I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

Some of my fellow New Yorkers who were outside enjoying the spring sunshine yesterday.

It was pleasantly warm, but it was also the first really humid day we've had, and wearing a mask was like having a wet diaper pinned to my head. But we do what we need to do.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Opening up

Here's West 42nd Street this afternoon -- much emptier than it would have been on a weekday in the Before times, but it's a big improvement over the zombie apocalypse emptiness of mid-April. There are cars. And a bicycle. And people.

Most of the state is in the process of allowing some businesses to re-open, but New York City is still the national epicenter and remains in lockdown.

Even so, more and more of us are starting to emerge from our dens, timidly stepping into the light, squinting as our eyes adjust,  sniffing the air like wild animals checking for predators. I walked to the post office to mail my absentee ballot application and mostly enjoyed the excursion, though I still strip off my clothes and take a shower the minute I get home.

It will be a long time before I can touch something that's been handled by strangers and not feel the need for a complete decontamination.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

Finally I see something recognizable in a nebula -- a genie, right? Or possibly a samurai?

Nope. This gorgeous pillar of gas, several light years tall, in the Carina nebula is known as Mystic Mountain. You might as well call it Running Chicken Nebula 2.

Image Credit: Hubble, NASA, ESA; Processing and License: Judy Schmidt

Monday, May 25, 2020

Monday flashback: Frankfurt

A few last pictures -- really, these are the last ones -- from the Römer district in Frankfurt.

I think I have always been a little ditzy -- this would not surprise anyone who ever met my mother and believed in either nature or nurture -- but I think it's getting out of control during this lockdown. I keep losing things. I keep forgetting things. I have trouble focusing.

I misplaced an avocado a few weeks ago, much to the amusement of the friends who followed my three day search via text. (Yes, we are all that desperate to be amused.)

But an avocado is small -- and it turns out, practically invisible if for some reason you drop a t-shirt on top of it. Last week I lost a fitted sheet from my bed. I realized when I was doing laundry that I had a top sheet, and pillowcases, but the bottom sheet wasn't in the bag. Okay, obviously I'd left it upstairs in my apartment.

Except that it wasn't there. I looked in every likely -- the floor of the closet where I keep the laundry bag -- and unlikely -- had I somehow kicked it under the bed? -- place. It drove me crazy.

I did find it. Apparently I didn't actually take the old sheet off when I was changing the bed -- I just put the clean sheet on top of it. I don't know how I managed not to notice that there was already a sheet on the bed while I wrestled with getting all four corners of the mattress crammed into the clean sheet, but I didn't.

Covid brain.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

A white-throated sparrow in Central Park.

Those bright mating markings are from last spring, but I'm sure they were just as vivid this year.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday reflections

The train station in Frankfurt, this time in black and white.

I know everyone's sense of time is distorted -- I feel as though I deserve a medal for managing to keep track of the days of the week -- but I cannot understand how this is Memorial Day weekend. How can it be summer already?

I don't really enjoy New York summers, so have never been eager for the three months of sweating to kick off, but I'd like another couple of months of spring weather, please. We've earned it. And also please enough of a decline in our new cases that we can skip the masks outside by the time it gets really hot.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

The Römer

This is one of Frankfurt's most famous landmarks -- it has been the City Hall for more than 600 years -- and somehow I never got around to posting a picture of it.

Better late than never.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Urban poetry

Still in Frankfurt -- I took this picture from my hotel room, charmed by the small sign in the corner of the window.

In case you can't see it clearly, it says H is for Happy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

Ah, Gravity, thou art a bitch.

The Porpoise Galaxy was a perfectly ordinary spiral galaxy, minding its own galactic business, when the massive elliptical galaxy NGC 2937 came into the neighborhood and quite literally started pushing everyone else around.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HLA; Reprocessing and Copyright: Raul Villaverde

Monday, May 18, 2020

Monday flashback: Frankfurt

I found some more pictures from Frankfurt that I never went through -- not surprising that I forgot about them, since I was only there for a day, and I went on to Brussels and Ghent and Rwanda on that trip and took a thousand more photos.

I love this picture of the train station. I'm always a sucker for arches and ironwork.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

The baleful glare of a raven in Jasper National Park last summer.

Lots of robins singing in the backyard trees this morning. I've been so aware of birdsong since I've been isolated at home; I can only identify four or five birds by sound alone (and one of those is the mourning dove, which hardly counts) but hearing their chorus every morning is one of the many things I am grateful for.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday reflections

Because everything is an interior right now, isn't it?

This is my apartment reflected in the glass over a painting of foggy mountains I bought in Beijing many years ago.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Urban poetry

Lining up for a taping of The Daily Show last summer.

