A big city and its stretch of influence

A major metropolis has a gravitational pull that reaches far beyond its city limits and suburbs. Actually, this can affect various fields quite differently.

Manhattan, for instance, holds sway over classical music and opera across the entire continent. Most soloists have an apartment there, as do many conductors who also reside in the cities whose orchestras they lead. It’s all about connections.

Los Angeles, meanwhile, has the movie industry, thanks to Hollywood, and Nashville is the nation’s country-music capital.

And Washington, as the center of national government, is always in the headlines.

You get the picture.

Across the country, smaller clusters appear. State capitals, of course, are one focus as they span all the communities in the state – and this often includes much larger cities. Again, consider Albany, miniscule in comparison to the Big Apple, or Harrisburg in between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Chicago’s long reach over the meat industry is another, or the Twin Cities’ impact on the grain industry. Think of Toledo, Ohio, with glass, Detroit with the automotive world, or Pittsburgh with steel.

In fact, the economic pull and push of a city is a fascinating topic of investigation. The money that powers the place has to come from somewhere – as do the materials that supply it. In turn, the city has to sell its goods and services somewhere. It’s a matter of balancing what comes in with what goes out, in more ways than one.

So business and finance are defining elements. Again, Wall Street’s role in corporate investment gives New York national prominence, but other cities have similar impact.

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About those numbers we’re all watching

Part of the fixation in watching the Covid-19 spread in the U.S. is in the suspense of discovering how accurately the experts’ projections hold up, especially in contrast to the deceptive and wishful thinking emanating from the White House and its cronies.

With the disease now in all 50 states and up more than 600 percent in the last week alone – or from 30 cases at the beginning of the month to 68,440 as of Thursday – the question becomes just how high and how fast those exponential numbers soar. You know, do our social isolation actions tamp down the rise or do continuing exposures fuel more spikes in the spread? To think, at the current rate we would have 2½ million cases in two weeks or 90 million by a month from now. Here in New Hampshire, the eventual infection rate is pegged at 50 percent.

You’re already familiar with the hospital overload potential. With 95,000 intensive care beds in the United States, most of them in regular use for heart attack and accident victims and the like, and a population of 330 million, there’s not a lot of margin to deal with.

For perspective, think what a serious cold does to you. I mean, sometimes it really zaps your thinking. Think of your workplace if even a quarter of your colleagues were out sick. Now extend that to every service you rely on. Uh-huh. Oh, yes, and what about those lingering bugs we seem to get, the ones that never quite go away like forever. By the way, a fever of 103 to 105 degrees is nothing I want to ever endure again. How about you?

And then, if our efforts really do deflate the dreadful scenarios we’re seeing, will a large portion of the public cynically dismiss the warnings as liberal hype? The disregard for the warnings has been disturbing enough, especially the part about infecting others even if you aren’t exhibiting symptoms.

The bigger health matter is not about the number of cases but rather the 20 percent of those that become life-threatening serious. Not just the deaths, either, but the potential for long-term harm. Permanent heart damage, for instance. We’re just now learning.

People under age 65 have been assuming it’s no big deal, but a figure out of France should be a wake-up call. Half of those in intensive care there were recently reported to be under 30. As for here? Welcome back from spring break. One more figure to keep an eye on.


You know many of the other questions and uncertain answers we’re following as we watch the numbers.

  • Will the number of cases actually fall off in warmer weather?
  • Will the coronavirus mutate and come back hard in autumn?
  • Will it become like the common cold, something that returns year after year?
  • How much immunity will we have?
  • How soon will a vaccine be available and what will the side-effects be? Will the anti-vaccers refuse it or welcome it?
  • And then there are all the stories coming out of the “shelter-in-place” experience.


In my circle, we’re still sputtering over the audacity of some of those who claim to be “pro-life” but now claim that the deaths of up to two million presumably older Americans is a small price to pay to “save” the economy. Remember, theirs is already a pro-military (not exactly a “pro-life” mission) camp that was all-too-ready to spout misleading anti-Obama advertising warning that “death squads” would rule important health-care decisions (totally ignoring the reality that insurance companies were already doing that) when it came to medical coverage. Now we see the true colors of these callous offiials. It’s been all about profits, not people, all along. Babies didn’t cost them anything. Honestly, they should be tagged anti-abortion. Pro-life is far more inclusive, embracing health care, housing, and education support.


