Quickie January, the pox, libraries and faith: Observation Note 97, Reading Notes 38 and 39

So though I am trying to not do any competitive reading this year, at the very last-minute-dot-com I thought I would riff off SuperWendy’s monthly TBR challenge to discuss my own month’s reading (and possibly watching and listening). Last year, I kept a book thread going on Twitter, a practice which I found abhorrent but I might find it easier to have a monthly instalment going here on my blog.

Observation Note 97: ‘Tis the pox! To begin with, this has been a rather flat start to the year, as my still-at-home 20 year old son and my elderly mother tested positive to Covid on the 3rd of January. My usually cautious, (no longer a) child who had cancelled on all his other parties and nightclubbing when the Omicron spread took off, decided it was safe (it wasn’t!) to go an outdoor music festival on New Year’s Eve, and my mum attended a New Year’s Day church service. For nearly a fortnight, my husband and I were also in isolation as close contacts, and had to negotiate caring for our son’s (not so) “mild” illness while also protecting ourselves from illness. I teetered between anxious worried parent and hag crone refusing to breathe the same air as my coughspring (excuse the pun – I couldn’t help myself). I also spent a couple of days caring for my mum who did have a mild case (yay for her Christmas third vaccine dose) but her case lingered and lingered for many weeks (she is finally testing negative). I am incredibly grateful for my younger Covid-nurse sister who cared for Mum during the majority of her illness. So let’s just say that very little reading took place. However, I managed to read two books:

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Lockdowns: Observation Notes 84-88

Observation Note 84: Lockdown 2021. And just like that, I find myself in lockdown again. Sydney has gone from zero community spread of Covid and a close-to-six-month-have-a-party-city (albeit with a few scares here and there) to more than eighty cases of Covid (the delta variant) in the space of two weeks. Watching the cases slowly rise has also resulted in curtailing my movements, cancelling trips out of the house, and though I have had three friends visit on three separate days, we were all cautiously distant. As of 6pm today, we have stay at home restrictions.

I’m feeling quite calm at the moment. It was quite the pleasant day. I slept in, I did some laundry, I picked up a prescription from the pharmacy, and I was stuck to the TV watching the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian conduct two pressers to give information to Sydneysiders. This is in stark contrast to lockdown last year.

Observation Note 85: Lockdown 2020. For the first few months of last year’s lockdowns, I kept short notes as each day passed. I will share the first 10 days here:

sunday 15/3 – went nowhere

monday 16 /3- nowhere. realise my great-grandmother died of the Spanish Flu

tuesday 17/3 – uni and supervision – drove there – did not touch anything

wednesday 18/3 – nowhere. I just realised that my grandmother also died due to an environmental crisis – she became ill when Chernobyl occurred

Thursday 19/3 – nightmare – pharmacy, supreme souvlakia, mum. The only outdoor thing that didn’t freak me out was going for a walk along the Annandale/Glebe foreshore with John

Friday 20/3 – I am being strict with myself. I am having such acute anxiety attacks on the days that I go into any place. I just can’t do it.

Saturday 21/3 – I am still strict. I was mostly distanced. I stayed at home. 

Sunday 22/3 – I stayed home until 6pm. Trying to not be overwhelmed. People are being racist dickheads.  

A note here: it was exactly a month ago that John and I had our big 50/50 birthday party. What a fabulous night of dancing and partying. I remember on the night just feeling happy surrounded by so many friends and family and dancing. Dancing makes me happy. But even though we were doing all that, I knew what was looming 

Observation Note 86: Later thoughts from 2020. I realise as I read through last year’s thoughts that I was not coping with the uncertainty of the virus. An excerpt here:

The pandemic brought a screeching halt to the chaotic speed that every day had become, instead bringing a snail-paced Blursday anxiety where every day is lived in my home, every movement beyond its walls needing to be considered and strategised, every sniffle and cough bringing worry and concern – have I caught a cold? have I caught covid19? am I a hypochondriac? is this just my asthma? is this just my hay fever? what if I am not a hypochondriac, this isn’t asthma or hayfever and I have actually just infected my whole family? But wait. It is more likely they infected me as they go out more than I do. Sigh of relief.

Observation Note 87: Last month. I had my first vaccination shot a month ago. I know this does not mean I am safe or immune. I’m annoyed and angry and beside myself that our federal government has dragged their feet over the vaccination rollout. To quote our odious Prime Minister and many of his party’s ministers “It isn’t a race“. The fact is, it is a race. And this smirking dickhead has failed all Australians. Here is hoping that a lockdown controls the spread. Once again, our states protect their citizens.

Observation Note 88. Today. I hope my sons, who unfortunately are not yet eligible for the vaccine (yet both are desperately wanting to have their jabs) are OK and they get through the coming months without grief. I am hoping that I don’t get anxious again. I am hoping to keep panic at bay. My mind keeps going to my mum who was born into and brought up through two wars – World War II and the Greek Civil War. I hope she stays safe through this current wave of the pandemic too. I can’t help but think of her mother and grandmother.

