Bonnie called the other day:

“Mena! We are going to buy some frozen blueberries, from the organic farm where we get the fresh ones in the summer. Would you like some?”

Hmm, blueberries, I love blueberries, and I have only a bag left in the freezer.

“Yes, of course! Bonnie, how big are the packages?”
“Well, they sell boxes, 30 pounds each”
“30 pounds? How big is 30 pounds? Will it fit in my freezer?”
“We are getting three boxes for us, and if you want we could split a fourth one with you”
“Hmm, no, it’s fine, I will get a whole box and split it with Serena.” A clear answer, haunted as I am by the fear of missing out on blueberries.

Serena went to Bonnie’s house this afternoon and called me when she was fifteen minutes away from my place.

“Mum, the box is big and we don’t have any room in our freezer. Do you have room in yours?”
“I will try to make room. I’ll give you the full bag of frozen ones I have and try to fit the box in.”

A knock at the door signals that my daughter has arrived. I open the door: Serena is standing five metres (not TWO) away from my door, the box is right at my feet, an enormous box that I don’t dare touching both to avoid hurting my back, but es-pe-cial- ly because Serena has touched it, and her kids had a running nose ten days ago, and it might have been, who knows, it might have been coronavirus that they had, and if it was that, I might get it, and if I get it, I might die, and so, to exorcise my dying, Serena doesn’t want me to be closer than five metres from where she is.

“Wait, I will give you the bag of the frozen blueberries”

I go to the freezer, come back with this bag, put it on the hallway, back up 5 metres, she approaches, takes the bag, leaves. I push the heavy box with my feet inside the condo, I go to the kitchen, get thick gloves, exercise my muscles, lift the little monster and put it on the counter. How the hell am I going to fit this box in my freezer? I can’t even scratch my head to find an answer, because now I have to wash the gloves right away, to avoid that some viruses from the box, from Serena’s hands that touched her son’s running nose ten days ago, might find the way to my lungs, even though during all this time Serena probably washed her hands two thousand three hundred and forty five times.

I wash my gloves, I wash my hands, carefully, for 40 seconds to be extra careful, put the gloves back, open the box, open the blue bag inside the box and the ocean of frozen blueberries has a toll on me. Thirty pounds, oh my, they look like thirty tons.

I open the freezer, a tiny, sleek freezer that belongs to the skinniest smallest fridge available in North America. In normal times my freezer is empty and receiving. In normal times, when I go grocery shopping and then my fridge becomes one fifth full, (which I consider as extremely full), the merely act of opening the door fridge and seeing it one fifth full gives me palpitations, as I am a minimalist at heart, liver, kidneys, feet and all the rest. But at this coronavirus time even though my fridge is relatively manageable, my freezer is full. Or almost. I bought some spot prawns yesterday. Spot prawns, which I bought only another time in my 71 years of life. What am I going to do with 40 and some prawns if I cannot invite anybody and I eat two prawns every eighteen months? I have two loaves of bread in the freezer, and a lasagna I made, and bags of soup I made and chickpeas I made and tomato sauce I made. Why? Why? Why all this cooked food? What happened to my mental sanity? Is the fear of coronavirus giving insatiable hunger? I am desperate, I start loading my fridge with the bags of soup – that will be my diet for the next seven days – with one loaf of bread, with the frozen escarole. And frantically look for freezer bags in the kitchen drawers. Nope, I only have tiny sandwich bags. Of course, I never need freezer bags, except for the summer, when I freeze blueberries. And now it’s spring. And the blueberries are already frozen. And they are waiting for their rightful place in my freezer.

I could go to the store and buy some bags. Yeah. By the time I go and push the elevator button with my sleeve and open the building door with my arm, and reach the store trying to be 5 metres distant from everybody I meet, and open the store door with my foot and go through all the acrobatic exercises to avoid touching, looking, getting infected, or infecting, if I happen to be an asymptomatic carrier…oh my, I am already exhausted, no, I’m not going to the store. I will manage at home. I recycle one bag, I fill a few tiny ones – pointless, I will need 155 of them and I have only three left.


