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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 87

Into the mountains. Photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2022.

Let The Good Times Roll


In this respect, our townsfolk were like everybody else, wrapped up in themselves; in other words, they were humanists: they disbelieved in pestilences.


-Albert Camus, "The Plague"



To begin, I hesitate to use the plural pronoun here, to extrapolate from my own experience; I'll just speak for myself as witness, participant, peripheral observer, narrator, protagonist. But I'm also a reporter and have gathered stories, not evidence, but stories. That said, I make no claim to knowledge beyond my own experience and reporting. But the sense of loss, real and metaphoric—of time, of opportunity, of family, of schooling, friendship, romance, micro-connections, among so many other facets of our lives, seems universal and profound. There is courage within us, of course, fortitude, even a great deal of joy, hope and gratitude for the miraculous vaccines, but I am not a member of the clergy and this isn't a sermon. It is not my job to elevate my readers' spirits in hard times, or to be a cheerleader as the good times roll in again for the fortunate among us.


Speaking for myself, then, there's a sense that I've lost –not everything, but far too much. This loss, or confusion, surfaces in pandemic dreams which have intensified during recent shut-in months. In the past, therapists have asked, "What do you feel as you awaken from the dream? Describe the sensation, describe the emotion."  And if some of my informants were asked to reply this week, they'd say, "incomparable loss, irrefutable loss, continuing fear and uncertainty, impatience with restrictions, eagerness to get out into the larger world, isn't it obvious?"


Speaking just for myself, again, even though I've got food, shelter, work, a significant other, and objectively can't complain, or mustn't complain, I sometimes slip into judgment—of a friend, say, who's just been on a skiing holiday, or another who's boarded a plane to run a marathon in Florida, or another who's been to Spain and toured around as though the plague has completely receded and life is already as it was—for  them. I am privileged myself, no argument there, and if I had the will or the opportunity to travel right now, I probably would risk it. Indeed, I am aware that I, and most of the people I hold near and dear, will continue as before, or even better, albeit older. There might be a glimpse of regret, or desperation, for those of us who were "older" when the pandemic began. These two lost years have hurt. Then again, considering the numbers who have died, and their loved ones who have suffered so much, maybe just being alive is enough now, or should be, as we pivot into renewal and normalcy, whatever our definition is of normalcy.


Sometimes the portentous dreams, triggered by what I have researched or written, persist. I think of the family down the street who lost a father to Covid and has been broken by sorrow and a poverty they did not anticipate. They became my dream. I was on a bridge traveling somewhere into the future, which was unattainable. Lord Byron might have called this dream image of nothingness ahead, white as a sun-spattered cloud—Death awaiting. There was no grounding in that image, no ledge on which to sit and watch the sky or sea. The only antidote to such a free fall dream is to weight myself in hiking boots and march full throttle into the mountains.  


I'm reminded of the days following 9/11. I was in the city and had to force myself back onto the subway to teach after roaming for weeks on foot. I  wrote poetry and read it aloud at events to commemorate the dead, and the courageous front line workers, and survivors. It was all part of the process of recovery; we will never forget, nor should we, but we will carry on. And something comparable will also be true of this global pandemic, now entering its third year. We won't forget, nor should we. We will mourn the dead. We will carry on.

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Free At Last

Esi Lewis in front of the still derelict Ann Oliver House in New Paltz, NY, the new New Paltz Black History Museum and Cultural Center. I promised to return to take an "after" shot and write another blog post once the restoration is complete.        photo © copyright Carol Bergman 2022


Free at Last; Disrupting Systemic Racism in One Small Town 


I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood." 

- Martin Luther King, Jr., August 28. 1963


Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America. 

- John Lewis  Selma, Alabama, March 1, 2020



I walked past Esi Lewis's house on Huguenot Street in New Paltz yesterday, just a stone's throw from the loosely designated African American Burial Ground—no penetrating radar has ever been done—and close to the Elting family burial ground across the street. And though it was a bitterly cold morning, the thought of Esi living there with her family warmed me.


There is irony in Esi's modern home on Huguenot Street with its neighboring stone houses built in the 17th century  by the slave-owning French Huguenot families. An accomplished Black lawyer, born and raised in New Paltz, her mother was the Chair of the Black Studies Department at SUNY. When Esi returned to New Paltz after many lawyering years in the city, she decided to run for the Town Board where her father also served. One commitment led to another; she has now also been appointed the "steward" of the New Paltz Black History Museum and Cultural Center, which hopefully will be open in a year.


