Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 9

When discussing worldwide pandemics, very few people interrupt the conversation to point out the positives that come from a sweeping global infection. It’s quite likely because, when weighed against all the sheer awfulness of a widespread contagion (sickness, death, economic collapse), those trying to make these points are promptly chased out of the room. With rocks. 

But as the bad media seem singularly motivated to drive the negativity of the moment down our throats until we are full and heavy and sad from it all, and as I am tucked in my apartment out of rock-throwing distance, I thought I’d highlight some of the unforeseen changes to the environment that have come about due to humanity hibernating for a spell.

As it is the place where we like to live, and the place where our food is farmed which we like to eat, and the place where the major production of carbon-dioxide into oxygen occurs which we like to breath, it’s not aggrandising to say the environment holds a certain special significance to us as a species. Unfortunately, as a species, we have the habit of treating the environment in the same way a teenager treats their room, which is to say the floor is littered with filth, the space is rife with noise pollution, and the air is not always safe to inhale. 

But amazingly, or perhaps not so amazingly to those environmentalists who have been trying to convince the world of man-made climate change for the last few decades, once everyone turned off their toys, some of that damage started to become undone. 

The first story I heard that drove this home was a report of dolphins appearing in the canals of Venice due to the cessation of water vehicles for the first time in years. Sadly, this story, which is ready made for a Disney film, is not actually true. Dolphins were indeed spotted, only they were spotted in Sardinia, which is approximately 748 kms away from Venice. I’m sure the dolphins in Sardinia are also appreciating the reduction of boats in their waters, but are apparently not so energised as to make the trip to Venice. 

But, the good news is that, while apparently not good enough for dolphins too lazy to swim a few hundred miles, the waters of Venice are indeed cleaner than they have been in years, with locals shocked to see the liquid running clear. Let’s try not to focus on the tragedy of people shocked at seeing clean water and instead take it for the win it is.

Venice's clean canals

Photo credit: Marco Capovilla / Venezia Pulita

Air has also benefited from humanity’s downfall, which in a circular irony is actually our windfall as we can all, literally, breathe a little easier. Satellite photos taken from above Beijing depict the incredible reduction of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere, a substance made famous as the pollution that spills from cars, trucks, and power plants.

Reduction of China's air pollution

Photo credit: NASA

There have also been numerous reports of animals taking to the streets after the desertion of mankind. Much like Kevin from Home Alone, these animals are wandering around the empty house, not sure where the grown ups are, but sure to make the most of it. I wish the cheeky little scamps the best of luck while we’re away.

Deer crossing

Photo credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi / Getty Images

But it is not only the external environment that has changed as a result of the COVID measures. Driven indoors and away from our offices filled with appropriately-sized desks and chairs that support the lower back, Alex and I were forced to go to some extreme lengths to reconfigure our internal environment to ensure we don’t emerge from the corona-confinement with the spines of an arthritic geriatric.

We knew the problem lay in a lack of suitable hardware and so set about rectifying the problem the only way bad-asses like I knew how: I’m talking about a raid, baby.

We hopped in the car, buckled ourselves in, took a moment to savour being outside of our apartment for the first time that day, and then pointed ourselves in the direction of Alex’s work. The place was lousy with office furniture and we were going to leave the place with a cache of our own if it killed us.

It turns out it didn’t kill us, nor was our doing somersaults through doorways and army-crawling down hallways at all necessary. The place was all but empty except for one of Alex’s colleagues who made polite small talk while we shoved monitors into an Ikea bag and wheeled away a couple of desk chairs. The colleague was supposedly in the office to get some work done, but the platter of bread, butter, and huge slab of bacon set up at his desk, plus the fact that we knew he had three children at home bouncing off the walls with the enforced isolation, said this was more of a place of escape than a place of work. 

We tipped our hat to him and his scam and he tipped his hat to us and ours, and then we got the hell out of there.

