Signs of recovery?

The post-COVID world is uncharted territory. Navigating it successfully will require local knowledge and lots of common sense.

Blueberry Barrens, 24X36, oil on canvas, Carol L. Douglas

Easter Sunday was the anniversary of my arrival back from our ill-starred trip to Argentina. I left one America and returned to another. It was a nation largely without toilet paper. A year later, the phrase ‘flatten the curve’ is mostly forgotten. We still don’t know how we’re going to reintegrate our society, but the possibility seems to be there.

My mother was a fan of investment guru Peter Lynch He was famous for the phrase, “invest in what you know.” Lynch believed in the street-smarts of Average Joe. He thought individual investors were potentially more capable stock-pickers than fund managers, because they could see the impact of new products on their day-to-day lives. (On the other hand, he famously bought Dunkin’ Donuts stock because he liked their coffee, so he wasn’t always right.)

Bridle path, 11X14, oil on canvasboard, Carol L. Douglas

Any small gallery or artist in business after a year of COVID is navigating uncharted waters. Our local knowledge and our street smarts are going to stand us in good stead, if we listen to that inner voice called ‘common sense.’

I started teaching virtually on April 28 with the coaching and encouragement of my friend Mary Byrom. The following month, I bought an annual subscription to Zoom. It’s had a tremendous return on investment. For most of the past year, my two classes have been waitlist-only.

Best buds, 11X14, oil on canvasboard, available.

Lynch’s worldview was, in fact, borne out in a small way in this tiny niche business. Long before the big art publishers realized the market for virtual learning, teachers like Mary and me were teaching on Zoom.

As I approach the one-year anniversary of my virtual classes, I’m seeing a slight softening of demand. My street smarts are tingling again.

  • Is this the beginning of a return to normal, where we take classes in real life?
  • Have bigger vendors vacuumed up the demand for virtual instruction?
  • Does the approach of good weather mean people would rather paint outside?
In a slippery landscape, we must tread carefully. We should understand why there’s a shift before we start reacting (if indeed any response is necessary). But I’m cautiously hopeful that this is a tiny step toward normalcy, where we can go to school, church, and each other’s’ homes with the free-and-easy nonchalance of the past.

By the way, there are two openings in Monday night’s session starting next week. If you’re interested there’s more information here.

Artist with the soul of an accountant

There are some unique lessons to be found in the detritus of our COVID-year returns.

Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Electrico, painted in my extended sojourn in Patagonia last year. Available.

I like to tell people I’m an artist with the soul of accountant. This isn’t really true; I’m just making fun of my painting. I hate bookkeeping as much as the next guy.

This time of year, my accountant friend Laura Turner is doing a lot of tax returns. She likes it because each one is a small bit of history. I don’t share her enthusiasm for slogging through the minutiae of the tax code (which changes constantly), but auditing your own books does take you back.

Last year I wrote a lot of refund checks—$4,550.40 worth, to be precise. These were deposits for workshops, and they all went in a flurry in late Spring, as we realized the world was not going to open back up again. They represented future payments as well. Compared to others, my losses were small, but for me they were painful.

Cliffs, painted in Patagonia last year. Available.

My computer tells me to whom I issued those refunds. More than 80% of them turned around and bought something else from me during 2020—another workshop, a class, or a painting. There’s a lesson in that, one we can learn from our retail neighbors.

Modern big-box stores are open and easy about taking returns. Buy it, take it home and contemplate it. If you don’t like it, return it. My late friend Gwendolyn used to call it “buying on the American plan,” which tells you it’s not universal. It’s possible here because these retailers work in volumes so large that the cost of this goodwill gesture is relatively small.

Powerhouse on the Rio Blanco, painted in Patagonia last year. Available.

That is not true for the sole proprietor, whose operation may include unrecoverable deposits and expenses. But it’s still a good idea to issue refunds cheerfully when you can. It establishes your integrity and goodwill.

I’m conservative by nature. I prefer to do business as I always have. But in April 2020, I was forced to rethink that. Every gallery I did business with was closed, either permanently or temporarily.

I made my first diffident step in buying a license for something called ‘Zoom’. By June, I was confident enough to convert that to an annual license. It was the best investment I’ve ever made.

Rain, painted in Patagonia last year. Available.

