And we’re off… We hope.

An angel helps me out.

Jerusalem, by Carol L. Douglas. Yesterday I decided to illustrate Blake’s poem. I got exactly this far.

I’m writing this on my phone in line in the airport, where we and many other Americans have met up to take the last scheduled flight from Argentina.

We left our hotel at 7 AM for an 11:30 flight, expecting to be detained at roadblocks. The inbound traffic lanes proceeded slowly but, outbound, police waved us through. They’re no doubt happy to send us on our way. Nonetheless, our flight is already delayed an hour.

From my fourth-floor aerie I peered into many cars over the past few days. They typically had papers on their dashboard. Before this trip I wouldn’t have understood that these were documents that must be produced on demand. Even though I don’t want to see America as a police state, I understand the impulse to crack down. This is a very large, tightly-packed city, and the pandemic could do terrific damage.

Casa Rosada. That’s as close as we ever got to tourism.

We drove past the Casa Rosada, the Argentine White House, on our way out of town. That’s as close as we have been to seeing the sights. From there to the airport, Buenos Aires is much like any other city in the world: pricey high-rises tapering to smaller, less-lovely structures, to an industrial beltway and then, finally, suburbs and towns. Our national identity may come from places like the Casa Rosada and White House, but the truth is that for most of us, the places we call home are interchangeable.

With the exception of a few cities, Americans don’t have a taste for living in tower blocks. That makes us odd compared to most nations. Even Canadians seem to like living in high-rises, judging from cities like Toronto and Ottawa. But we Americans are suburban in the same way our British and Australian cousins are. For us, “home” is optimally two stories and includes a small patch of green.

Empty airport

Thinking about home, I decided to make my last painting a line from that great British hymn, Jerusalem. It is sort of an unofficial British anthem, and is based on a poem by the visionary artist William Blake. Each line could yield a painting or three.

The cost of this pandemic is borne by all of us. We have incurred some terrific expenses in the form of flights we cannot take and accommodations. The Hilton Buenos Aires was our only option and it did not come cheap. But I was shocked to learn that an individual donor covered the entire bill for all ten of us.

I know who this person is, and that he doesn’t want his name shared. I mention it because it’s common in our culture to vilify people for not giving, or not caring. And yet so many people do wonderful things in very private ways, not so they can be publicly lauded, but simply because they see a need. Remember that next time you want to castigate a political opponent as selfish or uncaring.

[W]hen you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you,” says the Gospel of Matthew. There are a lot of people who live that creed.

No news is good news

What is ‘home’? Why are we so anxious to get there?

I’m getting nowhere with the gouache, but at least I get to think lofty thoughts with a brush in my hand.

In the absence of real information, we like to spin theories. Our current one is that our flight crew needs to arrive in Buenos Aires sometime today to allow for their mandatory rest period. If they do, they’re likely to end up here. We’ll be cheering discreetly from our fourth-floor corridor.
At least our current flight wasn’t canceled or rescheduled overnight. (My restive mind wouldn’t let me stop checking.) Yesterday, a few more Americans drifted in, including a young mother with two small children. Our embassy is moving our fellow citizens into the capital for this last flight, and I expect they will continue until the absolute last minute.
My palette.

That’s only the people who want to go home, of course. We could have chosen to stay in Argentina. This is a lovely country, and far safer than America right now. I asked myself why I felt drawn to get back to Maine. I’m a wanderer by nature. Ultimately, the decision came down to money and the question of when international travel would resume.

