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Staying Upright

A few days go, we celebrated the graduation of one of Niels' PhD students by having dinner at our house.

(Cue <suspenseful music in times of corona>!)

In addition to the newly minted PhD student and his wife, we invited the co-advisor, who also happens to be an old friend of Niels, and, of particular interest to me, a running coach. In addition to training local and national elites, she also, by dropping me into a "basic" training group that was actually several levels above the performance my body is built to provide, unintentionally caused my first and only stress fracture, in my left middle toe — not to mention planting the seeds for countless running stories.

This brought our number of guests to the currently allowed legal maximum: three.

Niels actually checked whether young children count. They don't, so the candidate and his wife brought along their youngest child, not-yet-one, who spent the evening sitting on her mother's lap, a picture of sweetness. Our own, not so young child had been dispatched to bed on time after a dinner of heated-up mini pizzas. This was about his parents having guests. Three adult guests and one non-verbal guest. And we would converse about serious topics like Python.

My intellectual/cultural diet as a stay-at-home writer has long been the equivalent of sugared oatmeal, water, and one (1) piece of vegetable and fruit a day, in other words: enough to get by. Just. Under corona, this has been downgraded to what feels like these electrolyte powdered drinks meant to keep lost mountaineers alive until the arrival of the St. Bernard dogs carrying the barrel of...what is it? Whiskey? Schnapps? Jägermeister?

So, dinner. Arrangement at the table: one couple on one end, the other at the other end, solo guest in the middle. Distance of 1.5 maintained? I guess. Good thing we bought a bigger table last year.

The food: ordered from Gustatio, one of the restaurants where we could never get a table, and which now delivered pre-prepared meals you can heat up at home. We ate with the satisfaction of having done our part in assuring there will still be a city left once we're allowed to go there again. The first course was bruschetta with so much garlic the little girl, who'd tasted just a little, spent the rest of the night spitting and complaining in a soprano voice. We went through most of our supply of towels, trying to stop the flow of stomach acid and disapproval.

Of course we don't have anything remotely useful at hand anymore: no toddler-mess-wipes, none of the 5 billion cotton cloth pieces that are essential for taking care of a baby. We're a grown-up household in a grown-up democracy, and when we need to spit we do in the rough, frequently washed towels we owned back in the days. Which days? The days. The cough-in-public-while-attending-a-festival days. The invite-as-many-people-into-your-own-home-as-you-damn-well-please days.

Aside from Python (a surprising water slide picking up speed at a late point in the conversation) we talked about how much we enjoyed being together in the flesh. In a rush of recklessness, I proposed to the co-advisor/coach to stop by at the track when she and her group were training.

I was quickly reminded of our new reality, in which small groups of athletes are allowed onto the track at specified time slots, and absolutely no one else. Competitions take place in the deafening silence of an absent public. Coaches circle the track in the legally allowed direction. Because if they don't, we will all die. Parents drop their kids at practice and go for a walk in the rain. I did this. Then they gather, evenly spaced particles, close to the entrance of the facility and hope their child will come out.

In our new normal, small doses of contact have the same effect, I assume, as the laughing gas you're no longer allowed to sell, buy, or consume within the boundaries of the city center. You're a bit dumber than normal, but everything that happens is more fun, which is a fair trade-off these days. While Niels was bringing home the PhD couple, the coach and I stayed back, she already on the saddle on her bike, one foot on the ground, I leaning against the fame of our house's front door, and like individuals with poor impulse control we kept on talking about...one more thing. And one more. And one more.

The candidate was lucky as the defense was allowed to happen in the traditional festive space, and the committee and a small audience was allowed to be in attendance. Friends of his made an excellent video of the occasion. Among other things, we see the profession of professors, headed by the beadle who is raising the silver staff he knocks against the ground to mark the start and the beginning of the ritual. In their black robes, they look like a collection of battered but upright fighters striding into battle against their foe—say, the Nazgul, with their hand-forged spiky corona-hats.

The blurred screenshot below (used with permission) is a rare occasion to observe Niels, on the viewer's left behind the beadle, in his battle armor, wearing his toga (robe) and his Stars & Stripes—inspired facemask. (Hello USA on this day, Nov 3, 2020 —Election Day.)

And so, even with backs hurting due to hours of virtual conferences, and with ankles twisted black & blue from faceplanting after being forced to run on slippery grass by the 1.5m doctrine, we do our best to remain upright. Strictly metaphorically speaking.

Signing off from the couch, SN


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