Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 20

We have experienced our first, and god, please, let it be the last, isolation Easter. And, given that this day of rebirth and new life was conducted from the confines of our apartment, locked away from the rest of humanity, it was pretty good. 

Even from the encapsulation of our rabbit den (pun definitely intended), we were able to observe the day’s rites. We awoke and hunted throughout our surroundings for hidden Easter goods, we gathered the offerings into baskets, eyes growing wider as our collection amassed, and we ensured that the first food to pass through our lips was chocolate. We are very devout like that.

The morning started with a scroll through the family group chat to watch our beautiful niece and nephews get all kinds of excited over the discovery of sweet snacks. Photos of our younger nephews, Eli and Callum, faces smeared with chocolate like lions whose snouts were decorated with the blood of their latest kill, brought a smile to my lips and warmth to my heart. 

Alex was up and out of bed before me which meant that the honour of the first hunt went to me. Anyone who’s been following this blog series will be aware that our apartment isn’t all that cavernous, so I was confident I would round up my treats rather quickly. After the first ten minutes of foraging, I had found four of the five goodie bags she had hidden, but felt my confidence fall away by pieces as the fifth eluded me. As stated, the place just isn’t that big and in a short amount of time I had simply run out of rooms to look through, and so quickly transitioned from a cocky swagger to a pathetic shuffle as I approached my wife and asked for a hint. Alex was quietly proud of herself, by which I mean she was laughing, jumping up and down, and clapping her hands. She eventually relented and we played hot or cold until I found it behind a pot plant. The pot plant, in my defence, had the exact same proportions as the goodie bag. The girl knew what she was doing; It was a damn good hiding spot.

Knowing in advance that I couldn’t compete with my wife’s subterfuge, I went in a different direction and instead planned a treasure hunt, equipped with rhyming clues written on burnt and aged paper. My philosophy is and always has been, if you’re going to do a treasure hunt, you do the damn thing right.

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Except for the first clue, Alex whipped through the rest in about ten minutes. Apparently my rhyming riddles were not as enigmatic as I had thought. Still, I went to the effort of lighting things on fire, risking sending our tiny apartment up in flames, to give the clues that authentic look, so I get bonus points for that.

Then, as is traditional, we proceed to eat a dangerous amount of food. We feasted on savoury waffles with scrambled eggs and bacon, complemented, of course, with a sampling of chocolates. One of the treats that I scored was a box of chocolate bananas, which technically does exist in Australia, but the Austrian variety are very different and I like them much more. I like the Easter edition of these chocolate bananas the most, however, because, while they are in fact identical to the regular chocolate bananas, the packaging features one of the most sexually suggestive cartoons that I have ever seen. How this made it onto a candy designed for children, I will never know. 

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In the lead up to Easter, Alex made a huge batch of Easter cookies to distribute to family and friends because she is, I’m convinced, an angel in a human suit. On Good Friday, we made it our mission to visit the recipients of these baked goods and bring a little jubilation to their isolation, albeit from a distance of a least two metres away. One of our deliveries was to Kerstin and Thomas, Alex’s cousin and her partner, who have been isolating with their two month old son and who is too damn cute to accurately describe with the written word. While we couldn’t squeeze the little ball of adorableness as we would have liked, we did set up a system wherein we perched on their front lawn while they set up camp just inside their house, and we waved to the cute little man and had a much needed catch up with our friends. 

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The four-day religious retreat also had us video chatting with an allsorts of family, facebook calling with my folks on Saturday, zooming with our party people on Monday morning (Damo, Holly, Dom, and Nikki), and skyping with Alex’s sister and her family and Alex’s folks on the Monday afternoon. It meant that, even with the global hibernation hampering the holiday, we still managed to feel like we had the requisite familial recharge.

However your isolation Easter was spent, I hope you managed to experience the thrill of the egg hunt, chat with someone you love, eat your weight in chocolate, and that a giant man-sized bunny broke into your house and hid food in inconvenient places.

