An Italian coronadiary – days 15 and 16

photon as god particle

Katia Nussbaum's thoughts turn to photons as she and her family start a third week in lockdown at their San Polino estate in Montalcino. Her intention is to stop at day 19, a nod to the name of the disease caused by this current virus. Click on the Katia's diary tag for all the previous diary entries.

Day 15: 24 March 2020

I wake, stretch, blink and, as habit has it these days, grab my phone. It’s 8 am. The Guardian app has the headlines:

UK wakes up to lockdown as Trump insists US will ‘reopen’ in weeks … US President tells country not to blame Asian Americans

Like in World War II. Mad, mad world. We can expect anything and everything. Like ‘Chinese virus’.

Oh, America! So forward thinking and yet so backward..

Women can sport beards and moustaches in California, yet there’s a 168% increase in gun purchases for self-protection in times of COVID-19.

As I said, we are having to learn to expect anything and everything.

Good news: my dry cough is gone and I assume the role of most desirable person in the house.

Gigi, of course , is still in the flat. He calls me and tells me what a wonderful time he is having; he feels ‘on holiday’ and I am very pleased for him. He has been talking for months about how he needs a break, but hasn’t been sure where to go. Places mentioned:

  • Bangalore (he loves India and wants to meet people who can help him (a) with his book on the tuning of the ancient Burmese harp (true) and (b) make the best website in the world; Gigi is very, very clever and everybody, including me, loves him)
  • northern Thailand (to relax and work on the website)
  • Morocco (to see something different and it is not too far)
  • a hut in the Dolomites (to be quiet and walk but sounds too tame).

Guess what?

He is discovering that the flat was the place to go.

He can relax, walk, work on the best website in the world and on his book, see a different view from the window, be quiet AND he is close to all of us (lunch, etc) AND he can enjoy War and Peace.

Happiness is in your own backyard (Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz, quote unquote).

At 9 am I decide to make granola, and think of Maya (my step-daughter in Denmark) who showed me how to. We do a video call. She is going mad in lockdown with a highly active four-year-old and Elina, her nine-month-old baby. She’s getting ready to take the kids to the woods. (Maybe leave them there, like Hansel and Gretel? She sounds desperate enough.) We chat for a while.

I then go to build up the fire. Today is very cold and, seeing the bright side, I hope it will help slow down the precocious growth of the vines.

Avni at San Polino

Avni (pictured above at work in the vines) arrives. No, he says (harbinger of good news), the cold will kill all the early leaves. And ruin the plum trees, and the peach trees. It will snow tonight and that will be even worse. Of course, he may well be right.

But he is like the weather, cold, and has not yet thawed from yesterday’s row.

Daniel arrives just a minute or two later and tells me a friend of his, an ambulance driver, is looking for a room/flat to stay in. He usually shares a house with his mother, but his father (divorced) has come home as he’s had a heart attack and needs looking after. He absolutely cannot afford to get COVID-19, and  so the ambulance-driver-son needs to find another place to live.

Interesting, and this leads me back to the concept of ‘independence’.

For British people being independent means living away from your family with your own money. In a sense it is seen as primarily an economic idea.

For Italians, independence relates to the sort of person you are and your sense of responsibility for things, including your parents.

It’s not just an  economic concept and I wonder at the cultural differences.

Daniel puts on some warm clothes, picks up his bag of nails and hammer and heads off to the vineyard to bang nails into posts.

Mariano at San Polino

Mariano (above) is on the tractor, in two coats, a hat and ear mufflers, pulling the grass away from between the young vines.

Tini and Migena (below) are tying the vines. They will finish that job today.

Migena at San Polino

Avni goes into the winery.

I boil up some beans that I soaked last night and then head out to do some vine-tying. I am not coughing.

It’s freezing cold.

By  lunchtime, light snow is falling. Avni is so pleased about being right in his meteorological predictions that he forgets he’s meant to be irritable. The atmosphere lightens.

I open my phone and look at the news, about the lockdown in the UK. Things look ugly and I feel anxious.

I read that in Spain old people are being found neglected and dead in care homes. Wow. I think of my mother’s friends in London, many of whom are alone. My goodness. This is terrible. Worse than terrible.

Boris-idiot-Johnson was not able to fight the coronavirus on the beaches.

Maybe blue passports help British Immune Systems (call it BIS). My passport is still red. Better apply for the blue one.

Will Brexit mean that I lose my BIS?

The phone rings. Eva (my sister in Germany).  She is a nurse but stopped working in the hospital when she had a family, because of the nights. She has heard that she might be called up for the COVID-19 emergency. She has taken a week’s holiday, yet  is worried. Our mother (87) is with her, two teenagers, her husband’s (Ghanaian) sister and, next door, her husband’s first daughter and her two children. While she feels in her heart that she would like to help at this critical time, Eva really feels that she cannot afford to be roped into hospital work. It is too dangerous for the household. I tell her that maybe it is time for her to quit altogether. She is 60 and has been trying to find a way out of this for some time.

She says that if she quits she will have no health insurance. Is that Germany? Is that possible??

As things feel calmer in the house, I decide it is time to go into the office and attack my correspondence. I have been prevaricating for days and now is the time to break the block.

A  German importer who had sent an order offered to pay upfront in return  for a prepayment discount. In answer I say yes, and while it seems opportunistic of them, it is a good idea … better a bird in the hand than two in the bush. The money will be useful now.

Someone else has written to me asking for technical information on our Brunello 2012. Total acidity, pH, residual sugar. It’s an important email that needs to be answered.