That month, I also bought a party tent and opened an ad hoc gallery in my driveway. I went on to have the best sales year I’ve ever had. Nobody is more surprised about that than me, but it speaks to a second essential truth: we usually have to be smacked upside the head to make positive change.

I think citizens should prepare their own tax returns so they have a notion of how the tax code actually works. My fellow Americans don’t agree; in 2018, only 43% of electronic filers did their own returns. Even those who use a tax preparer are responsible for laying out the bones of their story. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.

I always hover above the ‘send’ key for a few moments, hoping I’ve remembered every important thing. Itemized returns are never perfect; there are always bits and bobs you mislaid and just don’t recall. But hopefully, I’ve written it more as a memoir and less as a novel.

Joy and tragedy are two sides of the same coin

In some ways, 2020 has been a very good year for me. But that is set against loss, both my own and others’.

Happy New Year! by Carol L. Douglas

If I had a bucket list, Tierra del Fuego would certainly be on it. So, when, in March, I had the opportunity to paint there and in Patagonia with my pal Jane Chapin, I jumped. COVID-19 was still just a rumble from China, albeit moving closer. Within 48 hours of our arrival, the Argentines quarantined us in the mountainous region near the Chilean border. As the first snows of the year hit the higher elevations, we painted glaciers and meted out our remaining canvases.

My uncle Bob, from whom I inherited the travel bug, had been in Patagonia a few years back. He was following our exploits by text. He never learned that we made it home, because on March 29, he became an early casualty of the pandemic. It is the worst grief I’ve sustained since the loss of my parents.

Glaciar Cagliero from Rio Electrico, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas

I came home feeling very deflated. Painting events were cancelled; my own gallery in Rockport couldn’t open. I asked our local police chief if the new regulations would allow plein air classes; he thought no. The windjammer American Eagle, on which I was scheduled to teach two workshops, cancelled its season. My workshop at Schoodic was rescheduled for October, but it hardly mattered. Nobody was signing up for anything, anyways. By June, my revenues to date were down $10,000 from 2019, and that didn’t include the cost of getting back from Argentina. If I’ve ever been inclined to quit, it was then.

There are two important lessons you can take from your Christian neighbors. The first is to live in faith rather than in fear. That doesn’t mean being foolish. I follow the quarantine and testing regulations of the states to which I travel; I use hand sanitizer and a mask; I avoid unnecessary public exposure. I do not, however, let COVID paralyze me. I recognize that the ultimate disposition of my life isn’t in my hands.

The Dooryard, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas, was painted for an event that had to go online; the results were decidedly mixed.

That’s true regardless of your beliefs, by the way. You can do nothing to insulate yourself from the ultimate reality of death. So many Americans (including my uncle) followed the rules punctiliously, but the virus still found them.

The second is that humans need to be flexible to survive tough times. Mature Christians listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, even when it asks them to do odd things. Non-believers may call this ‘listening to their gut,’ but the basic requirement is the same—one has to be open to new ideas. That’s not so easy at my age, when system and structure have had decades to accrete.

On the other hand, Cape Elizabeth’s Paint for Preservation was a hit, even online.

I was extremely resistant to teaching online. I didn’t think it would be a good experience for my students. However, my friend Mary Byrom encouraged and coached me, and today I think it’s at least as good as live classes. It has forced me to be more proactive in designing lessons. That, in turn, has given me the nucleus of the book I’ve always intended to write.

In the end, much happened that was lovely. I suspended minimum enrollment requirements and ended up teaching three successful workshops—at Schoodic, in New Mexico, and in Florida—despite concerns about travel. I learned a new technology, and even made some pretty terrible painting videos. Learning is growth; in that regard, 2020 has been a very good year for me. But that is set against loss, both my own and others’. So much of life is like that, a mix of sorrow and joy.

Winnowing time

A visit to a virtual middle-school classroom is the perfect antidote to latent depression.