Tomorrow: Sleep.

(P.S. For those of you playing at home, the answer to the pictured clue was the space in the couch where we keep the spare blankets and pillows. If you got it right, you have my permission to reward yourself with some chocolate, regardless of the time and location in which you may be reading this. Happy Easter.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 19

These days I happily identify as an introvert. Anyone who read my post where I described in intricate detail how I chose books over making new friends is probably thinking “Well, yeah”. But it wasn’t always so obvious for me (looking back, the book thing really should have tipped me off).

There were times growing up when I knew that I was operating on a slightly different wavelength from some of the other kids. In primary school, we used to go to the library once a week. We would sling our library bags over our shoulders and march off to the dimly lit, slightly musty aisles of the library, and I would do so with a spring in my step and excitement fluttering in my chest. Being given the time and space to hunt through the racks of books for my next read, my next exploration into new worlds and new ideas was as good as it got. When I heard other kids groaning about being bored, about wanting to go play, I was perplexed. All I could think was “What are you talking about, this is the best part of the week! We play outside every day. You want to play? Go play with some Roald Dahl, he’s the most playful author I know!”

This feedback was not appreciated by the other children.

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Moving into highschool and university, this difference was acutely accentuated when it came to going out. As a young teen, I had heard about the nirvana that was the nightclub and couldn’t wait to get to that holy land of booze, music, and sexual opportunity. When the time finally came and I walked into that darkness broken by pulsing lights and strobing music, I was…utterly dismayed. It was so chaotic and drunk strangers were everywhere and all there was to do was drink and dance. Where’s the appeal in that? I would complain ceaselessly that the music was so loud that I couldn’t hear anyone talking. Friends would suggest I go try my luck getting a girl to kiss me and all I could think was, “How am I meant to do that, they won’t be able to hear me?” 

I failed to realise that the whole environment was designed so that talking wasn’t necessary, it was all down to being brash, letting go of inhibitions, and gyration. But as a happy little introvert, brashness, letting down my defences, and gyration were not in my wheelhouse. Words were my wheelhouse, sitting down to a one-on-one conversation where I could connect and be funny was my play, and that thumping, sweaty setup had robbed me of my weapons. Nightclubs were an extrovert’s arena.

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(Clearly I was not equipped with the tools for that environment)

I think my lack of self-identification came from early definitions used to describe introverts and extroverts. It boiled down to: introverts are shy and extroverts are confident. While I was quiet, I wasn’t shy. And I never felt that I was particularly lacking in confidence. Granted, I wasn’t thrusting my hand up and volunteering to sing and dance in front of people, but that had nothing to do with confidence and everything to do with that just sounding like a terrible idea.

It finally clicked into place when I heard an alternate way to outline what makes someone introverted or extroverted. It went like this: an extrovert is a person who recharges their batteries through social interaction and an introvert is someone who recharges their battery through quiet and solitude. And, inversely, an extrovert’s batteries are depleted when forced into silence and solitude for too long and an introvert’s batteries are depleted when forced into social interaction for too long. This is not to say that introverts don’t like a good party or that extroverts don’t like alone time, just that these things take energy from these people rather than giving it.

Suddenly, so much made sense. Choosing intimate drinks with friends over all-night raves or the peace and quiet of a library over the never-ending game of tag in the playground didn’t make me weird and anti-social; I was introverted.

And those kids huffing and puffing in the library about being bored, or happily spending their weekends squished between strangers, ears ringing from house music, weren’t confusing and obnoxious; they were extroverted (although, that anyone in their right mind would choose a nightclub over a library still mystifies me. And those haters out there who claim that there is nothing erotic about a library have clearly never experienced the sexual tension that radiates off librarians).

I am telling this long and boring story because normally the world is skewed in the favour of extroverts. Those that thrive by being brash and letting down their defences, and, yes, sometimes even gyrating, often come across more opportunities than the quiet achievers. It can be hard sometimes out there for an introvert.

