Serenity and Sirens, sometimes all in the same moment. That’s what longtime award-winning foreign correspondent Mort Rosenblum, author of the non-profit Mort Report, writes about from north of Tucson in this Boomer Opinion piece, as the coronavirus crisis affects both serenity, and politics.
An eon ago, while roaming the world from my base in Paris to report on other people’s mayhem and madness, I bought a small place in Tucson, where I roamed as a boy. It’s just above River Road, named for the Rillito, a run-off river that often flowed when the once-little town still had its Mexican colonial character, far less drought, and an underground aquifer to speak of.
As kids, we’d scale up fat old cottonwoods-– long since cut down and replaced by concrete banks— to harvest mistletoe that we’d tie in red ribbons to sell at Swanway, a strip mall on the far eastern edge of Tucson, now its epicenter.
My place today is in one of the early developments in the city’s foothills, laid out within the contours of the pristine desert where as a kid I rode horses toward the Catalina Mountains, purple and majestic as in the song, looming up a few miles.
Casitas are built roughly similar but with natural desert out front, some ablaze in bougainvillea and flowering plants around porches. Small terraces out back face spectacular sunsets over the Tucson Mountains. Wildflowers bloom in late winter, then the prickly pear and cholla-– jumping cactus.
Now the towering cacti called saguaros are crowned in white blossoms, lords of the Sonora Desert. My street is called Via Serenidad, Serenity, likely by some Anglo developer who wanted a Mexican touch.
From France, I’d fly off to report around the world, but for more than a decade, we’d come here before Christmas and stay until Semana Santa, Easter time, then go back to our small boat in Paris before heading south to prune trees on a French hillside, sort of a mountain, at a grove we call Wild Olives. Added up, the three legs of our triangle amount to less living space than a normal-sized house. But, true enough, they have been a fine way to savor a splendid planet worth protecting.
This morning here in Tucson, with coffee in my cup and five pounds of newsprint in my hands, I heard sirens wail in the distance, just one of so many signs of what kids who are now graduating must face as they shape their own adult lives. However this mysterious plague got going, a self-absorbed lunatic in our White House is creating havoc we cannot begin to imagine. Instead of containing Covid-19 as most leaders tried to do, he mocked it as a hoax designed to make him look bad. America is only now beginning to test people without symptoms, far too little and late for contact tracing.
Sources I trust estimate that not long ago, when officials put America’s death toll at 90,000, it actually was already soaring above 100,000. It will certainly spike because, focused only on his re-election, Donald Trump is pushing eateries and business to reopen too soon. And the boneheaded fools in his cult, many armed to the teeth, have made mass death a political issue. Gun shops do a brisk business, staying open during lockdown as essential businesses. The mood is often ugly. Recently, some guy whacked an old lady on the head with a steel pipe to steal one of the two pizzas she was taking home.
My pal, Lawrence Bond, just sent me a report from France:
“Paris is pretty sad, no parks, restaurants or cafes open, people are walking around but only about half seem to be wearing masks. With crowds on the quai de Seine and the canal St. Martin yesterday, I took a 20km bike ride to have a look. Many stores are open but have few customers and others closed, maybe they are out of business. Everyone is confused about restrictions. On 2 June the gov’t will announce future measures based on the spread of the virus. The weather in the 20s C (70s-80s F) and people want to go out but there isn’t much to do. All work for me had been cancelled this year including a one-hour doc film I had a contract to make.”
Still, I’d go back. But, having clapped out my lungs with too many Camels as a heedless young reporter, there is no way I’m getting on a plane. Europe has shut its borders to American tourists. Trump has made us a virus-ridden pariah just about anywhere.
In truth, we’re happy in our little cocoon. We hike in beautiful places I knew as a kid, and we’re heading north for a cautious vacation and a series of Mort Reports. But, already, America has indelibly changed. For fifty years, after touring places Trump calls shitholes, I’d heave a sign of relief touching down at New York’s JFK, where most always a friendly custom guy would say, “Welcome home.”
Our ignorant president doesn’t understand that “shitholes,” a term that foreign correspondents use often, refers to places run by despotic leaders, who make lives miserable for hardworking decent people who suffer from top-level corruption, without a prayer of elections to pick someone better.
The United States, in that regard, is fast headed toward shithole-dom. In November, Americans only have to show up at the polls to change that. But, will they?
Read more by Mort. Click here.