What’s surprising you the most in the Covid-19 developments? For that matter, what worries you the most?

As the pandemic comes into focus

No surprise, everybody’s talking about it. Finally. What can we bloggers even add to the awareness?

In fact, there’s so much coming out, it’s impossible to keep up. My only conclusion is that what we’re reading and hearing is already two weeks behind where the outbreak actually is, thanks to the delay in the appearance of symptoms while an individual is still contagious – and that the spread of infection is already more severe than those in the White House are willing to acknowledge.

On the human level, it’s not just the mortality rate – 2 percent? that’s not the Black Plague, as cynics remind us – but the possibility of so much of the workforce being incapacitated, as well, meaning people with high deductibles in their health care coverage and minimum-wage jobs that preclude them from taking any time away from earning their meager paychecks without being homeless.

On a more abstract level, think about the speed with which it’s precipitated the stock market “correction” that was predicted for sometime after the November elections but now seems to presage recession. End of the bull market that ran through the Obama years and all that. (Glad I closed my IRAs when I did. The last recession cut their value in half, and recovering that took longer than we want to admit.) Now the market’s down roughly 30 percent in a week, nearly wiping out all of its gains during the Trump administration.

In fact, it seems impossible to talk about coronavirus without politics and finances popping into the discussion. I’ll spare you those rants.

In barely a week or two, it seems, the illness has gone from being “out there” in Seattle or even the other side of New Hampshire and suddenly started appearing much closer to home and those we know and love.

It really cut into my consciousness when I did a double-take Tuesday night while listening to a classical program streaming on Harvard’s FM station, just an hour down the road from here. The student program host was thanking her listeners for their four years of support of her on-air work, saying that this would be her last show. What? This was episode two of a six-week Tuesday feature, she had four more weeks to go. And then the words, “with the closure of the university, I’ll be heading home,” meaning New York, which coincidentally was the focus of that particular episode.

What, closing Harvard? Well, by now you know how that decision has already spread to a lot of other schools. Pack up your dorm stuff and be out of town by the weekend. I was standing with a University of New Hampshire student yesterday when his smart phone went off, informing him he was going to have an extra week off after spring break. (At a religious leaders’ gathering an hour earlier I had heard that the governor had overridden the faculty’s plea for a longer closure, like for the rest of the semester.) Is anyone else hearing from some outraged students? (Details for the virtual classrooms to be announced. Ditto, refunds or even housing for kids left in the lurch. And who wants to be confined to boring home?)

Meanwhile, in our faith communities, we’re having to make rapid adjustments. No more handshakes to close Quaker worship, for now, or food and fellowship after. For others, it affects how they celebrate the Eucharist. And what about the Friendly Kitchen’s two dinners a week for an already vulnerable populace, prepared and served by ten congregations on a rotating basis? Do we make the meals takeout to reduce social contact? How do we react to public school closures and childcare issues, especially for working parents?

As for the lockdowns in nursing homes and senior housing? Turn around, and there’s another surprise.

Let’s not overlook the panic runs on the supermarkets, either. Before the outbreak, my wife had started cutting back on our pantry backup, but now she’s feeling we should be able to sustain two or three weeks of lockdown, so we’re stocking up again, just not in alarm mode.

Think I need to get some quinine water, too? Maybe look at this as alternative medicine?

My assignment was to make sure we’d be set for my nightly martini and the rabbits’ pellets, should we go into self-isolation or official quarantine. You know, keep everybody in this household comfy for the duration. Having the state liquor store touting a 16 percent discount on purchases over $150 helped with the decision. The Bombay Sapphire was already on sale. You know, isn’t this stuff we’d be using anyway, eventually?

What I didn’t remind her is that I’m not touching alcohol until April 17, Orthodox Easter – seven whole weeks of abstinence. (Would those beautiful bottles strengthen my resolve to live, should I be afflicted in the coming weeks? Ay-ay-ay.)

So here we are, obsessing with the developments. I wonder what we’re going to learn today.

How about you?

Foreign news can hit close to home

The reports of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak are disturbing enough, even when it seems so far away. For many people outside of China, the news is mostly curiosity, perhaps even of a morbid fascination.

But then we get headlines of a few possible cases popping up here in New Hampshire, individuals who recently traveled from China. Still, those have been limited to other parts of the state, a distance away from us.