Yet another thing we won't see again for a long time.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

One of those flashes of beauty that I appreciate so much these days: tulips on a sunny sidewalk in Hell's Kitchen. Yesterday a mockingbird appeared on the antenna on the building across the back yard and sang while I had breakfast; I haven't seen a mockingbird outside the park for many years and it was a moment of pure joy.

Yesterday I had a ham sandwich on sourdough and potato chips for lunch, and it felt like a luxurious dinner in a 5-star restaurant. Every bite was scrumptious. I'd been craving potato chips, just plain potato chips, for a few weeks now and I finally gave in and bought a bag.  I can't remember the last time something tasted so delicious. And it was just potato chips!

Maybe it's that my nerves have occasionally been stretched so far during these long anxious weeks that the slightest nudge sets them twanging, but I am oversensitive to everything these days. I'm enchanted by the play of light over the trees outside my window. I cry when I hear old pop songs. I moan with pleasure over the salty crunch of a mouthful of potato chips.

I don't know how I'll ever regrow a skin thick enough to allow me to resume anything like a normal life again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Flashback: Jökulsárlón

This image from the glacier lagoon in Iceland actually came out really well.

There's my accomplishment for this week!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

This one made me smile: the red giant Betelgeuse in Orion. This long-exposure image allows the stars in the background to be seen clearly; usually they're drowned out by the luminosity of the huge star in the foreground.

Betelgeuse looks reddish-gold in this image; I usually see it as pink. I always think of it as My Star -- I've seen it winking from my bedroom window when I was in high school, glowing from a ship's deck in the middle of the Mediterranean, burning in the skies over Zambia, peering like a friend through breaks in the evening fog over Berkeley. It's ironic that I've lived for so long in a place where stars can seldom be seen, but maybe it makes me appreciate them more when I do see them.

Image Credit and Copyright: Adam Block, Steward Observatory, University of Arizona

Flashback: Iceland

Another picture from Iceland: a road near Thingvellir.

Maybe you have to have grown up out in the Fog Belt of San Francisco to find this an appealing hike, but I do -- I'd love to lace up my hiking shoes and see where this road goes.

Or maybe it would look good to anyone who's been mostly stuck inside for the past two months.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Travel flashback: Iceland

I went to Iceland in 2016, so I've only had four years to go through the photo backlog.

As usual, most of them aren't that interesting, but here's a much better shot of the beautiful caldera Kerið than the one I posted originally.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

A white-breasted nuthatch. I love their acrobatics -- they're fond of hanging upside down on branches like little feathered bats, then swooping and cartwheeling down to grab a tree trunk and hang on sideways, as in this picture.

Today is clean the bathroom day -- I find I can handle a maximum of one chore per day, so if I manage the bathroom today, then vacuuming can be postponed another day in good conscience. It's not as though I've got anywhere to be tomorrow.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Saturday reflections

Windows on West 44th Street -- not the most interesting photograph, but these days we are grateful for what we can get, in every area of life.

I dreamed about the supermarket, that every aisle had shelves full of Bounty paper towels, enough to wipe up an entire city's messes and spills.

I'm amused by the quarantine version of a classic wish-fulfillment dream -- imagine being able to use as many paper towels as you wanted and never running out! I actually have plenty of paper towels, and toilet paper, at the moment, but I do catch myself panicking at the thought of running low on anything. You can't do much hoarding in a one-bedroom apartment, but I have extra peanut butter and granola bars and canned soup in my living room closet, and I no longer wait until I'm completely out of something before buying more.

Actually buying two more.

Just in case. 

Friday, May 8, 2020

What once was and maybe will be again, someday

Some of the beautiful architecture in the old part of Frankfurt, taken in 2018 when I was on my way to Belgium and then Rwanda.

I was scheduled to leave for Frankfurt tonight. I was going to stop over for a couple of nights (taking the train to Cologne to get a better look at that cathedral if I had the energy) before flying on to Baku for a two-week tour of the Caucasus.

I'm not complaining. Anxious and claustrophobic as I often am during this lockdown, I am lucky compared to so many others, and I know it. (And I've been joking that these weeks of living in Pandemic Central have cured me of any desire to be in the center of the action, any action, ever again.) 

Still. Masking up so I can scurry around the block is a kind of adventure, maybe, but it's not as satisfying as getting off a plane in a country I've never been to, knowing that I'm going to see amazing things, meet interesting people, and possibly even get a photo or two worth sharing.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away...

I took this picture one year ago: fallen cherry blossoms on shadowy rocks in Central Park. Presumably they're blooming again even if I can't see them.

As the number of infections in New York continues to slowly, slowly fall, we finally have testing available to anyone who wants it. I got the antibody test at an urgent care clinic near my apartment on Saturday -- no one in line, maybe a five minute wait after checking in.

