To say that life is a little left of normal at the moment is perhaps putting it too lightly.
I am writing this from my apartment in Vienna that I share with my wife, an apartment that we haven’t left yet today despite having worked a full work day. This is already out of the ordinary, what with both of us having full-time jobs that come with desks and offices and normally a forty-minute commute to get to those desks and offices.
The primary school directly opposite our apartment has been silent all day, which is all but unheard of during the school semester. Even outside of school hours, the walkway between our balcony and the classrooms is normally populated with pedestrians drifting back and forth in their daily duties. It is currently empty and has remained mostly so since the sun came up this morning.
All of these not normal things are technically good. They are signs that the people of Vienna have received the message and taken it to heart. We are all taking what measures we can to try and protect the vulnerable in our community and the healthcare system as a whole. We are all social distancing. We are all living in the time of COVID.
As a measure against these strange times, against the potential boredom of remaining mostly within the same four walls, against the threat of cabin fever, as a method to record this novel event, and to just give my wife a break from my ceaseless sparkling company, I have decided to jump-start my blog and write about what this period in human history felt like to live through.
So, let’s recap where we are. I’m an Australian living in Vienna with my Austrian wife. Presently, we have been mostly indoors looking only at each other for the past five days. Alex, said wife, has only rolled her eyes twice in that time and is still laughing at my jokes, so I’d say we’re staying strong in the face of contamination-avoidance measures.
Here are some things we’ve learned about each other so far into our not-quite-quarantine:
When breaking up the work day, we like to have lunch at different times. Alex is more of a twelve o’clock girl, whereas I like to split my day right down the middle and eat at one. This detail was particularly highlighted to me when I sat on the couch, happily munching away on a toasted sandwich with my wife attempting to work at our dining table less than a metre away, only to discover less than twenty seconds into my meal that Alex had vacated her workspace in what I later learned was an effort to flee from the “disgusting masticating sounds.”
Our dining table/work space is also situated very near to the wall that is shared by our toilet, so we have been deepening the intimacy of our relationship by becoming very familiar with each other’s bowel and bladder habits. I’m thankful to the COVID precautions for allowing me to get to know my wife on an even more visceral level.
We have been turning these restrictions to our advantage in more ways than discovering the mysteries of each other’s digestive system, however. During the forty minutes at either end of our day that is normally dedicated to our commute, Alex via her car and me via an underground train-carriage, we have been turning this time towards the pursuit of perfecting our bodies. We start the day with a yoga session in an attempt to undo the damage inflicted on our spines from working at a dining table that was not designed for eight hours of working at a laptop, and finish the day with a run or a walk in order to breath in some fresh air, enjoy some sunshine, and stave of the creeping insanity that comes from never leaving your house.
During these walks/runs, the streets are noticeably more vacant that usual, but not deserted. People with the same goals as us emerge from their home offices, squinting against the natural light, and often moving in pairs. The main difference in these walks is the way that everyone is maintaining a bubble of air between themselves and everyone else. When two sets of couples approach one another on a footpath, one couple will drift to the opposite side of the road. Dog-walkers will leave the path and walk on the grass to make space for joggers. Everyone is moving in their own private invisible sphere.
Thankfully, this is not done with menace or the glares of those eyeing off the potentially contaminated, but rather with polite nods and smiles of thanks that everyone is doing their part to distance themselves socially. Austrians are not overtly physically affectionate as a rule, so I feel this has not been too great a burden on them.
The eerie moments come when the closed-down stores are seen, empty and dark in the middle of the day. Or the abandoned playgrounds, sectioned off with plastic tape.
We have been told that maintaining a routine is important during times like this to help to normalise things a little. Alex and I have kept to rather similar sleeping hours and eating habits, but have decided to introduce a few new activities to again reap whatever benefits can be wrought when the majority of the world is told to stick to a rainy-day programme. These new activities keep our minds sharp and aid us in challenging ourselves. One such challenge given to me by my wife this evening was the exciting task of removing the accumulated hair from the shower drain. As I plucked the wet clumps from the metal opening, the snakes of hair resisting slightly before slithering out like putrefied souvenirs of all the showers we have ever taken, I was grateful to my wife for this mentally-stimulating gift. It’s all about making the best of it.
I will leave you all with that delicious image, but plan to return with more tales of Vienna in the time of COVID. Hopefully you’ll join me and, even in this period of social distancing, we can come together through this weird and surreal shared experience.
Tomorrow: Extra-curricular activities.