Is a Great Easing under way? Superficially, it seems not. In New York, everyone is still masked. Teachers send kids home with Covid test kits at the slightest symptom and advise them to stay away until they have two negative results in the bag. In Chicago, the schools shut down for a week then reopened, while Eric Adams, the mayor of New York, freaked everyone out last Friday by making ominous noises about potential school shutdowns in the city.
At the same time, the numbers are nose-diving. This week, daily reported cases in New York were 49% lower than two weeks ago. At the weekend we went to a party for a kid turning seven. It was modest in scope: as well as the birthday girl, just three other kids and their parents, all vaccinated including the children. It wasn’t in a freezing park. We weren’t muffled in masks. It was in an apartment, with pizza, cake, wine and chat of a kind most of us have had with only the closest family and friends for two years. I used to dread kids’ parties, but all week I looked forward to it like a golden-ticketed event.
It didn’t disappoint. The party started at 2pm and at 7pm we were still there, sitting on sofas, talking to one another while the kids played with no need for our input. It was an odd thing, to derive such pleasure from something that used to be a chore, while being reminded of the thrill of new people.
By the end of the evening, the adults were so high on the novelty of interacting in comfort, we decided to do it all over again in a few weekends’ time. We lost our heads and wondered if, during the forthcoming week-long winter break, we might save ourselves hundreds in camp fees and rotate to each take the kids for a day. We stopped short of devising plans to sell our apartments and embark on a commune, but for a hot second, standing outside the apartment building afterwards, it seemed as if Covid had given birth to a brave new world, beckoning us over the horizon.
How is Donald Trump not in jail? This is the kind of thought that I’ve enjoyed not having for a year and that resurfaced on Tuesday night after watching Four Hours at the Capitol, the very good HBO documentary about the 6 January insurrection. This week the net closed a little tighter on Trump as the congressional inquiry into last year’s attack on the Capitol requested testimony from Ivanka Trump. Meanwhile, the supreme court turned down Trump’s request to block a release to the committee of White House records.
In this context, the documentary was mindblowing. Like a lot of people, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and attacked police last year, I avoided absorbing too much of the footage for reasons of self-preservation. I couldn’t take any more of him or his people, or what they were doing to American democracy. To see it clearly now, for the first time, was a shock.
One forgets how blatantly Trump fomented the trouble, urging his supporters to march on the Capitol, then refusing to call them off when they breached the boundaries. To hear the then president address people who had just broken into Congress in the gentlest, most encouraging terms – “you had an election that was stolen, but you have to go home now,” followed by “we love you, you’re very special, go home” – was staggering.
More shocking was the passivity of the police. One felt for them, massively outnumbered and with Trump failing to call out the national guard. Watching the documentary, however, it was impossible to imagine rioters who weren’t white and rightwing being greeted with a failure to draw their weapons. The privilege of white male rioters shouting “you work for us” at the cops, and the tones in which some of the police replied – “is there any chance I could get you guys to leave the Senate wing?” says one officer – are extraordinary.
At the time, there was much discussion about whether the Trump supporters were a well-organised force or a bunch of easily led jokers. A photographer for the New York Times who followed them into the Capitol that day said it best: “There are some people here who are fucking around and playing dress-up, and there are some people here who are not fucking around.” When the mob itself is the weapon, it takes both types for an insurrection.
Clinging to the vapours of my January self-improvement drive, I cook a massive tray of brussels sprouts, to the dismay of other residents on my hallway. Something has happened to sprouts since I was a kid. It’s not only improved cooking methods, although there is that. My mother, who hated the English for, among other things, overcooking their vegetables, never overcooked a sprout in her life, but she did boil them and god they tasted bad. Metallic, with a bitter aftertaste. Obviously, I roast mine.
Anyway, it’s not changing palates or faulty memory, either. If you look into it, seed companies in the Netherlands in the 1990s investigated what gave sprouts that bitter taste and invested in new seed varieties with lower amounts of glucosinolates. Now these babies are the types most often sold in supermarkets and if cooked right they’re absurdly delicious: crisp, nutty, sweet. “Here,” I say to a passing child, “try one, it tastes like candy.” (She ignores me.)
The failure of American Vogue’s Twitter feed to respond in a timely fashion to the death of André Leon Talley, style icon and former Vogue editor, struck many on the platform as a deliberate slight. Leon Talley, who fell out with Anna Wintour towards the end of his tenure at the magazine and spent the last years of his life talking bitterly and with justification about racism at Vogue, died on Tuesday at the age of 73, a fact it took his former employers until the next day to acknowledge.
Talley was, in lots of ways, the antithesis to the Condé Nast fashion plate: loud, voluble, expansive, and for all his history of difficulty with food, able to enjoy a large lunch. He took up space in a crowd otherwise committed to an instinctive shrinking inwards and away from joy.
My kids are off school with suspected Covid, again. As we wait for the second test result, 24 hours after the first (negative), I fight off flashbacks to the home-schooling months of 2020. I’m not good at hiding my impatience, or dismay. “Do what you like, but I’m not entertaining or educating you,” I say, and retreat to my room to do a Wordle. They repair to their iPads for a solid day of Roblox and Henry Danger. After the last year and a half, it’s a miracle either of them can read.