Joyeux Noel

Notre-Dame de Paris | History, Style, & Facts | Britannica
Notre Dame de Paris

Today is Sunday December 27th. Kia kaha! Joyeux Noel!

We are now back in Wellington. It is cold here  – 13C. about half what is was in Napier on Christmas Day. While we didn’t want it to be too hot in Hawkes Bay, we were unprepared for the sudden drop in temperature on Boxing Day, when it rained heavily in the evening.

But it had been fine and not too hot for much of the day. We had a kebab for lunch, and took our daughter to the big Antique shop in Tennyson Street, where she chose a pendant that was on special. What a treasure trove this shop is. I always try to have a look there when I’m in Napier. Many of the cafés and shops are closed, although there are quite a few people around. Some places we’ve been to don’t have QR codes on display, but I’ve learnt to do a manual entry in the Covid tracking ap if this is so. I do appreciate that people want to have time off with their friends and families, but it is annoying not to be able to eat at my favourite spots.

We had a nice walk along through the sunken gardens, and returned to the motel, where, joy of joys, the housekeeping had been done: the dishes were washed and put away; the bed made; and clean towels in the bathroom. We played games until it was time to go out for dinner. Coming back, we had ice cream at the motel and took our daughter home. There were large puddles at her house, and we had to go back to retrieve my cardigan, which I’d lent her.

We drove back on Sunday. It rained most of the way, after being quite cool in Napier in the morning. Back in Wellington, it seems very cold, and has rained heavily at night, with some thunder.  We stopped at Woodville for lunch, but many places were closed. We drove on to Masterton, realising that as it became later and later, the chances of finding somewhere open were diminishing. We did find a café in Masterton, part of the Regent Theatre. The café was quite good, and very busy; I did find the smell of popcorn quite off-putting. We then drove home over the Remutaka Hill (note the new correct spelling), and encountered remarkably little traffic.

One of the joys of Boxing Day here in New Zealand, is, like at Easter 2020, getting recordings of concerts and church services, so that Christmas keeps on going. I listened to, and was very moved by, the Queen’s message, and especially the beautiful singing of Joy to the World afterwards by an NHS choir in a church.  I also watched a concert in Nȏtre Dame, where again the singers were socially distanced from each other, yet sang beautifully. The French singers wore blue collar overalls and helmets.  It seems wonderful that in spite of the dreadful fire there, beautiful music can still be made. In all the recordings I saw, there were no complaints, although I’m sure there’ve been some; rather, the mood is one of joy and acceptance, in spite of the shock of the pandemic and the enduring sadness and sense of loss.

News comes from Russia of George Blake’s death, at 98. How ironic then that I have just finished reading the story of his betrayal, in Betrayal in Berlin, by Steve Vogel. Blake wasn’t a member of the Cambridge Five, but he probably did almost as much damage as Kim Philby. The British Secret Service certainly were taken in by intelligent, well-educated men who were also good linguists.

Meanwhile, a new more infectious strain of the coronavirus creeps ever closer, now spreading from the UK (where Sussex was the epi-centre and Kent was badly affected). Now people in several other countries have been diagnosed with this new variant. It seems to be even more infectious than other mutations, although not so deadly; perhaps time will tell on that score. It feels like it did a year ago, when we all became aware of the presence of an infectious virus causing breathing difficulties in a large city called Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. Who among us had even heard of Wuhan? The virus spread, infecting each country. And many imposed some kind of lockdown and limited travel, as scenes of severe illness and deaths mounted. Italy, France and Spain, in Europe, and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom, were hit very hard, as was New York. Then much of the world imposed some kind of lock down, with varying degrees of support for local citizens. Cruise ships stopped cruising, aeroplanes stopped flying, much travel stopped as crew became infected as well as passengers. Travel was seen as one of the main vectors of infection, as well as care homes, prisons, educational institutions, meat processing plants – anywhere people are gathered together, sharing common spaces. People were asked to work from home, if they could. Zoom flourished. Employers treated their staff in various ways, some generous, and most really mean. Now the coronavirus has spread everywhere. These profound changes affected everyone in some way.

What has been interesting, despite its devastation, has been how different countries responded. As a Kiwi epidemiologist said recently, all governments got the same information. How they handled it differed greatly. Societies like the US valued business and money over everything; thankfully the NZ government valued human life, and prioritised the health and safety of its population. Consequently NZ has been lightly hit by the virus, although last March was a very scary time; we quickly saw the results of our severe lock down, and then things could reopen: schools, sports, concerts, churches, cinemas, cafés etc. Thankfully, Maori and Pasifika have not been disproportionately affected by this illness.

Thankfully, New Zealand has enjoyed one of the best responses. Fearing that the public health system would be overwhelmed if cases continued to rise (and yes, I remember how scary it was when we cracked 100, getting 102 new cases one day), the borders were closed, testing standardised and accumulated nationally, and we sat tight in a severe lock down until new cases diminished. New Zealand also arranged for kiwis to come home, ensuring they remained in managed quarantine facilities for 14 days on arrival. They were tested on day 3 and day 12, and any who tested positive were sent to another isolation facility. The government held daily press conferences at 1 pm, and these quickly became required viewing. Systems were tweaked until they became effective. Most kiwis played by the rules, and despite some frustration, accepted restrictions designed to protect us all.

There were some splutters, some escapes, but the Defence Force has been manning MIQ facilities with a considerable degree of success. A community outbreak in Auckland in August caused New Zealand to go back and impose localised restrictions: the Auckland area was to go to level 3, and the rest of New Zealand to level 2. A masking mandate was imposed for public transport for a time.

Once the local cluster had died down, things went back to the new normal. Thanks to the four-level system, we know where we stand and what to do. But we grieve for those overseas who are still struggling with fear, loneliness, and a complete change to their former lifestyles of travelling, eating out, and seeing others.

In Australia, a further community cluster has broken out in Sydney; this after a serious cluster occurred in Victoria, and was managed by severe lockdowns over several weeks. Sydney are now thinking of abandoning New Year’s Eve fireworks. Last year much of Australia (or so it seemed) was fighting severe bush fires. Now there is another crisis to manage.

I am reading A Gentleman in Moscow, a novel about a Russian aristocrat who returns to Russia and after the 1917 revolution is confined to house arrest at Moscow’s Metropole Hotel. What adventures he has! His prison is not really a prison, showing that limitations on one’s personal space need not be limiting.

In New Zealand, we are hoping for summer weather: fine and warm and dry, just not too hot. Meanwhile, we hang on for vaccines, and for seeing our loved ones again; perhaps of travelling again some day.  Ngā mini.

Link to Concert at Nȏtre Dame:

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