It came back negative, so losing my sense of smell for a couple of days earlier this year --  who knows when? March? February? -- and the accompanying cough weren't Covid. I know the antibody test has a lot of false positives and immunity isn't guaranteed anyway, so a positive result was never going to be a Get out of my apartment free card. But it would have made me a little less paranoid even if none of my routines changed.

Instead I'm telling myself that what I'm doing has worked, so keep it up!

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

This is an extreme closeup of my forefinger. I've been having problems with the TouchID on my phone -- I've deleted and re-added it a couple of times, and it works for a day then stops again.

Then I took a close look at my skin, and realized that I basically no longer have fingerprints -- this is what happens when you wash your hands fifty times a day.

It's obviously not the biggest problem I'm dealing with these days, but it made me laugh, and that's always a good thing.

Astronomy Tuesday

My what a big tail you have!

Newly discovered comet SWAN has just  passed inside the Earth's orbit, and will be closest to us on May 13 before moving on to approach the sun. It may be bright enough to see with the naked eye in June -- or it may not; comets are notoriously unpredictable.

Image Credit and Copyright: Gerald Rhemann

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

A beautiful gray catbird in Central Park.

Oh how I miss Central Park.

That's all.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Saturday reflections

A motorcycle reflected in an apartment building door on West 44th Street. I did manage to get a few pictures on my very brief walk last weekend.

I'm sure we're all very glad that the cruelest month is finally behind us, but I don't suppose we'll have much reason to sing about the merry, merry month of May.

Except for my daily mantra: The sun is shining. The birds are singing. I'm not sick.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Urban poetry

A grand piano in Washington Square Park last fall.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Travel flashback -- Abu Dhabi

This is a fun memory -- posing with a surprisingly complaisant camel in the desert dunes of Abu Dhabi in 2017.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

I learned a new word today: flocculent, meaning having or resembling tufts of wool.

NGC 4237 is what's known as a flocculent spiral galaxy, meaning that the spiral arms aren't really distinguishable and so the galaxy looks fluffy, like a dandelion or a ball of cotton wool.

Image Credit: ESA/Hubble and NASA, P. Erwin et al.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

This cardinal showed up in the back yard this morning -- too far away to see clearly or to photograph without the long lens I didn't have time to get out, but there. Definitely there.

I'd just gotten off the phone with someone whose best friend died of Covid over the weekend. I knew him too, had worked with him for a couple of years. He was irascible, sometimes downright curmudgeonly, but also smart, funny and kind. He had a crush on me, and reportedly told people that he thought I was really beautiful (a minority opinion if there ever was one), so I still think of him fondly even though being his manager was often a nightmare.

I hadn't seen him in many years, and probably never would have seen him again, but it was still awful news and there was little consolation that I could offer except for fond reminiscences and a few funny stories.

And then this beautiful bird showed up and sang to me for a few minutes, and I smiled through my tears.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

A chinstrap penguin on King George Island.

With all this free time, I should have made a lot more headway going through my many unprocessed photos. But I've been as dilatory as I have with every other project, and haven't made much progress. But a new penguin photo is always a reason to be happy, and we all need every one of those we can get these days.

I went outside today -- not long, not far, just around the block -- and even though I find breathing through a mask extremely unpleasant, it was a boost to my spirits. New York is still there.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Saturday reflections

Here's one from last summer in Calgary -- I like those bits of sky in the windows.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Urban poetry

Flowers and shadows, from my living room window.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

London calling
Yes, I was there too
And you know what they said
Well, some of it was true....

(Yes, I was listening to apocalypse music this morning -- why do you ask? I did eventually switch to Bach.)

I've cut back on the amount of news that I consume, because so much of it just makes me angry at a time when I am almost literally powerless. But I am not surprised to see that the pushback and conspiracy theories are rampant. I can ignore the claims that hardly anyone has died in New York and hospitals are just moving bodies from one to another for FAKE NEWS photo ops, because only an idiot would believe them.

The pushback that everyone had predicted is now turning up. Since fewer people than feared have died in the U.S. (only 45,000!) then the models were wrong and all of the shutdowns were an overreaction. Another common, related theme: the hospitals in New York never quite ran out of ICU beds and ventilators, so all of Cuomo's speeches were just political posturing to make Trump look bad.

It doesn't seem to occur to these idiots that the number of deaths has been lower than it could have been -- though still heartbreakingly high and we're a long, long way from the end of this -- because we took such extraordinary measures. Most people who could stay home, did, not just in the United States but in almost every country in the world. It's mind-boggling to me that we actually did this. We're all washing our hands and wiping down our groceries and staying six feet apart -- in short, doing everything possible to keep this stupid, sneaky, unbelievably contagious virus from jumping to another host.