Hiking boots and toilet paper, by Carol L. Douglas. This still life could be my current self-portrait.
After a Zoom conversation that mentioned birding, my Facebook feed was filled with birding suggestions. Several people insisted that I was experiencing confirmation bias, the tendency we all have to interpret situations in a way that confirms our own beliefs, experiences, and ideas. In other words, I was just noticing ads that had been there all the time.
One area in which we all suffer confirmation bias is the area of stress and grief. A recently-bereaved person feels other, smaller shocks acutely. A depressed person is hypersensitive to the ‘heartache, and the thousand natural shocks/That flesh is heir to.
Tin foil hat, by Carol L. Douglas. Or perhaps this is my current self-portrait.
Right now, western culture is in a state of heightened stress and grief. Much has been lost, even by those who have not directly experienced illness or death in the current pandemic. Our jobs, our activities, and our economic and social freedom are curtailed. We’re all keenly feeling the ‘slings and arrow of outrageous fortune.’ Is this just confirmation bias, or are there in fact a lot of things going wrong right now?
As a natural introvert, I’m not finding the isolation difficult. Instead, I’m cycling through my own problem: the as-yet-undiagnosed gastric ailment I brought home from Argentina. It incapacitates me for periods of about 48 hours and then disappears for several days. When I’m in its grip, I’m reminded of the black dog that lurks just outside my tent. My father and his mother both died of depression, and my mother attempted suicide at the end of her life. I escape depression, in part, by keeping myself frenetically busy.
This is a real self-portrait, drawn twenty years ago when I was in the midst of my cancer treatment.
That’s learned behavior. Hard work was how my parents kept depression at bay until they were too old to outrun it. However, we all get tired eventually, and I’ll be no exception. Addressing this question has been on my to-do list for a number of years, but it’s only when illness knocks me down that I remember it. The problem is, of course, that there’s no easy answer. Nor does faith provide insulation against pain and decline. As Hebrews 9:27 cheerfully notes, we’re all appointed once to die.
Meanwhile and more immediately, there’s the question of how to revitalize my current business practice. Yesterday I taught my first Zoom class. My usual practice is to move from student to student, contemplate each painting, talk with the artist about what he’s doing, and then make suggestions. This is difficult on video, because people can either look at their phones or have them pointed at their canvases, but not both.
Buffalo Grain Mills, by Carol L. Douglas. Like my home town, I’m worn.
On the other hand, in the classroom, the dialogue is mainly between me and each individual student. Because my Zoom students had to turn their work to the screen to show it to me, it made class more of a streaming critique session. That was surprisingly more helpful than a ten-minute critique at the end of each class. It gives me something to build on for next week.
I made a guest appearance in Chrissy Pahucki’s virtual middle school art class at Goshen Central School in New York. Initially, I had trouble finding my way around Google Meet, but kids are not only naturally adept at technology, they’re courteous in guiding adults.
But kids can always make me smile. Photo courtesy of Chrissy Spoor Pahucki.
Chrissy expected they would ask questions for twenty minutes. It went on for twice that long, and I’m not sure they were finished when we finally pulled the plug. Pre-teens and teenagers are among my favorite people on the planet: they’re cheerful, innocent, inquisitive—the perfect antidote to creeping nihilism.

The final lap home

Yes, we should be more self-reliant, save more, have deep pantries and buy local, but don’t underestimate the greatness of the economic system we have created in this country.
Photo courtesy of Kellee Mayfield.
I’m writing this from my own home. That’s a wonderful statement, but there’s also a certain irony in admitting that I’m still confined to a bedroom. We had the downstairs floors refinished while we were gone. They’re not yet ready to accept furniture. All our necessities are crammed into one room, much as they’ve been for the past three weeks.
Paying Charles for the floors brought home some of the difficulties in maintaining proper quarantine. This being Maine, I can’t just wire him the money. I scrubbed down and wrote a check, and then asked my husband to scrub down and put it outside. He automatically picked up the check with his unwashed hands. We wiped the check with sanitizer and started again.
They checked us in with laptops and cellphones, not on the airport’s own terminals.
On Friday, we’d waited for five hours to board while Argentina and Eastern Airlines LLC engaged in a final tussle over our departure. The plane looked spiffy from the terminal, but inside it was an unadulterated antique—a genuine, wide-body Boeing 767 with no updates. The last time Americans flew on a plane like this, real meals were being served from the galley.
This time, passengers were served prepackaged sandwiches, also apparently from the 1980s. I mention this because the cost of this one-way ticket was 1.5 times what it costs to fly round trip from Boston to Australia, and three times the cost of our original return flight. I’m curious how this tiny airline got the relief contracts from the US State Department when so many planes are sitting on the ground worldwide.
I wrote my blog on my phone while we waited. Photo courtesy of Douglas Perot.
The sandwich was of no matter to me. I’d sworn off eating to get to Miami with my clothing intact. It didn’t work. I was in the midst of another wracking bout of dysentery. I realized I was a floating olfactory disaster when I lifted my bags into an overhead bin. The couple seated there began to wave their hands in distress, their eyes watering.
We arrived in Miami at 1 AM. There to meet us was Jane Chapin’s husband, Roger Gatewood. He had rented a ten-passenger van and driven it from Tampa to Miami to collect us. We wandered across the southern half of the state, dropping two of our wanderers in Fort Myers to catch an early flight. Katie Cundiff got curbside service to her home in Bradenton. The rest of us slept at Jane’s house for a few hours before rising to catch our last flights home.
Our jet was the only thing moving from Ministro Pistarini International Airport.

