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TED Talks take a walk in Covid times

My most sanity-saving activity during these Covid-19 pandemic months has been free and easy. Each evening my husband and I simply take a walk in our neighborhood. Back in March and April, the days dragged on with ever-changing news bulletins, talking media and celebrity heads, CDC announcements, White House pressers and anxious calls, texts and emails from family and friends. We stayed in, cooked, had a few game nights, met friends on Zoom, binged on Netflix and Prime, read and counted our contactless days.

As time passed and reality set in, everything became tiresome, from cooking to streaming and, yes, housemates. After another home-made dinner, cleanup and dishes, it was tempting to plop into our “Archie Bunker” recliner sofa, and turn on the tube or read. Somehow, against my inclinations, the single ritual we retained was those evening walks.

After dinner, as my shoulders rounded in unearned exhaustion and I glanced longingly at my recliner, my husband urged me.

“C’mon, let’s do it,” he said.

“I’m so tired…can’t we just skip tonight?” I pleaded. I gazed out the window. I saw the lovely dusking light, gently moving branches and leaves, and the occasional chirping from the mourning dove nestlings outside our front door.

“Okay,” I relented, often with a deep sigh. “Just a short one.”

And with that we embarked on a 30 minute mile and a half perambulation in our neighborhood. We walked, we talked, we noted the missing roof tiles, bland house colors, new green growth, artificial grass and a seemingly permanent driveway port-a-san where renovation had abruptly halted.

That’s when the nightly TED Talk began; or perhaps it’s more appropriately called Arie’s Talk. The first time it happened we walked passed an open garage door that revealed a huge flag hanging on the interior wall.

“What country is that from?” I asked, innocent to the Pandora’s Box I’d opened out of mild curiosity, for conversation’s sake.

“That’s an unusual one,” Arie answered. “It could be the Imperial Japanese Army flag, but, then again, I think the stripes are the wrong color.”

And, thus, the premier Ted Walk and Talk about similarities, differences, colors, stars, patterns and stripes on flags across the globe. On arriving home, Arie’s internet search filled in the minor gaps in his flag wisdom and the black hole of mine. We learned that the flag was that of North Macedonia. We got confirmation another night on a socially distanced chat with that neighbor as she and my husband spoke in a mashup of Macedonian, Polish and English.

During our walks we sometimes run into neighbors we’d never seen before. They are walking their dogs, their children, often pushing strollers holding babies, dogs or cats. As we draw near, a quick dance ensues about who takes the sidewalk and who moves to the mostly car-less street. The avoidance strategy is usually followed by a wave, a comment about the pleasant night or a query about the animal’s lineage.

One night we passed an older model of car parked on our street, prompting an Arie talk about sealed beam headlights. What they were, when they became obsolete, what replaced them and why Arie preferred them to the new lights. Half listening, I rolled my eyes, we continued walking, ran into a neighbor, and from seven or eight feet of distance, Arie pursued an unfruitful conversation about sealed beams.

Another evening I made an innocent comment in what I thought was Yiddish, my birth language, in which I was very rusty. My husband, who lived in Poland until the age of 13, was fluent in Yiddish, Polish and several other languages. He instantly pointed out that I used a lot of Polish words due to my Warsaw-born parents and my early years living in a Polish immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. The two languages in Poland were so entwined, Arie said, that words and phrases were often interspersed by both Jewish and Christian Poles. That led to a vocabulary discussion that continues whenever I attempt to practice my Yiddish.

It’s now September, and six months in, we schlep (Yiddish, of Germanic origin) each other out on a nightly basis. The Arie Talks continue, the mourning doves have long flown away, we’re seeing fewer neighbors, the port-au-san remains in situ, we haven’t spotted a sealed beam in weeks, the garage door with the flag has remained closed and my Covid brain keeps trying to absorb my nightly wisdom.

Sara Nuss-Galles was born in Kyrgyzstan to Jewish Polish refugees who fled the Nazis, Her work has appeared in The NYT, The LAT, Lilith, Kveller, Catamaran Journal of Literature and Art and numerous magazines and anthologies. She was a guest columnist on Public Radio’s Marketplace and lives with her husband in Southern California, a long way from Kyrgyzstan.

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