I can’t find the analyses. Gigi took them but he is in isolation. The office that certified the wine and that could help me is closed (COVID-19), the website of the Brunello Consorzio (where I could also get them ) doesn’t work. So I answer with an educated guess, hoping I’m right.

By 8 pm I am alone in the house; me and Kitty. Meunuch, her admirer, made a show today, but has now  gone back to his ‘real’ home. I wonder where that is? He is well turned out, so must have a loving family.

The wood stove is blazing, the fireplace too, Gigi cut me wood today and positioned it beautifully outside the front door. I don’t even have to go to the cold, windy wood-pile to pick it up. What an angel.

So Kitty and I are very cosy. We decide to switch on the TV for the news:

Prime minister Conte is threatening a €3,000 fine on people not obeying the lockdown. Contagion rates seem to be decreasing.

Yet 743 people have died today. Damn. That’s a lot of people.

Day 16: 25 March 2020

So, Prince Charles, too.

The Australians who went round to see my mum before we sent her to Germany are complaining of chest pains and difficulty in breathing. Yikes.

Where do I start today? So little and so much. Three more days of Diary, 17, 18 and finally 19. The grand finale.

Perhaps God Himself will be revealed on Day 19 and we will flock around His feet in awe.

But, for me, my God is the Ineluctable Universe, of which we are only a part, and in the eyes of this Universe no more or less important than a coronavirus.

I have been playing around with ideas recently, and reading some wonderful books. (And please, read this as a more or less, I am no scientist.)

It turns out that in the centre of the sun and under massive gravitational pressure, hydrogen atoms are squeezed together and fuse. In this way helium is created. However, one helium molecule is lighter than two hydrogen atoms and so there is an excess of energy. This energy collects into parcels called photons.

The photon parcels take around two million years to get to the edge of the sun. At which point the explosive nature of the sun overcomes its gravitational pull and the photons are whooshed away at the speed of light.

After 8 minutes and 40 seconds these photon parcels arrive on the planet earth. Everything you are seeing now is the result of light which left the sun 8 mins and 40 secs ago.

The photon lands on the leaf of the vine and excites electrons, which, in less time than the blink of an eye, move to a reaction centre in the leaf, catalysing a reaction between hydrogen, oxygen and carbon to create carbohydrates, a source of food for the plant. This is photosynthesis.

The plant sends down much of this food to the fungal networks under the soil. In chambers of exchange within the plant root the funghi give the plant minerals, drawn up from the soil, from a radius many kilometres wide around the plant root. To make matters more amazing, the plant itself sends out scents from its own roots, scents that attract certain micro-organisms able to break down these minerals, making them digestible to the plant. (Which is the same system micro-organisms use in our lower intestine to break down the foods that we eat into nutrition for our bodies.)

The plants inhale carbon dioxide from the air, photosynthesise and then exude oxygen.

Plants existed on the planet way before we did and it was only because of plants, photosynthesis and the consequent release of oxygen that we as mammals, then humans, could exist; live, breathe and evolve.

And so in my mind, the ‘god particle’, if we want one, is the photon (as shown in the doodle I made one night with a pair of vineyard secateurs, a San Polino wine label, Google and a printer)

photon as god particle

The ultimate entanglement of everything.

Then, if you choose to read philosophy, and/or have a critical mind, you may come to realise that science, or whatever we hold to be true, is governed by our interpretation of the natural world .

And the setting up of experiments, the apparatus we use, the moment in time and the space that we choose to enact these experiments, and the reading of these experiments, is not neutral.

In such a sense we are part of the phenomenon, we are internal to the experiment. We decide what constitutes the object of the experiment, what defines boundaries and how categories are to be made.

We can only, as Karen Barad (particle physicist and feminist philosopher) says ‘meet the universe halfway’.

And within that ‘halfway’ she assumes our ethical responsibility in managing and envisaging programmes that define and delineate our world.

Wow, big and meaty stuff!! Day 16!! (makes me giggle)

The reason I am saying this is that looking back over my diary I see a constant trail of words ‘weird’, ‘bizarre’, ‘mad,’ ‘nuts’...

Last night I could not get to sleep. I had talked to Yasmin in California until after midnight, and my mind was rolling around. Tossing and turning, and worrying about this diary, which has assumed a life of its own.

My night-time thoughts (around 3 am)

They seemed so important that I put on the light and scribbled them down with a pencil.

I write:

The mad, mad world was actually here BEFORE coronavirus and COVID-19. I got it the wrong way round. We haven’t become mad now, we were mad before. Now, we may be finally beginning to see some sense.

Viruses are not mad. They are part of nature. We human beings invented a thing called culture and separated it from nature. But it was a fantasy. Our invention. Our category. Our phenomenon.

The Emperor’s New Clothes are falling off. Away. Gone.

I realise this is exhausting: the balancing act of these tightened circumstances, keeping the farm going in a moment of revolutionary historical change.

Both are important, and both are acts of total concentration and focus:

  • keeping the farm/winery going and not screwing up
  • understanding the historical process.

The idea keeps going around in my head: madness vs sanity, the wild, uncontrolled laissez-faire of capitalism vs lockdown and total State intervention.

Maybe there is a glimmer of hope, capitalism will have to be brought to reason, kicking and screaming, but in order to survive it will have to allow for change.

Lockdown has presented us with dolphins and blue skies.

How will we use this? That is why I can’t sleep.

Gigi is still down below in the flat. I miss him and hope that he can come ‘home’ soon.

683 have died today.