But we are not in normal times and the restrictions brought on by the coronavirus have suddenly made this an introvert’s world. Stay at home all day in your bubble: Check! Work from home wearing cosy clothes: Check! Conduct all work communication via emails and skype chats: Check! Social interaction limited to intimate conversations with one or two people: Check! Feel no obligation of a weekend to go paint the town red: Check! Hang out with books rather than crowds of people: Check! And, to be honest, while so much of this situation is challenging and hard, it is a relief to be able to lean into an introvert’s strengths for a bit.

While we navigate these previously untrodden paths and redesign the world to fit the current handicaps, it’s worth a bit of self-reflection and deciding where you fit on this scale and identifying what recharges your batteries. Introverts, you can relax and enjoy society matching your pace for a change. Extroverts, you can acknowledge the hardship you’re facing and make plans to keep your source of fuel coming through upping the volume of video chats and phone calls.

And for those introverts out there like me, languishing in a surplus of home time, books, and soft conversation over cups of tea, take pity on your extroverted friends and give them a call. Their batteries will thank you.

Have a great weekend, everyone, and happy isolating this Easter.

On Tuesday: Easter. (I’m taking the long weekend off. Jesus would have wanted it that way.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 18

I think it’s only natural, four weeks into self isolation, to feel the boredom creeping in a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I love my wife’s company and the activities we do together in our home, but the conversation about what you did that day grows a little stale when what you did was spend every waking moment within a three metre radius of each other. It’s hard to regale my wife with a funny story about the day’s events when her response is, inevitably, “I know, I was there.” Even worse is when you find yourself telling a story that she told to you only yesterday, and that you told to her the week before, and you realise you’re trapped in an endless feedback loop of story swapping that is likely to drive you both mad. The upside being, if we were to go mad, that at least we’d have something new to talk about.

The recycling of stories all comes down to a lack of stimulus. With social interactions being whittled down to the bare minimum, there’s no longer any fuel to keep the fires of interesting anecdotes burning. It’s gotten so bad that I find myself longing for the days when I would use public transport, when mentally unstable men would approach me and ask if they could light my hair on fire or when drunk chicks would vomit on the carriage floor only for the neighbouring passenger’s dog to start lapping it up (both true stories), because then at least I would have something to talk about.

The other day I found myself alone in the living room and I realised that if Alex were to walk in at that moment and ask what I was doing, the only honest answer I could give her was “I am standing in a sunbeam”. 

The day before that, a man was walking past our apartment with a young puppy and I watched that puppy like a stalker whose object of his obsession just strolled into binocular range. And when the man and his dog eventually ambled out of my field of view, a part of me mourned the loss.

Just yesterday, Alex suggested that we take down and wash the scrim that hangs in front of our windows and I was excited, excited, at the suggestion. Ladies and gentlemen, no one should be excited by the prospect of washing scrim. Surely, the early signs of insanity are talking to yourself and getting a small thrill when considering putting your gauze curtains through a gentle spin cycle.

The obvious solution to this boredom, and to staving off insanity, is to entertain yourself, but given our resources are limited to what is currently on our properties, that means getting creative.

My father is waiting out the end of the world on a five acre block of land on the outskirts of Traralgon. He has decided to combat his boredom by revitalising his veggie patch and, much to his joy, while doing so he discovered some potatoes had managed to grow despite any active cultivation on his behalf. In what can only be assumed was an effort to keep his mind stimulated and himself entertained, Dad then proceeded to make a potato man from his findings, starting with a simple mock-up before deciding that features were required and adding eyes and facial hair.

Now while some may claim that making a small friend from fresh produce is, in fact, a sign that his sanity has already slipped, I instead choose to see it as an effort on my father’s part to bring some levity into the lull. Of course, he did then proceed to dismember his new friend and boil him in oil, so that does make it tough to make an argument for his mental faculties.

