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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 91

Still Life With Masks © copyright Carol Bergman 2022

Sixty percent of Americans, including 75 percent of children, had been infected with the coronavirus by February, federal health officials reported on Tuesday — another remarkable milestone in a pandemic that continues to confound expectations.


-Apoorva Mandavilli, The New York Times. 4/27/2022


I just returned from a walk in the beautiful sunshine to the Trailways station in town to buy a ticket for a trip to the city. LOL! I forgot my mask, not that it is required; it is not. It's a dank and dirty station at the best of times, small and fetid, shut down during the height of the pandemic and not cleaned since re-opening from what I can see and smell. There were two people at the counter and because of new protocols—booking an exact time of the trip, absolutely no changes and no refunds—the line was slow. I decided to wait outside. That is when Sally arrived, soon to become a neighbor and friend. She was wearing an N95 and when I explained that I was waiting outside because I'd forgotten my mask and—most probably because, being young and kind, she saw my white hair—she offered me a fresh wrapped mask she had in her pocket. "It's my first trip into the city since Covid and I'm not sure of the protocols," she said. So, I explained and we started chatting. "There will surely be some people on the bus not wearing a mask," I said. And she agreed.


How do we navigate these new challenges? The pandemic is not over, far from, and there is no guarantee that it will not continue to mutate and confound all expectations. Sure, we may not end up in the hospital or dead, but both my husband and I—who had mild cases in January, most probably BA 1 or BA 2—have strange residual symptoms, and we sure as hell don't want to get the bug again. It is clear that as immunity wanes, we could get it again, and that there will be yet another jab in the autumn. So, when two students and two friends in the city tell me they are down with colds, I am skeptical. According to Apoorva Mandavilli today in the NY Times Daily Podcast, the virus has once again slipped under the radar: many people are testing negative with symptoms until about ten days after onset of symptoms. And, like my friends, not feeling terribly sick, they are walking around, getting onto airplanes, going to the theater, etc. etc.  And, of course, the mask mandate has been lifted by a Trump appointed federal judge in Florida. Thank you.


What's the upshot? The lesson? There are still tens of millions of Americans with no immunity to the virus, and they remain vulnerable to both the short- and long-term consequences of infection. Taking individual responsibility for not spreading the virus is as important as the government taking its responsibility to provide protective executive orders, free, easily accessible vaccines, tests, and antivirals. But the government—local, state, federal—is so politicized that it often lets us down, and will continue to let us down at crucial moments, fortunate as we are compared to much of the world. Don't tempt me to say more or I will become less pleasant and more vociferous as the mid-term elections approach.


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Hope in a Stamp

Photo © copyright Peter Zalmayev 2022 by permission




There should be tears. There should be a reason.


-Ocean Vuong, "Hope, Fire Escapes and Visible Desperation"

in The Rumpus, 8/ 8/14



Peter Zalmayev is standing at a post office in Kyiv taking a selfie for his Facebook page. "This masterpiece was worth every hour in line," he writes in the caption. Behind him, other customers are waiting to buy the commemorative stamp. It is an image of a Ukrainian soldier making an obscene gesture at the sunken Russian Black Sea flagship Moskva designed by Boris Groh from Lviv, the winning entry of a competition launched by the post office. The proceeds will go to support the Ukrainian army.


As soon as the final printing was announced, customers began lining up, in itself a testament to the grit of the Ukrainian people. The lines became an emblem of survival as well as celebration.  Marble floors, large windows in the background, no debris or unidentified dead bodies. What else might be on the agenda for this imaginary almost normal day? Shopping, picking up children from school, reading a story to these children at bedtime, a quiet meal, a glass of wine.


The disruptions of war, and this war in particular right now, continues unabated.  A cousin wrote me over the weekend: "I cannot even believe this is happening." Nor can we all. My European friends in proximity are skittish. Many are helping with relief efforts. The Israelis have set up a field hospital in Lviv and the doctor niece of an Arab Israeli friend is there while, at the same time, the Israelis continue to bomb Gaza. Good people everywhere are mobilized while horrific wars continue unabated. I have had many conversations with exasperated relief workers: There is no international "community." The United Nations is useless.


Strange, that I have become so fixated on Peter Zalmayev. I hope he doesn't mind. Peter, do you mind? He's become a living metaphor of survival, articulate journalistic skill, and determination.  This war now has a human face for me, a human connection, as all wars must. During a long ago genocide, when so many of my relatives were murdered, I became obsessed by a photograph of one ancestor who looked like me, or vice versa. Her name was Lily. That name and that image became embedded in me, and I carried her into my life and my work.


I am convinced that Peter and his colleagues will survive the Russian military atrocity, and I will be here, at my desk. cheering him on, and supporting his efforts as best I can. It's the least this one journalist on the other side of the world can do.


This blog post is dedicated to all the civilians, soldiers, and sailors who have been killed in recent weeks.   May we all live in peace.

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Walking in the Rain


We who have touched war have a duty to bring the truth about war to those who have had no direct experience of it…Working for peace in  the future is to work for peace in the present moment.


-Thich Nhat Hanh





"Walking in the April rain is a luxury our friends in Ukraine will miss this year," I wrote on my Facebook page this week. I had taken photos on my morning walk: a budding tree, a moss-covered rock, a cottontail, daffodils in bloom. And then I thought of Peter Zalmayev broadcasting from his bunker in Kyiv and wrote the caption.


As usual, there were "likes" on the photos, and nil to none on the idea expressed in words, except for one:   "I  can't take it. So true. ," my friend Suzy Borget replied. Altruism fatigue has set in. First the pandemic, then the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, and now this terrifying, awful war, not to mention bad news in the paper every day about extreme climate events, Covid surges, and all else.