Once we were in the United States, our travel was unremarkable. We tend to take American efficiency for granted, but we really shouldn’t. Yes, we should be more self-reliant; yes, Americans should save more and have deep pantries and buy local. Those are all important lessons from this pandemic, but don’t for a moment underestimate the brilliance and greatness of the economic system we have created in this country.

At last I could press the ‘home’ button on my navigation app and head north. As with so many big concepts, ‘home’ is perhaps best understood through those tiny moments, like the relief I felt as my phone plotted a course.
Now we begin quarantine for the third and last time. We have sufficient supplies (laid in by my goddaughter) and enough work to keep us busy. But I also need a cure for this dysentery. No problem; this is Maine, where things are still local and personal. Our nurse-practitioner will drop off a test kit this morning. Very soon, this nasty bug will be just a memory.

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.

Notes from the plague pokey

There is restorative power in art, which is why so many people are drawn to it.
Empty plaza with police car, gouache on paper, Carol L. Douglas

American corporations are masters of assembling prepared foods into a simulacrum of cooking. The bar at the Hilton is the only place to buy meals, and what’s on offer are ersatz dinners. Although we’re trying to avoid them as much as possible, there are no cooking facilities in our rooms. Even the minibars have been torn down due to coronavirus.

We decided yesterday that we needed breakfast, so we took a seat in the lobby and ordered coffee and omelets. We were not far from where we’d been seated the night before. From my angle, I got a clear look at the area. A lone lump of cheese remained on the table. Underneath, the carpet was littered with bottlecaps and crumpled cocktail napkins. There were crumbs on the leather upholstery. The hotel crew might be spraying surfaces with alcohol, but if they’re not also wiping, picking up, and vacuuming properly, their efforts are wasted.

We’re sharing space with airline crews.
As we ate, another large air crew arrived. This one was from Air France, and they immediately colonized every table around us. France has (as of last night) 45,000 cases and 3000 deaths from coronavirus. An Edelweiss Air crew was already here, but, until then, it had been easy to ignore them. That was folly, however; Switzerland has one of Europe’s highest rates of recorded coronavirus.
The Hilton is Argentina’s plague pokey and we’re there because we’re foreigners. But we came to Buenos Aires certified as healthy. Our goal is to remain that way. Airlines are grounded right now because they’re vectors for the spread of this disease. We don’t hate these crews, but we’re afraid to share space with them. At the same time, we’re also eagerly anticipating the arrival of an Eastern Airlines crew, because that brings us one step closer to heading home.
Apartment buildings across the street from us. I feel blessed to not live in a high-rise.
The answer is to insulate ourselves as much as we can. Jane Chapin and I ventured out in search of food that we can eat in our rooms. This time we went to a different supermercado. If we didn’t strike gold, we at least found fresh fruit, vegetables, bread and cheese. We came home with four heavy bags and formed an assembly line to wash it. Last night our crew dined on tuna-fish sandwiches, fruit, palm hearts and mushy peas. After the horrid bar food, it was divine.
Painting from the window with Lynn Mehta and Kellee Mayfield. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot.
Jane has jiggered our accommodations so that our group has two rooms facing the street. That gives us small windows on the world where we can take turns drawing and painting. Kellee Mayfield shared her gouache with Lynn Mehta and me. I left my watercolor and gouache at home for reasons of space; I will never travel without one of them again.
I was relieved and comforted to have a brush in my hand, although my painting is as bleak and raw as my psyche. There is restorative power in art, which is why so many people are drawn to it, and why I believe it’s important that everyone should have the opportunity to do it. While we Christians believe in the Resurrection, we not immune to the pain of loss.
You have to know the password to get in. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot.
I had intended to force myself into routine yesterday: drawing first, followed by a few hours of paperwork. I wasn’t able to drag myself into compliance. I went to bed early, foolishly flipping around Facebook before I dropped off. There I saw something that horrified me. An old friend, Wayne Potter, died yesterday, cause unknown. I frantically texted my brothers in the hope that it was a mistake. Alas, it was not. Two deaths in two days was more than my old soul could bear. I cried myself to sleep.

