Second Wave

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

The British government again seems to be struggling with making up their mind about their ‘rule of six’. Hot spots of increased infection rates are happening, and England, like many other European countries, is rolling lock-down rules out of the front door of #10 Downing Street as if trying to knock off coconuts at a country stall fair. It is very possible that the coconuts are an easier target. The infection rate is going up, faster than the number of testings, though the rate of hospitalization and COVID-19 deaths is slower. The Health Minister, Matt Hancock, tried to talk a good talk on Andrew Marr’s Sunday political program, but it was heavy going. He predicts that a second wave of infections is coming. In trying to be stern, he repeated again and again “We must obey the rules”. But the rules keep changing and Hancock was ill equipped, and nervous. Monday morning we found out why.

Number 10 Downing Street had to ‘strongly deny’ that, as reported in La Republica News, Boris Johnson flew to Perugia to meet with Evgeny Lebedev at his villa in Umbria. Airport sources said that Johnson arrived on Friday, September 11th at 2. pm. and left on Monday morning 7.45 a.m. Every once in a while you have to love those airport staff and guards at these tiny airports. Johnson and Lebedev are tight, in that way that friends bond over what one could call ‘similar behavior patterns and tastes’. And apparently, according to the same source, the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, also flew into Perugia on September 8th leaving the day that Johnson arrived. Perugia has become a bustling hot spot surrounded by those busy villas tucked away in the Umbria hills. In London, the government brushed aside the Italian paper report as being – Italian – and now – sadly – the Italian government has concurred.

But the British people are fast losing faith and trust in this government as a second wave of increased infections and measures to contain the virus look inevitable. And so on Tuesday, Boris is to speak. First scheduled for 10 a.m. this morning he has now slipped to 12.20 p.m. in the house of Commons and will address the nation at 8 p.m. So far we know, that from Thursday, pubs and restaurants will close at 10 p.m.

As we adjust to another new normal, those of us lucky enough not to be directly effected by the virus look to see what got us through so far. There were friends and neighbors, grocery deliveries, the telephone, email and Zoom that kept us connected and took care of our more basic needs. These are community’s first responders.

But the cities were closed. There were no galleries to visit, no concerts or theaters to attend, no films to see. For some, music came through the wireless, while the television played endless reruns. There are books to read. A friend called Art the second wave of responder. And so, as we can, we search for Art.

In 2017 Beatrice had an exhibit at the Botanical Gardens featuring her photographs of the Trees of Buenos Aires. It was a fabulous exhibit and we were grateful to be there and see it. I chose about six of the pictures and had jigsaw puzzles made up from them thinking they would be great Christmas presents, but my friends said ‘Thank you very much Aggie’ and put the boxes away. I kept one here and after almost two years it was still in its box. Two weeks into England’s lock down we poured the one thousand pieces onto the kitchen – dinning table and the puzzle took over. Eventually we had to add the extra table-leaf. As nobody was coming to dinner the puzzle became our companion for the next several months. We would linger after a meal, like addicts, for just one more piece to put in place. It was completed in July.

Place for the puzzle on the table WSM

This weekend it returned from the frame shop and now hangs on the wall bringing us comfort in a familial way and maybe even a little courage as we go forward. Bea’s photograph became something bigger we can share.

Comfort in the evening Photo WSM

Carol Witman, from West Marin, has found her strength and comfort in art. Each morning (I think I have this right) before she starts her daily work of political activism she gathers flora from wherever she is: at home, on a walk or with a friend. Bob made her a work bench. She has gathered her tools. I image it as an alter, somewhere in a shed or close to the kitchen door, where she places her day’s harvest. The flowers, fruits and leaves seem an offering to the woodland gods and I believe guide her as she lays them out in a mandala circle. Carol says, “I started doing them as a response to my depression and anxiety over Trump/GOP and the pandemic, to focus myself each morning, and remind myself that there is still beauty in the world. When I posted them on social media, I found that others were given joy by them too”.

Susan’s Quinces Mangela and
Photo by Carol Witman
Sage and Nigella. Mandala and Photo by Carol Whitman

Even as Carol, Bob, and their cats evacuated to Oakland during the California fires, she kept her daily practice with making mandalas, calming and bringing joy to herself and us all. After this is all over and we come through to our newer still normal, I can’t wait to view a show celebrating her work in a book, to leaf (!) through with a smile, remembering when and how we survived this somber moment in our time.

