The pleasures of books, chocolate, pies, piano playing and puzzles are the fancy curlicues of my life since Covid 19 sauntered in, alongside the grim gargoyles of death, disease, social distancing, not to mention the endemic usage of phrases like ‘strange times’ and ‘stay safe’. Life is so strangely balanced between light and dark, don’t you think?
Colum McCann’s latest book, Apeirogon, A Novel, is a story of balance. It must have been a labour of love to write. It is observant, astute, intelligent, detailed yet freewheeling, tight but unwieldy at the same time. As I say, a labour of love, certainly to read, but I am glad I did. I am currently reading Isobel Allende’s A Long Petal of Sea about the horrors of the Spanish Civil War and the life of a Spanish émigré, a medic, who travelled on the Winnipeg, organised by Chilean poet, Neruda, to carry the Spanish refugees to Chile. Again, the book depicts the horrors of disease and death caused and encountered by human kind. I must say, as I get older, death and illness seem have a more tenacious hold on my life
During our own war on Covid 19, I have found the clamour of Facebook too much to bear, so have had to keep away from social media. I also lack the impetus to write, but I force myself to pen the odd charming poem about walking in the woods, Spring time and loneliness. However, in the main, I have retreated, cocooned myself, you could say, in the back rooms of the bungalow to re-piece together our globe by doing a puzzle of the world as depicted by all the continents and their habitats. I also practice my piano scales. Somehow, playing piano scales, the scale of C in particular, gives me a stronger sense of control over days which pass in mindless contemplation. I imagine myself as the piano player in Sarajove, except I’m in Cavan and, sadly for my neighbours, the scale of C is not as melodic as the Adagio in G Minor.
Funnily, enough music chimes strong in another book I have read during this time, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It too is strangely redolent of our current experience of isolation and confusion. It tells of a large group of industrialists and foreign dignitaries listening to a recital by a world renowned opera singer. They are kidnapped and kept prisoner in the vice presidential palace over a period of two months. It is beautifully written and shows how people adapt to their circumstances, and if given time, silence, and a different environment, people will carve their own particular significance and being into the dynamic.
Family quizzes feature on a weekly basis. I organise zoom poetry sessions between old friends and so while I might not be writing much, poetry does feature. I listen to The Verb, a wonderful arts programme on Radio Three and am currently reading a book where Helen Mort writes poems in response to philosophical papers, again a rather odd coincidence given the philosophical bent of physical isolation. It is a rather fine volume called Poems, Philosophy and Coffee. Family and old friends feature more in my daily life –if at a distance – that is people who have experienced the times I consider to be my real, actual life and not just the days that have passed with me in them, as the current days do.
So, I almost didn’t write this month’s blog: the week in Portugal didn’t happen, nor the Cork Poetry Festival, nor the Trim Weekend. There have been no visits to Dublin, Limerick or anywhere. There was no Easter Egg hunt. However, as it turns out, and it always does when I put pen to paper, that I have been engaged, absorbed, and as Ann Patchett illustrates in Bel Canto, I have carved out a new life…and I haven’t even got to the pastry making or the delicious liver and bacon casseroles I’ve been making nor the endless games of solo boggle!