07 July 2019

Last night, we went to hear Joan Baez sing on a small island in the river. A scenic location.
Sometime two days ago virus no. 125 or maybe 525 had caught up with me and consequently, yesterday was pretty gruesome but by early evening I took one of the forbidden ibuprofen and told R told me to get a move on.
I have never been a true fan of Joan Baez and folk music gets kind of tedious after a while but I was hoping for encouragement, some kind of message on endurance and hope from a 78 year old artist and veteran civil rights activist.
Instead, I felt melancholia, nostalgia, loneliness even, sitting there in the crowd on our 3000 small chairs on the lawn by the river, like good children at assembly. There was a high wind rustling in the poplar trees and occasionally, the tuktuktuk of a passing river barge. Of course, she was a commanding presence but I felt such loss and when as a second encore, she sang "Where have all the flowers gone" (in German), I wanted to leave, I felt so sad. Walking across the bridge with the sky darkening so beautifully above the river, her last song ("Imagine") felt like a bad spell following us and I wanted to shout, this is getting us nowhere, enough.
I hadn't eaten since lunch, that plus the virus, who knows.

Early this morning it rained, gently. Like a whisper and then it was over and the birds, reinvigorated no doubt, began their show in earnest and at full volume. From an open window down the road I could hear my neighbour calling for help as she does every morning. She still looks as stunning as she did when we moved here so many years ago, the short Jean Seberg haircut and the stripy Breton shirt, tanned legs and elegant long arms. But her posture is that of a small bent woman, Alzheimer's disease does that to a person, and she barely looks up when someone from her devoted family brings her for a walk.

I listened to her for a while, trying to send her my best wishes, and made my mental list for the day, my list of all the tricks I intend to pull out of the bag to ignore my aching hands and feet, to play the game of being energetic and full of purpose. A game I play entirely for myself. There's no fooling R who carries the breakfast tray out to the patio table while I trudge along with the breadbasket.

The heat wave is over for now and today was a perfect summer's day. I slowly worked my way through my list, cleaning the bathroom, hanging out laundry, making the peach and star anise tart from the Chetna Makan book and watching R digging up carrots and potatoes. After lunch, we sat outside under the big umbrella looking through the family tree he has been working on with his older sister, reading about  James and Patrick and Theresa and another James and another and several more Patricks and the many Desmonds and Peters and Marys and so on. Stories of emigration, foreign and domestic careers, dead infants, death during childbirth, poverty and riches. At times, we laughed but mostly we sat there thinking of these lives, these losses, the hardship, the courage.

And now, the ibu has delivered the expected results in my digestive system (whereby system is an euphemism, let's call it chaos, or hell) and has sent me to lie down with a hot water bottle, reading and thinking.

We carry our burdens on our backs, in our stomachs, in our hearts. We carry the burdens of those who hurt us, those for whom we are responsible, those we’ve lost.
(from a beautiful essay by Amy Scheiner)


  1. I'm not a big fan of folk music either. give me rock and roll or the blues (which doesn't really give me the blues). the doomsday clock is ticking (how many seconds do we have left?) while humans continue to put their heads in the sand. not enough woke ones to make a difference I fear.

  2. Thank you for writing so clearly about your experience by the river and R's family tree and the neighbor with Alzheimer's. Your link has me thinking further about Robin Wall Kimmerer and the recurring theme of mothering in Braiding Sweetgrass as she goes forward as a scientist and an indigenous storyteller. What to carry. What to let go.

    "... the same pain in the space between our stomachs and our hearts."

    "My mom’s burdens were heavy — heavy enough to stop her heart. Must I go on carrying her burdens? Or can I release them, let them spill to the ground and wash everything clean."

    That pain and those questions carry a hard-won perspective on grief from a member of the younger generation and, to me, carry the encouragement, endurance and hope that were missing in the event by the river.

  3. I love your writing. It's always so vivid and seems as if I can actually hear your voice through it.
    78?! That makes me feel so old. I like her voice and she has always been strickingly beautiful to me, but I am not a fan of folk music. It seems so sad and melancholy to me.
    Hope you feel better soon, truly.

  4. This mini essay is words from my own head and heart. I feel this way -- can't shake it, don't know what's wrong, am trying to be mindful, to let go, etc. etc. etc.

  5. Joan Baez sings beautifully, but lives, I think, in a world that's a few millimetres away from this one.

  6. This, in your pain and your sadness, is simply lovely. Beautifully put.

  7. such a sad post. i believe you have captured the mood of the planet as we play the game of energy and purpose, as we must.

  8. Anonymous08 July, 2019

    Ah you remind me that the only time I heard Joan Baez perform was 50 years ago at Woodstock! Where have all the flowers gone? And the trees? And the bees? I like music that pours from heart in whatever genre. I hope you are feeling better, Sabine.

  9. Folksingers are generally so EARNEST. The older I get, the less tolerance I have for earnestness. It always seems a bit preachy, sanctimonious. I saw Joan Baez years ago and my experience was much like yours. I just could not fall into her spell. But oh, what a lovely voice she does have.
    I am glad your heat wave is over. For now, at last. Ours continues and in a rare and strange sequence of events it looks as if we may have a tropical storm here which originated north of us, rather than south.
    The new normal where nothing is normal. I think it must be hard for you not to see the similarities between the climate and your very own body.
    You are loved, Sabine. You are.

  10. I first heard And The Band Playing Waltzing Matilda from an unexpected source (BBC Radio 3, mainly for intellectuals of the worst sort. Me for instance.). It was sung by Shane McGowan of The Pogues, he's the one with either no teeth, or teeth that have gone black. He has an unpleasant whiny voice and he spat the words out as if he hated them: the perfect delivery for a song which purports to be a lament by an Australian soldier who lost both legs at Gallipoli.

    A year later I heard it sung (beautifully) by Joan Baez, completely missing the point, not a hint of bitterness. A great song completely undermined. I don't know if this helps. The Pogues are punk not folk by the way. But you probably knew that.

  11. I actually love folk music. But it can be melancholy, that's for sure. My son favors Irish ballads and some of them are deeply sad. Sometimes I hear him singing them in his raw voice and it makes me want to just weep.