The result of our perfect heist is a living room/home office that acts as a site of productivity rather than the slow and incremental torture of our joints and ligaments. Sometimes the crime is worth the risk.

Vienna home office

Photo credit: Alexandra Robb-Hofer (Bonus “Where’s Jonathan?” for those who want to play)

I’ll finish off this entry and this week with an incredible video my mother-in-law shared with me which beautifully and eerily illustrates the impact this surreal moment in history has had on the city of Vienna.

Empty Vienna from Christian Haake on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Stay inside, video chat with someone you love, do a puzzle on your living room floor with a drink and some conversation, read a good book, eat your favourite food, make something, draw something, cook something, and let’s make the best out of what we still have. 

On Monday: Community.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 8

Health. It’s what the current game is all about. The health of ourselves, our loved ones, our communities, our pets. Actually, no, the pets are fine. In fact, they are loving this whole thing. Really making lemonade out of the lemons that is the human race being trapped indoors all day.

But while we have all barricaded ourselves away in an effort to preserve our health, we have to be careful while enacting these precautions not to neglect our health (seems contradictory, right? She’s a right gordian knot, this health thing).

It turns out that spending all day indoors, away from things like fresh air and sunlight, and dangerously close to things like boredom and a well-stocked pantry, can have serious health ramifications. The problem boils down to a loss of routine. 

As an example, during my trip to work, I used to deliberately take the stairs and not the escalator when leaving the U-Bahn, meaning I would climb four flights before I even made it to work. A shining beacon of health and fitness, I know. But without the usual routine of my morning commute, I now only need six strides to make it from my bedroom to my bathroom, and then a further four strides to make it to my workspace/dining room, and then that’s pretty much me done for the day. Between the journey from bed to office and a number of trips to the toilet, a number that is determined by how well hydrated I am and what sort of effect the overnight oats is having on my digestive system, this new routine, as the judgemental fitness app on my phone keeps pointing out, only has me doing maybe ten move minutes a day. Koalas sleep twenty-two hours a day and still manage to move more than that.

But if routine is the problem, then routine is also the solution (again, seemingly paradoxical, but I swear there’s calculation in the chaos). This new style of living requires the drafting of a new routine, and when sketching out the blueprint of this routine, it’s important to build health into the foundation of it. 

I’m sure by now you are all sick to death of reading graphs and watching instructional videos on how to wash your hands (but these are super important, so if you haven’t seen them, go out and watch them until you’re sick to death of them), so I thought rather than rehash something that has already been thoroughly hashed, I’d go through some everyday tips that you can incorporate into your new routine to ensure we all come through this as healthy as possible. 

1) Start each day with a fresh breakfast: I recommend a bowl of my wife’s delicious overnight oats (as previously detailed in Chapter 2 of this series). Of course, in order to have my wife prepare you a bowl of her delicious overnight oats, you would first have to do what I did and travel overseas, accept her invitation to visit her during your travels, awkwardly start up a romantic relationship while her parents are in the next room, commence a long-distance relationship, maintain this relationship over a four-year period, eventually propose to her by writing her a book, marry her, and finally move to Austria and rent an apartment with her. Given that, it’s probably easier just to make your own oats.

2) Work out before work: Prior to committing to sitting at your dining room table in front of a laptop for the next eight hours in a position orthopaedic surgeons call “woefully unergonomic”, try moving your body a little to shake out those kinks and to give your vertebrae a breather. Alex and I do a short yoga session each morning, but you can do whatever turns you on. A run, a series of stretches, a short work-out routine, or a bout of competitive wrestling with your spouse will all get the blood pumping and preserve your musculoskeletal health.

3) Resist those seductive snacks: If you’re anything like me, the minute you step into your place of habitation, you can hear the whispers drifting out from the pantry, reminding you of that still half-full bag of chips waiting for you, or the block of chocolate you swore to yourself when buying you’d save until the weekend. Living in the time of COVID means rarely leaving your home, which means those snacks have all the hours in the day to tantalise and tempt. If the new routine includes eating your body weight in snacks each day, then a very different person may come out the other side of social isolation. 

