Saturday 20 March 2021

Combatting the Third Wave with Gratitude


& zeppole di San Giuseppe

Let's pretend I have been regularly blogging and move on ...

I felt rather desperate for a moment yesterday when I saw reports that there is a third wave of coronavirus in continental Europe. I didn't have time to delve into these claims, for I was whipping my donkey-like brain into rewriting the thoughts of an Israeli vaccine skeptic for work.  I have had professional advice that I should take ten days off, go somewhere with Benedict Ambrose and completely relax, with the proviso that I should wait until we are allowed to travel. However, from the headlines, I gathered that travelling to the Continent is off the cards.  

Thank heavens, I thought, that Benedict Ambrose and I travelled so much in 2020. And before anyone gets tetchy, I will assert that we haven't been within unmasked droplet distance of anyone aged over 70 (except our priest) since August, and to the best of my knowledge Polish Pretend Son's elderly great-uncle is fine. 

What a year of travel 2020 was! On January 2, we returned to Scotland from our very happy Christmas in Canada.  On February 28, we travelled to southwest Poland for my newest goddaughter's christening and returned to Scotland with Covid hard on our heels. There followed the March lockdown, when I was really quite frightened by the BBC, and the unforgettable "last public Mass" on St. Joseph's Day. 

Public Masses were "allowed" again in the summer, and B.A. and I returned to lovely Poland in August. This included 21.5 hours in my beloved Kraków, which so far I love above all other Polish cities, despite Wrocław's greater claim. Naturally, however, our best times were in tiny villages: sitting outside a country hotel eating delicious things and holding my quasi-divine goddaughter or watching Pretend Polish Daughter-in-Law's folk music group feature highly in my memories. 

Then in October, after B.A.'s job had died of lockdown, we went to Rome for a whole month. We really could not have done anything better. Naturally I was on the job for days on end, but B.A. was free to go for glorious strolls and to visit such empty museums that were still open and to go to Italian classes. He liked Italian classes so much (I knew he would) that he continued to take them until we returned to Scotland. Meanwhile, I had enough time for morning cappuccini in the piccoli bar, to go to Mass, to meet friends for evening drinks, to have occasional glorious lunches with friends, and even to go to Naples and beyond. Now B.A. discusses his Roman month with other men in his Rome-loving field, and they frizzle with envy. A whole month in Rome! 

That, I daresay, was very much a case of "when lockdown hands you lemons, make lemonade." I have yet to find the recipe for No-Travel-From-Britain lemonade, but it must be out there. The annoying--and shocking thing--is that it is much more expensive to travel within Britain than to get on a plane to Poland or Rome. Round-trip rail tickets for two to Cambridge, for example, are in excess of $500 CAD. In the end, my therapeutic 10-days-of-doing-absolutely-nothing may be spent no farther away than North Berwick. As North Berwick is to Edinburgh as Santa Marinella is to Rome, how traditional. 

But I comfort myself with a great duvet of gratitude for all the glorious travel we had in 2020, and--for some reason--also for the very pleasant little house I lived from the ages of 4 to 15. 

This may be a non-sequitur, but I was reading as much of The Millionaire Next Door online as I could for free, and suddenly I thought of the nice little house on a tree-lined street in lovely, then-affordable Willowdale. There actually was a pussy willow in our back garden (which, being Canadian, I then called a back yard), which I thought proper to Willowdale living. At one point, there were seven people living in this modest, two-storey abode, which is why my parents eventually sold it (at an enormous profit, if I remember correctly) and bought a larger house up north. At the time I was delighted, but when in sleep I return home, it's always the now-demolished pretty white harlinged house that I return to. 

I may be thinking about this because, like many millionaires (among whom we are not) Benedict Ambrose and I live in a humbler dwelling than we can afford. (Of course, when I say "afford", I mean "with an enormous mortgage.") And I must say that our dwelling is very humble-looking on the side facing the street. It is not as aesthetically beautiful as, say, a two storey white harling house with a red front door and a green milk-box by the side door, a small grassy down-sloping garden out front, and a long grassy yard in back, which features a vegetable garden, a two-sided trellis with grapes and climbing flowers, a round raised garden with tiger lilies, a pear tree, a willow tree, a fat maple tree, a swing-set and a thirty-something woman with a profusion of chestnut hair hanging out the laundry. 

It's an odd thing--and I wonder if I would have believed it when I was a child--that you can spend your childhood dreaming of the adventures you will have and the glamorous abodes you will live in when you grow up, and then when you grow up, you would swap everything in your bank account for one more day as a child in your childhood home. I suppose, though, that this is something only people with an above-average happy childhood would say. It occurs to me, too, that just as North American Baby Boomers were the last generation (on average) to be more materially wealthy than its parents, the children of those Boomers were the last generation (in general) to have as materially secure a childhood.  

That said, I have lived in the very glamorous Historical House for nine years--and for free--which would have filled my 10-year-old heart with joy, had it known. I have also been a guest in an equally glamorous 19th century castle in Poland on more than one occasion. In London, it must be said, I have stayed in a windowless closet in a Tune hotel, but there is a French bakery with the most glorious croissants I have ever eaten within a 5 minute walk of it. In Rome, we lived in the airy, spacious flat of our dreams. In Quebec my brother Nulli has a sprawling bungalow with an actual conservatory with an actual grand piano. Meanwhile, I live in Scotland, I am reasonably conversant in Italian and Polish, which would have awed my 10-year-old self, I have two published books to my name, and I write for a living. 

Middle-Aged Me: So will that do? Are you okay with all this? Was this a fair trade for the little white harling house, the swing-set and the pear tree? 

10-Year-Old Me: Is the man nice?

Middle-aged Me: The man is very, very nice. 

10-Year-Old: Then yes, thank you. Thank you very much. 

Middle-Aged Me: You're welcome.

10-Year-Old: I'm so glad it's Scotland.

Middle-Aged Me: I know.

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