Place and Pandemic: Reading Note 24 and Observations 61

Here is another post I started writing last year in about August. I haven’t changed it too much but I have brought some of my thoughts into the present tense.

Reading note 24: A sense of place. Last year I read Nora Krug’s graphic novel memoir Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home. Krug moved from Germany to New York, married a Jewish man and starts exploring her self and her family history especially since her family did not engage in telling stories of their parents, grandparents and other family members. Krug goes on a search to understand what it meant to be German, and to find her family’s history, their role in World War II and what it means to her now living in America. At I was reading Krug’s memoir, I also viewed Unorthodox on Netflix. The mini-series is loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s memoir by the same name. The main character Esty has grown up in a Hasidic Jewish community in New York and escapes to Berlin, Germany is order to find her own place in the world, for Esty it was a need to escape the constraints of her family history, For Nora Krug, she wanted to know the constraints she was unaware of.. I really loved how these two stories are reflections of each other and how each person’s own life explorations can work at opposites so as to reach similar goals. However, it is Krug’s work which most keenly stays in my mind.

Krug talks about the concept of Heimat – which she describes as a small defined place where you feel comfortable. Having a sense of belonging to a place. This is a theme that I often read in interviews and biographies of people who return to an ancestral home or village. It is the whole premise of the show Who do you think you are?  It is like a return to a place they didn’t even know they were missing. “Heimat” seems to be slightly different in that Krug explores these feelings by finding photographs, visiting the plot of land that once was her father’s, and in delving into the uncomfortable truths of people who live through wars and autocracies. She asks her father on whether he feels guilty about Germany’s past and his answer really struck me. He says “No. I just felt terrified at the thought of what people are capable of doing to one another.” This is how I have been feeling for nearly five years. This sense of despair at the complicity, if not their endorsement, of authorities who enable so many individuals to feel comfortable in committing violences (physical, mental and symbolic). My worry is that somehow no one will ever hold them accountable to their actions. It all seems never-ending. Nora Krug learns some truths about her father that are uncomfortable yet not insurmountable and she finds her own way of making sense of his actions and their impact to others and their impact on her. Eventually, Krug ask a question that often turns over in my mind. The sliding doors question “who would we be as a family if the war had never happened”. Who would I be if my parents hadn’t been orphaned and impoverished by the consecutive wars in Greece during the 1940s. But even further back, who would I be if my grandmother had not been orphaned in 1918.

Observation 64: Pandemic. Just over 100 years, my grandmother, who was 17 years old at the time, lost her mother to the Spanish flu. Unfortunately, her father had died of appendicitis only a few months earlier, leaving her orphaned and with the care of her two younger sisters, a 4 year old and a 1 year old. My grandmother’s paternal uncle begrudgingly took in all three girls. The 4 year old he adopted out to a Romanian family living in Trikala, but no one would take the baby. He set my grandmother to work in his pig sty, where she cared for the pigs and for her baby sister. Meanwhile, my grandmother’s older sister was on a ship to the USA having left her family before either of her parents had died, and she expected them to follow her with her sisters in the months to come. My poor great-aunt. None of her family ever arrived. It wasn’t until three years later, possibly in 1921, that she heard that her parents had died. Though she instinctively knew something had gone wrong for her parents and sisters to not have arrived, she was devastated. My grandmother didn’t see her sister again until 1970. The pandemic was disastrous for my grandmother and all of her 3 sisters. They were impoverished and abandoned, growing up far from each other and in difficult circumstances.

My father too, had his life impacted by a pandemic. His parents would tell him that on the day he was born in 1928, he brought the curse with him. On that day, my grandparents lost all 500 sheep and goats to a plague. Overnight they went from comfortable farmers to being poverty stricken, being left with one goat, a newborn and their 3 older children.

It took two generations for my family to recover from these plagues and pandemics. Where Nora Krug asks “who would we be as a family if the war had never happened”, I also ask this question. Where would I be and had my grandmother not been orphaned? Had my grandparents not lost all their livelihood? Would I still be living in Greece? Would my grandmother have joined her sister in the United States? Would my father have remained on his remote mountain and continued farming sheep and goats? I certainly hope not.

I deeply feel for my parents who were so impacted by poverty and war that they could no longer stay in their homes but I am uncomfortably grateful that my parents had to migrate to Australia. It is a deeply faulted country but thankfully our pandemic response has, at this point anyway, kept the national death rate low by locking down, closing the borders, increasing contact tracing and requiring people who do arrive from overseas to quarantine for two weeks. But keeping the national borders shut to stave off the pandemic is not sustainable in the long term. I went and had my vaccination shot over two weeks ago as I truly feel that it is the only way forward. I want to be around for my (already adult) sons. I am so deeply saddened by those who have lost family and friends, and those who are only now starting to emerge from over a year long isolation in order to keep themselves safe. The grief and unsureness of emerging from their cocoons. My own family came out of lockdown by the end of last year – all of us quite changed. And  I cannot help but wonder how this is going to affect my sons and whether in the future they too will ask “who would we be as a family if this pandemic had never happened”.