The White Stuff

Yesterday we got hit with our first winter storm of the season. It started as rain, but as the termperature dropped it turned into a wet, heavy snow. After the ground cooled, the snow started to stick, and this morning when I looked outside I found that everything was coated in this cold, slippery, white stuff.

Snow is weird. You can live your entire life in the Midwest, and experience the inevitable snowy periods every winter, but the first snowfall of the winter is always kind of a shock. It’s as if the brain uses the warm months to try to wipe out the memory of snow, and erase all of the snow-related reflexes that people acquire during the snowy months — like the kind of duck-footed walk you develop to try to minimize the risk of slipping on snow-covered sidewalks, or the downcast tilt of your head as you walk into the teeth of a snowstorm, or the best personal layering and bundling techniques to shield yourself against the chill.

And don’t even mention the notion of driving in the snow for the first time after months of a snow-free existence. The fact that people have forgetten everything they learned last winter and drive like idiots when the first flakes fall is a perennial — and accurate — complaint here in the Midwest. The only good thing to say about the coronavirus is that, with more people working from home and therefore commuting less, the number of fender-benders is likely to be dramatically reduced this year.

Of course, the fundamental reality of the first snowfall is that the warm weather days are gone for now, and Old Man Winter is here in earnest. With the calendar page turning to December today, we should have realized that, but the snowfall gives us a tangible, physical reminder that we’re in for three months of cold, frozen slop, and we’d better brace ourselves and get used to the idea.

Tree Time

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time to start focusing on the next big holiday on the calendar. And St. Mary Church here in German Village stands ready to satisfy your evergreen needs with a traditional Christmas tree lot. This year the lot has been spread out so the trees can comply with social distancing requirements, and there’s an ample supply of additional trees stacked up and at the ready, too.

We haven’t had a Christmas tree in years, but I do love that fresh, clean pine tree smell. it’s a pleasure walking past the lot in the morning.

Overmasked

I noticed them doing some work around the Schiller statue on one of my recent walks around the park, and when I walked past the statue on Saturday I saw that Herr Schiller is now sporting an oversized mask. I suppose somebody in the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department decided we need yet another reminder of the need to wear masks — even though the statue is honoring social distancing dictates by staying more than six feet away from, and above, anyone walking by.

I’m sure whoever came up with the idea of masking the statue thought they were being pretty clever — even though masking up stuff has been done to death already. But the sight of the giant veiled statue provoked a pretty negative reaction from me. Must the authorities take every opportunity to hit us over the head with masks and other reminders of this ongoing pandemic? Can’t they leave at least some things alone, so we can get an occasional taste of the world as it was before “coronavirus” became a household word?

Trust me: we’re not going to forget that there’s a pandemic going on, even if there’s not a mask on every statue.

Broken Circle

Suspensions, the exhibition of sculptures by Jerzy Jotka Kedziora at Schiller Park, was supposed to end in March 2020 — about the time the coronavirus turned our little corner of the world upside down. Whether it is due to COVID-19 issues or because people like me just enjoy them, the exhibition has been extended and the hanging sculptures are still there to be appreciated.

The sculpture above has attracted a lot of attention from passersby who have noticed that the strap on the one ring is unattached and are worried the sculpture needs repair. But that’s actually the whole point of this piece, which is called Broken Circle. The Friends of Schiller Park, which sponsored this exhibition, received so many inquiries about the sculpture they put up a sign with the artist’s explanation of the piece: “With one wheel severed, the gymnast is able to maintain the hard-to-explain position. I want viewers to interact with my sculptures, even if it is simply the viewer’s fear that the sculpture may fall.”

I am struck by Kedziora’s notion of the gymnast being “able to maintain the hard-to-explain position.” That seems like a pretty apt description of what many people have done in trying to keep their lives, and their family’s lives, in order in the face of a pandemic and the other issues that have made 2020 such a surreal year. If you’re one of the Moms, Dads, helping out grandmothers or grandfathers, stay-at-home workers, remote schoolers, masked health care workers, or countless other people who have been able to “maintain the hard-to-explain position” in the face of a broken circle and innumerable daily challenges, I salute you. Like the gymnast, you’ve survived the impossible.

