Heading towards Tower Bridge today in the rain, the light changed to amber just as I was reaching the approach to the span. I pulled my bike out in front of the traffic, waiting while a bus, a truck, passed in front of me on the Highway. I used to work near here – years ago now – so this neighbourhood always has a resonance for me, an echo of another life; but this morning I was thinking not about those vanished years but about the time, only four months ago, when waiting for the light here, being anywhere near here, made my heart pound with fear, with the certainty that I was bound to be knocked off my bike and flattened by a ton or two of moving metal. Four months ago I wasn’t a cyclist. Today, I am.
Hemingway thought it was “worthless” to make less than a pitcher of Bloody Marys. While I agree in spirit – pun intended – in practice I make do with a glass. Why did lockdown call up a craving for a Bloody Mary? Maybe because I could tell myself it was almost more of a snack than a drink (and healthy at that! Tomatoes! Celery!) but maybe because a Bloody Mary makes me think of my Mom, who loved them and taught me to drink them. I lost her over a decade ago, my dad a couple of years before that; but they are present to me whenever I’m in the kitchen, and as I mix my Bloody Mary I can hear my mother’s ice clink in her glass.
It's an hour before noon in Cancale, on the coast of Brittany; head down to the edge of the sea — the port is called La Houle — in the chilly sunshine and wait, perched on a stone wall. Soon, you see them come into view, the little oyster boats, chugging into shore with their morning's catch.
I was cruising toward Blackfriars Bridge, south to the beckoning Thames. I rise early for my permitted “one form of exercise a day” — cycling seems the best way to keep 2 metres apart and so I discover I am becoming a more confident cyclist. Disquieting, however, to feel proud of my improving skills, knowing they are thanks to the streets eerily emptied by COVID-19. Ordinarily the City would be thick with cars and trucks and buses, but not this morning, not any morning now.
A beautiful spring morning on Brick Lane, in East London. The sky an astonishing blue, unmarked by the white contrails of airplanes; even in this ultra-urban setting, you can hear birdsong. Thanks to COVID-19, many of the shop are shuttered, but not Beigel Bake, which has been serving the community here since 1974. Only three people are allowed in the shop at a time now, thanks to social distancing; we all behave ourselves as we wait for our breakfasts. When it’s my turn, Fiona — one of the stalwart women who work behind the counter here, and keep this place running day and night — fills the giant steel teapot from a hissing tap of boiling water. She swirls the bags to let them steep and despite the tough times, gives me a big smile, for we are old friends. I’ve lived nearby for 25 years, and have come here nearly daily, if only for a cup of tea and a chat.
This is a public service announcement. Good morning! Good afternoon! Good evening! I really hope you’re well, and that everyone you love is well. This is tough stuff. It’s a pain to be stuck inside. It’s hard to worry about people and worry about the world. You’re in lockdown. You're self-isolating. You’re social-distancing. You feel cooped up, stir crazy and maybe a little scared. I know I am; I’m there with you. So: I’d like to invite you to take a walk with me, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.