I feel completely convulsed by this year.

My sister now has Covid in London ( who doesn’t?), I can’t go back home because with quarantine – which I couldn’t endure in any case – time-wise there would be no point; like so many people in many ways I just feel battered, still with an almost constantly racing heart, unduly affected inside my body and soul.

Which is why it was nice just now ( I can still hear the monks as they make their way along the neighboring streets, uninvited but welcome , chanting sutras I don’t understand ) when I heard the now familiar drone as it made its way into my head and sound space, the monks making their way up the hill from one of the major temples – I think Kenchoji, filming them as they filed down the street, one man singing alone in front of our doorstep.


Filed under Flowers


  1. Neil, I feel the same way and feel alienated in my feelings even from my close friends who I am thinking are not that close at all. Everyone is acting like everything is back to normal, but there is no normal anymore and perhaps never truly was. In truth. As tough as 2020 was, people were more at one with each other even though they were living in quarantine. Now, most people don’t seem to give a damn about anything but themselves. I am not being negative, just realistic as to what I see all around me.

    • It’s hard to know what to say here.

      In Japan, as you might expect, people have always acted as though not much were actually happening – as a smooth veneer is a fundamental requirement of social intersection ( even if it has been difficult to escape a darker, ‘sunken’ feeling no matter how much people put up a facade.

      I think worldwide, people are just so thoroughly fed up with the whole thing after almost two years of it that everyone copes in different ways : some very defiantly, others wishing it all away with positivity, genuine or otherwise.

      I am sorry you feel so alienated ( but I understand the feeling completely). Have we not all retreated into ourselves to a large extent – hence the strong urge for a ‘Revenge Christmas’ etc now as a counterbalance ?

      When I wrote that PTSD piece, I imagine that some people close to me ( they never said anything ) just thought oh there Neil goes on again about closed windows and claustrophobia, but unfortunately for me, eighteen accumulated months of feeling I couldn’t breathe have been quite damaging – but only D will really listen to me about it. I don’t even know whether I actually do have high blood pressure or whether it all has been a delayed reaction – yesterday I had to go back to the worst building in question and was pulsing with anxiety – it has affected us all to varying degrees in different ways.

      I still think the plane crash analogy works well here : it has crashed : there are the dead, the mortally wounded, the severely injured all around you, but just because you have ‘only’ broken your legs, or even just witnessed or been through it, doesn’t mean that you are also, in your own way, very traumatized.

  2. David

    What scares me the most is the psychological damage most of us have incurred. Anecdotally, I was talking to one of my friend’s daughter who is 14 years old. She told me that at least half of her classmates had nervous breakdowns last year. She, like most of her classmates, is taking antidepressants and anti anxiety meds…. One of my clients takes Xanax every night to sleep. I know meds are sometimes necessary, but the thing is, if/when you decide you want to stop taking those pills, the detox is a living hell. I worry a lot about all the collateral damage.

    Brazil has a veneer as well. There’s definitely the stereotype of the happy poor: that the poor might not have much in terms of money and material possessions, but there’s always a samba or a Sunday barbecue or Carnival to look forward to. It’s such bullshit. I really believe it’s propaganda to keep the government from fully investing in the class divisions.

    My family and my husband’s family have fared pretty well. But we have elderly parents. My parents have saved for nursing care when the inevitable happens, but I and my sisters just don’t want to put them any kind of nursing home, especially in light of what happened at the beginning of the pandemic. My husband is completely willing to go back with me to the USA to help take care of them when the time comes…..but I don’t want to leave Brazil…. I wonder if you think about this. I have very few expat friends, and the friends I do have are younger than me.

    Thank you for always being so honest in your writing. I always feel like I am going through it with you, through your words. I hope your sister recovers quickly and that you stay healthy and safe this holiday season.

    • Thanks David.

      And thanks for your honest and full reply.

      It’s funny you should mention Xanax…as I was considering taking it to stop the heart beats – but I know it is a slippery slope. I am hoping that that the three week holiday which I will have from today with D will be enough to set me again in the right direction.