4) Eat those snacks, baby! Your mental health is also incredibly important and will be tested during times when you’re deprived of family, friends, and some good old physical contact. So if the need hits, if you’re feeling flat and need a pick-me-up, then you dive into those snacks headfirst and guzzle them up as if fat and sugar were oxygen.

5) Vitamins for vitality: One of the best things you can do to stay healthy and support your immune system is a well-balanced diet including a range of foods that contain vitamins A, B, C, D and E, and the minerals iron, zinc and selenium. Of course, in times where selfish muppets are clearing out the vegetable stands of your local supermarket, this can be a challenge. If necessary, you can supplement your diet with some multivitamins. My wife favours a liquid mixture called Metavirulent that tastes and feels like bleach draining through my sinuses and across the backs of my eyeballs. She swears it’s good for me.

Whatever shape your new routine takes, be sure to factor in health, both of the physical and mental variety, look after yourself, look after anyone who’s with you, and by doing so we can win this game.

Tomorrow: Environment.

(For actual advice without all my silliness, check out my cousin and his fiancee’s health and fitness facebook page. Nikki and Dom have a wealth of information between them and more motivation and energy than two kids who have just slammed back six sleeves of wizz fizz. You can find videos, exercise instructions, and, let’s be honest, a certain level of silliness. But they back their silliness up with expert knowledge so you come out on top.

You can find their site here.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 7

It seems that in this period of rapid and fundamental change, adaptation will be the way we get through to the other side. Much like Darwin’s finches, we have to change our beaks in order to survive (I know, we don’t have beaks. They’re metaphorical beaks. Work with me, here).

Businesses will have to adapt their work practices in order to function when a workforce is spotted throughout their homes. Artists are already adapting, offering up free online concerts and comedy via the burgeoning medium of video performances. Education is adapting to move the classroom into the digital world, and students are adapting by figuring out new ways to avoid this digital classroom.

Amongst this avalanche of adaptation, romance too must move with the times and redefine itself for a world where one is locked up with their spouse for twenty-four hours a day. And who better to walk you through some of these adaptations than someone renowned for his smooth and loving ways, a man who charmed his way into a happy and caring marriage, Mr Monogamy himself…me (no, not Hugh Jackman, me. I know, he’s lovable, but just…alright).

The obvious, and let’s be honest, cliche acts of romance, such as going to the cinemas, dining at a restaurant, and sussing out where your tinder date sits on the normal curve over a drink, have all also been put into quarantine, so romance in the time of COVID requires new ways of thinking. For those of us lucky enough to be in lock down with our partners (or unlucky, depending on your perspective and your partner of choice), there are still things that can be done to keep the spark alive. 

When your partner staggers out from the bedroom and seats themselves for another shift at the home office, take the time to compliment them on their choice of tracksuit pants for that day, even if it is the same choice they have made for the last five days.

Pay attention to your partner’s moods and be ready to provide them with a shoulder rub when they’re in the middle of a frustrating conference call with a particularly dense colleague.

Given you’re in constant close quarters, be sure to maintain a high level of personal hygiene (ideally, this should really be done regardless of your current romantic status, or regardless of a worldwide pandemic for that matter, but if the motivation you need to give yourself a good scrub is a romantic gesture, then so be it).

Initiate a little inter-office flirting by playing footsies under the dining room table. But be sure to pay attention to the additional cabling the work computers add, as personal experience has taught me that if the foot-play becomes too intense, you may end up with a laptop crashing onto the exact foot you were attempting to titillate. This has been proven to completely ruin the romantic mood.

Keep things playful and come up with new, situationally appropriate, nicknames for each other. Some examples may include: “my little quarantine camper”, “COVID cutie”, and “fellow inmate”.

