Calmer households. Not everyone would agree, but that's my impression (of the middle-class families I know, at least). Die Hektik, as the Germans call it, has gone. Having to juggle career work, housework and full time parenting still causes enormous stress, agreed, but at least everyone is together, available; the frantic to-ing and fro-ing and the absences from one another have come to a halt. Daily routines are more straightforward, mealtimes more regular events, to such an extent that we have to concentrate to remember which day of the week it is. Family members are learning to compromise and to share their resources; surely all of this was important to learn in any case.
We are more inventive than we knew. Having to think of so many ways to keep children productively occupied at home is something in which modern society hasn't had much practice, but it's no bad thing that we're learning how, and getting that practice. Maybe there'll be a greater sympathy for teachers when this is over, but there again, maybe not. Lazy teachers are taking advantage of the enforced break and doing the bare minimum to keep their classes ticking over; other teachers, the imaginative, dedicated, empathetic ones, are working night and day at the preparation, reassessments and documentation of their work. Actually it was ever thus, even in the normal old days.
Worldwide acceptance of, and obedience to, new rules. What makes the headlines is the occasional exception. I've been flabbergasted by people's docility in this regard, especially in such populous countries as India or China. There's nothing like a death threat to make people do as they're told—I have never before observed or experienced anything like this before, although my parents' generation who lived through the 2nd World War, were used to such discipline. They were also familiar with stretching out their rations, with planning ahead, with make-do-and-mend, with bartering, with keeping one another's morale up, with growing their own vegetables and so on, as well, all of which is seeing a resurgence, this year. Worldwide, it seems, there's an overwhelming, sudden interest in small scale gardening. Everybody's doing it. To have to slow down to the natural rhythm of the growing season has to be good for us, surely, and besides, it smells good, to be out there.
A general lack of interest in travelling or planning journeys abroad, especially on jet planes and big ships. Even the keenest of frequent flyers (like me) now feel wary of booking a flight. Airlines and cruise lines are going out of business. This is going to impact coastal places usually visited by tourists from the ships, such as Gaspé, in Quebec. Iceland, desperate for contact with the rest of the world now, is going to be the first country to open its borders to tourism, in mid-June. They are hoping for incoming flights from Oslo, Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Berlin. Travel in the other direction may be more questionable.
We have seen incredibly blue skies with no contrails: a purity that had been missing from our lives. How we appreciate it when it comes! A photographer living in Kathmandu reported that, from the edges of that now smog-free city, he had been able to spot Everest behind the nearer Himalayan peaks, for the first time in years.
So much birdsong noticed this spring! So many wild creatures making their presence felt!
We're witnessing a widespread cycling mania. Ottawa has closed some of its parkways to motor traffic so that the numerous cyclists, many of them novices, may spread out, not breathe upon, nor collide with each other! The Dutch would be amused by this trend, having always used bikes en masse in their towns.
People are starting to prefer working at home. My husband and his colleagues had not expected to like this at all, but are not missing their commutes, and, more to the point, are discovering that just as much work, if not more, gets done from home as at the office. His company conducted a poll recently: about a third of the employees are likely to continue to work from home beyond the end of the crisis. There'll be no stigma in doing this. The ones with young children are in two minds about it. Chris says he misses being able to stroll over to somebody's desk to ask them a quick question; he now has to do this by email instead, which generates too many messages back and forth. He misses lunch break conversations too; although his usual companions from the workplace indulge in a short, online get-together at midday, once a week, it is hardly the same.
Birthdays without company are bitter-sweet occasions. Happy Birthday messages still come in, but the carefree fun's not there.
Grandparents not being allowed to visit their grandchildren or vice versa. This is one of the sad things, although personally I have noticed very little difference, geographically distanced from my children and their families in any case. Three months seem a long time in the life of a young child, though, and every grandparent is now experiencing the longing with which I'm so familiar. The hardest part is when things go wrong at the other end and one can't do anything to help. It's the same story if one has aged parents who have to cope alone or reside in a care home, or need to move into one. Worst of all are the cases where elderly relatives die from the virus in hospital with no familiar faces at their bedside, and where even the doctors and nurses are masked. This must be very terrible, inhumane for the dying, and traumatic for the medical staff and for relatives prevented from saying a proper goodbye. (Two people we know have had bereavements of this kind.) Again, reminiscent of wartime. The poorly-run nursing homes that have seen so many fatalities and have needed intervention from military units are horrific places, akin to gulags.
A Bolivian pan-pipes orchestra has been stranded in a German castle for weeks on end. Young people are remarkably adaptable in such situations. The secret of survival is to think of such a mishap as the adventure of a lifetime. My niece and her partner got stranded too, during a trip to Panama, back in March, and their account of their three-day escape home to Wales came across like an action movie, full of suspense at the checkpoints and secret scrambles at the dead of night. They'll be telling that story with relish for the rest of their lives.
Vagrants in Ottawa are being allowed to live in tents, an unprecedented phenomenon. They pitch their tents or construct their shelters in fairly visible places and the police seem to be turning a blind eye, probably because officially designated sheltered accommodation is so crowded it has become a health hazard, and a hazard to mental health, besides. I for one wouldn't dream of reporting illegal campers to the police because I sympathise with their dilemma. It's no longer too cold to sleep out of doors; their solitude in the fresh air may seem relatively pleasant, but the mosquito bites must be hard to bear, and it's an uncomfortable, unsanitary way to live.