It’s interesting how changes in the world can affect your impression of art, and vice versa.

Wanted: COVID Concierge

Back in the days when we regularly used hotels, the concierge desk sure could come in handy. If you were in a faraway city and needed directions, recommendations about restaurants or sightseeing opportunities, or reservations, the concierge desk was the place to go. In fact, the good people staffing the concierge desk seemed to know everything you might need to know about the city you were visiting.

We all could use a “COVID Concierge” these days.

We’re at the point in this pandemic, and in the governmental responses to the pandemic, where the rules being applied are becoming a bit overwhelming and hard to process. In Columbus, for example, we’re currently subject to a curfew and regulations imposed by the State of Ohio, plus a stay at home order issued by the county government — and for all I know, the City of Columbus has added an additional layer of regulation. The average person confronts a lot of questions as they go about their lives. How do you know for sure if you’re permitted to walk the dog at 6:23 a.m.? Can you visit your elderly relative at a nursing home, and if so, how? What’s the latest development concerning in-school and stay-at-home learning in your child’s school system?

And if you want to take a trip somewhere — hey, a fellow can dream, can’t he? — you’ll have to figure out the state, county, and local rules and regulations that apply to travelers at your destination, the rules and regulations for any states where you will be spending the night on your journey, and the rules and regulations of your home state and home town that will apply upon your return. Do you need to be tested to enter the state? If so, what documentation must you carry? Has your home state been put on a restricted list by the state of your destination? Will you be required to quarantine for a time period upon your arrival, or upon your return? What are the masking and social distancing requirements at your place of destination? How many gallons of hand sanitizer do your need to bring? And all of these rules can and do change, from day to day, so you need to stay up to the minute on it all.

That’s where the COVID Concierge comes in. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a COVID Concierge to help you navigate through the welter of different regulations and directives, tell you precisely what test you need to take and what documentation will be required, and make the reservation for you? And if you’re looking for a place to vacation because you just can’t stand the thought of being cooped up in your house for another day, the COVID Concierge would be a ready source of information and recommendations about which states would be the most painless to visit right now.

This is a sure-fire business plan in today’s environment. But I am offering it to the public, free of charge, so that anyone can put it into effect and set up their own COVID Concierge service. Just promise to send me the COVID Concierge phone number, will you?

The Squirrel’s Favorite Holiday

I’m guessing that squirrels prefer Halloween and Thanksgiving over all other holidays. That’s because squirrels have a taste for pumpkin — especially older, softer pumpkin. Over the last few days, the little fellow shown in the photo above and his furry pals have been ravenously devouring the pumpkins that were placed at Schiller Park as decorations. I’m not sure if the squirrels gnaw through the shell to get at the pumpkin seeds, or whether they like the inner flesh, but this guy was stuffing himself to get ready for the winter in that inimitable, hyper-alert, squirrel-like way.

If you’ve got pumpkins and want to be environmentally sensitive about disposing of them, put them out in your back yard where your neighborhood squirrels can get at them. They’ll thank you, and take care of recycling.

Deboarding Downtown

Before the election, there were cautions about potential unrest in downtown Columbus during the period while votes were being counted. Most of the businesses in the downtown area put plywood over their street-level windows for protection against rock throwing, just in case. The boarded-up windows, which tend to attract graffiti, gave the downtown area a creepy, apocalyptic feel that matched, and maybe enhanced, the general sense of trepidation many people had about the whole election period.

Yesterday I went downtown for work and was glad to see that the plywood had been taken down from many of the buildings, while removal efforts were underway at still other buildings like the one shown in the photo above. Two weeks after the election, businesses evidently feel that the danger of civic unrest has passed and that it’s time to get back to normal. I was happy to see that development, because reflective windows are a lot nicer to walk by than plywood.

