Tag Archives: 2020 Pandemic

Do You Know What It Means …

Tonight, as the final hours of the Carnival season wind down and Mardi Gras closes along the Gulf Coast, I keep humming Louis Armstrong’s version of “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”

Because of pandemic, parades were cancelled in Mobile — the origin city of American Mardi Gras — and New Orleans, its American capital. I have amused myself with online viewing of New Orleans-based “Yardi Gras” displays on porches and yards throughout the Crescent City. In my years as a teacher, I would throw beads to my students at the end of Fat Tuesday classes to celebrate. Last night, before I went to bed, I realized that my stash of beads is depleted and I only have a few strings of purple, green, and gold beads to distribute to neighbors.

There were enough. I will remind myself to order beads before Mardi Gras next year — when we can only hope that things will seem substantially more “normal.” The word “normal” has taken on new meaning in the past year. In the past, I often spoke it with a sense of scorn and condescension; who decides what’s “normal” and what’s not?

Now, “normal” just means being able to go out more or less fearlessly, to socially interact. “Normal” means having our lives back in whatever sense of “normal” that used to apply.

A Mardi Gras wreath adorns my front door. It was a gift from my next door neighbor who died a year ago. I always put it out two weeks before Fat Tuesday; as a traditionalist, I must have it down before midnight tonight.

It will be adorning my door in a new location on Fat Tuesday 2022.

Cancelled

Based on years past, I should be a couple of hours away from my annual December getaway to Point Clear on Mobile Bay as I type this sentence. A couple of months ago, I optimistically booked a room at the Grand Hotel for December 13 through 18. I knew I might have to cancel, but I wanted to be ready just in case things had changed by now.

When I booked my room, the resort was still dealing with damage from Hurricane Sally in September. I have been exceptionally conscious and careful during the pandemic and was impressed with the safety protocols the resort has in place. My plan was to stay close to my room, reading and writing, to take regular walks around the grounds and community, and to have room service and takeout. It seemed to me to be a responsible way to get a break and finally to celebrate my retirement.

As the dates got closer and the news reports grew more grim, I realized that the responsible thing is to cancel for the time being. The world around us and people depending on us make it feel imperative to take a stand. And, as my friend Deborah says, now that I’m retired, I can go down any time I please … once the health crisis has passed, anyway.

It will be the first time I have missed the December escape since 2005 – the year of Hurricane Katrina and its extensive damage to Mobile and Baldwin Counties.


Even as I entered my cancellation, the music and memories of Baldwin County and Mobile Bay invaded my thoughts. I think about downtown Fairhope, the intersection of Section Street and Fairhope Avenue, and the light-bedecked trees along the sidewalks. The planters, hanging from the light posts, complement the plantings of poinsettias and pansies in the ground-level beds.

I think of the Camellia Café, Dragonfly, Panini Pete’s, the Wash House, and other places to grab a great meal. I think of Market by the Bay and its abundance of fresh catch seafood.

I think of drives to lonely overlooks across the bay, to Magnolia Springs, and to the search for bags of fresh local pecans and satsumas.

At the Grand, the gentle surf grazes the docks and, beyond the marina, the lights of Mobile, across the bay, glisten beyond the traffic of the causeway.

The Grand sunset, usually spectacular, will still be there when I return. And, upon that return, I think I will cherish the place more than ever.


For now, I slowly and surely prepare my house to sell and keep my eyes and ears open for possible places to move in Birmingham.

To stay grounded, I read as much as possible. After reading stacks of magazines, a few books, and news articles, I have found comfort and solace in reading a couple of very good cookbooks. Sean Brock’s second book, South: Essential Recipes and New Explorations, is as thoughtful and thorough a consideration of Southern foodways and contemporary thought on the subject as one might find. Kelly Fields’s chatty The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread is as inspiring as one might expect from the dedicated and well-travelled James Beard Award-winning pastry chef.

I feel grateful, as I read these books on food, to have spoken with and experienced meals prepared by both of these chefs. I first had Brock’s food at an unforgettable dinner at Alabama Chanin’s factory in Florence. I met and broke bread with Fields at two dinners at the same place. Her New Orleans bakery and restaurant, Willa Jean, is a singular New Orleans experience.

I am also, grudgingly perhaps, becoming more susceptible to the necessity of streaming video. I have even fallen prey to the New Age-y call of calm.com, and especially its hypnotic video series, “The World of Calm.” My most frequent stream, however, has been the Spike Lee-directed concert movie, David Byrne’s American Utopia, which is a most hopeful document of our country and its current situation. I have lost touch with how many times I’ve watched it already.

To satisfy my former habit to watch a movie in an honest-to-goodness cinema, I have been able to venture to Sidewalk Cinema + Film Center in the basement of the Pizitz building in downtown Birmingham. The not-for-profit indie theatre limits each screening to twelve patrons in well-spaced seats in a 100-seat theatre and I have enjoyed welcome escapes there to view films like On the Rocks and Mank. Each visit to Sidewalk Cinema makes me more anxious to move back home to Birmingham when the time is right.

Holiday season 2020 is a unique and memorable one. Perhaps it has made us a little more aware of the pleasures of the simple things. Be safe as we move into a promising new year.

COVID19 SUTRAS — poetry by Hank Lazer

Here’s my most recent book review for Alabama Writers’ Forum. Hank Lazer is an innovative, exciting, and experienced writer whose new book is a milestone for our current time.

https://www.writersforum.org/news_and_reviews/review_archives.html/article/2020/11/03/covid19-sutras

The Promise of Cardinals

The remnants of tropical storm Beta moved through my part of the world recently, with steady rains most of the day. It intrigues me how often the weather seems to take its cues from the calendar and, on these first days after the official start of Autumn, the weather suddenly has the unmistakable signs of the new season.

The next morning, I awoke to the storm’s final mists. Looking out a back window, down the mountain into the forest beyond the fence, fog was creeping slowly through the trees from the direction of Shades Creek in the valley.

Two pairs of cardinals were perched on the fence – two females in their prim ashes of roses feathers and two males, pluming themselves in bold Vatican red. They soon scattered, moving back and forth from the forest to the yard to the fence and back again.

One pair of cardinals moved to the branches of the stately rose of Sharon which seems to have finished its flowering for the year. My eyes were drawn upward by the steady hum of a hummingbird in the top of the rose of Sharon, searching, I suppose, for a few more drops of nectar from the fading purple blooms before that tree bids farewell to 2020 (something we’re all eager to do, I suspect).

Later, a couple of hummingbirds began to jockey for position at the feeder by the kitchen window; mourning doves converged on birdseed at the back fence. Soon the mist was gone, the fog had lifted, birds and bird song filled the sunny yard and the woods beyond, and Mother’s curious dog Lulu kept watch over it all.

The flower garden is having its final hurrah, and butterflies flew among the red roses, yellow lantana, and purple heart. One multi-colored butterfly kept coming back and catching my eye. I realized that it had a damaged wing, but that could not detract from its graceful ballet among the blooms. Another butterfly, almost exactly the color of the lantana blooms, was almost missed – blending in perfectly with the flowers.

That morning I forgot, for a brief while, all of the bad things that are going on in the world, the scary fascist running for re-election, and my dread of cold weather and short days. At the beginning of Spring 2020, as the gravity of this pandemic was taking hold, I wrote an essay called “The Panic of Cardinals” about a pair of cardinals trying to escape from their entrapment on the top floor of the conference center in Louisville.

I’ve decided to interpret my early Autumn sighting of four cardinals sitting on the back fence – and the glorious day they ushered in – as the promise of brighter and more positive days to come.