Idea: If I can’t fit the whole box in my freezer maybe this blue bag where the blueberries are can get in. I could push, and flatten and shape the bag. I lift the full blue bag out of the box and the blueberries start running down my sleeves. Darn, I didn’t close the bag properly. There you are, now it’s closed. I move a few steps towards the freezer with this 27-pound newborn and… countless blueberries run down my body and to my precious hardwood floor. Oh nooooo the bag has humongous running holes!!! At this point I run to the freezer with the corpus delicti, damp it in, push with all my body to make it fit, close the drawer, slam the door, breathe deeply and… I wish I could sit and relax, but no, I have to collect the tens of little blue marbles that are doing their best to give splashy colours to my counter and my floor.

I should check my temperature. Blueberries fever.

Or: blueberries party anyone?

Grocery shopping at the time of coronavirus

I went to the grocery store this morning. 

It opens at 9am, but seniors can start shopping at 8am. I was there at 8:05, oh my, if it was packed! With seniors of all sexes and ages. In French they have a jolly name for our age, they call us tamalous. It’s the contraction of ‘tu as mal où?’. “Tu as mal où? Where does it hurt today my dear?” and there follows the endless list of the ailments afflicting an aging body. With my husband, early in our seniority, we decided to keep the tally of our aches and pains between 9 and 10 in the morning, just to be open to other subjects of conversation for the rest of the day.

Well, I am here with my fellows tamalous, several … I would have never believed that Kitsilano, a young and trendy area, could also accommodate so many specimens of a not so cool population. 

It is depressing looking around, the years make havoc of the human body. Some shoppers can hardly move, or see, or hear, and of course we easily forget about the two metres distance, we overlook the other fellow opening the freezer and we stand there half a metre from him, carelessly opening the adjacent door.

I would run out of here, but I need fruit and vegetables. And I don’t want to go through this ordeal any time soon. 

After a short war easily lost, I am at the cashier and ask her if they take back the Avalon milk bottle. I read on their website that they do, so I brought mine along. I can see fear in the cashier’s eyes as she looks at the bottle. Distancing herself from me even more, she hints at the extreme corner of the till and tells me to leave there my bottle. I do, but instantly appears her colleague who scolds her saying “No, no, the returned bottles go there”, and she points to a trunk with a tight lid. She opens it and in a military way orders me to pick up my nuclear bomb and bring it there, where it is safely out of sight.

So much trouble for a humble bottle of milk. if I weren’t obsessed with recycling, I would have thrown the bottle in the glass container bin.

But of course I understand our reactions. We all understand this time. What did our Prime Minister say this morning? That we are made of steel. Well no, we are not made of steel, we have a soul, we are fragile human beings. We pretend that we can cope. We are chameleons, we adapt, we suffer, we go on. The steel doesn’t feel, we do, and tragedies tear us apart.

After a second stop at another organic  grocery store, I go back home, my bags full of produce. Home, sweet home, that nowadays becomes sweet only after forced labour and an endless repetition of the same maddening tasks.

Three grocery bags to empty. I start with the easy one. The packaged rice cakes. They are properly washed with soap and water and left to dry and hopefully disinfect on the balcony in the ultraviolet light, as the virus, I read, can live up to 14 days on metal and cardboard. A can of salmon, same destiny. Why did I buy this salmon if I hardly ever eat canned food? Mystery of the corona time.

The cottage cheese is moved from its container to one of mine, and the same is reserved for the cream cheese. The egg plants, oranges, apples and lemons are soaped and washed one by one and while doing this, the hands, as if keeping the rhythm in a musical score, are washed again and again. When will they give up and start peeling, I wonder.

The chard and the kale go in one of my plastic bags and finish in the fridge as I can’t pretend to wash with water and soap every single leaf, and I am almost at the point of explosion doing this pointless task. But I keep going, a robot. The almond milk container is scoured with a cloth imbued with alcohol. The bread goes from its plastic bag to one of mine, the chocolate bar is carefully unwrapped from its paper box and left in its foil, which now I avoid to touch, as my hands are for sure, again, contaminated. The eggs are individually washed and dried, the butter is removed from its foil and re-wrapped with a new one.  My lungs are bloating, are to the point of explosion, are almost lifting me from the ground, two aerostatic balloons filled by rage. This is a Sisyphus labour, and I am Tarzan trapped in a cage: I just want to SCREEEEEAM!!!!!!!!!