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Photo credit: Peter Robb

Please note that the eyes are still present, as if my father wanted to be able to lock gazes with his tiny friend one last time while he fried. Another strike against his stability.

One of the methods my wife and I are using to combat the boredom is to set up small competitions with one another. With the Olympic Games being cancelled, it’s now up to us to fuel the spirit of competitiveness and in that vein we are currently in the middle of a battle to see who will use up the last of the toothpaste. The rivalry is waged silently, unspoken, with each of us stepping up to the line every time we go to brush our teeth. There will be no awards, just a sense of shame for the loser who is unable to wring a final blob of paste from the tube, and a sense of victory for the winner who discovers a new tube the next time they attend to their dental hygiene. 

Toothpaste Olympics

Whatever strategies you’re using to beat away the boredom and to cling desperately to your sanity, I suggest getting creative, find merriment in the mundane and excitement in the everyday, and if you do happen to make a little friend along the way, do your best not to eat them. As the poet said, “That way madness lies” (King Lear Act 3, scene 4, 21).

Tomorrow: Introvert vs Extrovert.

(P.S. For those of you wondering, our scrim looks great now.)

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 17

I’ve talked on here before about using creativity and art as an outlet and a form of meditation during these trying times, and I’m now going to do it some more because this is my blog and you can’t stop me.

For me, the act of creating something is one that gives purpose to the day. If I have made something, been artistic in some way, then it’s as if I have permission to sign off the previous twenty-four hours as productive, useful, and not just me sitting around eating chips in sweatpants and watching The Office for the twelfth time. Don’t get me wrong, I will still use my day like this, but if I’ve slipped some creativity into the mix then I don’t feel so guilty about it. 

There is something very fundamental about the joy of creation. Of making something tangible and stepping back from it and looking at it and thinking “I did that”. Of putting something new into the world that didn’t exist before. 

Perhaps this is how God felt when he tinkered around with heaven and earth. Maybe he stopped to savour the whole formation of reality thing and got the same flush of pride I do when I sketch a cute animal. Happy with his progress, he cobbled together some light and firmament and got into the meat of it all, what with the plants, and the moon and the stars. Then, seeing as he was on a roll, he also sketched some cute animals. Only, you know, using flesh instead of a grey-lead pencil. Finally, wanting someone to whom he could look at, nod in the direction of all existence, and casually say “I did that”, he slapped some clay together and made humans. He might have gone a bit too far with that one. A good artist really needs to know when the work is done.

Of course, I can’t know the mind of a god, what with not being one or even being convinced that such a thing exists, but I do know that when I draw a picture or write a goofy blog and I make something, it feels good. 

I’m not the only one who’s been taking advantage of this surplus of home time in order to make and create. An artistic bent runs in my family and I’m proud to say the next generation has absorbed this genetic trait and are already whipping up masterpieces of their own. My niece and nephew, Ella and Harry, six and four respectively, are currently out of school and daycare and bearing up rather well under the homeban, all things considered. It helps that their parents have broken down the days into hour blocks of subjects and activities, and that a lot of those blocks include self-expressive electives.

Most recently, using the medium of chalk, they transformed their driveway into an explosion of art so grand it rivals the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (if not in technique, then at least in passion). 

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Callum, my youngest nephew, is also pictured, but to my knowledge his input was more that of emotional support and encouragement than actual drawing. He hasn’t quite got the fine motor skills needed to wield the jumbo chalk. 

The father of these adorable children, a man I am proud to call brother, or just Matt, that works too, only recently discovered his own creative outlet after watching the always inspiring and always soothing Bob Ross. Having YouTubed countless Bob Ross painting videos, Matt eventually decided to pick up a brush and give it a go himself. Depicted below is his third attempt and, I love the man, but I hate him a bit too. His third attempt! Show off.

