D.C. blues

anne calfo pillows

Hello from the end of another long, sad, scary week in lock-down. My brain feels like it has spent too much time in a milk frother, and that simile probably came to me because I spent the last hour going down an internet rabbit hole comparing moka pots for no discernible reason. Just before that, I wrote a group text to my sister, brother, and father to tell them we should have a surprise virtual party for my mom’s 75th birthday next week. Only I wrote the text to my sister, brother, and mother. For three days in a row this week, I didn’t feel like leaving the house even to get a few minutes of fresh air, so I didn’t. And I almost forgot to eat dinner yesterday. When I finally remembered, I boiled some spaghetti in boxed chicken broth and called it a night.

I am, of course, certain that I am not alone in my malaise and agitation. I know that I am alone together, as it were. That only makes me sadder. The weight of the world’s pain, and the sheer number of variations on that pain, is crushing.

I didn’t mention it in my last post, which feels like a million years ago, but I moved into a new apartment – my first lease in six years! – on March 14, just as social distancing was taking hold in New York. It was, to say the least, very stressful. I had been looking forward to starting afresh in my favorite New York neighborhood, and to buying non-Ikea, non-used furniture for the first time ever. To making my house a home. Instead, my sofa delivery is indefinitely postponed, I have only my desk chair to sit on (and no desk), and a lot of my things are still in boxes because there are no shelves to put them on.

But today I received the pillow inserts I ordered last week — a small bright spot because it meant that for the first time since I bought them three years ago in Dakar, I could make use of the wax-print pillow covers I love so much.

As I was putting the pillows in the cases, I smelled my dinner burning on the stove and realized that I was making Senegalese food while admiring my Senegalese home goods. The last time I had lakh was in a Saint-Louis hotel in December, where I ate it every day for breakfast before going out to film six month-old babies for a special project that is now on hold because of Covid-19. I would not have been eating it today except that I have no more will to cook and it seemed like the easiest thing to make in my cupboard. That was actually my brain being blippy again. I know full well that it’s actually very labor intensive; if you don’t stir it constantly it clumps and burns, which is why abandoning it to stuff my pillowcases resulted in my bouille — or porridge, from (I assume) the French word for boil, bouillir — being more toasted than boiled.


Anyway, since I was stuffing Senegalese pillowcases and stirring Senegalese bouille, I decided to make it a three-fer by putting on my charm necklace with a Senegalese passport entry stamp (from Jet Set Candy in Grand Central Station). It made me happy for a few minutes, and then it made me sad again.senegal charm

Of course it was bittersweet: the feeling of closeness with Senegal mingled with the incertitude of when I will be back — certainly not in June as previously planned – and worry about what will happen there in the meantime.

So many bittersweet moments the past few weeks: the gratitude for spring mingled with the knowledge some people are dying alone in hospital beds while I am walking among the cherry blossoms. The peacefulness of the silence mingled with the intermittent blare of sirens on ambulances speeding another gravely ill person to the hospital. The beauty of the bluest skies I’ve ever seen in NYC mingled with the angst of knowing that as soon as the economy re-opens, we’ll go back to destroying the planet. The hope that New York is past its peak mingled with the dread that the virus is about to explode in other places.

I guess bittersweet is the most we can hope for during these strange days.

I’m not actually building to anything here; I’m just laying out my brain-space like a tablecloth and hoping you don’t mind that it’s a bit stained and holey and sort of draping over one side more than the other.

Oh! I do have some links for you. Because why not. Before I share them, I also would like to tell you that this week I learned a new French word, vulgarisation. It means… wait for it… popularization. Can you believe how snobby that etymology is!? Vulgar, i.e. course, debased, obscene, unrefined, comes from vulgus, meaning “common people.” Eww.

Anyway, here are some links that I have found interesting while stuck inside; maybe you will, too:

Twenty-five words that are also their opposite. Seems appropriate for this bizarro-life we’re living.

Cute animal livestreams.

And more animal cuteness.

Using Google Streetview to explore Poland while in quarantine. An excellent idea.

Teju Cole wrote a beautiful short story reflective of this moment. 

And here’s an old poem to bring you solace. 

Linguists hear an accent begin in Antarctica.

Traveling by ear: a roundup of travel podcasts.

Splendid isolation: how I stopped time by sitting in a forest for 24 hours. (I read this in January but it seems highly relevant right now.)

Maybe we could all think of our homes as forests for the next several weeks. On that note, try to enjoy the woods this weekend! And try not to get lost in them, spiritually speaking…

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