I was panicked on Valentine’s Day–the night before we left for Osaka. Coronavirus had already ravaged Wuhan, China, by that point; there were several hundred cases in Japan, mostly in a quarantined ship off the coast of Yokohama. At that time, very few people recognized the virus as a threat to the United States or to the rest of the world at large. At least, it wasn’t that largely reported and there were very few restrictions. I spent most of the night on the phone with Japan Airlines trying to refund our flights. Trips to Japan were not considered refundable. There were a handful of known cases reported in Osaka.
It was hard to think of anything but keeping my family safe and well during the trip, and getting home to New York. Obsessively cleaning every surface, plying the kids with every fruit, vegetable and vitamin known to mankind. Every night I took a bath in our Osaka apartment to calm myself down and count another day. Often I listened to recordings of a course with one of my yoga teachers (here) and tried to find something good happening in my body or senses. My first thought getting off the plane at JFK was that New York–and the US–wasn’t prepared for this. We stayed on self-quarantine for the next 14 days–despite showing no signs of illness–except for a few trips to the park and grocery store. Even after that, many people were out and about in New York, as if everything were fine. Until restrictions were formally announced in mid-March. New York is now the epicenter of the crisis.
We didn’t travel that much in Japan–and largely avoided the train to Kyoto except for one visit to the bamboo forest. How powerful tiny moments can be in times of utter terror. Little tofu doughnuts from a tourist kiosk at the edge of the forest were among the brightest moments of the trip for me. Another was having a soba noodle soup in the basement of Tennoji station with shaved honeywort. Had never heard of honeywort before–it tastes like orchid.
Tennoji Park was built in 1903 for the Fifth National Industrial Exhibition–to stimulate the Japanese economy and showcase vendors from around the world, including American cars and a tower with an elevator. Tucked inside is Keitakuen Garden, designed by a Meiji-era architect who also did the Heian shrines in Kyoto. My favorite thing was the stepping stones–the very simple act of walking stone to stone across the pond. Here we are now, going stone by stone, when it’s hard at times to know here to look. I can only offer a few things I’ve felt grateful for during quarantine so far, when so many people’s lives have been upended. (In addition to the luxury of having my children near me at all times, being able to work from home right now, and having access to food and other basics):
- Making British scones with ingredients available in my house. They wouldn’t win any Instagram followers but are one of the most comforting things in the world to me with good black tea.
- The Season of Phantasmal Peace by Derek Walcott. Read here. There’s no way to thank him. But here’s my best effort: Light of the World: In Memory of Derek Walcott
- Rediscovering Audrey Hepburn movies like Sabrina and Funny Face
- Doing puzzles with my kids or other little games even though someone is usually yelling. Old-school Disney movies like Bambi and Snow White that play like ballet
- The tireless efforts of NYC public school teachers and staff who set up resources and curriculums within days in an effort to get support to more than a million kids across New York. We were barely able to keep up with all the technology and links but will try harder next week.
- Trying to work on French with my son even though my French is questionable at best.
- Getting yoga and meditation podcasts from local yoga teachers and studios (here and here)
- Having the opportunity and choice to help in small ways in the face of what feels like insurmountable problems, policy limitations, insufficient resources and despair.
- This timeless piece of reporting and photojournalism: The Great Empty
- The support of coworkers also facing many challenges around the world; the guidance of experienced mentors (and many lessons over the years) on how to stay grounded and human, and focus on the long term when financial markets are falling off a cliff and all financial security seems to be at stake.
- Hearing from friends and family grappling with so many different circumstances; knowing there is love and emotional support even when we cannot directly fix each other’s problems.
- BBC clips from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London on the work done to make certain crafts here. The very existence of the V&A Museum and BBC.
- This short shared by the Tribeca Film Festival in their new series to help New Yorkers relieve anxiety through art (here). Sent to me by a dear coworker who also loves film.
- Italian Vogue opening up their magazine archives from the 1960s
- Neighborhood kids playing guitar across backyards
- Finding stockpiles of herbal remedies like turmeric elixir and moringa in the bottoms of drawers and other nooks and crannies around the house. Sneaking vitamins and other immune boosters into snacks when my kids aren’t looking like elderberry syrup in smores…
- Tulip bulbs starting to sprout from a longshot late December planting. This was recommended by an impossibly beautiful Italian gardner, also the mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who urged me to take care of my garden. So I tried.