“One café put up a notice: The best protection is a bottle of good wine.” Camus “The Plague.”
I have bought some good wine. I have bought wine from all the places I will not visit this year: a serious Bordeaux from where my French family are in a serious lockdown, two bottles of lively Txaxoli from the Basque country, a dependable Rioja, two scented bottles of Rose from Provence, some exuberant Chianti and a Sicilian Primitivo that releases it’s secrets slyly, and a rare bottle of fizz: a Franciacorta, from plague-riven Lombardy. I will drink them, alone, and remember all those places. I Will remember the sun in Bordeaux, and the embraces of my cousins, and the rain on the sea in San Sebastian, and the velvet nights of Tuscany. When all this is over, I will open the bottles of Franciacorta, and share them with my family, and we will say: “All is well, tutto va bene.”
As soon as I knew we were going to be holed up I bought a coffee maker. It is an old fashioned stovetop espresso maker, shiny silver, with three compartments and a lid that sticks and is difficult to get off. I knew I wanted to make coffee every morning, as a consolation for all those meetings at coffee places I was going to miss. I didnt want a machine you have to plug in, I wanted something old fashioned, simple .
This is what you do:
Put just enough water in the bottom compartment for a cup of coffee.
Carefully measure two teaspoonsful of hoarded ground coffee in to the middle compartment and put it on top of the bottom one.
Push the top compartment on, then the lid, stiffly.
Place it on the stove. Stoves in Italy have special small burners just big enough for a coffee maker, but my stove hasn’t, so I have to place it carefully on the edge of one of the smaller burners.
The next bit is crucial.
It doesn’t take long for the water in the bottom compartment to boil and percolate through the coffee in the middle and end up in the top part. So you have to stand and watch over it, listening carefully for the water to stop bubbling. If you don’t, the water will have all percolated through and the bottom compartment will begin to burn, resulting in a bitter coffee.
So, you hover, and listen. It is a little still moment, concentrated, concentrating. You soon become attuned to the noises your coffee maker makes, from the slow, pianissimo bubbling at the beginning, to the frantic crescendo at the peak, to the diminuendo at the end.
Now pour into a favourite cup. I have a set of four pyrex cappucino cups with silver saucers I brought back from Rome. I have a little single cream left, and some white sugar. I make my coffee at 10.45 each day. I drink it, pretending life is normal.
I didn’t know there was a sequoia in the park until my friend took me to see it. The sequoia has a reddish brown trunk, soft and flakey, and the branches are very high up. This sequoia in the park is very young as far as sequoias go, being just short of 140 years old. Nevertheless, it has a sort of quiet dignity, like an exotic stranger.
I have been visiting it every day, touching its flaky bark, gazing up at the branches where tiny leaves are beginning to unfurl.
Yesterday the sun was shining, and I saw a silvery, glistening trail on the bark, like the oozing of gum we see on pine trees. I put up my hand to touch it, and caught some of it on my finger. I thought it would be oily, gummy, with a resinous smell, but when I brought my hand down there was no trace. No sticky residue, no woody scent. It was as if the silver trail was ectoplasm.
Clap for the NHS
From my window I can see the lines snaking around the car park to the entrance of Aldi. Yesterday two burly security guards, bouncers deployed from nightclubs I guess, were keeping an eye on the queue, which started well before seven, an hour before the store opened. Today one of the regulars is in charge. He is a man in his sixties, slight, with an exuberant white beard. He started before eight, and, apart from breaks, he was on his feet all day, shepherding the queue, answering questions, responding with polite firmness to the odd person who pointed at their watch and demanded to be let in ahead. All day he stood, never losing his patience, always affable.
At eight pm, when his shift ended, he stood and applauded others.