I’ve always been a believer in the “broken windows” theory, which posits that physical surroundings can send cues about expected behavior. Boarded-up buildings send a very distinctive message, whereas businesses that have removed the boards and are happy to let the sun shine in send a different message entirely. And although normally I’m the first person to question holiday decorations that are put up too early, this year I won’t mind seeing festive trimmings put up on downtown buildings, even if they go up before Thanksgiving. They will be a tangible sign that the election is behind us, the holidays (and the end of 2020) are on the horizon, and it’s time to move forward.

The Geese Patrol

The Schiller Park pond, like every small body of water in the central Ohio area, has a goose problem. Canadian geese, to be specific: loud, squawking, honking, aggressive, madly crapping creatures that carpet every surface around the pond, including the sidewalk, with rancid goose droppings. You will never hear anyone who lives around any kind of Ohio pond say a good word about the freaking Canadian geese, because inside their noble blck-and-white exterior is utter abomination.

This morning as Betty and I took our walk around the park we noticed this car parked on the street near the pond, and saw a person in a yellow day-glo vest and a border collie patrolling the perimeter of the pond, barking at the geese and scaring the crap out of them (at least, whatever crap remains in view of their standard crapping tendencies). Apparently someone decided it is time to do something about the goose problem at the park and called in Ohio Geese Control, which promises to be “safe, humane, and effective” in resolving geese issues. According to the company’s website, it will “identify[] the site characteristics most attractive to the geese (e.g., security, food, nesting sites, water)” and then “design a custom management program based on the potential for reducing these characteristics.” I’m guessing that the border collie addresses the “security” element of goose pond selection decision-making.

This is a bit of a NIMBY issue, because the Canadian geese exist in our area and are going to locate somewhere. But maybe Ohio Geese Control can get the geese to leave this little pond in the corner of a busy urban park that is frequented by children and dogs, and take their aggressive ways and mad crapping to a more remote rural location, or one of those corporate park ponds with a fountain in the middle that no one actually walks around. Getting rid of the geese at the Schiller Park pond would make 2020 a little bit better.

The Virus That Wouldn’t Go Away

The coronavirus continues to rage through Ohio, as it is in other states. The Buckeye State has experienced a significant spike in cases, but it is not alone; cases seem to be on the rise everywhere, causing all kinds of cancellations and maximizing the uncertainty we’ve all been dealing with during 2020. If you were looking forward to watching the Ohio State-Maryland football game on Saturday afternoon, for example, you’d better make new plans: the game has been cancelled due to a spike in positive COVID tests in the Maryland program.

Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine addressed the latest coronavirus developments yesterday. He said that, thanks to the increase in cases, we are at a new, “crucial phase” in the pandemic — the latest “crucial phase” in a year full of “crucial phases” — and detailed some changes in the Ohio mask-wearing rules to address apparent slippage in mask-wearing by some businesses and the general public. He announced that he will be issuing orders that public gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less, that “open congregate” areas at weddings and funerals must be closed, and that dancing and playing games will be banned. And he added that, if the current trend lines continue, in a week he may need to order the closure of fitness centers, restaurants, and bars — again.

The Governor recognized that people are tired of all of this, and many are discouraged. He urged people who have relaxed their approach to coronavirus prevention to get “back to the basics” of vigorous hand-washing and mask-wearing. (In our little corner of Columbus, I haven’t noticed any slippage in mask-wearing and social distancing among people who are out and about, nor in our Friday night visits to restaurants over the past few weeks.)

Let’s face it: whether we’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or not, we’ve all got a serious case of coronavirus fatigue. The virus won’t go away, we’ve lurched from one “crucial phase” to another, and the efforts we’ve taken haven’t prevented additional spikes in positive tests. There’s a nagging sense that we’re all going to have to live with these conditions for the foreseeable future — and that’s where the possibility of another bar and restaurant closure order becomes so dispiriting. Much as I think our home cooking has improved, and much as we have adhered to social distancing and remote work concepts, it’s nice to have the option of going to a restaurant, experiencing a change of scenery, and eating food that you haven’t cooked yourself as a kind of safety valve to break up the monotonous sameness.

