Repatriation

San Francisco’s Cabrillo Street in lockdown.

It was June 5, 2020, by the time I got a flight home from Europe — one of the first, I think, directly connecting Frankfurt to San Francisco again after months of flight schedules having flailed in COVID chaos. 

I write this just days before the Biden-Harris inauguration and after a sadly predictable yet wholly unbelievable violent mob attack on the U.S. capitol in Washington incited by President Donald Trump. More attacks, not just on the nation’s capitol but all fifty state capitols, are predicted in the lead-up to January 20. 

I’d love to spend this time writing a neat little mood piece about repatriating after a flight that seemed like a modern miracle, but that would feel a bit provincial right now. 

The thing about bringing a blog up to date these days is that events are unfolding so rapidly, this morning’s draft can seem like cave-drawings by lunchtime. 

Additionally, in this writer’s inner world anyway, revolts and counterrevolutions are the stuff of daily life, in between deciding at the grocery store whether to stockpile a few dry goods while I’m at it, or whether it’s cool to pull my facemask down in the park for a few minutes if nobody else is around. What can I say that I won’t retract or reinterpret by tomorrow? 

Imposed solitude can have a funhouse-mirror effect on the mind; shadows go on for miles, a passing car takes on the patina of a major event, a mood bump feels like a mini-breakdown. 

Each in our cell in the giant socially distanced hive that is early 2021, we find it difficult to remember that nearly everybody around us is going through the same thing, making the same bizarre decisions, questioning the same previously unquestionable things. The bounds of normality have liquefied, and we’re kidding ourselves if we think social media helps much. 

But a year ago, pre-COVID, pre-just about everything, I put a sticker on the cover of my 2020 planner that turned out to be prophetic: Solvitur Ambulando. It is solved by walking

It came in the back pages of a charming book by Keri Smith, The Wander Society (2016). Designed like a literary scrapbook with sketches, collages, micro-chapter titles like “The Art of Getting Lost,” and quotes from such strolling enthusiasts as Walt Whitman and Isaiah Berlin, it’s an art-book pamphlet advocating the joys of walking and wandering as a tonic to modern life. 

One of my major discoveries on returning home was that San Francisco had cordoned off an arterial road in my neighborhood to be used only for bikes, pedestrians, and very limited local car traffic. 

People used to drive like maniacs up and down that road. Now I amble down the center of it, taking my time, and greet neighbors doing the same. 

What is solved by walking, by stepping out in the open air with others doing the same? What is cured? For me, the bad hallucinations of what feels now like a sick day that invaded a year, that has colonized too many of my thoughts and hopes and feelings. Walking talks back to that, to the funhouse mirror of days so endless they go by in an instant, and months so undistinguished by novelty or event, they feel like years. 

Long live the road of repatriation! 

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