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The brother of this adorable man, a man I also call brother, or Damo, or womb companion (were twins, it’s not weird), is also of the artistic bent and about ten years ago decided he wanted to teach himself photography. These days, it’s as if he can’t help but take a glorious photo every time he clicks the button. It makes holidaying with him a challenge because, even though I know we’re both pointing our cameras at the same thing, his always has the habit of coming out as masterpieces and mine come out as happy snaps. Thankfully, we share all shots over Google photos, so I just pretend all his photos are mine.

His own method of fighting the frustrations of self isolation with artistry has been to post a photo a day to instagram displaying the beauty that can still be found even when your field of inspiration has shrunk down to your home and small excursions to the surrounding area.

Below is a sample of the work he is producing.

You can see more of his work on his instagram account. His username is damian.robb.

Finally, you were promised cute animals, you came here for cute animals, all anyone really wants to see on the internet is cute animals, so here is my latest work-in-progress. 

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God damn, but is he cute. Good pup.

I sketch with a Faber Castell TK9400 3mm 4B Clutch Pencil, which is a fancy way of saying a grey-lead pencil that comes in a metal casing rather than a wooden one. I draw because it’s an outlet. Because it makes me focus on one thing and forget about the stress of everything else. Because putting something new into the world feels good, even if I’m the only one who ever sees it.

Whatever your art is, be it crochet, or cookie baking, or hair cutting, or fingernail art, or home improvement, or soap making, or sowing, or tailoring little outfits for your cats, or origami, or music, or writing blogs to try and make people laugh, go do some of it. Make something. Make anything. It will feel good, I promise.

But I don’t need to come up with the words to convince you because a cleverer writer than me already has. Neil Gaiman gave this commencement address at the Philadelphia University of the Arts in May 2012 and his words are as powerful now as they were when first delivered.

Tomorrow: Boredom.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 16

Here in Vienna, Spring is descending on us like a soothing balm. The days are getting longer, the temperature is getting warmer, birds are singing, flowers blooming, and we are stuck inside looking out, resenting all of it.

When the restrictions started, the weather was still cold and we had a week of icy winds and intermittent rain. We all smirked to ourselves and laid back on our couches, thinking “Stay inside all day? Okay, government, if you insist”. But now that the world has spun a little further along its orbit and the season is changing, this deal we struck is no longer sitting quite so comfortably.

With society stuck sitting in a timeout and the tempting outside and all the things we used to enjoy about it being denied to us, to me it comes down to how we use what we still have. It’s all about maximising on The Great Indoors. 

Alex and I share a one-bedroom, 65m2 apartment, equipped with the usual kitchen, bathroom, toilet, living room, and, to ensure we can still have a taste of fresh air and don’t go mad and attack each other after succumbing to claustrophobia, a balcony. But, when viewed from the right perspective, it can become so much more. Let me take you on a tour.

Let’s start with the couch. Ours is a three-person grey chaise lounge, which, should the situation call for it, can be converted into a bed. This situation arises when we have international guests staying with us for a stretch or we feel like being extra snuggly. Since the start of the lockdown, we have discovered just how versatile this seemingly simple piece of furniture can be. For the past three weeks our couch has functioned as a restaurant, La Patate de Canapé (it just translates to the Couch Potato, but sounds a lot classier in French). Here we dine on the most exquisite of foods, enjoying the comfortable homey atmosphere and sparkling conversation. The only downside is that this restaurant insists you cook your own food and clean up after you’re done. Fricken meta restaurants. 

The couch is also our theatre, where we sip on wine and indulge in the finest cinema that Netflix has to offer. It is an intellectual salon where we discuss and debate such hotbed topics as the global financial situation, America’s healthcare system, and whether I should shave off my beard (Alex is the most passionate about the latter and is strongly opposed). And, when necessary, the couch acts as a place where Alex can nod off for a spell. These power naps of hers can last anywhere between ten minutes and two hours. She never knows going in, so it’s always a gamble.