I will NOT go shopping for another fortnight at least. I have enough blueberries and rice and lentils to keep me going. The 40 frozen prawns no, no more.

I took three of them out of their box a couple of weeks ago. They still had all their legs on, which meant that I had to deal with thirty spiked points at once. Frozen, sharp and wounding my skin.

I roasted the prawns on the stove. They were delicious, but the smell from the cooking was unbearable, and I had to open all the condo’s windows. My body reaches fast the freezing point. Before falling to numbness I remembered owning a hot water bottle. And so I spent hours, wrapped in sweaters and blankets and pillows and hot water bottle while there was a downpour of rain outside and of cold inside. And all of this because of three stupid prawns.

After an eternity the smell subsided, it did not disappear. When the following day I opened the freezer and a different smell, but always from the prawns, reached my nostrils, my patience twisted for the worse. I grabbed the box, wrapped it in a heavy paper bag, run downstairs and damped it in the compost bin. With a grin of satisfaction, mad as everything else.

This afternoon my three-year-old grandson came over. He likes to sit on the balcony while eating his orange.  He spotted the rice cakes and the can of salmon sitting in the sun. With his big, innocent eyes, he asked: “Mimi, why are these here?”

Walking at the time of coronavirus

I went for a walk with my friend Christine yesterday. We are both seniors, and as it happens to people of our age, the senses at a certain point start to fail. Christine is very bright and fit, but she is hard at hearing, even though she gladly wears hearing aids.

I have a soft voice, but still quite a strong sense of hearing, probably due to decades of earplugs use trying to fall asleep. In most cases the earplugs didn’t do much for my sleep, but they perfected my sense of hearing, as every night I pushed them stronger into the ears and still kept listening to all sorts of rustles and crackling.

As I am going out, I wonder what kind of dialogue we might have, considering my thin voice, Christine’s poor ear, and the two-metre distance between us. Not that anything might be enlightening these days, as all the words and thoughts and actions are depression-inducive-coronavirus-topics, a collective maniacal masturbation.

Christine is in a very good humour and I let her do the talking. I already dread when it will be my turn to start a sentence besides the hmm, yeah, and all the nodding of the moment. I know that I will need to scream to be heard.

As we go, and I shout, and we keep our distance, and we try to pay attention to whomever comes our way, I imagine a magic button stitched to our jacket in which to whisper and instantly be heard, a scafander covering the head,  and – why not? – a walking sentry-box shielding the entire body, a sort of transparent frame promenading us across the globe. Nightmare after nightmare.

With all the concern, my voice comes out coarser than usual. I tell Christine that my right lung is compromised, that I have bronchiectasis.

“You mean bronchitis” she says.

“No, no, bronchiectasis, it’s different, it’s a chronic condition due to a childhood illness and I have had it for 16 years. This is why I cough sometime, but my cough is not contagious at all.”

At the words bronchiectasis, cough and contagious, the few passersby in our horizon turn their head, look at me, sprint up and instantly disappear from my view, or better said I disappear from their view.

Where would I go if I needed to blow my nose? If I went to a washroom I might be accused of pornography as people who are peeing, hearing my sneeze, would probably run into the street with the pants halfway down their legs, to escape the droplets and the viruses rushing at them. No, the bathroom is out. I could hide into the bushes, stick my face into the thorny branches and sneeze there. The chickadees and the crows woudn’t run away, and the seagulls would keep hooting up the trees.

That was last time I went for a walk with a friend. I came back home worn out and determined not to repeat the experience.

But I do need to go out, for my mental sanity. I live alone. Yes, of course, I have my harp, painting, books, writing, phone, flowers, my meditation and yoga mat which I resuscitated after decades of neglect, my children and grandchildren who reach out through skype or facetime, but my mind is mostly looking forward to the time of the day when – even though equipped as if on a nuclear mission – I can step out of the condo and into the street.

