Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 11

I realised that in my post about media, and more specifically the part discussing good media, I left out an important facet of this genre: Music.

I, like 99.8% of the population, enjoy music of one kind or another (I think the 0.2% is made up of people who were born deaf and sociopaths). Music is an outlet, a way of tapping the pressure valve and letting out some of the steam. And so in a time when the whole world seems tight with pressure and ready to burst, a bit of an outlet is no bad thing.

I generally listen to folk music about sad things and introspection that I think is beautiful and my wife finds depressing. She is more into upbeat music that puts a tap in her toes and a wiggle in her butt. While I greatly appreciate a good tapping toe or wiggling butt, particularly when the butt in question is my wife’s, I find that what really leaves me in a better state of mind is a song that is synchronised to some inner sadness, music that resonates with something that’s troubling me and by doing so, by being able to say “hey, yeah, that’s what it feels like”, I’m able to leave some of it with the music and walk away feeling lighter, with a spring in my step and a wiggle in my butt. 

A few people have made the point that now that everyone has some time on their hands, it is the perfect opportunity to learn an instrument. I play the guitar and I wholeheartedly endorse this statement. Playing an instrument for me is a form of meditation. My brain becomes so engrossed in the mechanics of it and the mental concentration that everything else just sort of falls away. And when the music spills out and I know that it’s my hands making it, it’s a wonderful thing. 

It is not always a wonderful thing for Alex, however, who has now heard the rotation of my six favourite songs so many times that sometimes her eyes dart between my head and my instrument in a way that makes me wonder if she’s planning to introduce the two in a more intimate fashion. She was kind enough to gift me the guitar, so really, a certain amount of the blame rests with her. 

IMG_20200331_182105

Obviously, the ability to learn an instrument depends on what instruments you have at your disposal during your lockdown. Guitars and pianos are always good, and a violin played well is an uplifting thing. If, however, all you have at your fingertips is a recorder, the instrument of choice for primary school kids because whoever set the musical curriculum is an agent of evil here to make people suffer, then I’d probably recommend you leave it to the professionals. That’s not to say that with time and practice a recorder isn’t capable of making beautiful music, only that you will never get to that point as the housemate you’re socially isolating with will stuff the recorder down your throat long before you develop any sort of proficiency. Or whichever orifice of their choice.

One of my favourite musicians, a Bristol-born gentleman who performs under the name of Passenger, has seen fit during this span of dislocation to reach out from his own hideaway and provide anyone who is interested with a living-room concert. Given that all forms of live entertainment are currently under lock and key, being able to engage with an artist and enjoy their skill, to close your eyes and let go of some pressure, is a beautiful thing. He has been performing live for the last two Sundays, and is kind enough to put the recording up on YouTube for those who missed it.

As it is just him in his home and not a team putting together a production, the intimacy of the performance is ramped up. There are hiccups in the video where the wifi struggles, which I find charming as it really captures a facet of this time and this moment. In the future when the internet will be as stable and steady as any other utility and we’ll download movies just by thinking of them, kids will not understand the concept of lag, much as kids today don’t understand the pops and whistles of a record, or the concept of a record for that matter. 

But to me, this just adds to the authenticity and earnestness of the performance. This is no big-budget arena, just a man stuck in his living room like the rest of us, reaching out through the tools he has, a guitar, a laptop, and a low-speed internet connection, to try and infuse a little happiness and warmth into our isolation. 

Despite the limitations, his voice and guitar comes through pure and clear, singing his melancholy songs in a way that reverberates with me. And as an added bonus, he’s also quite funny, so you get a bit of comedy thrown in if the music isn’t enough of a draw.

Give it a listen, if it’s not your thing, or it doesn’t touch you, then that’s okay, it just means you’re dead inside and have the emotional range of a potato.

Whatever genre of music you like, be it k-pop or Norwegian death metal, I recommend turning up the volume, releasing some pressure, and of course, wiggling that butt.

Tomorrow: Language.

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.

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.