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But the functionality of our limited space doesn’t begin and end with the couch, we also have an entire living room floor which can transmogrify into an array of locations. This section of flooring, whose purpose is normally only to create enough distance from ourselves and the television, has become our morning yoga studio where our bodies stretch and bend (or don’t, depending on the pose). It acts as our gaming centre where we pit our word skills against one another across the arena of the scrabble board. I win about fifty percent of the time. I try not to let the fact that Alex speaks English as a second language ruin those victories. (We also used to play the card game “Spit” in our games centre, but it turns out I have a preternatural ability to win that game and that Alex has the preternatural ability to summon the rage of a berserker when losing, so we don’t talk about that game in our house anymore.) 

The floor can also be a massage parlour, a dance floor, and, when necessary, it acts as a place where Alex can nod off for a spell. Girl really loves her naps.

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Let me now take you through to the water closet, and on this part of the tour I must ask that you refrain from using flash photography. The porcelain throne is a wonderful place to get some me-time, offering a quiet getaway where one can delve into a book, catch up on the rest of the world with a good scroll through instagram, finally answer those messages from friends and family you’ve been meaning to get to, or just sit in the silence with your thoughts for a while. And, if the situation calls for it, eliminate bodily waste. 

Toilet

With a little creativity, the right perspective, and a dash of quarantine-induced madness, our humble abode has the potential to become anything we need it to be. I recommend you take the time to explore the mysteries and see the sights of your own Great Indoors while we all wait for the world to spin a little further in its orbit to that point in the future where we are free to roam outside again together.

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Tomorrow: Art.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 15

Well, here we are in the fourth week of social isolation and despite the utter weirdness of it all, despite saying a thousand times to just about everyone I encounter “it’s just so weird”, the human ability to habituate to a situation is kicking in and it’s all starting to feel…normal. Which only makes sense, in a way, as this is now, on a global level, the new normal. 

It’s starting to feel normal to be in my apartment for twenty-three hours a day, every day, conducting all facets of my life from this vantage point like a spider in its web. Only, you know, without all the creepy cocooning and liquifying insects thing. 

It feels normal to have an office station set up where our dining-room table used to be and to eat every meal from our laps on the couch (to be fair, eating on the couch was a pretty regular occurrence in our house, so that bit didn’t take quite so much adjustment). 

It’s now feeling so normal to exclusively wear sweatpants that I am almost dreading the day when I will be asked to wear stiff slacks again that do not have happy and forgiving elastic in the waist.

Part of this readiness to accept the normality of it all is that there are perks amongst the sacrifices of a lockdown. I like being with my wife everyday. There’s a reason I picked her, beyond her mean culinary skills and cute butt, and that is because I like her. I like her company. She is my best friend and makes a great COVID buddy.

I also like not having to catch the U-Bahn every morning. Even before the threat of catching the coronavirus, squishing up to random members of the public was not a favourite pastime of mine. These days I can have a short lie in, slide into my well broken-in sweatpants, and walk down the hall to my place of work. The only person I have to squish up to is Alex and that is a favourite pastime of mine. 

I like talking to my family more. With everybody trapped indoors, they’re not out doing things away from their computers (like crazy people), which means the window where I can see and communicate with them is much wider. I have unfettered access to them, they have no excuse to decline, so it’s a win win!

Of course, a lot of aspects of our new normal are hard. While a video chat can scratch an itch, it’s no replacement for the real thing. This weekend, Alex’s friend Christina very kindly offered to swing by and deliver us some raspberry tiramisu that she had made (and ladies and gentlemen, it tasted as good as it sounds). We had been baking ourselves (another perk of living in the time of COVID: a surplus of home-made baked goods) and so we arranged for an exchange of merchandise. But, with restrictions in place, this exchange, of course, had to take place as carefully as possible.

