“What are we talking about in 2020? Kobe Bryant, Covid-19, social distancing, Zoom, TikTok, Navarro cheerleading, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylore, and…The presidential election. A country divided. Opinions on both sides. It’s everywhere: on the news, on the late-night shows, in the papers, online, online, online…” -Elin Hilderbrand (28 Summers)
I read an article recently that said blogging is no longer cool. Suffice it to say, I think there is a lot of merit in this idea, although I’m not so sure blogging was ever quite cool. It was once common, sure, and done with a good deal of regularity and, in some cases, finesse (enough to have launched certain careers, but it seems wrong that only those who have gained financially should continue to blog), but I don’t know that it was ever really cool. I do, however, find it rather funny that the blog now seems to have been replaced by the (monetized) newsletter, which is really just writing that appears in one’s inbox, something that blog posts can also do if you just subscribe (wink, wink). I’m certain I must be simplifying the differences between the two here and that there is some benefit, probably largely financial, to newsletters that I have failed to glean, but my primary point is that I’m okay with this uncool medium, as long as you, dear readers, are equally okay with a fairly unreliable blogger.
When I returned to this space, I had the best of intentions to stick to my new, yet loosely defined schedule, but summer–especially one dominated by a pandemic–quickly got in the way. The thing is that summer, in both the American and universal imagination, looms so large: it’s the season when time stretches like a supple and well-rested ball of pizza dough; you want to personalize it, perfectly bake it, and then savor each and every bite. Believe me, I know. As both a former academic and the spouse of an academic, summer is when we can actually do things; the guilt factor is relatively low and, since the days are long, the possibilities seem endless. But this summer is obviously different because of the pandemic. And it makes a person restless, listless, all of the “lesses.”
This is why, even before I decided to restart the blog, the Greek and I had decided that we should, the pandemic be damned (in a matter of speaking), try to do something fun and local this summer. Our trip to Pennsylvania to see my family was scrapped; the trip to Greece, which would have been Amalia’s introduction to the country and to family she has not yet had an opportunity to meet, felt too risky even to contemplate. What did that leave us with? Oregon, as a state, is not without its treasures, so we decided to choose a place, Crater Lake, and go. Most importantly, our goal was to travel responsibly: taking our own food, our own spray bottle of Clorox and rags, and staying in a relatively remote location. But, as with so many things in life, easier said than done, especially when, in a country as vast as the United States, everybody is operating according to his or her own definition of risk and the very idea of travel has become another hot topic of debate. Is it ethical to travel during a pandemic? Is it wise? Can you travel if you opt to do so responsibly and have basically zero contact with locals or other travelers? Can normalcy be approximated during a pandemic and should we even try (is that not, after all, where the mental disconnect takes place, as well as the greatest potential for carelessness?)? And the burning question of the pandemic (and maybe of our lives): just because you can, does it mean you should?
The weird thing is that it is all, despite being a matter of public health, also very much a personal choice. In general, my risk tolerance is much lower than the Greek’s, although we did both agree when we pulled into a scenic overlook at Crater Lake National Park that sunny mid-July morning and saw license plates from Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Arizona and no masks in sight that maybe, just maybe, it would be better to skip that particular spot. And while we found several other places to enjoy the stunningly clear and blue water of Crater Lake (how clear it remains, however, after a pandemic summer that saw a record number of visitors is questionable) from, I never felt quite at ease in the way I had during past trips. There were just too many people, too many variables, too little certainty in a sea of what ifs. But am I glad we went? Yes, the park is gorgeous and the reputation of the lake, the deepest in the United States and one that was formed after the eruption and collapse of Mount Mazama 7,700 years ago, lived up to its reality. There were also moments at the farmhouse we rented, watching the sun set over the Cascades and having a drink in the Adirondack chairs on the property, that felt like summers of yore…or at the very least like a major viral threat weren’t potentially lurking nearby. This wasn’t how I felt at the park itself, when people who made a point not to wear their masks would walk just a little too close when the splendor of open air and space were all around. Maybe the famous Sartre line is often misinterpreted, but I think there is a kernel of truth lurking within that explains why people have latched onto it: “Hell is other people.” Either that, or covid really does resemble the most insidious depression, a cloud casting a pall on all of our activities and interactions. I often think of those surveys I used to see hanging in the halls of Dwinelle Hall: “Do you derive pleasure from activities you always enjoyed? Do you feel irritable most days? Can you concentrate?” When you think of the answers to these questions, it is alarming, to say the least.
Despite my lingering impression we are squandering the most liberating season because of abstract fears, the simple truth is that I have felt most content at home this summer. It has been slow, save for one covid scare (the test result, which took 4.5 days to come back, was fortunately negative, but this was the scariest week of the summer, one that made me feel justified in my fairly strict adherence to the rules), which led to two trips to the hospital and three weeks of antibiotics (a reminder to everyone reading: Covid is the thing we all worry about these days, but the body can still fail us in many other ways). If nothing else, the whole episode reminded me that maybe slow really isn’t all that bad. Slow, at least, means safe. And while I can’t remember a summer when the Greek and I have been this landlocked, this alone, it has had its perks, at least after the madness of the day is over and the baby is happily asleep. There have been drinks in the garden, Perry Mason and pizza Sundays (Matthew Rhys forever, please) and dinners, so many dinners! Dinners of Indian-ish nachos (these are a revelation; believe the hype!), Fried Tofu sandwiches, homemade pear and ricotta ravioli that evoked our trip to Florence, fried zucchini blossoms, Venetian shrimp and saffron pasta, sprinkle cake with mango buttercream for a first birthday…Cooking may be, especially during peak summer and in a west-facing kitchen, exhausting (and we all know the dishes, even if the adventurous cook’s responsibility and privilege, definitely are) but it’s also the glue that holds this occasionally fraying and tiresome routine together. It’s how we travel these days and, heaven knows, it’s a better substitute than anything Zoom or the internet can deliver. That said, we had peperonata and farro for dinner last night, with a side of several episodes of Pasta Grannies and, honestly, it was the most delightful dinner companions we’ve had in months.
On that note, I will say adieu for now, but please know that I will be back soon with a blueberry pie recipe that I have been perfecting all summer. Also, since we can’t really go anywhere and I have been suffering from the best and worst wanderlust (if you are too, I highly recommend 28 Summers by Elin Hilderbrand, which transported me to Nantucket and made me feel like I was happily experiencing the best of a New England summer), I was thinking I might finally organize and post photos from our trips these last few years: Portugal in 2016, Italy in 2017, and Greece in 2018, some with recipes, some without. Things to look forward to, i.e. the best medicine for any pandemic.