Knowing when to pull back on the romance and give your partner their space is equally important during enforced cohabitation. Look for the signs; they may be subtle, but they will be there. Perhaps they have curled up with a book, or moved to an adjacent room to enjoy their coffee alone, or have said the words “I am so sick of your face” directly into your face. By watching out for these minute forms of communication, you can ensure the flame of romance always burns bright.

And above all, I cannot stress this enough, eat where your wife can’t hear you.

Some of you out there may be unlucky enough to be isolating away from your partner (or lucky, depending on your partner of choice and love of personal space), but don’t worry, there are still innovations that ensure the sexual tension stays taut even across the vast distance. 

Having had a long distance relationship for four years, my wife and I are experts when it comes to initiating intimacy via technology. Text each other a sweet message each morning from your messaging app of choice. Instagram fun photos of your day so they can see what you’re up to. Snapchat each other the selected portions of your anatomy that you deem the sexiest and can bear being seen for ten seconds at a time. Call or video chat to let them know what you were up to that day.

On special occasions, dress up, set the table, maybe throw in some candles, make a nice dinner, and have yourself a proper eDate. You will feel ridiculous, but entirely validated when you see the smile on your partner’s face and they tell you you’re an idiot. I know, I speak from experience.

AJ_157

Hopefully, by being sensitive to our partner’s needs and by willing to adapt our amorous activities, we can all come through this experience more romantic and loving than ever.

And when all else fails, whether together or over video chat, drink schnapps and get drunk together.

00100lrPORTRAIT_00100_BURST20200323195010916_COVER

(Fun trivia: The glasses pictured were a wedding gift to my grandparents who then gifted them to Alex and I as an engagement present. Given the beautiful marriage my grandparents share, I think Alex and I are in good hands with those glasses as our talisman. Also, my Grandma reads this blog: Hi Grandma! We’re putting the glasses to good use!)

Tomorrow: Health.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 6

The worldwide coronavirus measures that are currently taking place are having fundamental repercussions across health, economy, industry, and, obviously as importantly, the world of fashion. As someone who is renowned for his keen sense of style, someone who is often looked to for guidance in what is considered “fresh”, it’s important for me to keep up with these trends and, perhaps, even set a few of my own.

One of the major shifts in the fashionsphere is that of office attire. The majority of the working world transitioning to home offices has opened up whole new racks of clothing choices. I personally have settled into the traditional home office look, that of the tracksuit pants. I move between two pairs of tracksuit pants, a classic navy and a stylish charcoal, that, as my wife is fond of saying, has the added benefit of making my bum “look cute”.

In our household, we tend to favour tracksuit pants by Tchibo, which is oddly enough a German chain of cafes and coffee retailers that also happen to make a mean set of 100% cotton tracksuit pants. I love tracksuit pants for many reasons — comfort, roominess, manoeuvrability — but probably what I love most about them is the inherent irony of the garment, that a suit that was designed for the running track is primarily worn to sit on the couch, watch netflix, and eat ice cream straight from the punnet.

Of course, this is not the sole item of clothing I adorn when armouring myself for the work day, as much as my wife may wish otherwise (she can be so unprofessional in the workplace). I chose to cover my torso with an article that first came into fashion in the late 19th century, an elegant and classic solution of what to do with the upper half of the body, known simply as the t-shirt.

I tend to pair my tracksuit pants with t-shirts custom-designed for yours truly. One such proudly bears the emblem of the previously mentioned Audiobook Club. (Yes, we have merch, we’re a real club, alright. In fact, our membership numbers have recently skyrocketed. To three. My older brother also wanted to join).

Audiobook Club

Besides the fetching model seen above, Damian also tailored a t-shirt for my buck’s night. See if you can catch the subtle reference to the evening’s events.

Buck

(It’s a buck. You know, because it was a buck’s night. Classic visual pun.)