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The sense that we were dealing drugs was stronger than ever (only better, because instead of drugs we got tiramisu). We buzzed Christina into the building while waiting behind the front door, watching through the peephole as she came and laid the product on our doormat. Once she had taken the required three steps back, we opened the door, snatched our score, and deposited our own goods to the mat before retreating into our hallway. Christina scanned the area, saw the coast was clear, and made the grab. We traded waves and greetings and then she was out of the building, off to deliver goods to her next customer. 

Now normally when Christina comes by we don’t leave her standing out in the hall like a leper begging for scraps, but instead invite her in, give kisses to cheeks, share a coffee, and generally behave like people who actually care about one another. But this is not normally, this is the new normal.

A recent aspect of the new normal that is proving hard to swallow is the latest measures announced by the Austrian government. As supermarkets are the last bastion of social interchange and, therefore, virus interchange, the government decided to do what they could to shore up this weakness without having to close them down all together. They have stated that only a limited number of customers will be allowed in supermarkets at any given time, that all surfaces and trolleys will be regularly disinfected, and, the pill that has the hardest time going down, everyone entering the store must be wearing a face mask.

To be clear, I admire the Austrian government for being proactive and doing what they can to demonstrate they are trying to care for their citizens. The challenging part of this situation is the sheer alienness of covering your face when in public and the apocalyptic feel that hits when everyone you see is decorated with personal protective equipment. 

The upside for Alex and I is that my mother-in-law is a whizz with the sewing machine, so, given we had to dress like it was the end of days, at least we could do it in style.

Monika made the masks with offcuts from her husband’s shirts, and as Rupert wears very nice brand-name shirts, it’s comforting to know I’m walking around in a Hugo Boss mask. Even in these trying times, I’m a slave to fashion.

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The new normal is not always a comfortable fit and bedrock change is rarely something anyone welcomes with open arms. But while we are stuck in this alternate version of reality, it’s worth focusing on the perks, on the video chats with family, avoiding sweaty commutes, having intimate time with your partner, and wearing fashionable facial accessories. 

By tolerating the hardships and allowing ourselves to see the good amongst the bad, we can navigate our way through the new normal and back out into just normal.

Tomorrow: The Great Outdoors.

Vienna in the time of COVID – Chapter 14

I’m going to tell you something about myself: I like books. 

No, no, that’s not right, come one, Jonathan, no need to be coy about this. The truth is I love books, I am in love with books, at any given time I am having an affair with books, often with multiple books at once. There, I said it. 

My love affair with books started at an early age, fostered by my parents’ own love of literature, and by the time I hit highschool I had a full-blown book addiction. When I entered Year 9 (for any international readers, Australians in Year 9 are aged between 14 and 15 years old), I found myself in a homeroom without a single member of my circle of friends. To begin with, I was crushed, I felt hard done by, I felt alone. And then I remember I could borrow a friend any time I liked. 

To be clear, I am not referring to some strange and sad friend-loaning service set up at our school where for a certain price you could rent a friend, I am referring to the library and the many excellent books on its shelves that I could borrow as I pleased. 

Rather than do the thing normal kids would do when finding themselves in a classroom devoid of friends, which is to make new friends, I chose instead to invest any additional time during class outside of my scholarly pursuits to books. I kept whichever paperback I was reading at the time in my pencil case and as soon as I had finished the worksheet/equation/essay we were instructed to work on, I would collect my friend from its secret storage space and get reading. While the other kids were wasting their time with superficial things like talking and laughing and socially bonding, I would be exploring Narnia, and Midkemia, and the Drenai Empire.

For anyone who may be inclined to pity lonely little Jon, please don’t feel too bad. I did eventually lift my head out of the pages long enough to commune with my colleagues, and apparently the bookworm image was working for me as my first girlfriend was in that very class. Take that, jocks.

