Last Days In Helsinki

My EDB hoodie arrived after both events were over, but it still looks great!

Initially, we planned a short trip to Tallinn on Saturday, mostly for the sake of the COVID certificate for my flight back on Sunday. But it turned out that after most COVID restrictions were lifted, only a small number of cruises provided testing on board, and there was no testing on Saturdays. Fortunately, one of my new colleagues told us about another budget option, “9Lives”, and I used it on Saturday.

They have multiple locations, including the one in Kamppi, and they open every day from 7 AM to 9 PM. I was very happy that I had this option, especially because the weather on Saturday was horrific, with exceptionally strong winds and some flurries. I didn’t want to go for a walk in this weather, but I also didn’t want to sit inside all day long. To have a purpose for getting out of the house, Boris suggested we go to IKEA – since I moved to the city, I lost easy access to the Schaumburg store and had to switch to online shopping. I can order almost everything online, but it’s nice when you can see how things look in real life :). So we went and had lunch there, and then walked from IKEA back to the train station.

This time, I had checked luggage because Boris wanted me to take home a bottle of cognac gifted to him a couple of years ago by somebody who didn’t know (or didn’t believe) he does not drink alcohol. And since I already knew I would have checked luggage, I bought a lot of dairy products to take home.

***

On Friday, one of the Nordic Day participants informed us that he tested positive for COVID. I was in very close contact with him, so I became nervous. Since I expected that something like that might happen while attending public events, I brought four at-home tests with me. Noth Boris and I were negative, and I took the test to enter the US; everything was negative. The organizers encouraged us to keep testing, and I took another at-home test on Monday when I came back home. At that time, I used a test from a different vendor, and I forgot that the colors in this test were reversed. Also, I had to orient the test differently. So at first, I thought that I was positive. I even speculated for a couple of minutes how it could possibly be if I had zero symptoms, and then I realized that there was only one stripe :).

Then, a day later, another participant, this time from PG Day Paris, informed us that she tested positive, and once again, I was in very close contact with her! And again, nothing wrong with me. To be honest, I think there were plenty of other opportunities in Paris to get COVID!
At least now, I think that it will be from some other place if I get it.

***

At the airport, I stopped at the kiosk to get my last cup of Finnish coffee with the last cinnamon bun. The cashier asked me whether I would like to round my total to aid Ukraine. I said – sure, why not, and thought that’s a good idea. The posters about helping Ukraine were everywhere in the city, and I felt that people were taking it seriously.

I am sure I didn’t buy a seat for my flight back, but somehow I ended up being in a preferred seat, which was nice. I sat very close to the aircraft door, and I had extra legroom, and very nice seat, and a kit with toothpaste, face moisturizer, and other nice extras.

However, the ORD was crowded, not even “as before the pandemic” but as ” I can’t remember when I last saw anything like this.” The passport machines were closed again, and there were lines to the border control. I was first sent to one line, where I had to wait a lot because there was a family of six, and then two other people, and then they said that they are closing that line/ And guess what – in the line where they sent me, another family of six just started their process!!! There was even a long line for agricultural control and a traffic jam outside the terminal.

On the positive side, despite the sky-rocketing gas prices, Uber’s cost was a record low.

Friday!

Today was one of these days when I wondered what I would do without Wellness Fridays?! My flight is at 10-30 PM, and I spent the day catching up on everything.

I had to go to Palatine because I finally had my crown ready, and that was my last visit to my wonderful dentist. As much as I love her, going to Palatine for regular dentist visits is non-sustainable.

Since I was already going to Palatine, I also scheduled a haircut before the dentist. I knew I would have almost two hours between the dentist and the train back and thought I should meet up with somebody, and then my Palatine neighbor called.

I do not think she ever called me since I moved; she only texted me from time to time. This time, she called and asked me how I was doing, meaning the situation with the war. It was so good to know she cared; many people around me did not even understand why I should be concerned. Being an emigrant from after-WWII Austria, she understood.

We talked a lot about the war, what was happening, why Putin did what he did, and why many Russians supported him. She asked me how this war could end and what I thought about the best outcome. She told e that in the place where she does her hair, the owner is Ukrainian, and the staff is Russian and Ukrainian, and how everybody is devastated, and how she decided to give them money so that they could send it where it is needed most. It was one of these conversations which brought me hope and reinstated my belief in humanity.
The war highlights the worst in people and the best in people.


***

Now I am sitting at the airport gate waiting for my flight boarding. And just arriving at the busy airport, almost as busy as before the pandemic, and seeing how the boarding procedures got back to where they were before the pandemic – this all felt incredibly optimistic. I remember all the cries of how “it will never be the same,” – I knew even back then, that they were wrong.

