Today, I was scheduled to fly out of Bali. On a wonderful adventure. On many adventures. First stop: Bangkok. Staying with a friend in midtown, loading up on street food on Soi Convent and Silom/Sathorn; getting my fill of arte moderne at my favourite museum; squeezing in all those must-haves between a battery of annual medical and dental check-ups and treatments, all queued up months ago.
Next stop: Italy. Yes, Milan. Ground zero. Red Zone. I was leading a lovely group of women on a walking and creative-experiential journey along the Tuscan section of the Via Francigena pilgrimage route – which I’d walked last fall; everything – from accommodations to a welcome dinner at a beautiful trattoria, and a day trip to Leonardo da Vinci’s birthplace – had fallen into place smoothly. Although there was little left to do, I was deep in preparation mode; ensuring that everyone had the proper gear and reminding them to reach for higher altitudes; double-checking that our transport services were on board with all stops on the itinerary; drafting lists of sights, café stops and gelaterias I’d marked along the way. A picnic table here, a pizzeria there. It had all fallen into place almost too smoothly.
With visions of steaming bowls of pasta al dente, and boconccini salad drizzled over with olive oil, hovering inside my imaginative brain, I was thrilling at the prospect of resting up after the group trek, by hanging out with a friend in a charming trullo (traditional round house) in Puglia. Really, could I even have conjured up anything better? The only downside to this post-hike retreat would have been missing out on a close friend’s wedding in southern Germany, overlapping with my stay in Puglia. I was wracked with sorrow (and guilt), aching in the knowledge that I’d miss out on a day she’d been dreaming of since we met, nearly a decade ago. I meekly offered a compromise, and being the deeply spiritual and forgiving friend that she has always been, she seemed content enough.
Even more Europe was in the offing; a few weeks in Bucharest (and, possibly, Paris) to embark on research for one of two books I’m set to write – one of them, in a subtle or oblique way, a follow up to my memoir, published last year. A friend even offered up his apartment in central Bucharest – just a stone’s throw from the locus of library resources and archives I needed most; the city’s premiere university architecture department.
The final few weeks of my European sojourn were planned for London. Once there, I was slotting myself in for further research in museums, city archives and libraries (perhaps with a short trip up to Oxford’s hallowed Bodleian library); with downtime in between dedicated to family and friends. Those plans too were starting to come together… just as a vicious virus was taking hold in the air and firmament of our world, beginning to tear apart the seams of daily life, wreaking havoc on humanity.
Stealthily, notwithstanding the hopes and dreams of millions, the COVID19 creature insinuated itself into everyone’s lives, peeling off solid plans, crushing fragile dreams into smithereens, devilishly insisting on stoppage and stillness.
Surrender was necessary if not inevitable. All the thrall over my planned book events, the one-week writing retreat, ultrasounds and dental work, the walking odyssey in Italy, the weeks of research in Europe; all of it would eventually crash down around me, amounting to nothing more than a hill of (canned) beans.
And yet. Here I was, I am, grounded – in Bali. Could be worse. (Much worse). A nano-walk away from the beach. Free Sea Therapy. Free hugs, care of stray dogs that know my scent well. Free toe-dips into the sea. On the daily show, a sand and sky canvas stretching out in front of me; a rotating kaleidoscope of colours, never to be repeated from one day to the next. This Great Pause is also the Great Reminder of all that I have. And all that I have to be grateful for.