Naturally, when it came time for his own stag do, I set about designing a t-shirt of my own. You’ve probably noticed the very cool double-exposed photo that acts as a banner on this website, the one that lets you imagine what I would look like if I were part tree, well, that was created by Damian. So when it was my turn to pick up the hammer and tongs and forge a t-shirt of my own, I decided to repay the favour and depict him with his beloved mountains.

Mountain Man

I was happy with the outcome and made sure to secure a t-shirt for myself, and find it helps when I am many miles away from my best friend to wear him on my chest. The only flaw in the design that I failed to foresee is that my wife often likes to come and cuddle on the couch, to rest her head on my chest and even occasionally give me a gentle little kiss there, only to realise afterwards that she was in fact canoodling my brother’s face. If only we could all be so lucky. 

In addition to adopting home-office-slum chic, I’ve decided that being locked away from the rest of civilisation is the perfect time to finally grab the bull by the horns and attempt to grow the long and luscious beard that all little boys always dream about. Given that hairdressers country-wide are currently out of commission, meaning I will soon have flowing blonde locks to rival my wife’s, it only felt right to bring the beard along for the ride.

Once it has sustained sufficient bulk and density, I will post a photo of my beard progress, a tantalising ticket sure to see the readership of this blog go through the roof.  

My advice during this surreal separation from society is to dress to make yourself happy, to feel normal, to be comfortable, and, above all, to make your bum look cute.

Tomorrow: Romance.

(If you liked my brother’s awesome geometric stag t-shirt as much as I do, he has a whole bunch of impressive designs featuring different animals in his tee public store which you can find here.)

(If you want a t-shirt featuring Damian’s face, well you can’t, that’s only for me. And sometimes my wife.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 5

It has now officially been over a week since the isolation restrictions were put into place and I’m happy to report my wife and I are still on speaking terms, our toilet paper game is strong, and the apartment has never been cleaner (another of my wife’s useful hobbies during mandated segregation with yours truly is a deep clean of the apartment. The other day she asked if I thought it would be possible to lift the microwave so she could scrub underneath it. I said I thought it would. You have to make hay while the sun shines, right?)

We spent a large part of Saturday in separate rooms, giving each other some space while tending to our own social networks. I chatted with my Australian correspondent, Jess (second shout out, Jess!), while Alex caught up firstly with her cousin and then with her two best friends. All of these interactions took place in the digital world, of course, both because Jess refuses to travel from Australia to Austria for a quick chat and a coffee, and because this is what it means to be responsible in the time of COVID.

These chats were beneficial as it gave my wife and I a break from staring into each other’s faces for a while (you have to let them miss you sometimes) and because we could lean into our friendships without putting anyone at risk of infection.

My brother, Matthew, shared a quote with me that bears repeating: During these times we have to isolate, but we don’t have to be isolated. 

Prior to the commencement of the weekend, Alex and I strapped on our shoes, made a mental note of the exact length of three feet (the Austrian Government’s recommended keep-away-from-me distance), and steeled ourselves to go shopping.

Prior to pandemic precautions, one of my wife’s favourite pastimes was our weekly grocery shop. This is not hyperbole; she genuinely loves grocery shopping. While most people who travel to far and exotic lands like to see the landmarks, the temples, and the monuments, my wife is most excited about checking out what people from neighbouring lands like to stock on their supermarket shelves. Seeing her walk up and down the aisles with a grin on her face like a kid at a carnival is a damn sweet thing. 

These days, however, the act of popping to the shops has become a battle royale for sanitary products and a loaf of bread. The most pressing question that arises for me from this shopping madness is this: why toilet paper? 

If you have swallowed the aggrandising of the cheap and dirty media rags *coughdailymailcoughcoughheraldsun* and genuinely believe these are the end days, and that armageddon is scheduled for the week after next, why, of all the products available to sustain life, would anyone head straight for toilet paper? 