"It is well-documented that the Huguenots were slave owners," she wrote eloquently in her proposal for the project. "For the forced labor that toiled on this land we have mere signage. Most, if not all of the properties that were built and or owned by the first Blacks and hold the history of the African Americans in New Paltz have been turned over to white ownership.


The ONLY anti-racist action under these circumstances is to restore the Ann Oliver House at 5 Broadhead Avenue to Black ownership and create an African American Cultural Center on this historic property."  


Enslavement has been designated a crime against humanity by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and it is my preference to refer to it as such from now on.  Such crimes require reparations, or truth and reconciliation commissions; as Americans, shamefully, we are just at the very beginning of this process. The Center Esi envisions will be an act of reparative justice for New Paltz. In many ways, it already is. She is interviewing contractors, applied for not-for-profit status, and for grants. She held an—outdoor and masked—Kwanzaa celebration on the lawn on December 31, which was both festive and informative. The crowd was substantial and included the Chief of Police, his wife, the mayor, and other guests.


The Ann Oliver House was built in the First Free Black Neighborhood by Jacob Wynkoop, a free Black man. His mother Jane Wynkoop, born a slave and freed in 1827, purchased the property because the vote was only granted to landowners; she wanted her two sons to be able to vote. Jacob fought in the Civil War, and became a contractor and builder when he returned. He is buried in the Rural Cemetery here, a prominent citizen, his contribution to the Union Army and the  community unrecognized until recently.


The Village of New Paltz—the Town Historian, the Village Historic Preservation Commission, and the Town Board—worked hard to preserve the derelict Ann Oliver House. When the restoration is complete, it will become a companion to the  Jacob Wynkoop Anna Banks House at 6 Broadhead, under the care of Historic Huguenot Street, which is already a stop on one of their curated walking tours.


The relationship between the Black History Museum and Cultural Center and Historic Huguenot Street, an entity in and of itself, partially funded by the descendants of the Huguenot families who still live in town, will undoubtedly evolve in the months and years ahead. Some of the Huguenot descendants have been notably resistant to surfacing their troubled history. Yet, I am hopeful that a changed perspective and a new Director of Curatorial and Preservation Affairs at Historic Huguenot Street, Josephine Bloodgood, will ensure continuing improvements. In an email exchange with Ms. Bloodgood, she expressed abiding support—on  behalf of Historic Huguenot Street—of the new center.


There is no statute of limitations on murder and crimes against humanity. Indeed, it is past time to confront false narratives, obfuscations, and buried history, wherever we live.

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 86

      Supermarket Encounters


Gun ownership is more common among men than women, and white men are particularly likely to be gun owners. Among those who live in rural areas, 46% say they are gun owners, compared with 28% of those who live in the suburbs and 19% in urban areas. There are also significant differences across parties, with Republican and Republican-leaning independents more than twice as likely as Democrats and those who lean Democratic to say they own a gun (44% vs. 20%).  PEW RESEARCH CENTER



My husband, Jim, does not want me to get shot, wounded, or killed. He implores me not to confront a person, usually a white male, who is not wearing a mask. I usually say something to such a belligerent white male when I am shopping solo, even though I know it is a  grave risk. I cannot stop myself; I am incensed. "No mask for you, sir?" I said the other day to someone as I was waiting to be served at a small market on Rte. 32 that is always open, no matter the weather or holiday, a real convenient convenience store. This guy had his mask in his hand. "I have a mask," he said, waving it. "It's in the wrong place," I said.


That was it. He came closer, waved it at me, threw a five-dollar bill on the counter and stomped away. "Give the lady the change," he said.


My tip for speaking truth to his so-called power.


I can hardly believe the machismo I have encountered these past difficult months, more so since the Covid numbers have surged again. Women can be macho, too, of course, defiant, or just plain ignorant. The woman running the laundromat was mask-less during my last visit. I have chatted to her, know her name, and that made a difference, but she was annoyed with me. "Okay, I'll go get my mask," she said. "I'll comply."


"Thank you," I said. "It's for your own good, too."


Two days later I was down with Covid. Now I wonder if I got it from her, or gave it to her.  


