Day 121: Quarantine Birthday.

It’s July, so Quarantine Birthdays are no longer novel, but it’s our little household’s first one. It snuck up on me, and I was not well prepared.

“What do you want for your Quarantine Birthday?” I asked Sal a few days ago while we were driving to the beach.

“You know, I was going to buy these Crocs for work, but then I thought, it’s my birthday, I should let someone else buy them.”

“So you want Crocs?”

“Yeah, that would be nice.”

“What kind of blue do you want? Like, a blue blue, a bright blue?”

I should pause here and mention that Sal only wears blue. It’s been this way for more years than I can recall. One day, he just announced it: “I’m only wearing blue now.” And that was that.

“Whatever is fine. A regular blue would be good.”

I’m not fooled by this. I’ve lived with an artist long enough to know that there are right and wrong blues, and “regular blue” is relatively meaningless. I search for “mens blue Crocs” and start scrolling through images.

“Like, this one…it’s a periwinkle…or cornflower kind of blue…something like that?”

“Is it purple?”

“Um…kind of. There are two here. One is more green-y and one’s more purple-y.”

“Like a pink tone?”

“No, like one is teal-ish and the other one is a periwinkle…”

There are a shockingly small selection of “mens blue Crocs” in size 10 on the internet right now. I am not winning here.

“How about rainbow Crocs?”

I should pause here and mention that Sal recently modified his Blue Only rule out of professional necessity. He was teaching for a community center that did not allow blue due to gang related issues; so now he wears rainbows occasionally.

“Sure, that would be fun,” he says.

“Ooo, this one is tie dye. Looks like paint got splashed on it! And it will arrive on your birthday.”

“Get it!”

Today is Sal’s birthday, but the Rainbow Crocs have not arrived. I wake up early, make a pot of coffee, warm up some pancakes, and prep the preschooler.

“When your daddy comes downstairs, say ‘happy birthday’!”

Sal comes down with the baby and the kid gives him a hug and says: “Happy birthday, Daddy! Remember that when you have birthday cake you don’t eat all of it, we all get some.”

Happy Quarantine Birthday, Sal!

What am I grateful for today?

Sal is very easy going. I was going to make him tacos for dinner, but had to work a bit late. He convinces me that all he really wants is chicken nuggets. “Throw some sauce on them, with a tortilla and cheese,” he says. “That would be really good!”

Damien Hirst

‘A whole week where I don’t have to think about death!’  I say to Sal at the start of my staycation (holistay?).  ‘So, want to go to that Damien Hirst exhibit at the Tate?’

I don’t know what possessed me.  I just wanted to see what the fuss was about.  After some begging, Sal finally caves.  He doesn’t like Damien Hirst.

‘He doesn’t do his own work, you know,’ Sal begins as we enter the first room. ‘He has these ideas and then gets interns to make the installations for like minimum wage, and they don’t get any acknowledgement, and blah blah blah…’

There’s a photo of a young Damien grinning next to a big dead guy head.  I can’t take my eyes off of it.  It’s horrible.  Should I turn back now?  Dare I venture further into the darkness of my morbid curiosity?

The next rooms have big paintings of coloured dots on them.  Sal is muttering, ‘probably stole that idea from the Kusama exhibit…’

Eventually we get to the room with the cow head with live flies.  Honestly, this isn’t that disturbing – growing up in the country, you see a fair amount of animal parts lying around with flies.  But there’s something unsettling about it rotting there behind glass, in the Tate Modern, with no pretty meadow to avert your eyes towards.

The embalmed animals begin around this point.  I think.  It’s all kind of a blur.  There are some brightly coloured paintings with dead butterflies embedded into them.  Beautiful and sad.

Then Mr Hirst provides us a meadow, of sorts.  A room buzzing with butterflies!  Living ones!  Also some weird brown streaks on the wall.  But also butterflies!!

Then a room set up like a medicine cabinet or pharmacy, coloured pills lined up in a glass cabinet.  Then more stuff in formaldehyde, like lambs and sharks.  None of this matches up.  What is the theme here?  Was this a Best Hits Album?

A little girl tugs at her mum’s sleeve.  What?  They let kids in here?!

‘Look, Mummy, a lamby!  Baaa!  So soft!’

‘No, not a lamb.  That’s the deception of living without acknowledging death and one’s own mortality, sweetie.’

Somehow I end up trapped inside a sagittal-ly sliced cow.  These ladies talking excitedly in Portuguese, pointing at grey cow parts ahead of me, some guys behind me.  I start to panic.  I didn’t know I had a phobia of being trapped inside a dissected cow.  I whisper to Sal, ‘I HAVE TO GET OUT OF THIS COW.’  Someone hears me and moves aside.

The next room is better.  Swirling colours and a suspended beach ball.  My emotions are getting seasick.  Am I disturbed?  Happy?  Grossed out?  Confused?  It gets choppy after this:

Horrible, horrible dead flies matted into a dark vortex of doom.

A diamond room!  Shiny, shiny diamonds!

More dead butterflies, arranged like stained glass.  So pretty!…?

An angel carved in marble…with dissected parts (‘Probably had his interns carve that, they did a good job, too…’ Sal grumbles).

The end comes (finally) with a dove suspended in flight in formaldehyde.  It’s beautiful and sad.  Hope and death.

I don’t get Damien Hirst.  That’s ok, I tell myself.  You don’t have to get everything.

‘Right,’ I turn to Sal as we run for the exit. ‘Who’s hungry?’

This is awesome. Underground Camden Market, near the loos



You know where the cool kids hang out on Friday night?  Galleries.

If you haven’t been to the National Portrait Gallery‘s Thurs/Fri night Late Shift, freaking go already.  I mean, Trafalfar Square is like, right there, all lit up with Olympic fervour, and the Gallery’s open late with drinks and live music.  Plus there’s that special Diamond Jubilee exhibition of portraits of the royal family.  So I invited a friend to join me Friday night, thinking how very posh we would be, sipping wine as the gallery fills with Mozart under the approving gaze of Her Magesty.

Um.  This is not what happened.  I don’t even know how to describe this music the band (called Circle of Sound) played.  Someone said ‘jazz’, but it ain’t no jazz I ever heard.  Fusion?  Maybe if I could sort out what was fused with what.  One of the songs was oddly reminiscent of ‘Dead or Alive’ by Bon Jovi.  Do you know what a Sarod is?  According to the Circle of Sound’s flyer, it’s a ‘rare Indian fretless instrument’.  There was a British Bengali guy playing that, which was super cool, and this British Austrian dude on the drums.  Then the Austrian dude started beatboxing.


I want you to picture this.  Looking straight at the audience, he just breaks out in weird sounds – bleeps and ‘pacchews’ and ‘pshp-pshp-pshps’.  An audience with an average age of 45, perched politely on their stools, clearly trying to sort out when and whether to applaud.  The mouth sounds start out randomly, accompanied by some casual drumming, then increase in frequency and intensity, until the fretless strumming and mouth percussion burn a sonic hole in the universe.  And all of us – the Sarod, the beatboxing Austrian, the polite and confused Brits on stools – surrounded by dead MPs glaring at us from wall-to-wall oil paintings in the National Freaking Portrait Gallery.

Awesome.  And how was your weekend?