Granted, I enjoy a satisfying wipe as much as the next person, but when compared to clean water and carbohydrates, it hardly rates as a priority on the hierarchy of needs. Not to mention that toilet paper is a product that can easily be substituted. If we were to run out of our rolls of Softis, I would happily transition to kitchen roll, then onto serviettes, then to facial tissues, then, if times were getting desperate, newspaper and catalogues, old linen, new linen, old clothes, new clothes, leaves from the houseplants, and finally that packet of leftover tortillas that’s been in the pantry for awhile.

I see the panic and greediness of filling your trolley with twenty packets of toilet paper as nothing more than a lack of imagination.

The Friday before last, at the beginning of the social shutdown, we were stunned to find the supermarkets stripped of 80% of their goods. We had heard the reports from other countries, of pasta and sauce shortages in Italy and wine and condom shortages in France (it’s all about priorities), but our local supermarket had always been a place of peace and stability. It took traversing to four additional supermarkets for us to complete our usual weekly shop.

WhatsApp Image 2020-03-13 at 16.44.42

In German, they have a word for people who display the hoarder style of shopping —  Hamsterkäufer — which translates to hamster buyers, and is essential a cute way of referring to selfish assholes who indulge in buying copious amounts of things they don’t need while simultaneously depriving others of goods they desperately require. The German term is useful as it’s much quicker to say.

My mother, who is a pharmacist and so currently in the thick of it, told me that the Australian pharmacy board had to release an official declaration stating that a person was only allowed to receive one month’s worth of medication at a time. The absurdity that they would have to step in and, like a parent scolding their child at the supermarket register, look the public in the eye and say “No, I said you could only have one piece of candy. Now, off you go, go put the other ones back” is sad to say the least.

But I’m happy to report that the message appears to be sinking in, or alternatively that the hamster buyers have all trapped themselves in their own homes under mountains of bags of flour and toilet paper, leaving the rest of us free to shop as normal, and that this week the shelves were almost back to their usual state, and it only took two supermarkets to round out our shop. 

As Alex’s parents are playing it smart and keeping away from others as much as possible, we also did some of their shopping on their behalf (no, don’t call us heroes, come on, it’s too much. What? Paragons of the community? Now you’re just trying to make me blush). As we trundled around the aisles, working our way through their shopping list, I couldn’t help but notice that a significant percentage of their purchases included a rather large volume of red wine.

We all use what strategies we can to make it through this incarceration.

Tomorrow: Fashion.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 4

I first learnt of the spread of the coronavirus through the media, which is of course the logical place that the majority of us go to discover what is taking place in our world. Except of course when it isn’t and is instead a putrid quagmire of self-serving fear-mongers, inflating issues to pump us full of anxiety and squeeze us for our attention and money. 

Which, in case you’ve been a bit preoccupied, is the current order of the day. On some of the cheaper and dirtier rags *coughdailymailcoughcoughheraldsun*, the most common headline screams “KILLER VIRUS!”. Now, I will not argue that this virus has taken many lives and therefore in a literal context fits the label killer virus, but I will argue that beating people over the head with this terminology doesn’t aid in creating an atmosphere of rational and informed awareness, but instead induces an environment of all-out panic wherein morons end up squabbling over rolls of toilet paper. 

And context is vital here. For the majority of us, contracting COVID is not a death sentence. It’s more of a hibernate-in-your-bed-and-get-your-partner-to-bring-you-food sentence. For the vulnerable in our communities, those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly, it is a very real threat, which is why I’m currently shacked up with my wife instead of cuddling up to her Oma. This context allows us to treat this situation with the seriousness it deserves without succumbing to the savagery and insanity of what has been the equivalent of Mad Max set in supermarket aisles with shopping trolleys and the last of the good pasta. 

The second problem with the media is that it is not always concerned with a little thing commonly referred to as “facts”. Sensationalist media has resulted in widespread xenophobia to anyone of Asian ancestry, regardless of if the person subject to the abuse has even been to China, much less Wuhan, in their lives. The media has fuelled this with a series of outlandish tales that range from the virus being bred in Chinese labs to “reports” of the source of the virus being from a Chinese bat soup. Some papers have even had the gall to state that the rapid rise of cases in Italy was due to Chinese big pharma deliberately seeding infected people into Europe. Others believe the situation gives them the right to make racist puns, such as “Chinese Virus: PANDAmonium”. 