Perhaps we’ll get a vaccine that changes this grim paradigm, or perhaps it will end when so many people get infected that we reach the “herd immunity” point that some public health experts talk about. Until then, the big challenge is to keep going, accept the uncertainty, and recognize that, one way or another, this bleak period is going to end at some unknown point in the future. It’s not a very encouraging message, but sometimes that how the real world works.

Fighting The Good Fight

Two people I know pretty well were candidates in last Tuesday’s general election. Both were motivated primarily by noble desires to serve the public in the judicial branch of our government. One of them won, and will be a great addition to the state court bench in Ohio. The other, regrettably, did not — but she fought the good fight. She was a great candidate who worked tirelessly and cheerfully and did everything that successful contenders must do.

As the 2020 election recedes into the distance, I’d like to focus for a moment on those candidates who fought the good fight. All of us have tasted the bitter dregs of defeat at some point in our lives, in an athletic contest, a spelling bee, a talent show, or a competition for the heart of another. We all know that losing really hurts. I cannot imagine, however, how it must feel to lose an election, after devoting countless hours to fundraising, campaign events, and — it being 2020 — awkward Zoom calls. Even worse, politics being what it is these days, the losing candidate often has also been the subject of demonization and the most negative advertising you can imagine. It takes a lot of guts and fortitude to run for any office — whether you’re a Democrat, a Republican, a Libertarian, the Green Party, or the marijuana parties that appeared on some state ballots this year. Most of us, myself included, would never dream of doing so.

We all need to remember that our republic would not work if at least two candidates did not summon up the gumption to run for the office in question. On our ballot this year, there were a handful of uncontested races — and that’s too bad. Campaigns serve a crucial purpose. They help to frame the issues, they give us information about the contenders for the office, and the positions staked out by the candidates often increase public awareness of the issues and the duties performed by the office itself.

So, here’s to those candidates who fought the good fight. We appreciate your personal sacrifice and your commitment to public service. Our system couldn’t do it without you.

Hue Do

There’s still a lot of fall color out there to enjoy. Bright leaves are hanging on to many of the trees and bushes, and multi-hued pumpkins and gourds decorate many German Village doorsteps, but the mums are the stars of the color display right now. They give a strong incentive to get outside and get some fresh air and exercise — while continuing to maintain appropriate social distancing, of course.

We’ve had perfect autumn weather in Columbus over the past few days — cool and crisp in the morning, and sunny and warm in the afternoon before sunset. Enjoy it, and the brilliant colors, while they last!

The Random Restaurant Tour —XLI

Here’s some tangible evidence that the entrepreneurial spirit in America remains strong — a new restaurant has opened up in our neighborhood. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of the extraordinary challenges it poses for food service establishments, some people had sufficient confidence in their food and their business model to give a new restaurant a go. It’s great to see, and naturally we had to check it out.

The new restaurant is called Chapman’s Eat Market. It’s open for business in the old Max & Erma’s location on Third Street in German Village. If you ever visited the place when it was Max & Erma’s, you won’t recognize the interior of Chapman’s. All of the kitschy Max & Erma’s bric a brac has been removed, leaving a very clean, spare look. The space never looked better, or felt roomier — which is a good thing when you’re setting up tables that are appropriately distanced for your diners.

Chapman’s serves a set tasting menu that is a nice change of pace from the normal “order off the menu” restaurant. When we went on Friday we received an eight-course meal that included two dessert courses. Every one of the dishes, from the smoked salmon fritters that began our culinary adventure to the yuzu key lime pie that ended our journey, was excellent. My favorites were the pork shoulder lettuce wrap, pictured above, which included grilled pork shoulder, nuoc cham, cucumbers, jicama, peanuts and mint, the khao soi, with yellow curry, shrimp, chicken, fried noodles, pea leaf salad, banana, tomato, and peanut, and the duck confit leg and mole rojo, with cowboy beans, Carolina Gold Rice, pickled chayote, and roasted squash. I ate it all with relish, even though the dishes included more vegetable matter than I would ever have ordered for myself.