Are you in casual clothes all week, the same clothes for days on end? Nobody sees us up close, so why worry? Many of us are no longer bothering to keep our hair cut. Some women have dispensed with wearing bras and the men-in-suits don't need suits any more, or dress shirts. All this means less use of the washing machine. It's a new world. We're supposed to wash our cloth shopping bags and our masks every day, but I haven't touched an iron for weeks. Make-up is only for when there's a Zoom call coming up or a presentation to give. Even then, one has the option of switching off one's webcam and activating voice only. "Unmute." Is that the trendiest word, this season?
Ubiquitous Zoom calls! (One of the CFUW ladies took it upon herself to teach the local membership to zoom, an uphill struggle. I helped edit her Instructions document.) Seeing my own face as well as the other person's / persons' while talking to them is a novelty that takes some getting used to. In the Gallery View window, it's like being at a dinner party in a hall of mirrors! In the circumstances, most of us find Zoom a reasonable substitute for meeting face-to-face, but exhausting, even though as hostess one doesn't have to provide refreshments. A double session (40 minutes x 2) is more than long enough. Online piano / singing lessons are also fairly intense. Chris positions the webcam so that his singing teacher spends the whole session observing my hands on the keyboard—I've had a few criticisms of my fingering technique, lately! Gavan can't see what I'm doing with the pedals, but he comments on that too, because he has good quality speakers and a sharp ear.
As musicians and other artistic performers are feeling the pinch from a loss of gigs, there has been a resurgence of demand for what they do. Pierre Brault, our best-known and brilliant local actor, is giving a series of solo performances online, from the empty Gladstone Theatre this month. Music is discovered to be one of the things by which we live. Online concerts take place every day in every community and there's usually the chance to make an online donation to the performer. Families are also discovering the joys of making music themselves; wonderful examples of this have gone viral on YouTube and Facebook.
Use of social media increased dramatically during March. Many newcomers to Facebook don't think much of it, though. They are especially put off by emailed notifications of other people's posts, not realizing that they could have adjusted their Settings to get rid of that annoyance.
Haircuts, eye tests, teeth cleaning appointments and the like have become less essential than we thought. We think twice before asking to see a doctor, too. I had twinges of pain that I couldn't identify the other day, so decided to call the medical helpline. It didn't seem I would ever get to speak to the nurse, so I gave up waiting in line, which probably saved me a lot of grief. The pain has since disappeared. My wise old mother used to say that most pains disappear eventually; you just have to be patient and trust your body to right itself. Emergency wards in hospitals are empty. Was that expected, at the start of the pandemic? Are people too scared to go for medical help, or were they going to hospitals too unnecessarily, before? People aren't taking so many risks just now and the roads are quiet. Apparently scheduled organ transplants have become more of a challenge because fewer people are dying in car crashes.
Having to choose and prepare three meals a day is a chore that palls from time to time, but I reckon it's better nutritionally and for our bank balance not to eat out (impossible at present) or order takeaways (not impossible but a nuisance, and I disapprove of the plastic containers). I try to make a fair proportion of our meals vegetarian, but I've also been ordering meat from Saslove's in the Byward Market, paying a $5 home delivery charge; they subcontract the work to a delivery company. Our weekly order costs more than I anticipated, but then, I never did this before, and when I calculate how many meals it covers and how much we're spending per meal, I'm surprised again. Because I spin out the meat, it works out at only around $2.50 per person on average for each meal, not so pricey after all. I intend to make a habit of this way of shopping because it saves me time, too, and forces me to be better at menu planning. Like the parents struggling to keep their children educated, I have become more inventive or adventurous recently, when preparing food. On the kitchen windowsill I have been growing micro greens, onions and basil, shall see what can be done with lettuce hearts next.
Like Prisoners of War, we are learning the crucial importance of good memories. Lock-down, like solitary confinement, leaves you to your own devices. If you don't have the inner resources to deal with it, you go crazy. I keep thinking of the extraordinary Canadian book / film called Room, in which a young mother trapped by her abusive partner in a shed with her young son, manages, against the odds, to keep herself and the child mentally and physically fit ... for seven years. Ironically they find it harder to cope when they're freed, released into the outside world. That has parallels with the POW experience too. My father was confined in a German POW camp for four years.
I have just read a sentence in a novel I'm reading, by V.S. Naipaul (Magic Seeds), that seems applicable. The narrator is in jail in this chapter:
There was no need for rush. Every everyday thing had to be stretched out now: a new form of yoga.No more swimming for a while, I guess, unless I go in the river. All changing rooms in town are closed. Health clubs and gyms are closed for the foreseeable future. I don't miss the changing rooms exactly but I do miss the chance to move around in deep water.
Something else I am missing is the chance to sit, read and write in coffee shops. Standing in line with a mask on to pick up a take-out coffee in a paper cup from the counter and walk off with it is no substitute for those relaxing half hours (or more) that I used to spend at Bridgehead and other such places.
Having to cover our faces! In the lead up to the Canadian election in 2014 there was a whole lot of fuss about Muslim women who concealed their faces with niqabs. They shouldn't be allowed to take part in citizenship ceremonies, some felt. By contrast, in 2020, we all have to wear masks that hide just as much of our faces, whenever we are standing around in public spaces. There's a certain irony here.
Another turnaround is that until lately it would have seemed worthy of a badge of honour to turn up at work or at school with a bad cold; people used to boast that they had "never missed a day". From now on, such attitudes are going to be greatly frowned upon.
Calls for a Global Ceasefire are being taken seriously.
More of us are understanding the importance of simplicity.
For the sake of comic relief, a "Jurisdiction of the Mininstry of Silly Walks" has been marked with flags on the sidewalk outside the vicarage on MacKay Street.