And More To The Previous Post

Two things I forgot to mention in the previous post. 

One is about the resemblance between the Long COVID and the long-term effects of the Spanish flu on people’s ability to think and concentrate. John Barry even analyzes the behavior of President Wilson during the peace negotiations in Europe. He goes as far as speculating that his inadequate after-flu decisions affected the resulting treaty in such a way that it late made it easier for Hitler to come to power. 

And once again, about an extremely important balance between panic and informed decisions. As John Barry states, people should know the truth. When the government officials are honest in their communications, they help to maintain trust in society. Also, he cites Lincoln about the importance of identifying the thread – only when the thread is identified can you fight it. I would add to this what I’ve already said many times: whenever there is a need to change the course, it is important to explain why these changes are made, what prompted these changes, and why it was not the case before. We all know what would be the reaction otherwise 🙂

Christmas Tree Removal

I have always cut and chopped my Christmas trees and burned them in my fireplace for the past several years, so I didn’t need to think about their disposal. But I also knew that there was a certain day when I could leave a tree by the garbage containers, and the village would pick it up.

With this in mind, I didn’t think it would be a big deal to get rid of a Christmas tree while living in Chicago – I heard that there were a lot of free programs available. But when I checked on the first week of January, it turned out that you have to drop your tree off at designated sites. I couldn’t do it without a car, and no Uber would drive a tree for me. I looked and looked, and nobody was offering this service. A couple of websites indicated that they are sold out. Finally, I found one service called Tree Santa and signed for a tree pickup on January 10.
The night before, I stripped the tree of all decorations, and Igor and I carried it down and put it in the corner of our courtyard.

They were supposed to text me the day before about a more precise pickup time, so when there was nothing, I messaged them, and they replied that they had too many requests and staff shortage, and they extended pickups till January 21, and can they move me to the EOW. I told them I could only wait till Wednesday, and they promised to reschedule.

The new pickup time was set to 2:30 PM on January 12. At 3:15 I messaged them and asked what’s the ETA :). They said that they are struggling (which I completely understand!) and that they will update me. At 5:15 (since they are supposedly working till 5 PM only) I messaged that it’s OK, I understand, but tomorrow is absolutely the last day. They messaged back: are you sure the tree is still there? I replied – yes, because I would need to unlock the gate for somebody to pick up the tree!

Then, at 6:30, I went skating because I didn’t want to miss this opportunity again. And guess what – when I was skating, somebody called me: can you open the gate? Well, it was almost 8 PM, and I was 50 minutes away from my house!

I started to text my neighbors, nobody responded right away, but in 2 min the tree person called me and said that somebody had let him in. Well, it ended up being my neighbor :). ‘
All well that ends well, but that’s a very typical story of this COVD winter!

Things Evolve. Why Is It So Difficult To Understand?

Rex Huppke’s column in Monday’s Tribune was about the teacher’s strike and their fight with Mayor Lori, and there was a paragraph that I especially liked. I liked It because I always felt being in the minority when I tried to explain this to other people: public guidelines change not because all officials are stupid, but because our knowledge about the situation changes.

And also, because overall circumstances might change.

Here is this quote:

We need to do all we can to get back to a semblance of pre-pandemic life. And at this point virtually everyone agrees that a top priority is keeping kids in school for in-person learning.

But that desire for normalcy doesn’t jibe with the unpredictability of a virus. The problem we’ve had, almost from the start, is a lack of patience and an unwillingness to accept that sometimes our understanding of new things evolves, and circumstances change.

First we were told masks weren’t necessary, then we were told they’re crucial. That’s because scientists developed a better understanding of how the virus is transmitted, but many took it as, “Well, they don’t know what they’re talking about and I don’t want to wear one of those face diapers anyway!”

The vaccines were good at preventing the spread of earlier variants, but the omicron variant has proven better at infecting vaccinated people. So some see that and as evidence vaccines don’t work, totally ignoring the fact that vaccinated people who get COVID-19 rarely need to be hospitalized.

The pandemic seemed to be receding, but now, with omicron and the colder winter months, it has surged again. Some can’t handle that concept and say we just need to open up everything and live our lives.

That’s what many are saying about the public schools in Chicago: “How dare they shut down again! Open it up! Even if my kids gets COVID-19, they’ll be fine.”

The words “my kids” are at the heart of this country’s problem, and the reason we’re all but destined to continue struggling with this virus.

It’s an excellent article in general, but I find these paragraphs I cited especially important. For months now, I do not understand why many people can’t understand just that – that our collective knowledge changes, that virus evolves and that recommendations have to change, it does not mean that officials “do not know what they are doing/saying.” And I do not know why it is so difficult to understand.

