We have at last ventured from our small corner of the city into centro storico on our morning walk: it was almost deserted. Here is a glimpse of Trinity and its Newtonian apple tree — without the dozens of tourists who are usually to be seen sitting along that low wall. Cambridge gets about eight million visitors a year, mostly on day trips (which is pretty absurd as there is really so little to see apart from King’s College Chapel, as most of the older colleges are closed to visitors most of the time). I imagine that very many residents would be pretty happy if that level of mass tourism doesn’t return here for years, if ever. But that’s just one more unknown about the post-virus world.
Meanwhile, no visit this week to Wigmore Hall on Tuesday to see the Pavel Haas, no driving off today down to St. Mawes in Cornwall for the planned fortnight. Drat. But those are small things in the overall scheme; we are daily reckoning up our good fortune compared with so very many, and just keeping ourselves safe. And the preternaturally good spring weather has been mighty cheering and made those morning walks a delight. So on we go, into this new normal, whatever it turns out to be.
We can, of course, get books delivered here by post. But where’s the fun in that? One small everyday pleasure we really miss is getting to second-hand charity bookshops; we much enjoy the serendipity, the chance discoveries. The wonderfully well-run and well-stocked Oxfam bookshop in Walden is a particular favourite, and in normal times we drop in there perhaps twice a month. And when in Cornwall, there is a terrific bookshop at the National Trust house at Trelissick near St. Mawes. A couple of years ago, we happened to be there when someone came in to donate a paperback set of Helen Dunmore’s first ten novels (obviously brand new); I snapped them up within a minute, having by chance just finished and much admired one of her later novels, Exposure. I have been reading those earlier novels with great pleasure over the intervening months. And I’ve just finished Counting the Stars, Dunmore’s imagining of Catullus and his obsession with Clodia. I’m not sure that this is her most successful novel; and arguably her Catullus — for all his obsession — seems a mite too tame, lacking some of the fury and satiric energy that drives the poetry. But I can still recommend it for a spring evening read, far from Rome!