And it's working! New York hospitals have managed -- barely -- not to be overrun because we did everything possible to slow the rate of infection. It's still awful here; there are more than enough bodies to fill every morgue and mortuary. But all of this isolation and being careful to the point of paranoia is paying off, and I keep thinking, Good for us. Hurray for humanity! 

And that's not something I often have occasion to say.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

I've seen many different images of the Running Chicken Nebula, and in none of them have I ever seen anything remotely resembling a chicken -- whether running, stationary, or plucked and grilled on a spit.

I'm definitely cranky today -- feeling better, but still uninterested in food, thus creating a huge void in my isolation activity schedule.

Image Credit and Copyright: Juan Filas

Monday, April 20, 2020

Travel flashback -- Grand Tetons

A reminder of a saner world, only four years ago.

I woke up at four in the morning and spent the next several hours alternating between lying on my bed moaning and running to the bathroom to be sick. Of course I was sure it was Covid -- if anything can make being sick to your stomach in the middle of the night even worse, it's the conviction that it's just the first symptom of a nasty epidemic that's raging through the city where you live.

Eventually I fell asleep again, and woke feeling much better. I'm a little shaky and I have a headache, which is what I'd expect if it was just a reaction to something I ate, and I'm slowly working my way through a bowl of chicken soup.

I know the world is never going to go back to what it was. I may never be able to travel so much again. But at least I did when I could, and I have so many beautiful souvenirs, like this photo.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

I can't offer up cute animal videos of cats playing soccer or penguins touring an aquarium like so many of my fellow citizens, but I can share what I have: the extreme adorableness of the tufted titmouse.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

This is the worst zombie apocalypse movie ever

Yesterday I had to mail off a form while we still have a Post Office, so I ventured a little farther from home -- all of three or four blocks -- than I've been going.

This is West 42nd Street in the middle of a weekday, looking west towards the Hudson on the left and east towards Times Square and Midtown on the right. Not quite zombie apocalypse empty, maybe, but close. A couple of people, a few cars, a bus. I've lived in this neighborhood for twenty years, and I've seen this street at all hours of the day and night, in blizzards and hurricanes, and I've never seen it like this.

Saturday reflections

It turns out I had one more sort of reflection after all: a restaurant on Eighth Avenue, taken during my one nighttime walk a few weeks ago.

It was not, alas, Open til Midnight, and may not ever be again.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Urban poetry

Apparently I never got around to posting this picture -- a normal New York sidewalk on the West Side, last summer. Before.

I love those patterns of shadows. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

Spring came, whether we were there to notice it or not.

Another look at the tiny slice of world I can see from my windows. Although I'm mostly managing well enough staying home -- this is when being an introvert who's happiest with a book really pays off -- it's not always painless. Oddly enough, sunny days are easier to handle; maybe it's because I can throw the windows open and watch the sky and listen to the birds singing, and though I'd love to be outside I'm less conscious of being locked in. Monday it poured rain all day and by late afternoon I was climbing the walls.

Part of the problem was that I didn't feel like eating the chicken and vegetables I had planned for dinner and I didn't really have any alternative. Food has turned into another form of entertainment under lockdown -- I'm planning what I'm going to have for lunch while I'm eating breakfast, and I often have dinner before six o'clock just because it's something to do. I have to be careful not to buy too many treats because I don't want to test my willpower, but the pleasure of eating something delicious, like a ripe juicy orange sliced into my morning yogurt, is real consolation when I can't do so many other things I enjoy. (And of course thinking so much about food keeps me from dwelling on the fact that I'm sitting in the epicenter of a global pandemic.)

But I find myself craving things I don't usually eat -- Raisin Bran cereal, potato chips, vanilla ice cream -- that of course I don't have on hand and can't easily get. And I get annoyed because something healthy that I like -- chicken and vegetables, say -- and do have available isn't entertaining enough for my bored palate.

I ended up going out to the supermarket Monday though I wasn't planning to shop yet. I was exhausted by the time I'd carried the bags upstairs, cleaned and disinfected everything, and taken a shower, but at least I had vanilla ice cream. Which I ate in bed, in my pajamas, for dinner.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

The Horsehead nebula is seen in infrared here, making it look even more eerie than it usually does.

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

Here's a young bluejay in a halo of light in Central Park last fall.

Our resurrection may have been delayed this year, but I wish everyone a Happy Easter anyway. I plan to celebrate by sitting on my bed, reading and eating chocolate -- in other words, pretty much the same way I've spent the past month.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Plus ça change

British housewives in Southend chatting during the Second World War.

I bought this postcard at the Churchill War Rooms in London, and found it in a pile of papers this afternoon.

The masks we're wearing don't make us look quite so much like anteaters -- and these women are standing much too close together -- but it all looks strangely familiar. 

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