This has Been A Letter From A. Broad
Written and Read for you by Muriel Murch.

Murder is a Messy Thing

Recorded and Knit together by WSM

Murder can be a messy business. Countries, cultures and times evolve and often a culture is the defining influence as to how political problems disappear.

This is uppermost in my mind in those pre-dawn moments; beyond the fast-climbing number of cases of COVID-19 in England, beyond the raging fires in California, and the understandable distrust for the British Prime Minister by the European Brexit team. The UK government is now reneging on the agreement with the European Union on the border for Northern Ireland. While the Brexit clock is ticking, the leaders of Russia, the US, and China are watching the chip, chipping away of Europe with glee.

But it is Belarus that is again, sounding the alarm bells in my head and my heart. Over one hundred thousand protestors marched in Minsk this weekend, and other cities were filled with protestors. The police targeted young men returning to the universities, as well as reporters, and one journalist remains in jail. Lukashenko has not been seen, only his riot police force out with their agenda. Luke Harding wrote of it in the Guardian Newspaper: “On Monday, unidentified masked men snatched the leading Belarusian opposition figure Maria Kolesnikova from the street in the centre of the capital, Minsk, and drove her away in a minivan.” Three young idealistic women formed a new opposition party called ‘Together’.

Veronika Tsepkalo (left), Svetlana Tikhanovskaya (centre), and Maria Kolesnikova display their signature gestures at a press-conference in Minsk in July. Photograph: Tatyana Zenkovich/EPA

The opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a teacher, unexpectedly allowed to run for president and had claimed victory against Alexander Lukashenko, fled after Lukashenko rejected the vote of the people. Maria Kolesnikova is reported as detained at the Lithuanian border, apparently after an escape bid, though Veronika Tsepkalo may still be in Belarus.

Russia seems to favour poison even as they make such a mess of it. Alexander Litvinenkno in 2004, Sergei and Yulias Skripal in 2018, and now Alexei Navalny in August. Navalny suddenly became ill on an internal flight from Siberia. The plane diverted to Omsk where he was treated for three days before being eventually airlifted to the Charité hospital in Berlin where doctors confirmed what the rest of the world knows, that Navalny was poisoned with nerve agent Novichok. The world will look in vain for an explanation from the Russian Government that does not care a button what the rest of the world thinks.

The Saudis preferred a strangulation, a little drug use, before the chain saw for the removal of Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, while the United Kingdom takes the depression-walk-in-the-woods approach to the removal of dissidents to power – David Kelly’s death in 2003 is still remembered. North America uses guns and choke-holds and when countries collaborate the removals can become truly messy. During our years in Argentina I learnt of the 1970s student disappearances by the plane-load over the River Plata. I still cannot eat fish in Buenos Aires.

In these times of solitude I find myself with a strange kind of homesickness. While the farm and the California fires that surround it and all of our corner of West Marin are constantly on my mind, I also think of Buenos Aires and of that time in our lives when San Telmo held a home for us. Smells come over me in waves, they linger and bring memories quickly into my mind.

Walking along the cleaning aisle at the supermarket, with the mixtures of house-cleaning products, takes me to Fridays at the casa. Maritza, who is Bolivian, would take an hour-long bus from her home to San Telmo and spend all day cleaning that big apartment. Bea or I would make lunch and we would sit all together to eat a simple meal. It is the custom there. The espresso coffee pot bubbles up on the stove and, if I have missed it, a metallic smell spills over, with the coffee, onto the stove top. It is the same coffee pot as I had in the Abuela-Dome that spits onto the electric hot plate.

Breakfast with Granny in the Abuela Dome

On sunny Sundays I would bring the morning coffee out to the little table and chairs sitting by the window on the terrace. The terrace, between the main apartment and the bedsit Abuela dome, is long and as soon as David could, he would escape from the main apartment and run across to us. Through the glass doors we could see him standing on tip-toe, reaching up for the doorknob, and click, pull it down to come in. And there we would be. Were we ready to play, to read or maybe was it time for a second breakfast? Inside or out? He had a special mug for tea, as did Grandpa, while Granny has her own Royal Albert tea cup and saucer. And then there would be toast, just a little because actually David has already had breakfast with Mummy and Daddy.

