March 23, 2020 Covid
The paradox in beginning to write a diary lies in its starting point. I often catch myself thinking that too much has already happened, that any record from this point forward will be incomplete and ultimately insufficient. But then I view the news, the statistics, the sky above with a lone plane in it, and it occurs to me how quickly the current situation has sprung up from deceptive normalcy. It means that anything might happen over the next couple of days and weeks, making today a jumping-off point as good as any. In other words: Why the hell shouldn’t it start right here?
Today is March 23rd, a freezing early spring day in the middle of the coronavirus outbreak. At the point of writing, we have 372,000 cases worldwide, 29,000 cases in Germany. It’s the start of the week and across Germany all gatherings of more than two people have just been banned. Most everyone I know has been at home for at least a week, Rocío and I for eight days, and we have no idea what’s next.
“The current situation”, I’ve noticed, has become the term for that uncertainty. You see it in notices in shop windows and website banners—“Due to the current situation, alas…”—you hear it in speeches, in anecdotes. I find it an endearingly respectful way of talking about the crisis and our collective uncertainty: At this point, we haven’t done enough testing to know how many people are actually infected. There’s also no prediction of how long it’ll all stretch on, making this a “current” “situation” with four quotation marks, a tacit acknowledgement of our not-knowing.
I briefly ventured outside today, cycling an almost straight line from the house to the office. The idea was to have some conversations, write some e-mails, and—let’s face it—see a different room for a few hours. Yet as soon as I left the house I had an overwhelming feeling that I shouldn’t be out there. Technically, sharing the office with Dan was a gathering of no more than two and a work situation, but there was something strange about it, about how I acted and kept an artificial distance that is acceptable on video calls but not in person.
Then, two knocks on the door: First DHL, with an elaborate package delivery dance for Dan. He had to sign on the label, which was then scanned from the distance. As Dan unpacked his delivery of hiking clothes (enough to escape civilization), another knock: Max and Eva, passing by. We scream at each other through the glass door, then open it, each keeping about two meters from the door frame. They’re going to the Mexican supermarket for taco supplies. I ask them to bring along some tortillas, which they promptly drop off on the office doorstep, waving as they back away.
I put the delivery into my bag and go home, spend the afternoon on the balcony with Rocío, basking in the sun and the absurdity that in times of global crisis there’s still a fresh supply of Mexican tortillas.