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Coronavirus Forever

July 19, 2020

Scull and Hammond garden June 2020Well, it seems like forever, doesn’t it? More than six months since the first word of the coronavirus, four since schools and businesses shut down, and who knows how long before things return to normal – whatever ‘normal’ may mean down the road. Williams College has invited students back to campus this fall, and most have said they intend to be here; how it will work out in practice remains to be seen. Covid testing will be done twice a week to begin with, results to be returned within forty-eight hours. Wayne’s library will be open (eventually) by appointment only, and with restrictions, and only to faculty, staff, and students, at least in these early stages. Wayne will be working from home as much as possible, as he has been since mid-March, going in only when needed and for a course on the great astronomers he’s co-teaching this fall. Many of the classes here will be held remotely even if the students are on campus; all classes will be remote once campus closes down early at Thanksgiving break, and there will be no January term in 2021.

Usually on July 4th Wayne is at the library for its Independence Day celebration, featuring an original printing of the Declaration of Independence, the text of which is read by actors from the Williamstown Theatre Festival. That wasn’t possible this year due to the pandemic, so a virtual reading was assembled using Williams faculty, staff, and family members as Declaration readers. Wayne introduced the programme, mixed the video and audio, and created video commentary.* The result can be seen on the Williams online digital repository or on Vimeo.

Scull and Hammond garden June 2020We’ve been to garden centres a few times (masked). The plants available now, this late in the season, are mostly past their best, though the other day we picked up cheap some nice hosta and heuchera for the back (shade) garden. Wayne continues to shop for groceries alone. We’ve kept our stocks up as shortages come and go. At present, at least at the closest store, one can’t find graham crackers or tinned pears, or leaf lettuce, fresh green beans, or frozen peas, and there were no strawberries to be had yesterday though they were advertised as on sale. We (mainly Christina) spent some idle hours the other day putting together a diabolically cut vintage wooden jigsaw puzzle, reproducing one of Pauline Baynes’s medieval-themed pictures, The Betrothal, based on a poster she made for Macmillan in 1952.

Travel of course is out of the question. Williams has ruled out business travel until at least the end of December – not that this will matter, as the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair, which we’ve been attending every autumn, will be only a virtual event this year – and has asked employees to be careful about personal travel, after which one would need to self-quarantine. Meanwhile, the American Automobile Association would like Wayne to become a member, British Airways have extended our Bronze frequent flyer memberships, and we receive emails from our favourite hotels and restaurants in England announcing their re-openings. We wonder if we’ll see London or Oxford ever again, with the USA a hotspot for the virus and travellers from here personae non gratae, in addition to all the closings and restrictions.

Wayne also receives frequent emails from clothiers such as Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, and Ben Silver, for all the good it does. Brooks Brothers seem to have been the first major menswear house to sell their own brand of cloth masks, but Ben Silver have made an ingenious combination mask and pocket square. In most of these advertisements, the coronavirus doesn’t exist: the models are happy, maskless of course, and dressed much better than most of us are these days, with nowhere nice or special to go. At least the lockdown has reduced wear and tear on Wayne’s better clothes and shoes, which he wears to work, and he has saved a lot by not being tempted to buy anything new – which is not, specifically, why Brooks Brothers recently declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, though it’s part of the problem.

Scull and Hammond garden June 2020Our garden, at least, is flourishing, even in an official drought here in Massachusetts and temperatures too high for us to go out for long. A few photos are included here. All three of our apple trees (Cortland, Fuji, and Honeycrisp) are bearing fruit, Christina’s flowers are taller and more abundant than ever (with a few exceptions), and two Early Girl tomato plants, which Wayne planted in pots, are doing very well. Even our one indoor plant, a cyclamen, is happy. We thought that this had come to its end, as supermarket cyclamens tend to do before long, but we decided to see what would happen if we moved it into a larger pot and used a trick found on YouTube, by which the plant is watered with a mixture of H2O plus a little 3% solution of hydrogen peroxide. This adds oxygen to the soil and helps the flow of nutrients. Magic! at least for our cyclamen, which now doesn’t know when to quit growing new leaves and flowers.


* Wayne writes, for anyone interested in the tech: Ideally, I would have recorded myself at the library in front of the actual documents, rather than in my home office, but that too wasn’t possible. I’m looking off to the side most of the time rather than into the camera to reduce glare on my glasses from the monitor and a key light off to my right, and from a tablet in front of me running a teleprompter app. I made my commentary with a Logitech C920 webcam, a lavalier microphone, and Debut software. The other readers (except Michael from the Theatre Festival) recorded their voices with iPhones; I equalized these in Audacity (and used that to record my own part of the Declaration), and converted the files in VLC media player to mp3. I made the title slides in InDesign, saved as jpegs, and mixed everything together in Shotcut.

  1. July 20, 2020 7:26 am

    I long for travel…we were to have been in France this month, and then on to our daughter’s home in Germany. There are days when I wonder when/if I will ever see either of those, or the London I love and all the English gardens that are left on my “to see” list! It is a discouraging time.

  2. Alan Reynolds permalink
    July 21, 2020 1:37 pm

    It’s good to hear how you’re getting along, Christina and Wayne. We’re managing with supermarket deliveries, and our son does shopping for us too. (Louise & I haven’t set foot in a shop since the beginning of March).

    stay safe,

    Alan & Louise


  3. October 22, 2020 6:58 am

    Hello Wayne and Christina. I go by nigelvalentine on the webs but I’m really Gabrielle. I am in the UK with my husband–I would say ‘trapped’ here but I’ve currently no desire to return to the US except to see my loved ones–doing a PhD in theology at Nottingham. Very long story and many circuitous weblinks later, I came across your (this) blog and I have enjoyed reading several posts. We were fortunate enough to have visited Sir John Soane’s Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 2016 and have yet to come across any other American who has heard of it, let alone visited. Anyway, carry on! Book lovers unite, etc.

    • October 24, 2020 3:52 pm

      Hi, Gabrielle. Sir John Soane’s Museum is becoming better known, to the point that they had to restrict visitor numbers. There’s an American group of Friends of the Soane Museum who are very active. Of course, the pandemic has changed everything at least for the near future. We miss being able to go to London, and Oxford.

      • October 25, 2020 12:38 pm

        Fantastic! I will have to look out for it. Very much enjoy your blog as well!

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