving them away in unmarked black cars (apparently hired from a rental car company); they also issue tear-gas and fire rubber bullets, which can cause injury.  In response to this, many are shocked and horrified. “Invading America”, was the title of one podcast I listened to. Others (several) compare this to moves a fascist state would make: the notion that you can’t protest peacefully; that you can be taken away in an unmarked black car; the president talked about protesters being locked up for 10 years (how fair and  reasonable is this?), and firing tear gas at people when there is a raging pandemic, its main symptom being difficulty in breathing? The BLM marches and protests began at this time for the death (murder) of George Floyd at the hands of four policemen, who said, repeatedly, that “I can’t breathe”.  This reaction from the President (with the supposed help of Attorney-General William Barr and the acting head of ICE) is extremely upsetting. The reactions of the people of Portland has been exemplary, with the wall of Moms, a wall of nurses, a wall of veterans, and evidently a naked woman who carried on practising yoga.  Thus far, live ammunition has not been used against people, although evidently someone has been stabbed. Nevertheless the reaction of those in authority has often been violent, against peaceful, unarmed protesters. One hopes that other cities will react in similar fashion, and that this attempt to fashion “law and order” by being bullies will continue to be met wherever it goes with courage and  resistance. One also hopes that no one get shot with live ammunition. After all, people have time to protest, outdoors, and they’ve learnt from the Hong Kong protesters. They have figured out ways of dealing with tear-gas. If you are arrested, you have the right to know why you’re being arrested, and by whom.  Very little of this action is covered by the mainstream media; during BLM protests in June and early July journalists were often violently attacked by police.  But thanks to modern media, many people are filming these actions and streaming them so that they can be seen.

Back in New Zealand, there is an election coming up.  A fair bit of bullying is going on – from the right-wing opposition.  It is very sad that Judith (“Crusher”) Collins, the newly elected head of the National Party, intends to use bullying tactics to become Prime Minister, she hopes. So the bullying which is much decried in workplaces and homes is seen to be perfectly all right in some political situations. That is very strange. Last week, two politicians resigned: Andrew Falloon, of National, and Iain Lees-Galloway, of Labour. While Falloon’s behaviour was down-right disgusting, Lees-Galloway’s was perhaps less so. He had an affair with a staffer. So have many others. Anyway, I don’t know all the circumstances, and I don’t really want to. I just hope Labour gets re-elected with enough support to form a government. As for Winston Peters, whose side is he on? Ah, I know, his own side. ‘Twas ever thus. Two good things he has done are the creation of the Super Gold Card, with free transport, and siding with Labour to form the last government. He has also created many enemies with his habit of “holding the country to ransom” while he decides which of the two main parties he will form a majority with.

With so much happening daily, everywhere, the coming elections (here and in the US) are still some weeks away, and many things could happen between now and then.

Tonight we watched another charming French film on Maori television, “My Afternoons with Margueritte”. The first book Margueritte discussed with Germain was “La Peste” (The Plague) by Albert Camus. I had just reread an LRB review of this. I am determined to read this book when it’s reissued in paperback and reaches New Zealand. Maybe I will read it in French.

That’s it for now. Adios, à demain. Ka kite ano.

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