And here I am, all by myself, gloves, rain jacket, backpack with an umbrella and a roll of toilet paper in (handy to open or close the unexpected door or gate or whatever metallic object may come my way), a hat, a scarf… wait a minute, do I need a scarf as I have planned to use a mask today? Yeah, just in case, better to take one for extra protection. Maybe I’ll take a pair of disposable gloves, just in case. Or better two pairs, as they are disposable and won’t be usable again. Pretty soon for my walk I will need to carry a suitcase.

My mask is on, the shoes are on, I open the door. Oh no, again! I forgot my keys, they are in the kitchen and to go and get them I have to take off my shoes and while doing that my mask moves around and I adjust it with the hands that have right now con-tac-ted the shoes from the street. Oh my, I might have infected them. What do I need to do, run to the bathroom and have a thorough shower with tons of soap? Maybe washing the face and the hands would be enough. I am already boiling, I take off my jacket, leave the backpack, no, no!!!! not on the floor besides your shoes, are you out of your mind? Sober thought: I will be, if this continues.

The keys are in my hand and so is the mask. I don’t panic at the sight of the two together only because my brain recalls that I have sterilized the keys when I came back from a walk the other day. I put the mask on, a scarf over it, sunglasses on the eyes, a woolen hat. Covered up from head to toes I look like I am going to rob a bank. Never mind.

Finally I am in the hallway. My smart-elbow calls the elevator and, once in, presses the button for the main floor, right on the first attempt. My smart-shoulder easily opens the building door. I feel so proud, so smart-equipped in mastering these fundamental survival steps.

The street is large and beautiful. Completely empty. Coronavirus safe.

I remember the first time my mother came to see me in Vancouver, in 1985. She was living in a small town by the Adriatic Sea in Italy, where generations of the same dwellers had been living for years, and where everybody knew pretty much everything of everybody else living in the neighborhood. When she came to my house in Kitsilano and went out for a walk, she observed: “I like this place, it’s really nice, but there is nobody in the streets, I never meet anyone…it reminds me of the cemetery…”

And this is how I feel now. I am in a cemetery.

No one around for the first few minutes. Then I spot a couple, very far away, coming my direction. We approach each other scrutinizing the horizon and the escape routes in between. When they are fifty meters from me, they step down the sidewalk and do a large semicircle so that our ten-metres-diameter-auras do not – God forbids – get in touch of each other. Fantastic. The tactic is repeated again and again. A few people are a bit careless, especially if they are running, but most walkers have learnt the lesson: keep the distance. We respect social distancing so well that going for a walk means designing an arabesque. We go left, right, on the lawn, on the pebbles, on the neighbor’s property, on the concrete that used to belong to the cars, round and round lines, just to be sure that the coronas standing on the viruses of the others do not reach our way.

It works, but… it is difficult to even have eye contact now. We avoid looking at each other, afraid perhaps that our eyes, being alive, could produce and squirt out billions of bullet viruses straight to the mouth, the nose, the lungs of the enemy passerby.

The ground, these last weeks, seems to absorb all our attention. We keep our eyes on it. We study it in detail, it is the wonder of wonders.

Gone is the Canada where people used to be so friendly and say good morning, hi, to each other. I remember my mother again. When on a weekend we went for a walk together and we met a few people, we greeted each other with a large smile or a cheerful ‘Good morning!’. My mother would remark:

“How come? You know everybody!”

“No, no, mum, it’s just the habit here, we do that when there aren’t so many of us around.”

“Ah, and you don’t know these people?”

“Not at all.”

“Strange…but nice…”.

We did use to smile in the not so far away past and search for each other’s eyes. Now we meditate upon the ground. We will get a PhD about the ground.

If I feel strong and energetic, I try to initiate a conversation with my eyes, or whatever part of my eyes that are visible on top of this uncomfortable mask.



But then, a miracle. A couple of orientals in their thirties, coming my way and keeping the 3-5 metres distance say: “Good morning!” Their voice is fresh, welcoming. I answer, with a smile, as if a torrent of good wishes were thrust upon me. I want to rush after them to say thank you again, tell them how I elated I am, but no, they’ll find it weird. They might even stop saying ‘hi’ to strangers in the street and deprive them of the sweetness of being acknowledged in this cataclysm.