Life in a gilded cage

Buenos Aires is a ghost town from coronavirus. We’re waiting here until all Americans who can be rescued, are.
Those soldiers at the door are to keep us in, and keep anyone without papers out.
If you haven’t met Jane Chapin, she’s a little thing; I think she stretches the truth when she tells people she’s 5’1”. But she’s tough as the old boots she wears. I’d offered to drive the lead car in our midnight escape, since I’m used to dodging white-tailed deer. No; she would take the risk on her tiny shoulders.
We were barely out of the hosteria gate when we encountered our first jackrabbit. He decided his only hope was to lope ahead of us as fast as he could travel. That might work with pumas, but it slowed us down considerably.
Jane clears our first checkpoint. Photo courtesy Kellee Mayfield.
Even at 4 AM the first checkpoint was open. The soldiers carefully scrutinized our papers, calling each of us by name to verify our identities. I had memorized the phrase, Lo siento, no hablo español. The guards were unfailingly polite but utterly serious.
It turned out that documents they cared most about were the health certificates issued by Dr. Carolina Codó. That’s just another example of the importance of local knowledge, since our embassy had told us we didn’t need them.
After daybreak, we drove a long way through a dense fog. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot.
In our car, David Diaz and I sang silly songs to stay awake. A few hundred kilometers later, another jackrabbit drilled into Jane’s bumper, causing more damage than I thought possible. However, the whole panoply of stars were out, and we missed every guanaco and rhea dancing across the tarmac. The sun rose on a magical, stressful world.
We arrived at the Rio Gallegos airport in ample time. And then our troubles began. Our payments hadn’t transferred from Expedia; we would each have to pay again. (If you’re keeping score, we’ve paid for 14 flights so far, have used four, and have a reasonable expectation of using two more.)
If I can’t draw or sing to alleviate boredom, I make up and solve math problems in my head. This one was elementary: there were ten people in line, each transaction was taking more than ten minutes to complete, and our plane was leaving in an hour and a half. There was no way we were all going to make it on that plane. Doug and I were the last in line.
In Buenos Aires, we stood at the taxi stand trying to figure out where to go. Photo courtesy Douglas Perot.
I recited the 23rd Psalm and prayed. The clock above the desk moved inexorably forward. The agents were as flustered as me, but finally we were finished. We tore off to the security checkpoint. There, waiting, was Jane. She was not going to board until she was sure we were on the flight too.
Any thought that we would mooch around the airport at Buenos Aires looking for a flight were immediately quashed. We were ordered to leave by a soldier. Buenos Aires is a ghost town, but Kellee Mayfield stood at the taxi stand and booked us rooms at the Hilton. At the hotel, another set of soldiers scrutinized our health certificate before allowing us to pass in.
The streets of Buenos Aires are empty. Photo courtesy Jane Chapin.
We’re in a luxury hotel with no services—the laundry, restaurants, cafes and shops, rooftop pool, gym, etc. are all closed. There are as many staff as there are guests. We can leave to walk one block to the supermercadoor pharmacy. Anything other than that, and we’ll be arrested.
Our departure has been moved back to April 2. I imagine there are still American citizens in the provinces that they’re trying to round up and bring to Buenos Aires. A few more days in this hotel is minor if it brings someone else home, and it appears this is really and truly the last flight until May.
Kellee Mayfield waiting her turn at the pharmacy. We can only go in one at a time.
Much more personally devastating was that last night my uncle, Robert Marusza, died of coronavirus at Buffalo General Hospital. He was a great man in both the personal and public sense, and very important to me. In normal times I’d be cancelling everything and heading to my home town. But these are not normal times. Funeral gatherings are banned in New York. Like his own children, I mourn from afar.