Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Today I Spent Five Hours on Hold with United Airlines to Cancel My Trip to Italy—Travel in the Time of Coronavirus

saffi karfelt, stephanie karfelt, italy, travel, coronavirus

This past weekend I flew to visit a sick friend. The airports were business as usual. Other than if someone sneezed. Then they got the death glare and hisses of indignation. A woman asked to borrow the little hand sanitizer I keep hanging on the side of my purse—it's a mom thang—telling me someone had sneezed on her. In a shuttle going between terminals in Washington DC a pilot sneezed on me. He tried to cover his mouth but it was one of those kind that sneak up on you. I get that because I have photic sneeze. It might be a blue-eyed thing and according to 23andMe DNA results it's a genetic thing, but if I look into the sun or get the rays hitting my eyes sideways it induces a violent sneeze. So I realize that sometimes it happens.

Still, dang it, cootie boy cover your beak!

All in all I follow coronavirus math, try to be smart, and always remember Edgar Allen Poe's short story The Death of the Red Masque. Moral of the story? You can run, but you can't hide, and like it or not we are in this together.

That last part is why I decided in the end to cancel my trip to Italy. For a good part of the past year I've been prepping to attend a writing workshop there. It's one that I was so lucky to get into. I've been spending a good amount of time huddled in my office writing away in preparation for it. Hours went into shopping for a cheap flight, hotels before and after the workshop, ferries, etc. Eventually I got it all done.

My round trip flight to Italy only cost just over $100. That's on account of my poor husband saying, "Hey, Saff, you can use my airline miles if you think it'll help." What I heard was, "Hey, Saff, let me leave you alone with my airline miles HELP YOURSELF." That's how I wound up with several "free" flights, two of them international.

Life does not get any better than that.

I just hadn't figured coronavirus into it. 

Because they cancelled my writing workshop. In a world where people are sick and some are dying, I know it's not a big thing but it was for me and I had to grieve about it for a few days. At first I thought I'm just going to go by myself to Italy. I'd purchased insurance, but it wasn't going to cover my prepaid non-refundable hotels or my "free" flight. Then I read some articles on protecting the herd. Namely, just because you're one of the healthy people that the virus probably won't hurt much, you're still spreading it. That means you could spread it to your sick friends, your grandmother, or someone else.

We're in it together. Like in The Masque of the Red Death, we can go on with our lives and ignore it, but it's still going to be there. So I spent my five hours on hold with freaking United Airlines, three in the morning and two more in the evening when they didn't actually do what they said they were going to do in the morning. I went to my favorite hiking place after and hiked for a couple of hours, waved at fellow hikers, and admired their doggos and grieved the loss of Italy.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe—by Heather Webber

The Glitter Globe

Magical Realism is a delicious little genre. I have a slightly scientific background and a respect for logic so it suits my tastes. It's a type of story set in a real world setting with fantastical elements and there are four or five characteristics a book is supposed to have to be called Magical Realism. For our purposes let's say it's realistic with fantastic or mythological components to make a point.

Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe by Heather Webber reminds me of Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns—if it was mixed with the slightest sprinkling of the fantastical, like cinnamon atop a pie and less is more in this case.

Doctor in training Anna Kate has been left the Blackbird Cafe in Wicklow, Alabama by her recently deceased grandmother. In order to be able to sell it and get back to her medical training, Anna Kate has to work there for a couple of months. 

It's a popular cafe in a dying small town. Residents have been going there for generations for a slice of the famous blackbird pie, which is made of fruit NOT blackbirds.


At midnight exactly twenty-four blackbirds fly out of the mulberry bushes and take to the skies before settling to sing for precisely one hour. This is not normal blackbird behavior. 

Anna Kate is a descendant of the Callow women whose cosmic job is to bake the locally famous pies. She'd never been to Wicklow before her grandmother's death, but Anna Kate had known her grandmother, Zee Callow. During visits over the years, and under the disapproving eye of Anna Kate's mother, Zee had discreetly passed on necessary knowledge and the secrets to baking the magical pies. 

The magic of eating a slice of the pie is that the night after consuming a piece you receive a message from a loved one who has passed away. Sometimes they remind you to pay the taxes, sometimes it's far more. 

Anna Kate believes in her family legacy. She knows only she can make the pies work properly, and she pushes away the thoughts of what will happen to the people of Wicklow when she sells the place so she can return to medical school. 

In some ways I held a grudge against this book as I read it. You know the Hallmark movies where a career woman finds Real Love and Meaning in a small town and realizes her Big City Dreams aren't worth pursuing? I was worried it was going to be like that. 

Also, in some ways, SPOILER ALERT, Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe is exactly like that. Anna Kate promised her mother that she'd finish medical school but we find out that it isn't her dream to be a doctor so much as it was her mother's. I had to forgive the story because this book is about Anna Kate discovering her purpose and allowing herself to lead a life she wants in the way that will lead to her happiness and fulfillment. 

Who can argue that? I can't argue it, but deep down I'm formulating a story where a woman's purpose and happiness is found in the Big City with her Big Career and not back in her hometown, because that's a thing too, Hallmark Channel.

Yet I enjoyed Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe with its southern small town 'Bama cast of characters. Anna Kate's priorities and life changes with her SPOILER ALERT undiscovered-until-now family (when she had felt alone in the world) and SPOILER ALERT—no, no. I'm not going to tell you anymore. You have to read it yourself. Don't worry, I didn't even tell you about the Natalie story line at all or Bow and Jena, the mysterious kitchen help with a couple of big Magical Realism secrets.

If you read it, let me know what you think. I especially want to know what you think about the ever-popular Big City Dreams life versus the homey small town life story line.