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 us 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.

3 thoughts on “Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 9

  1. Love the analogy with the way we treat our beautiful planet and a teenagers bedroom ….. took me back about 20 years 😆👋👍

  2. That video should be shown here to demonstrate isolation and staying at home. Australians just dont get it yet. Great writing Jono look forward to more. Rosemary

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