As a reader, I generally favour genre books. These genres have many different names — fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, speculative fiction — but I just like to think of them as books where one small facet of the impossible is made possible and then we see where the story goes from there. These stories, while removed from reality, help me make sense of reality, help me see things from a different perspective, and, when necessary, help me avoid social interaction. Triple threat. 

Given that the whole world is currently hibernating, it makes sense that a resurgence of reading will follow. Now that the coronavirus has taken away our restaurants, our movie cinemas, our pubs, and our table-tennis tournaments (I don’t know, maybe, I don’t know what you do in your spare time), all of us suddenly have a lot more time on our hands. 

If pubescent-Jon can teach us anything, it’s that the social interaction we are all currently lacking can be substituted with reading, and so with that in mind I would like to recommend some titles that have brought me joy, have made me think, have kept me turning the pages long into the night, and have kept me company through the lonely times.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The author himself has said that, when writing this book, he set out to tell a long and rambling story, and in one sense he accomplished this. The book is long and covers a lot of ground, but it is intriguing, interesting, weird, and always enchanting every step of the way. It combines a wealth of folklore and presents the gods discussed in its pages in a way that feels human and real. Neil Gaiman is one of my favourite authors and this is one of my favourite books. Beyond being a great writer, he also seems to be a rather great human, which makes reading his work all the more enjoyable.

American Gods

Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman
Nick Offerman is famed for his portrayal of Ron Swanson in the television show Parks and Recreation, and while there is a lot of Ron in Nick, there is also a lot more. This book, which is part autobiography and part ruminations on life and how to live a good one, is overflowing with humour and wisdom and a collection of very entertaining anecdotes. It also pairs very well with a good whiskey.

Paddle Your Own Canoe

Sourdough by Robin Sloan
This book is warmth all the way through, from the characters and their passions, to the bread that is baked, and to the ultimate conclusion. Robin Sloan writes about our world but from a perspective that is a delight to share. He finds mythic in the mundane and passion in the pedestrian. Reading his books is like having a long conversation with a good friend over a cup of tea.

Sourdough

14 by Peter Clines
This was a book that made me lie. I would lie to my employer about being sick, I would lie to my friends about being busy, and I would lie in bed (see what I did there) not sleeping, only reading. I did all this because I absolutely had to find out what was happening and what would happen next. For me, this is the ultimate page-turner and, while it made me knowingly deceive friends and family, I regret none of it.

14

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman
Did you catch that it’s Neil Gaiman again? I warned you that he was one of my favourite authors. Fragile Things is a collection of his short stories and so is the perfect book if committing to a huge novel isn’t your thing. Each of the stories is seeded with an idea so unique, so interesting, and so cool that I am swamped with jealousy that I didn’t come up with it. Even in the introduction to the collection, he tells a story that is gripping and thought-provoking. In the introduction! He’s really just showing off, and damn him if it doesn’t work.

Fragile Things

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
Often considered a modern masterpiece, this novel encapsulates…no, I can’t do it. I was trying to be funny, but even as a joke, I can’t endorse this book. It is trash. It is a trash book. Go read something else.

Whether you read my recommendations or not, that’s okay, but I do recommend that you at least read. While we can’t currently go out and explore our world as we would like to, books can allow us to instead go in and explore a multitude of other worlds, and by doing so, forget about our isolation for a while.

Lastly, I would like to ask a favour. If anyone has a book they love, one that has stuck in their brain and won’t get out, I would deeply appreciate it if you could recommend it to me in the comments. As a book addict, I am always on the lookout for my next hit.

And really lastly, I swear this time, if anyone would like to read a short novella that I wrote that is, hopefully, as silly and as fun as these posts, then I invite you to download a copy from the following links. I wanted to give it away for free but Amazon wouldn’t let me, so instead it is yours for only 99 cents.

Australia: https://www.amazon.com.au/dp/B086L2W7D7 

Austria: https://www.amazon.de/dp/B086L2W7D7

United Kingdom: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086L2W7D7

United States: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086L2W7D7

 

On Monday: The new normal.