I have just finished a book that knocked me flat.

One of the most finely wrought novels I have read in many a year. Perhaps ever.

Get it. Read it.

An astonishing achievement that will transport you.

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Don’t tell Mama!

Back in the day, when one of our parents or aunts or uncles did something a tiny bit naughty that was witnessed by someone else, the event was invariably accompanied by the admonition, “Don’t tell Mama!”

Mama’s not around anymore not to be told anything–how was THAT for some convoluted grammar?!–but she would be most unhappy to learn of one of my pandemic interests: BIRDS.

As she told the story, several gazillion times over the course of her life, when she was 5 years old, she was walking out in the yard, eating a “dripping” sandwich, when she came upon the household chickens. A newborn chick got excited about the dripping part and ran over for a closer look. My mother ever so gently (her description) moved the chick away with the side of her little foot. Whereupon the mother hen took offense and began to flog my mother, who had to be rescued, bloodied and screaming, by my grandmother.

My mother had a serious bird phobia from that moment on, no matter how big, small, or far away they were. A horse nearly ran her over in front of the Hofburg in Vienna one day and she merely reached out to pat him. A friend who was with us exclaimed, You’re afraid of a pigeon but not an enormous HORSE?

So she would not be amused to learn that, while in lockdown, with no planes flying overhead and virtually no cars on the road, I began to take an interest in the sudden influx of birds in my garden. They were chattering so joyfully and zooming down from the trees and back up to the branches. I bought a couple of feeders and began to study them. I was intrigued by this account of someone who has had the same experience.

I will be running, not walking, to make this. If I can find some green-ish peanuts to boil–always a challenge when you are not in eastern North Carolina or at James’s gas station in Oxford, Mississippi.

I found this article fascinating. I may have to enrol in CS50!

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I see the moon!

Yesterday or the day before–who can keep track of the days in pandemic times?–was the anniversary of the moon landing. A great event in my childhood, which I can see in my mind’s eye like it was yesterday. This photo essay is just marvelous.

The paper of record is doing an incredible job right now. I was mesmerized by this. 


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On waiting and burnout

I got all excited when I thought I might get to see a new ocean! And then I came to the part where it’s going to take 5-10 million years. . . .

Interesting article on burnout in global health. I think burnout generally, especially in this endless pandemic, is a real and serious problem. And it’s true that global health work creates some special issues. But it’s a hard time for everybody, isn’t it? How are you coping? What are you doing for distraction and to keep sane?


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Paper, ink, and stamps

I have just finished a round of actual correspondence and it made me a bit nostalgic. Even though I now print my own stamps! So I was interested to read this op-ed in today’s NY Times.

And here’s the address of someone you can write to right away–to thank him for DOING HIS JOB. And doing it very, very well. We cannot let public health experts be bullied into submission by people who have NO IDEA what they are talking about.

Dr Anthony Fauci

c/o NIAID Office of Communications and Government Relations

5601 Fishers Lane, MSC 9806

Bethesda, MD 20892-9806 USA

Has anyone else been reviving the art of correspondence? Do tell.


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Various. Plus coffee.

You must look at these gorgeous photographs of Vermont.

This is perfectly extraordinary.

I admit to loving my Nespresso machine(s). But the (non)recycling aspect is huge. In Switzerland, you can’t swing a cat without coming across a recycling station for the capsules. In France? Rumor has it there are something like 100 across the whole country. (I’ve just looked this up and the 100 figure turns out to be more than 5000! Suffice it to say I have never personally seen one in this country.) I’m going to transition to a real espresso machine one of these days. What’s your coffee routine?

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Miscellany of cool things

Who knew the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority has its own photographer? 


Like plenty of others, I am fascinated by tiny houses. This one is really intriguing, not just the building but the whole ethos and the story behind it. And in my home state of North Carolina!

The incredibly talented Jessica Abel has a new website. If you don’t know her work and wisdom, you should. So sorry I didn’t get to meet her IRL when she was living in France, but I have learned so much from her.

I made banana bread this week (this recipe). Didn’t have walnuts; threw in some pecans. Used no-sugar chocolate chips, which gave me a righteous feeling. So delicious. But when I threw away the skins, I thought to myself, I know there are great no-waste people making things with banana peels. Today, up pops this! Must make.

More as I uncover it!

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Bits of brilliance

For your plague reading, which, as it turns out, did not stop with Defoe or Camus.

(I once had occasion, in an earlier disaster, to write about the timelessness of Defoe’s work. You can read it here: McLellan washday in Durant. 

THIS. The New York Times is just on fire. Kudos to all. Love the combination of art, writing, and audio.

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Books and “art”

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, in part, of course, to escape the news of the world. And, because I took a road trip, some of those books have been audio versions.

I’m sure I already raved about Donna Tartt’s reading of Charles Portis’s True Grit. I listened to that and Lawrence Wright’s The End of October while I was on the road (by the way, whoever has read it, please get in touch. I have a question about a plot point!).

I also enjoyed–no idea where I got the recommendation–In Pursuit of Disobedient Women: A Memoir of Love, Rebellion, and Family, Far Away. An interesting and well-told tale of a New York Times reporter who moves with her family to West Africa, and an insightful look into the tradeoffs that arise when marriage, family, travel, and career collide. 

And I’ve just discovered the hugely talented Simon Parkin, through his new book, A Game of Birds and Wolves: The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II.

It’s the kind of history I like best–jam-packed with information, told like a thriller, full of telling detail and peopled with memorable characters. Recommended!

Finally, I am taking a watercolor course with two other longtime friends and failing miserably at it. One of them has challenged me to post my paintings, not matter how absurdly terrible they are. We’re supposed to be learning about light, medium, and dark values, not as demonstrated below 😉 I will be repainting this over and over again until I get it right. . . .

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Speaking of extraordinary

I have been feeling mildly sorry for myself, nervous on my first outing (by car) in these pandemic times, masked and hand-gelled to the hilt, wiping down surfaces in hotel rooms with disinfectant, giving people a wide berth in the streets, alert to any cough or sneeze.

While it may not have been the best choice of subject matter, I have been riveted by the audio version of this extraordinary novel, which is so insightful as to be completely chilling. I keep reminding myself, it’s only a novel! But, but, but. See for yourself.

Add to this the weather in northern France, gray skies and spitting rain: a recipe for melancholy.

But then I read this extraordinary obituary, and I resolved to stop feeling even remotely sorry for myself. Read it all the way to the end. And marvel at what people can overcome.


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