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Virus Without Borders: Chapter Seven


Music to Our Ears



 Keep the mind cold and the heart warm.


Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Director, Philadelphia Orchestra

in a conversation with Terry Gross on Fresh Air




Many of my friends and family are glued to Govenor Cuomo's press conferences, and for good reason: they are music to our ears. Not only are they sober and informative, they are personal, warm and caring. First we get the facts, well scripted and projected onto easy-to-understand charts, and then an anecdote, often about the Governor's own family. Yesterday, the anecdote was about his younger brother, Chris Cuomo, a CNN anchor, who tested positive, and is now quarantined in the basement of his home. "Not even the dogs want to come down here," Chris told his brother, the Governor. Even worse, Chris and Andrew's elderly mother, Matilda, had been in Chris's house just two weeks before. She was feeling lonely so Chris had invited her over. Not a good idea, the Governor said, returning to his stern expression and strong delivery. But we could all hear the love and concern bubbling under the surface of his sonorous voice.


To be able to selflessly convey complex and disturbing information every day, to stay on point while folding in illustrative, personal stories is a great gift, the gift of a natural storyteller and a mature political leader. It is also the perfect, necessary antidote to the dangerous regime in Washington. It is, therefore, no suprise that there is a "Draft Cuomo for President" movement gathering steam. Whether it has any viability is moot right now. For those of us who live in New York State--the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States this week--Cuomo is our President.


My other thought this morning is about storytelling itself. The Cuomos are Italian-American, a sub-culture that has maintained its oral story-telling traditions. This cultural legacy has served the Governor well at his press conferences, which are mostly written by his staff. But the personal stories do not sound scripted; they sound improvised, conversational and heartfelt. Most importantly, even the anecdotes never veer away from a responsible government official's singular purpose: to both serve and protect us.



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Bridges & Maps

The Mario Cuomo Bridge

We drove over the new Mario Cuomo Bridge last Sunday for the first time. It was a mistake; we'd intended to drive down the east side of the Hudson. Deep in conversation, we weren't paying attention and forgot to exit the Thruway at Poughkeepsie, and then again in Newburgh.


RECALCULATING. RECALCULATING. RECALCULATING. Our old Garmin was up, not recently updated, and it got completely screwed up inside the construction labyrinth in Harriman. Either this was a satellite aneurysm or a full-blown stroke, I said, reaching for Google Maps on my phone, which wasn't as confused as the Garmin, but not airtight understandable either.


My husband was driving but it wasn't his fault; it was the Garmin's fault, the phone's fault, my fault for not plotting our route with my usual focused energy. The only cognitive bridge available was a paper map in the trunk, a document we could READ. Doesn't every map tell a story? We start here and proceed from here to there. This is our route, clear as the daylight we are traveling in, and this is the timeline and historical through-line of our journey: beginning, middle, end.


Those worn folds on the map—remember—the ones we had to scotch tape together? And the designated navigator, remember her? It was always my mother when I was a child as my stepfather never let her drive. She was as sloppy with the map as she was with the newspaper. Whereas, my stepfather was a meticulous folder of both. I have some of these old family maps, and older ones, too, as I once collected them from flea markets and thrift stores as memorabilia of a bygone car- travel-only-age. There they sit browning in a bag in the trunk. I have not been able to donate them, or trash them, or recycle them, and on this particular Sunday, I could not retrieve the most appropriate, nearly current map from inside the trunk, albeit I was in the navigator's seat trying to decipher what the Garmin was telling us and what Google Maps was telling us, which seemed contradictory—so who needs a paper map, right? I wanted to pull over somewhere, but there was nowhere to pull over. Alas, we were already late for a brunch so kept on going.  It's never a good idea to keep on going. This is how explorers get lost. I am an aficionado of polar literature and I can attest to this. Getting lost is the armature of Arctic and Antarctic literature.


Then, suddenly, we were flying over the bridge and didn't care. The old Tappan Zee has been demolished, expunged from history. Opened in 1955, it honored the Tappan tribe, River People, who spoke the Unami dialect of the Lenape language and welcomed the first Europeans before being slaughtered or infected by them. The original bridge was a memorial to this painful history.


But we've moved on, as we always move on in America, thoughtlessly at times. Our historical memory is short and the digital age is upon us. This new bridge is a masterpiece of engineering and it is aesthetically transporting as well as capacious enough to accommodate increased traffic flow, eight lanes across, the largest bridge ever built in New York State. Who needs that many cars? How are they impacting the environment?  Will the bridge last long enough to accommodate a serious commitment to public transportation? Will paper maps make a comeback, like paper books are making a comeback, or are they merely—and  forever—collectibles?


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