I do not confess about a confrontation when I get home though I am often shaken. I do not want my husband to worry about me.  I sit down at the computer, answer emails, write, and try to calm down. I call up the research about gun ownership in rural areas such as ours and read it over and over again hoping it will sink in.


Yesterday's encounter was particularly dangerous, not only for myself, but for my husband. I know he would intercede to protect me, if necessary, thereby endangering himself and maybe some bystanders. We were at Tops, a football field sized supermarket in the New Paltz mall. The mask mandate sign is posted on the entrance doors and most people are masked. Then there's the one who isn't, or the one who lets the thin surgical mask slip under his nose.


We'd just recovered  from a ten-day isolation, and were enjoying our supermarket play date. Jim was riveted on all the meat while I was in the organic aisle getting some frozen blueberries.  When I returned to join him, a young man was standing at his shoulder, his mask under his nose. Even though we may now have more immunity, I got crazy. Without hesitation, I shouted to the young man to put up his mask, and though I had no expectation, I had no common sense, either. I had walked right into danger as I often do. I think it has something to do with being the child of Holocaust survivors. In another life, I could have been a relief worker, I know that.


The guy got angry almost immediately. I thought he was going to hit me, so I backed away. I had pushed his button and he started to rant. Instead of going to get the manager, who I knew was a young woman, a student, and putting her in danger, I took him on. It wasn't a decision; it was a reflex; I was protecting my husband and everyone else in harm's way. That's the way I think the reflex works; I gear up into rescue mode.


I backed away as he took out his phone. He wanted to show me a video, he said. Only then, did I pretend to ignore him. He was almost dancing now, shoving the phone towards me,  "You see," he said. "Masks don't help."


How could anyone sane and informed even answer that. I didn't. "Thank you," I mumbled, "I appreciate that," I said. He finally walked away. I was relieved; a video is not a gun.


But my husband wasn't happy with me, and I wasn't happy with myself. I promised I'd write a blog about safety protocols as we continue to encounter defiant and belligerent citizens. The reality is that we'll be wearing masks for a long time, maybe even forever.


Dear Reader, I'd like to hear how you handle such encounters and if you have any suggestions.  


#maskup #staysafe #walkawayfromguns #resistopencarry #reformgunlaws #walkawayfromrage  


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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 85

"Still Life With Masks," an image from the early days of the pandemic before we switched to N95s. And we had thought 2022 would be mask-free. Wishful thinking. photo ©copyright Carol Bergman 2022

 State of Emergency; A Personal Lament


Join us in our fight to end the pandemic. Call on governments and pharmaceutical companies to work together to get the tools to fight COVID-19 into as many people's hands as possible….No one is safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe.


-The  World Health Organization


To contain such a pathogen, nations must develop a test and use it to identify infected people, isolate them, and trace those they've had contact with. That is what South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong did to tremendous effect. It is what the United States did not.


-Ed Yong, The Atlantic



A woman with lupus can't get a test kit and is forced to announce her despair on my local Buy Nothing FB page. Another woman announces that she has an extra test kit or two from work and would like to give them away, but only to parents with young children returning to school, thus setting up an unpleasant competition, may the best family win.


Why is one person flush with test kits, or hoarding test kits, and another begging for test kits? What is going on? Where is state, federal or municipal government oversight?  Wasn't the scramble for vaccines when they first became available lesson enough? Why are affluent countries considering a fourth shot when so much of the world remains unvaccinated? Does this even make medical sense?  


Out at the Ulster County Fairgrounds the other day, no tests left anywhere in town, cars were lined up for a one-test-kit per vehicle giveaway. Because my husband and I were symptomatic, I crawled into my car and joined the queue. It was long, no guarantee that the kits wouldn't run out quickly, even though the giveaways will be repeated as supplies become available, we are told. What if two people from the same household arrived in two cars?  Are we operating on the honor system? I guess so. 


 I lucked out and got a box with two tests in it together with a "Happy New Year"  greeting from a local police officer. Thank you, I said. Why was I thanking him?


How can we stop the primal instinct to look after ourselves at the expense of others? How can we encourage our government—local, state and federal—to  become pro-actively responsible in this pandemic?  Needless to say, I don't have answers to these questions, and I'm tired. Though my husband tested positive, and I tested negative, I have an efflorescing head cold and need a nap.    


#getvaccinated #getboostered #hoardingforbidden #honorthyneighbor #altruism #thegreatergood #governmentoversight #governmenttestsites

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