I wish I was kidding:

herald-sun-headline

As idiocy tends to breed idiocy, the eventual outcome has been a backlash at innocent Asian people and moronic moves such as parents refusing to let Asian doctors treat their children. The list goes on, but it gets more depressive as it does, so let’s call it there.

While we are drowning in this fetid sea of media, there is a life raft that I believe we can all cling onto: More media! I should be clearer: Different media!

I’m referring to the best kind of media, good media, which is of course books, movies, television, podcasts, and, technically a repetition on the theme of books, but I like them and am even a member of a club honouring them, and this is my blog not yours so I’m going to go ahead and say it anyway, audiobooks.

Using media to combat media: sometimes you have to fight fire with fire, baby. 

Here is a current list of the good media that is being digested in our home to help drown out all the bad media:

Each morning after completing yoga and while enjoying a bowl of overnight oats, I watch 15 minutes of an episode of HBO’s Watchmen. I then commute to work (two strides from the couch to the dining table) and launch into my work day. If the work I’m doing can be done with half an ear, I listen to podcasts. Currently, I oscillate between No Such Thing as a Fish, 99% Invisible, Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, Anthropocene Reviewed, and Comedy Bang Bang. And, as an always safe back up, relistening to The Ricky Gervais Show, which, beyond being hilariously funny, has the added benefit of having been recorded almost twenty years ago and so contains no mention of the coronavirus in case you’re in need of a palate cleanser.

Lunch sees me dropping back into another 15-20 minutes of Watchmen (in the bedroom or on the balcony to ensure the blood-curdling sounds of my mastication stays well away from the delicate ears of my wife). 

After our stroll, Alex and I sit down to a tasty dinner and an episode of BBC’s Sherlock, not to be confused with CBS’s Elementary, which is also very good. It’s hard to go wrong with a genius British consulting detective. This is approximately my fourth or fifth viewing of Sherlock and it only gets better with each watch. I would recommend it to anyone, up to and including Alex’s aforementioned Oma.

While drawing after dinner, I plug my headphones back in and get an audiobook rolling. At the moment, I am listening to Stephen King’s The Shining. I am enjoying it, but realised too late that it may not have been the most appropriate choice given my current voluntary incarceration and its themes of isolation and a man’s deterioration into madness (allworkandnoplaymakesjonnyadullboy). I swear not to go mad and chase Alex with an axe. Where would I even get an axe, all the stores are closed.

My wife spends this time also enjoying a book, but in the more traditional sense, with her eyes. I would tell you what she is currently reading, but she eats her way through books so fast that it’s impossible to say. If reading books were a sport, she’d be an olympic athlete. If she is a bookworm then she is one of those monstrous sand worms from Frank Herbert’s Dune (for those of you playing at home, Dune was one of The Audiobook Club’s most recent reads. Or, to be more accurate, listens).

While holed up indoors keeping clear of COVID, the vulnerable, and Omas, I whole-heartedly prescribe a healthy course of good media while steering mostly clear of bad media. And if you must wade into that bog of eternal stench, try to stick to official sources and journalists you can trust, who make it their business to monger truth and not fear.

On Monday: Shopping.

(And because today’s post was a bit of a heavy one, here’s a picture of some ducks I took the other day, because, you know, who doesn’t like ducks. Have a great weekend, everyone.)

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Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 3

As my wife and I near 168 consecutive hours in each other’s company, I am learning that in these troubling times, good communication is an important skill to master. 

To be fair, my wife and I have always been good communicators. Having spent the first four years of our relationship in a dual-country long-distance relationship, without good communication our status would have slipped from partners to pen-pals. During those four years, we had a standing eDate every evening after work. Our romantic location of choice was skype (occasionally mixing it up with facebook messenger or even viber when skype decided to crap itself) and we would chat every evening through our computers, doing our best to convince ourselves we were a normal couple.

