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

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. 

Saturday reflections

Here's one last car reflection from February -- I like the contrast of the horizontal and vertical lines.

I'm officially out of reflection pictures now, and won't be taking any new ones for the foreseeable future -- time to go through old folders and see what's there.

My trip to the Caucasus and Qatar next month was just officially cancelled, and the announcement about the July trip to Oxford is going to be made this week. I know it will be cancelled as well, but I'm pretending I still have a trip to look forward to until the last possible minute.

One nasty surprise in all of this is that none of the airline cancellations are covered by travel insurance. I'll get the money back for the actual tours, but even though I bought insurance for every single flight, I won't get any refunds because apparently a pandemic is a “foreseeable event.” (Raise your hand if you saw this coming.)

I'm not kidding -- here's one of the disclaimers: On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) a pandemic. Therefore, any losses for trip cancellation, trip interruption and/or trip delay caused by or resulting from quarantine due to COVID-19 is not considered “Unforeseen” and will not be covered under the terms and conditions of this insurance policy.

If I actually had COVID-19, they would cover me. But if I've had to cancel my trip because the entire planet is locked down and my tours have been cancelled and some of the countries I was planning to visit are not allowing any non-citizens to enter, I'm out of luck.

Some airlines will give you a credit good for a year for the cost of your flight. Other airlines (I'm looking at you, American) just say, Oops too bad! I haven't cancelled all of my flights yet, so I don't know exactly how much money I've lost, but it's considerable. It's a comparatively minor complaint in a world reeling with tragedy and as long as I'm safe and healthy I'm not going to fret about it, but it's very annoying.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus, Shopping Edition

I went for my once a week main shopping excursion yesterday, and was excited to see cartons of generic toilet paper instead of the usual empty shelves in the paper products aisle.

So at first I didn't even notice that on the shelf above they had Charmin! CHARMIN! Twelve-packs of real toilet paper!

It was like Christmas and my birthday and every kind of glorious surprise rolled (yes, I know) into one. And in yet another sign of how much everything has changed, I immediately had to take a picture as proof. (I also texted friends as soon as I got home: I've got Charmin! Do you need any?)

Future generations will just have to trust me that this uninteresting picture of supermarket shelves represented the high point of the past few weeks -- I was tempted to Photoshop stars and halos and choirs of angels around those stupid cartoon bears.

At the risk of straining your credulity, I must report that they also had paper towels. BOUNTY paper towels, not the unbleached no-name ones that dissolve into a pile of brown goo upon contact with any liquid.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Life in the time of coronavirus

The nightly thank you for all of the workers on the front lines, as recorded from my living room window in Hell's Kitchen tonight.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Astronomy Tuesday

How endlessly beautiful is Saturn?

And how much do I need that beauty these days? This minimalist Cassini image from 2015 shows the moon Dione against the bright line of the rings (and you can just see that scamp Enceladus photobombing in the upper right corner.)

NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

Monday, April 6, 2020

Travel flashback -- Krakow

In 1995, I traveled through Eastern Europe with my friend Jayne. In Krakow, we visited the factory owned by Oskar Schindler  -- the factory scenes from the movie had actually been filmed there. It was still a working factory then -- it's now a museum -- and our tour guide was the son of one of the workers, who happened to be visiting his mother and spoke some English.

Afterwards we climbed this nearby hill, where they'd filmed the scenes of Schindler on horseback watching the purge of the ghetto below. We'd walked up a steep, but paved, path, and when we got to the top we saw these two women climbing up the very steep side of the hill. They didn't seem to need any assistance, but I climbed over the fence and went to lend a hand anyway.

It wasn't the first time we'd been impressed by the strong and apparently fearless Polish women. I only wish I had a picture of the elderly nun who hoisted my suitcase off a bus in Warsaw when I couldn't get it through the back door.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Sunday bird blogging

Here's another picture of cattle egrets in the park in Pleasanton, California, last year.

I was supposed to be back in Pleasanton this past week. Yesterday I got a message from the airline about checking in for the flight back to New York that was canceled weeks ago, and it felt like an artifact from another time. Everything has changed so quickly, and yet so completely, that I'm constantly astonished by how much I've adjusted to the ongoing series of New Normals. Just a few weeks ago I would dump groceries on my counter and put them away, without wiping down every package, every surface, every handle, with a disinfectant. A few weeks ago, no one was wearing masks in the grocery. Last week, all of the cashiers had them. This week, all of the customers, including me, were wearing them as well.

Scrubbing my hands for 20 seconds has become such a habit that yesterday I had to stop after peeling an orange and remind myself that occasionally it was okay to just rinse.

The city is quiet -- not silent, it's never silent here -- but so quiet that I hear things that are usually lost in the constant buzzy white noise of urban life: a conversation across the back yard, someone's TV, the clatter of dishwashing in a neighbor's kitchen. And sirens. So many sirens.

Every night at seven o'clock, there's a show of appreciation for our health care workers. People clap and cheer and ring bells from their windows. It's a welcome show of community in all this isolation, because of course the doctors and nurses and EMT's and cleaning crews working frantically inside the hospitals can't hear us. We're cheering to thank them, but also I think for ourselves, to say, Hello! I'm still here! We've made it through another day.

Hello. I'm still here. I've made it through another day.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Saturday reflections

A rather bleak reflection from 42nd Street this morning seems sadly appropriate. My poor city staggers on through these grim days, and I'm in complete escapist mode. 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Urban poetry

Not really an effect of the current quarantines -- this playground in Hell's Kitchen would always be empty after dark.

But I love the spooky effect of the yellow lights.

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