      There was an article in the New York Times today actually, which says essentially what you are saying about depression and anxiety, and that among young people it is really terrible. I think in Japan, as there was only one three month lockdown in total, the kids have just got used to wearing masks and living life pretty normally. It must be quite different elsewhere.

      In terms of moving back for parents…we were hoping to be able to live in Berlin, where we have an apartment – but Brexit put paid to that idea as we can no longer live there. Right now, they are ok. We will see.

      I hope you have a fun Christmas/ New Year and everything despite everything – and indeed, rumba and samba as necessary (very interesting about that stereotype, which I have possibly fallen for myself).

  3. I’ve tried to do everything I can. Keep my fingers crossed. Wish your sister get better soon.

  4. Tora

    You must be so upset. I really hope your sister recovers very quickly and does not suffer from symptoms. Love to you, Neil.

  5. I am sad to hear of your sister and your travel restrictions. It’s not a good time for all of us. We just have to go along and try not to struggle too muck. It’s just exhausting and leads to nothing but frustration.

  6. Robin

    As much or more as the pandemic itself, it is the ugly divisiveness about vaccines that is driving me into the ground at times. It has infected fragrantica, of all places, in the comments section of an article about fragrance shopping. Thank heavens you are still an oasis of calm, even if you’re feeling convulsed, battered, exhausted and angst-ridden. Although it’s a drag to be away from your families again this Christmas, at least you’re in relatively-safe Japan. Where Ric and I are, sanity prevails (for the most part; we had a demonstration of anti-vax people, five or six of them, show up at the farmers market last week, standing there with yellow stars on their jackets, sigh). I hope your sister makes a swift and full recovery.



      I know; I am with you – I am the same. In Japan, there is none of that – no resistance, controversy, just a masked population going about its business; quite fascinating in a way.

      You have had to deal with the decimation of the place you live on top of everything else: it truly has NOT been a relaxing year!

      If I can be in any way an oasis of calm despite all my bleeding heart effusions, that can only be described as something of a miracle.

  7. In the Spring Buddhist monks come around offering house blessings here in Nepal. I think it’s like $50 for the super deluxe blessing package where they chant & burn incense in each room. The grand finale is 2 monks playing the long Tibetan horns called dungchen on the roof! Seems like a bargain to me.

    I was a pharmacist in the US for 15 yrs prior to living in Nepal. I went to pharmacy school in San Francisco during the height of the AIDS crisis. It was absolutely dreadful. Elaborate drug protocols and regimens that changed monthly with miserable toxicities and awful side effects. Nothing worked. Daily rounds consisted of informing most patients they would be dying horrendous deaths and we could do little for them. Nothing prepared me for handling that in my early 20s. With the ugly late 80s social/political backlash of AIDS being deemed a “gay” affliction or something that only happens to drug addicts, this Pandemic seems mild in comparison. I guess that’s what has emotionally galvanized me against all the panic and trepidation surrounding this latest virus. I am more afraid of getting dengue than Covid again.

    That being said, I wish we would all calm down and look at the science. Especially those in charge, could we just concentrate on vaccinating those most at risk worldwide? (The elderly and immunocompromised.) If the vaccines were being administered ethically that’s what would happen. Vaccine mandates are not necessary, both vaccinated and unvaccinated can spread the disease. Not everyone needs a booster, only those most at risk. Otherwise healthy young men don’t need boosters or the extra risk of possible myocarditis when in all reality Covid would have little effect on them. Don’t even get me started on vaccinating children. And the border restrictions and lockdowns? Come on, by the time they identify a new variant it’s already spread everywhere.

  8. OnWingsofSaffron

    What a dreamlike video: utterly enchanting!

  9. That video made me extremely happy.
    I hope your sister is doing well and making a speedy recovery.
    I live in a state where Covid is now out of control, my small town has 40 active cases, and we are still not leaving the house, except for doctor’s appointments. We didn’t even purchase a tree again this year. I really need to invest in a fake one, considering how this has been going on. Too many damned people just refuse to be vacinated, and I don’t understand why? It makes life so much more difficult for people like me. I’ve just resigned myself to the fact that I may be living the rest of my life in this house and that’s that.
    And you know what? I am alright with that.

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