This week is Bea and Santi’s 5th wedding anniversary. And in two weeks it is David’s 5th birthday. Bea posted a picture on Facebook of the wedding ceremony. The little courthouse is packed with Santi’s family, their friends, including Bea’s first husband Kragen, who stood up to wish them all happiness. Bea sits so ‘barefoot and pregnant’. They look young and nervous and yet with that determination that love can bring. The presiding officer was a kind motherly woman magistrate and her presence draws me back to memories of Argentina and all that is good in the world wherever we are.

This has been A Letter from A. Broad
Written and read for you by Muriel Murch

United Families Protest

On June 30th, during David’s Saturday morning circus class, the Argentine mothers were following the football game. Argentina 2 France 1. But by the time class was over and David and I were walking home for lunch the streets were somberly quiet. Disaster had struck in France’s victory, 4 – 3.

That afternoon the call-out was for 3 p.m. and as expected, for those familiar with Argentine time, we began as a very small group. The afternoon was grey and misty with lots of fog, the way a July day is supposed to be in Buenos Aires. For in the Southern Hemisphere this is the middle of winter. But as the American Embassy has a vigilant Facebook presence, they knew of our timing.

Waiting for Pizza

The Motorcycle cops had showed up before us. From the beginning we were constantly outnumbered 3 – 1. The biker cops stood around and waited for two female police women to walk across our corner bringing them their boxes of take out Pizza. Not a lot has changed in the work gender relationship down here.

As more protestors showed up to join our little gathering on the corner of Colombia and Avenue Sarmiento three police vans drove in too. Once the vans were parked in place it was time to put out the barriers across the road. Big, old, and looking like they had been used in many demonstrations, I wondered where that steel was made and where would the next shipment come from.

Steel barriers

Photo by Beatrice Murch

Somehow the bus drivers knew not to turn onto the street but as the police had not put notices out on the main road cars, taxis and motorbikes did turn in, and came to a screeching halt, occasionally almost piling on top of each other, but with surprisingly little animosity towards us – who were causing all this trouble.

Thankfully we had Emily as our intrepid leader who led us in chants which reminded me of choir practice at school but for real American gals must have been more like high school cheering practice. It has been a long time since I was protesting out on the street, sometime in the mid-nineteen sixties in Los Angeles during the Vietnam war. President Johnson was coming to town. I remember we kept our motorcycle helmets on so that when we got beaten our heads would have some protection. Here we had no helmets, just a boy-child sleeping in his stroller.

At the Monumento de los españoles

More people joined us, not all were ex pats, some Porteños too. After our warm up chanting, Emily moved us from one side of the street to the other. The policemen in their vans got out. While most of us used our phones to take photographs, Beatrice Murch had her Nikon camera in the diaper bag. She was easily able to tell that while we were taking happy snaps of the police, they were also filming us… We stood on Avenue Sarmiento and, as the buses went by, I waved and women, always women, waved back. A big tourist bus honked good luck to us. We walked along Avenue Sarmiento, beside the Plaza Seeber where the parrots screeched their encouragement from the trees. We stopped again at the Monumento de los españoles, a big traffic round-about and an important monument of the Argentine independence from Spain. Cars, motorbikes, bicycles and taxis gave us encouragement, while another blue-blinking police motorbike watched us from across the road.

Maybe seeing us out doing something positive was some consolation to the Argentine football defeat at the mercy of France. France for goodness sake!

Emily, our leader, knew where she was taking us and so did the rest of the police. We walked along Avenue del Libertador turning on Kennedy and past the American consulate, a far more architecturally pleasing sight than the Embassy, which is an ugly huge army/police building. I wondered if anyone was in the consulate building. If an American looked out of a window and saw this small band of mostly women, walking, chanting and holding up banners about families and love and what, if anything, they thought.

Group photo by Beatrice Murch

Early group photo by Beatrice Murch

Were they comforted by our presence or by our small size, or were they comforted by the police vans, motorcycles and the marching formation of riot-gear dressed police women who were sent to join the motorcycle teams and the policemen emerging from their paddy vans.

We circled about, far closer to those police than I ever cared to see our daughter and grandson and paused again at the other side of the embassy. The policemen were getting cold and the effects of the pizza may have long worn off.

David had woken up and it was time to take him home. Our little band was breaking up and the motorcycle cops were taking their helmets off. They know how to read crowds easily. I wondered if they were paid in dollars or pesos for this extra duty which was funded by the American embassy and thus the American public.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July and for those American mothers and grandmothers here in Buenos Aries Black is the new Red, White and Blue which, at this time seem to signify, blood, shock and death. And yet, maybe resurrection if we all…
Vote From Abroad