Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 10

Weekend number two of social distancing has been successfully survived, I haven’t had to lock the forks away out of my wife’s reach yet, and we’re starting the working week with a stash of stolen goods sure to do wonders for our posture. So far, week three of the COVID limbo is looking good.

We even managed to get out of the apartment and mingle with our community over the weekend, which did our socially-starved minds some good. I say mingle, I of course mean avoided at all costs and ran in the other direction if anyone looked like they were making a beeline for us, but it was still nice to see other people in the flesh, albeit from a distance or as a blurry retreating form as we fled as fast as we could. 

And, ironically in a time when the normal communal bonds have been all but outlawed, the sense of community is actually pretty strong. There’s the unspoken understanding that we’re all in this together. Perhaps it stems from the fact that the isolation measures are a two way street; a way to protect yourself but also a way to protect everyone else. So seeing someone making the effort, be it stepping to the side of the path to allow a child on a bike to go past, moving out of the way at the shopping aisle when you see someone eyeing off some goods, or desperately wanting to pet someone’s dog in the park but restraining yourself with trembling self-control, is met with a silent nod of approval and slight smile of appreciation as we all continue on in our bubbles of segregation.

In Austria, amongst a host of other nations, new cultures have arisen from this time that buoy this sense of community. Each evening at six, police cars cruise through the neighbourhoods with their lights on and their loudspeakers broadcasting the song “I am from Austria” (which, for those of you not in the know, is a song celebrating the fact that Austrians are from Austria. Confusingly, the main motif of the song is sung in English, not German, but it’s not my place to tell them how to practice their patriotism).

Also at this time, you can hear a round of spread out applause echoing up from backyards and balconies as the people demonstrate their appreciation to the health care workers slaving away through this difficult period. While the hardest thing the rest of us are asked to do is stay away from loved ones while wearing sweatpants, the healthcare workers are asked to work longer and harder than ever to meet the demands of COVID cases, all while putting themselves at risk of exposure. This act of clapping probably isn’t heard by most health care workers, who are in hospitals doing their essential work, but it still moves me to see a community doing what they can to collectively acknowledge the sacrifice being made by this selfless demographic of our society.

In Australia, a new tradition has started of putting teddy bears in windows. This act is a way of supporting the equally hard-working parents in their own hour of need, parents who are putting themselves at risk by electively trapping themselves indoors with bored kids, hyped up from the endless episodes of Peppa Pig and sugary snacks used to try and bribe them into complying with the corona restrictions. The bears are a sign of solidarity to these silent warriors waging their indoors wars, hopefully providing a small respite for the parents who have escaped outdoors for a spell with their kids by supplying a game for the stimulus-deprived children wherein they can go for a “bear hunt”, gleefully pointing out the bears they spot to their rung-out progenitors.

Bear Hunt

Photo credit: Julie Marsden-Sayce

What is equally important to me during this lockdown is my own private community. I am lucky enough to have a circle of family and friends (many members of which are both my family and my friends) who, through equal measures of love, thoughtfulness, and downright silliness, are supporting me in these weird times. One of those who falls in the middle of the Venn diagram of family and friends is my sister-in-law, Holly, who had the misfortune on Saturday of having her birthday in a time when the government won’t let anyone come to your party. But luckily, her added year has made her crafty like a fox and she found a way around governmental restrictions by simply moving that party online. Through an app called Houseparty, we all sat around, had drinks, played games, laughed at each other’s dumb jokes, and properly celebrated the anniversary of our friend’s birth. 

After a brief adjustment period, I soon forgot that my favourite people were actually thousands of miles away and lost myself in the fun and joviality I always find when hanging with that particular collection of people. The fact that I was drinking beer at ten in the morning may have helped with that. (I just realised that not everyone reading this would be aware that, besides Alex and myself, the rest of the party people were in Australia, in a different time zone, which happened to be their evening, hence the party and hopefully explaining away my alcohol intake with an answer that isn’t “he has a terrible drinking problem.”)

Party time

Photo credit: Holly Robb

After partying away the morning, Alex and I ventured outside for some sunshine and fresh air, and so I could sober up a little, and went for a walk. Spring apparently didn’t get the memo that the whole world’s on pause at the moment and Vienna put on a fine day to get out and into our community. We were accompanied by my friend and my wife’s best friend, Natalie, who we had to greet with a limp wave from a space of two metres away instead of the usual kiss to each cheek. It felt impersonal and cold to give such a half-hearted greeting, but as the alternative was to risk infecting a dear friend with a horrible virus, or to have her infect us, we accepted our wave as the lesser of two evils.

The walk was beautiful and the company just as satisfying, and we were upstanding role models of the community as all conversation was conducted from either side of the walking path or with Natalie trailing behind like some sort of terrible stalker who doesn’t know enough to stay out of sight. See photos below as evidence of our commitment to do our part for social distancing.

This interaction with my community, done with no physical interaction whatsoever, recharged that battery within myself that needs that sort of energy and, ironically, gave me the strength to continue to stay the hell away from these people that I love. At least for long enough for the storm to pass and I can once again greet them in a fashion more befitting the affection I feel for them.

Tomorrow: Music.

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