But the good news is that we don’t have to pretend anymore! We share the same bed, kiss each other goodbye when we go to work (back in the days when people used to leave their homes to go to work), come home to the same apartment, and kiss each other goodnight. It is domestic, and ordinary, and we fucking love it. 

With a solid foundation of keeping up the communication chain across international borders, we still communicate regularly and deeply. I keep waiting for us to run out of things to talk about, but so far, I keep thinking of things I want to tell her.

These talks have recently been taking place as we go on our after-work, let’s-remember-what-the outside-feels-like walks. Yesterday, both due to Alex’s work and the desire to be a sterling example of social distancing, we strolled in the late evening when the streets were deserted, the night quiet, and we ambled through our neighbourhood with our conversation as rich as ever. 

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Also in these troubling times, I am learning that not communicating can also be a crucial piece of the mutual co-habitation puzzle. For instance, I have discovered that when my wife is on the last gripping chapter of her book, it is not a good time to tell her a hilariously funny joke, nor to then go into further detail explaining why the joke was so hilariously funny.

Being a bilingual couple brings its own set of challenges. Alex has more than mastered English, but I am still a novice when it comes to German, and so I have many questions when it comes to particulars with the German language. These questions usually come in the form of “But why?! That makes no sense! Why is it like this in this case, but completely different in this case?? I hate the German language!” 

When interrogating my wife on the semantics of a language she did not invent, only speaks, and therefore holds no responsibility for its inconsistencies, I have learnt that when her eyes begin to bulge and lips thin to the point of disappearing, I should promptly and politely shut my damn mouth. This non-verbal communication informs me that she has reached the edge of her explanations and further questioning will only end poorly for me. Perhaps with a fork in my baby-soft skin.

One of my goals from having constant, relentless access to my wife is to try and improve my German skills during this time of COVID. There’s a good chance I could walk back into the normal world (once it, hopefully, resumes) with a broader vocabulary. There’s an equally good chance that Alex will walk back into the normal world with a splitting headache and a sigh of total relief. If I was a betting man, I’d wager on the latter.

The Austrian government is currently doing an excellent job of communicating. There have been press conferences wherein the Prime Minister has given clear instructions with digestible explanations for the decisions that have been reached. They have maintained a strong social media presence and have been supportive and transparent about the actions they are taking. They appear to be proactive in their measures and this speaks volumes.

New forms of communication come through via this process, and some things can say a lot with very little, such as in the photo below. 

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(Photo credit: Natalie Kern)

 

For me, being from international origins also increases the importance of communication. Despite being a twin, my brother and I never got our telepathy up and running and so we are forced to rely upon more conventional methods. Thankfully, we live in an age where technology has just about reached the level of the supernatural, so it is an easy thing for my face to appear in the homes of my family and their faces to appear in mine.

The variety of apps that allow for communication are invaluable in this time of social distancing. We can remain safe and social simply with the click of a button. I encourage everyone to lean into these forms of communicating.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law sent out a welfare text to every member of my immediate family, checking in and seeing if anyone was low on supplies (my wife did mention we had run out of a certain Australian treat I enjoy, but apparently Austria is outside of Holly’s delivery route). I had a morning chat with my brother through his google Home while he prepared dinner, I messaged simultaneous with my parents and my cousin and his fiancée throughout my work day (please don’t tell my boss I did this, I don’t think she reads this blog), I have an early morning skype planned with my sister for tomorrow, and will be on the phone with a friend back in Australia come Saturday (Jess, you’re back in the blog!).

Even from our tiny apartment in Vienna, I am able to communicate with the whole world, and by doing so, defeat the distance in social distancing. I recommend you do the same.

Now I’m off to ask my wife about the correct German case to use when referencing someone in the informal collective sense. Wish me luck!

Tomorrow: Media.