The Sun’s corona is a jacket of hot gases – an atmosphere – that envelops the sun. It’s usually invisible but during a total solar eclipse, the moon passes between Earth and the Sun. When this happens, the moon blacks out the bright light of the Sun and the glowing white corona can then be seen.
I dreamed that I was hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas, on the narrow dirt path tamped down by centuries of barefoot shepherds. The Annapurna Massif, that cluster of rangy young mountains rising just off to my left in all their snowy splendor, blotted out the bluest, clearest sky I have ever breathed. Below me on the south side of the trail, there was a poinsettia tree forest, piercing the lush spring green of the hillsides with Santa-red blooms. Brass Buddhist bells, their ring as crisp as the mountain air, echoed faintly through the valley.
In recent days, Punjabis one hundred miles south of these peaks have begun to see them out their windows, from atop their roofs, for the first time in decades. The smog has dispersed, you see, and, for once, has not been replaced. They’ve taken photos, before and after. It is the coronavirus, they say. We can’t leave our homes so we can’t drive our cars, we can’t take our busses, we can’t ride our motorbikes off to work in the factories with their stinking smokestacks. The factories have been shut down. For the last 15 days, we have had the cleanest air since 1987. Our lungs don’t hurt, they say. Because of coronavirus, we have gotten back our breath, we have gotten back our view of the Himalayas. We now can see again the high mountains where holy Ganga River, mother of us all, is born.
I dreamed I was in Venice in the swelter of summer. The cobbles were thick with tourists, the vaporetti were bulging with tourists, all taking videos with their phones of the stately old buildings quietly sinking into the sea. The bridges were crammed with tourists, trying to get the right angle of a stripe-shirted gondolier plying his narrow black craft through the crowded canals, his gondola filled with fat tourists taking photos of the tourists on bridge, while the aging gem of a city sinks quietly into the sea. The cruise ships stuffed with tourists vied for a dock and then discharged their wards for two hours of shopping and touring. And the city groaned a little and sank just a bit more into the sea.
Then it stopped. The cobbled byways of the city were empty of tourists. The bridges were naked of tourists. The canals were empty of vaporetti and gondolas and water taxis. And tourists. There were no cruise ships anywhere to be seen. In a day or two the water in the canal became so clear you could see right to the bottom. In a week, the fish came back to swim. In ten days, dolphins could be seen plying the canals, spy hopping now and then to get a gander of the grand old buildings.
The place began to rise out of the sea. It was the weight of the tourists, you see, that had caused the sinking. The people of Venice, the people who lived there, who had once loved the old city, began to come out of their homes and, — while keeping two meters apart — began to murmur to each other through their masks that wasn’t this a beautiful place, a stunning place, a wondrous place, a place you could grow to love and appreciate again, without all those tourists?
I dreamed I was in Times Square, just before curtain time, jostling with ten thousand ticketholders, stunned and star-struck by the ten-foot electronic tickertape of news rushing by, by the three-story-tall teen models in their glamorous underwear, by the stream of highly produced, eye-catching pitches for cars and Coke and Courvoisier. Have this good life, this youth, this fine time. In the center of it all. We find the right line, we choose among the glittering marquees, we hand over our tickets and we enter plush spaces, we quiet ourselves. We bear witness to the glory, to the wonder of the world’s best imaginary. A mere stage is transformed into Czarist Russia or Revolutionary America or the South Pacific or an African savanna. Mere people form a coordinated chorus, their voices rising in perfectly pitched and timed harmonies, their bodies move together in impossible coordination, their stories told in song. The bravos echo in our heads as we re-enter the most brash and vibrant city in the world.
All has gone dark. There are no yellow taxis circling for a fare, there are no love-struck couples clopping off in a horse-drawn carriage. No jets whooshing overhead. Only sirens. There are no tourists from every nation on Earth, Starbucks cup in hand, heading for the Red Steps. The marquees have gone dark. The LED fantasy worlds glowing around and above, all dark too. We can walk in the middle of Broadway. It’s quiet and clean and dark. If we tilt our heads skyward, we see the other kind of stars, stars we’ve forgotten to look for, forgotten were there with all these distractions, all this light and noise and wonder. Our necks hurt from looking skyward, but there’s Orion, there’s the Big Dipper, the Pleiades. They’ve been waiting all this time, for us.