Where it gets personal for my wife and me is thinking of Chinese students we’ve hosted in our home for a month or so apiece while they worked volunteer internships in our community. They’re from that part of China, though not Wuhan itself. In effect, they put a face we know on the event and have us concerned for their health and safety and that of their families.

Yes, sometimes it is a small world.

That feeling when she realizes the scope of her project

In my novel What’s Left, Cassia practically moves into her father’s studio during her teenage years. Her goal is to discover just who he really was before he vanished in that avalanche. More critically, she hopes to see just how important she was in his eyes and his heart.


Here’s a moment that was cut out of the finished novel. It’s more succinctly presented in the published version:

There, I’ve said it. My Baba, the missing piece of the puzzle I’ve been constructing. Or missing pieces, more accurately, is at once revealed by everything he touches – and everything that touches him. What I’ve been pursing as a negative shape on a visual field instantly turns positive before my eyes. So amid all of our outward chaos, what he more and more perceived in our family was this potential in all of its give-and-take connectivity – and that hopeful impression was his reason for whole-heartedly leaping in with us. Maybe we’re all icons – mandalas and tankas, too – in that holy mountain, which in our small way we rebuild in something we’ve called Olympus.

If this is, as I now presume, the direction to a breakthrough where all of his life’s work is about to converge and proclaim, I’ll need to reassemble the parts I’ve already collected. Reevaluate all of the memories, bits of writing (probably leaving the published volumes for other scholars). The photos, especially – the world seen through his more than his eyes alone.

On the material plane, Baba was never facilely sociable … not like Dimitri, for sure … but he managed.


I can think of a few daughters who are their talented fathers’ best champions. Cassia would be among them.

Maybe because I’ve done extensive genealogy research, I see some of these influences going much further back than a single generation. Until his youngest sister told me, for example, that my father had once dreamed of being a sportswriter had I connected his father’s collecting all the local newspapers during World War II (“They’ll be important someday”) with Dad’s grandmother’s detailed reading of the daily papers and then linking it to my own career as a daily newspaper editor. Not that anybody ever said a word to me that they were proud of what I’d chosen to do.

I can look to many other similar streams of unseen, even unknown, influence.

If you had a chance to meet one of your ancestors – a little bit of time travel – which one would it be? What would you want to ask? Or would you rather want to tell them off?


It doesn’t matter which you heard, so he says

As we were cleaning up after our monthly turn of cooking and serving dinner at the local “soup kitchen,” I turned to a trio of high school students who help our Quaker Meeting crew in the project.

“Hey, stick around and you can hear a performance of ‘Messiah.'”

They gave me glazed looks of incomprehension.

“You know, the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ I’ll be singing in it.”

One of them changed her expression. “Oh! I know that!”

And she started to sing, but it wasn’t Handel.

My turn to smile.

“Ah, Leonard Cohen. My choir has a lovely arrangement of that, and it’s fun to sing.”

And then I sang a few measures from the classic oratorio, which they did recognize.

The evening’s event wasn’t my choir but an ad hoc assembly of singers from everywhere in the region, all of us stepping in with no rehearsal – you may know of similar Messiah Sings, a tradition that’s spread widely. It’s a blast and a great community celebration.

Meanwhile, the repertoire of my choir has a couple of dozen Hallelujah pieces. One’s in Russian, others in African tongues, and several in English. Funny thing, the word is part of nearly every language. That, along with Amen, Coca-Cola, and OK.

By the way, Cohen’s lyrics are powerful, honest, and heartbreaking, deeply grounded in Biblical incidents yet also personally confessional. His is a truthful and humbling counterpoint to Handel’s majesty.

Which experience better fits your reality this season?

What a right adjective will do

As the vocalist in a  lovely jazz trio at a party the other night led us in “Silver Bells,” with its echo in “It’s Christmastime in the city,” I was struck but the beauty of the lyric’s repeated sibilants. They simply sparkle and produce a visual impression of tiny white lights on an icy night.

The song returned to my mind while shoveling snow a few days later, and this time I was captivated by the appropriateness of the adjective “silver.” Not “gold” or “brass” but silver. Again, there’s a visual impression, but this time, also a suggestion of bright clear sound. Gold, in contrast, would somehow make me expect something more velvety or reserved or distant, while brass would point toward a louder, stronger, more industrial tone.

Yes, the poet in me is still wowed at that choice of “silver.”

Would any other word do the trick?