Do we know too much? Or not enough?  In America, we are insulated from wars spilling over our borders. Not so the Europeans. And, as a nation, we have low attention spans and an inadequate knowledge base of certain key subjects: geopolitics, non-Euro-centric world history, political science, international law, the Geneva Conventions.


Last night, I went for a coffee with my husband to our favorite café in town and it was so crowded we almost turned away. There was a party going on in the back room and a long line for service. There'd been another storm and flooding, and the waters were finally receding. Had we all surfaced from the safety of our homes to celebrate? I wondered about the conversation between the revelers. What was everyone talking about? Normal things, most probably: food and family, maybe some upcoming travel, a recent series on Netflix, the controversy about a fourth vaccination. Are we spoiled? Insouciant by nature? Careless or carefree? Are we allowed to relax? Must we feel guilty if we relax?  Are these rhetorical questions?


I returned home to find an email from Chris Rzonca, a colleague at NYU. His wife is Polish and they have an apartment in Warsaw now home to a Ukrainian family. Everyone Chris knows in Poland is hosting a Ukrainian family, everyone he knows has stepped up to help. He's running a GoFundMe for the family he and his wife are hosting. These are more than gestures and/or donations; these are heart-stopping commitments. Consider the migrants on the EU borders, and our borders. How have they been received? What is our moral and ethical responsibility? Are these questions rhetorical?


I don't really know what I am writing about today because I feel unsettled. What if Putin uses chemical and biological warfare as he did in Syria? He's already created havoc at Chernobyl, his own soldiers—cannon fodder—taking  respite in a radioactive forest. One atrocity on top of another.  My husband, whose maternal family is from Kyiv—when  it was still Kiev—has studied both Russian history and the Russian language. "I hope the diplomats are considering every option to stop the bloodshed even if it means some concessions," he said to me this morning for the first time. "Surely they know what Putin is capable of."  Think Grozny and the calculated speech Putin gave in fluent German to the German Parliament when the wall came down. He'd been a KGB officer in Dresden.


Are the Ukrainians prepared for concessions to stop the bloodshed? They are fierce patriotic fighters, and have taken on the global war, for themselves and for us: democracy and freedom vs. autocracy and despotism. Will the sacrifice be too great, too dire for the survival of the Ukrainian people? 


These are terrible questions to ask and I am  tempted to delete this post and start again, but there is something here I want to convey, which is this:  How and when this dreadful war will end is not in our control, so I prevail upon my readers to continue to lobby, write, give voice to, donate, collect medical supplies, and pay attention to those who have been killed and displaced —most especially the children—and  their future. If Ukrainian or Afghani refugees arrive in our cities and towns, let us commit to do anything and everything to help them settle and build new lives. My parents were refugees. I know of what I speak.


It's Passover-Easter week here on the well protected North American Continent and throughout the Judeo-Christian world. If so inclined, please say a prayer, or just meditate for peace. I'm a skeptic, as you all know, but I'm willing to try anything, even if it's an act of desperation.

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Virus Without Borders: Chapter 90


God Talk



And Lo, for the Earth was empty of Form, and void. And Darkness was all over the Face of the Deep. And We said: "Look at that fucker Dance."


― David Foster Wallace, "Infinite Jest"




No one, no person, no magical or religious entity conceived by man or descended from Heaven, takes us aside and tells us what is coming, not definitively or specifically, David Foster Wallace wrote. A plague? Did we see that coming? Have we deserved to be so smitten these past two years? What are the gods trying to tell us? I don't know, do you, dear reader? I live in doubt. I am perplexed.


No matter how many times I listen to the repetition and analysis of the scriptures on the evangelical radio stations in the mountains of upstate New York, I cannot fathom a loving god/God/or gods and find all belief "systems" and organized religion alienating. More so now than ever as we behold atrocities all over Planet Earth. Let us have a few moments of rest as I abstain from enumerating these atrocities, yet again. And what a luxury that is, to abstain and rest. For the record, I am not reporting from a bunker.


I grew up in a household of one believer and one agnostic/atheist. When my mother was in her 90's, near the end of her life, when she was nearly blind and deaf, she asked to see a Rabbi or a Priest or Imam—it didn't matter so long as it was a man and an ordained "professional," and when the Rabbi came, all she wanted to discuss was the fate of the State of Israel and the persecution of the Palestinian People, and Obama, and she asked the Rabbi  to read the headlines of the newspaper that day as I, her writer daughter, insisted on reading her poetry instead, and she found poetry boring. "If only I could pray," she had said to me often. "If only I believed. If only I enjoyed poetry."


"Let's listen to the opera," I suggested as I was usually visiting on a Saturday afternoon when the Metropolitan Opera was broadcasting on WQXR. Out came the libretto, much more engaging than the scriptures, we both agreed.


These days, my favorite radio station as I am driving is "Sounds of Life," because the preachers are articulate, dramatic and forthright, and the music has rhythm and bounce. I came upon it by accident, which I am sure is intentional; the music drew me there and I stayed. Even stranger for a non-believer, I enjoy the aesthetic grandeur of cathedrals, the peaceful silence of graveyards, and the blessings of believers when they grace me with their blessings. And I believe in angels, spirits in human form who arrive without fanfare into our lives to console, humor and befriend.


The other day, my allergist asked if I'd had a breakthrough Covid and when I said, "yes," and he asked me how I did with it and I said, "okay," he blessed me. He said that God—capital G for this one—is looking after me, absolutely and positively looking after me, and my husband, who also has had "mild" Covid. I should never doubt, he repeated several times, that God is looking after us, I should put my doubt aside. If only, I said to him, as I gathered my belongings and thanked him for his blessing. If only.

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