Three things stood out from our Chapman’s experience. The first was flavor; this is not a restaurant that is fearful of adding a nice kick to its dishes and laying out some creative spice and seasoning combinations. The second was texture; most of the dishes featured a very interesting and enjoyable crunch as part of the package. And the third was variety. In one eight-course setting, the offerings touched the bases of classic American, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican cuisine, sometimes in delightful combination. And the key lime pie, pictured below, was a beautifully tart way to bring a fine meal to closure.

If you want to try a new place and get a meal that might just make 2020 a bit more palatable, put Chapman’s on your checklist. You may well see us there — from an appropriate distance, of course.

At-Home Halloween

The Halloween decorations in German Village this year are amazing, and elaborate. Colossal spider webs and giant spiders are especially popular, but so are skeletons, very creepy ghosts, bats, rats, gravestones, witches, Frankenstein monsters, Jack o’lanterns, and virtually every other haunted symbol you might think of. And more pumpkins and gourds thank you can imagine. It makes our walks around the ‘hood a lot of fun.

I find myself wondering whether our prolonged COVID experience has contributed to to elaborateness of the decorations. If you’ve spent months trying to stay at home and keep your distance, finally getting the chance to decorate your house, express yourself, and have some fun on a ghoulish holiday may just be irresistible.

The Great Post Cap Mystery

Recently we noticed that the post cap on one of our fence posts was missing. The post cap is that bulb-like fitting that sits atop the fence post and is designed to have both an ornamental and a practical function. The ornamental element is the sphere that helps to give the fence a pleasant and more finished appearance, and the practical function is to keep water from getting into the interior of the post and rusting it out.

We wondered how the post cap was removed, and what happened to it. I looked around in the front beds and the general vicinity to see whether I could find it, but had no success. Columbia Gas workers have been working on gas lines and using heavy machinery on the street, and I thought perhaps they had inadvertently knocked into the fence post and dislodged the post cap, and someone had picked it up as a random item on the street. Whatever the reason, we knew we would have to get a new post cap to protect the fence post, and were trying to figure our who to call or where to go to get that done.

But this weekend the mystery deepened. When we returned from a walk, we noticed that the post cap had been restored securely to its rightful place. Where had it been, and who replaced it, is anyone’s guess. It has markings on it that could reveal a collision with construction equipment, but for all I know the markings have been there for years. (I confess that I had not previously carefully inspected the post caps of our fence.) The post cap might have been returned by a member of the construction crew, or perhaps it was found by a neighbor. No note was left to explain the post cap’s absence.

Wherever the post cap had been, and whoever was the Good Samaritan, we’re just glad it’s back. Who knows? Maybe 2020 isn’t that bad after all.

Street Walking

Since we’ve returned to Colimbus from Stonington, I’ve had to get my street walking reflexes back.

Not that kind of “streetwalking,” of course. I’m talking about literally walking in the street, with the traffic — exactly what your Mom told you not to do. In German Village, if you want to walk (and I do) and you want to maintain social distancing (and I do), you’re inevitably going to be veering out into the street from time to time to avoid approaching walkers and joggers on the sidewalks.

Street walking requires special awareness that wasn’t needed in Stonington. Up there, in our neighborhood, most streets don’t have sidewalks, so you walk in the street as a matter of course — but there’s really not all that much traffic, and not many parallel-parked cars (or joggers or bicycles, because of the abrupt steep inclines everywhere). In German Village, those are three of the things you’ve got to look out for when you venture into the street. You’ve got to be mindful of whether there are people who are in those parked cars you’re thinking of walking between in order to dodge those approaching walkers, because people in parked cars may be getting ready to pull out. And you need to be sure to look both ways, because you could have a cyclist or jogger approaching from either direction. And you’ve got to watch the cars, too, obviously— some of them are moving pretty fast, flouting the speed limit, and angry at the world. They don’t like sharing the street with us social distancers. And you need to be sure to wear white or other bright colors, to ensure you are seen by the drivers, cyclists, and joggers you’re trying to avoid.

I sometimes wonder whether walking in traffic to maintain social distancing is more dangerous than the coronavirus. It probably is, but it does keep you alert and on your toes first thing in the morning.