While looking at the ground I ponder about how confused our brain might feel nowadays. We do things we have never done before, like awkwardly using elbows, wrists and even shoes to call the elevator; we twist our bodies to open doors, rush away if somebody approaches us, suppress the need to cough to the point of suffocating. Ah, where have gone all these coughs during the various musical movements in the concert hall! which I used to hate, but that now I even miss.

We look with horror at metal and plastic that might come our way, line up forever outside markets and stores, never ever touch anyone anymore. ‘Have I forgotten how to live?’ might our disoriented brain ask. But in the doubt, in this unusual lifestyle, new synapses might form, our brain might become a firework of never before activities. Who knows, we might emerge with new capacities from this abyss.

I keep adjusting the mask on my face, pulling off my glove first and using only my bare hand. The mask is humid from my breath. I simply hate it, it becomes clearer by the minute why staying home is the easiest way out in this chaos. But I am very hard at hearing on this matter. I do need my little walk to keep living.

Once back home, I push the main door metal handle with my smart arm, call the elevator with the smart elbow routine, open the door with my naked hands that might be, by now, ex-treeee-me-ly infected! The shoes are out. With still everything on I rush to the kitchen tap, no first to the balcony, where I leave my woolen gloves in the sun or in the rain, then run to the water and soap, twenty seconds of intensive rubbing with a strong soap, followed by another twenty seconds of vigorous rubbing with a milder soap.

The urge to pee, that till now I have kept at bay to avoid going to the public washroom and the excruciating routine of three days ago, when I unbuttoned my pants and took down leggings and panties and whatever else with only one hand and then pulled everything back with the same single hand – try to do it! – all this while the other hand was holding the phone that couldn’t fit in the pockets full of scarves and gloves and Kleenex and toilet paper for the emergency knob handling, this agonizing urge to pee is killing me at the moment, and I rush to the bathroom with my hands still wet, my jacket still on and all the other paraphernalia, mask included.

After nature is satisfied, my jacket joins the gloves on the balcony, the mask rests on the counter, the hat and scarf go in the fresh air and the condo keys, infected by the hands, rest on a piece of paper. Armed with a bottle of antiseptic alcohol and a disposable cloth, I thoroughly clean the keys, the tap, the door handles, the balcony door and whatever else has come in contact with my, eventually infected hands.

I am exhausted.

A crownless virus

The word coronavirus sounds intimidating. A virus with a corona is not an everyday stuff. It’s more like a tyrant sitting on a bulletproof throne, a tentacular monster on the lookout for its next victim. This crowned virus is red, the colour of danger, it is compact and menacing, a nuclear atom bringing havoc to the world. Followed by the number 19, it strucks with the thought it might hit 19 and more times.

If we could dream for a while to enthrone this covid-ball-of-fire. If we could colour it in pink, in green, in light blue perhaps, like a soft and chubby woolen ball, puffy and mushy, the corona hardly balancing on its clumsy head.

The modified coronavirus jumps up and down amidst daisies fields, does summersaults on gently sloping hills, unable to keep the dear corona on its clumsy head. It falls, it rushes, it tumbles down, it’s up again. So much turmoil for just a crown. Exasperated, the virus gives up the crown. And it becomes an armless virus that, sick and tired by all the media attention in every possible language all over the planet, takes a jump into the morning breeze, flies back into the forest up the mountains, to the alpine meadows where it decides to resume living in the body of a stranded bat lost in flight. “Here my lovely host, let’s fly together to the land of nowhere, so much publicity has destroyed me.” And very far they go, and forever more they disappear.

Then we will say: “I got the cou (or, better, the clou), but now I am fine.” “She was really sick with the coucou, covid, divoc, whatever, but now she has recovered and is stronger than ever.”

At the moment though, before the fairytale comes true, we read on the papers interviews to ‘Covid survivor’. And I wonder why Covid survivor, and even with a capital letter. We don’t say pneumonia survivor, or stroke survisor.

There is no gain into spreading terror when what we need instead is strength and positive attitude. We must keep faith that our humanity, our perseverance and resilience will bring us out of this difficult time.