If I have a home in this world, it’s where my children and grandchildren are. That’s not a place, because they’re all young and footloose. Right now, they’re encamped in a rural county of New York, keeping themselves out of the urban plague-zones as much as is possible. They’re in two separate groups because one of my sons-in-law has had (presumptive) coronavirus. But they’re close enough to each other to help in an emergency, and they can go outside without violating urban social distancing rules.
Yesterday we walked to the pharmacy (allowed in this lockdown) to get new disinfectant wipes. We saw this wonderful car. 
The peculiar thing about our times is that we can keep in contact with them from another continent. That’s not quite the same as being with them, but it’s close. Even when I get to Maine, I won’t be seeing them any time soon. Non-essential travel is banned in Maine and Massachusetts. But if home is where the heart is, my home right now is with them.
Augustine of Hippo addressed the meaning of home at moment of unprecedented disaster: the sack of Rome in 410. This was the first time in 800 years that the Eternal City had fallen to foreign forces. “The city which had taken the whole world was itself taken,” wrote Jerome.
Traditional Romans saw the failure of their empire as a punishment for abandoning their pagan religion for Christianity. Of course, the empire actually failed because it had become terminally weak and was under pressure during a period of massive human displacement.
The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius, by John William Waterhouse, 1883, courtesy Art Gallery of South Australia. While Rome suffered, the Emperor was in Ravenna, playing with his pet birds.
Christian or pagan, Romans suffered together. Homes and properties were destroyed, people of all castes were raped, tortured and murdered. Families were sold into slavery and separated forever. It truly must have seemed like the end of the world.
Augustine’s response was radical. He wrote that even if Rome failed, the City of God would ultimately prevail. Empires would come and go, but the New Jerusalem would last forever. Regardless of where we wash up, the City of God is our true home. It’s been the consolation of Christians ever since.

Daring to dream

You can only be disappointed if you allow yourself to hope, but hope is a necessary part of life.

Rain, by Carol L. Douglas

We’ve been pretty careful to make arrangements one step at a time. Ours is an escape ladder built from straw, which can blow over with the slightest breath of wind. We’ve booked enough flights that have failed to be very leery of booking more. But at some point, we had to look past that, because Miami is not our final destination. Our car is in a now-closed shuttle lot in Portsmouth, NH. That is about 2.5 hours south of our home and an hour north of Boston’s Logan Airport.

Yesterday, with 36 hours until our flight from Buenos Aires, we solidified a plan. We booked a flight that lands in Boston at 12:30 AM. We reserved a one-way car rental from Hertz, which is open 24 hours. The shuttle operators offered to leave my car in a safe spot with the keys inside. We’d be 36 hours on the road, but we were on target to be home by Friday at noon.
Crane, by Carol L. Douglas
I shared these arrangements with my kids; I told a pastor from our church. It felt awfully nice to write out these plans; it made them feel real. I told a few friends and went to bed with a plan. I’d start packing first thing this morning, right after I finish this blog. No, we don’t have much to pack, but I’d drag it out for the sheer joy of the experience.
I should have known better. At 10 PM, we received an email from Eastern Airlines saying that our flight is now delayed until the 3rd. That’s assuming they don’t delay the flight still another time—and assuming that this flight ever existed at all. Forgive our cynicism, but we now have a long history buying tickets that haven’t materialized.
Meanwhile, the costs continue to mount. As Senator Everett Dirksenfamously said, “A billion here, a billion there; sooner or later it adds up to real money.”
I’ve been careful to keep my expectations low until now. You can only be disappointed if you allow yourself to hope, but hope is an integral part of faith. That’s a conundrum, but there’s hope that leads to dashed expectations and there’s true hope, which perseveres despite circumstances. I know I’m not alone in finding myself in radically-altered circumstances. If you find yourself sliding into hopelessness during this long, bitter confinement, let me suggest a few classic readings:
And, of course, Psalm 23.
I’d say this felt like a kick in the gut, but I was already feeling like I’d gone two rounds with a mule. Last week’s nemesisis back with a vengeance. I’m dosing myself with live-culture yogurt and drinking tea.
The biggest excitement of yesterday was this poor kitchen worker dumping a tray full of china dishes on a tile floor. It rang through the eight-story lobby.
I’m a big believer in staying busy to counter the megrims, but there’s very little work you’re allowed to do in a luxury hotel. We refuse room service and make our own bed. That leaves about 23 hours and fifty minutes to fill each day.
Last night, I found Doug ironing my painting shirts, which were still damp from being hand-washed. 
“You hardly need to do that,” I protested.
“I’m doing it for fun,” he answered. The man’s gone daft.