A Couple Of Horror COVID Stories

When I heard from my friend in Russia that our other mutual friend is attacking people on public transport wearing masks, I thought it was as crazy as it could get. But a couple of days later, I talked to my hairstylist from Palatine. She and her boyfriend both got COVID right before Christmas. She was vaccinated and had a mild case, while her boyfriend was not, and he had it more severe. But the frightening thing is that the boyfriend’s parents do not believe in COVD, and they were shaming the poor girl for “being a baby” and not wanting to come to their house for Christmas!!! They actually insisted on them coming, although they were both sick, and guess what – these parents got COVID! 

She was also saying that in Palatine, many people reject masks and that in her hair salon, she has to ask whether the clients are comfortable with her wearing a mask!!! I don’t know what I can add to that…

Cultural Activities

I made almost all Christmas shows I would ever want to make this holiday season, except for the Nutcracker. The Christmas Carol closed for several because of the exposure in the cast, but they are back on stage.

The vaccination requirements for pretty much all indoor spaces go into effect on January 3, and I hope that it will go like this without closing everything. In Finland, they are closing theaters, pools, and gyms starting from Tuesday but still have libraries open, as my friend informed me.

I hope that in Chicago we will be able to keep things open with vaccine mandate and avoid massive closing and going remote!

November 8

I finally read the new guidelines for entering the USA for foreign tourists, which are going into effect the following Monday. I like that there are no more per country considerations, and the requirements are uniform across the globe. That is a huge plus. I am slightly upset that we still have to take a COVD test before returning to the US, but once again, that applies to both citizens and visitors, so I can’t complain. Besides, I completely understand the rationale behind this requirement.

The thing which I was upset about was the exclusion of Sputnik from the list of approved vaccines. Formally speaking, it is not targeted vaccine discrimination; it’s just that Sputnik is not approved by WHO yet. But the thing is that people in Russia who are doing the right thing and getting vaccinated still won’t be able to travel to the US.

And I am not talking about tourists. I am talking about people such as my mom’s friend whose daughter was working on her green card, and her interview in the embassy was scheduled for March 20, 2020… And I am not even talking about people from many other countries, including Mexico, that purchased Sputnik.

“Contagion” With Dr. Allison Arwady

Since the Siskel Center reopening in August, they screen so many interesting films that I want to be there every other day! One of the series is called Chicago Favorites, and last Saturday, they screened “Contagion” with special guest Dr. Allison Arwady. It was a little bit surreal to see her live after seen her on-screen almost every day for the past 18 months :), and the conversation was exceptionally interesting. At the time when this movie was filmed, she worked as a CDC Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer, just as Kate Winslet’s character in the movie.


People asked Dr. Allison how close to reality things are presented in the movie and whether at that time she thought that such things could happen for real (her reply: absolutely, it was not the question of if, but when). She mentioned that quarantining Chicago in the situation described in the movie wouldn’t make sense and that as for the movie’s food shortage, she said: we grow our own food! So although the supply chain disruption is real as we see it, it won’t end up in the food shortage and people breaking into the stores (that happened for different reasons!)
You know what I like about Dr. Arwady? She is in front of people almost every day. She is never falsely optimistic, but she also never panic, and her explanations of the Chicago Health Department policies are clear and making sense. That e-being said, she is very optimistic about our future, and she says vaccines work exactly like expected, and we couldn’t even hope for such an outcome, And we will get through it.

And I trust her!

The Crowds On The Streets

The crowds on the streets of Chicago during the past weekend were ginormous! It was not even pre-covid level; it was more than that! It was like being in New York on the New Year’s Eve.

Lena and I opted to wear masks outside most of the time because the crowds didn’t make it much better than inside. Who needs Lalapaloose with such crowds! (they said that Lala ended up not being a super-spreader after all). 

On Friday, our office building issued a mask mandate inside, and today, it was officially announced by the City. I am perfectly fine with that; as I already said multiple times, I would rather do things masked than not do things. 

Also, remember all these subscriptions I as purchasing in the past several weeks? Today, all the entertainment establishments sent out emails of proof of vaccination required to attend the event. It was decided by the League of Chicago Theatres. During the past several weeks, some of them even sent out surveys asking the patrons how they would react to the vaccination mandate. I was happy to answer – yes, I support it! 

Dr. Alyson Awdrey said during the press conference today, that the number of infected people per day in Chicago, although it has risen several times since June (from less than 100 to over 400), is still way below the 2,000 cases per day in winter. 

I hope that people will get vaccinated!