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Living in the Land of COVID

– Article by Marilyn de Lang, Writer & Editor at Big Red Oak


These are strange times indeed! The pandemic has plunged us onto unfamiliar terrain, and we’re all scrambling to find our balance.

But we humans are masters of invention. We improvise; we create; we adapt.

We’re also highly social. And here’s one of the dilemmas. How to sustain relationships, have some fun, keep our lifestyles … while also protecting ourselves and our families through physical distancing.

In the olden days

So how did people handle it before?

During the Italian Plague of 1629-1631, the Tuscan winemakers cut narrow “wine windows” into their homes to sell their wares, using vinegar as a disinfectant for payment. Today, over 150 wine windows in Florence are serving customers everything from wine and coffee to gelato.

In the early 1900s, Germany initiated open-air schools to help contain a virulent tuberculosis outbreak. The movement prompted city planners around the globe to explore the link between fresh air and public health, incorporating more green spaces into their designs.

Pandemic adaptation even affects fashion. In the Victoria era, crinolines and hooped skirts allowed women to maintain their distance. Over the eras, facial hair has been condemned for carrying noxious germs, launching a 1907 strike among Parisian restaurant waiters who protested the orders to shave.

But back to today

Within a few short weeks, our lives were changed. Many of us converted our homes into virtual offices; monitored our children’s online tutoring; cancelled plans for concerts, travel, special events; stocked up on masks and hand sanitizers; followed the news for the latest updates; and taught ourselves how to live more fully in the moment within an uncertain future. And, as the weeks roll into months, we’re learning how to manage a different reality.

When the pandemic began, the entertainment industry took a big hit. Tickets were refunded, fans were disappointed, musicians stayed home, and venues lost their revenue. But ingenuity is kicking in. The U.K. just hosted 2,500 fans at its first socially distanced outdoor concert. Cars were parked two metres apart, hand sanitizer stations had rotating entry times, and food and drink were ordered via an app. Five hundred viewing platforms accommodated five people each, strategically angled for good lines of sight to the stage.

Toronto is now presenting an immersive exhibit of Van Gogh’s art. The website features his self-portrait, playfully altered with a mask. Illuminated circles on the floor keep the viewers apart, while drive-in time slots stagger the arrivals. Guests stroll through 600,000 cubic feet of gigantic projections that highlight his works in stunning detail.

Restaurateurs are finding ways to accommodate their customers. QR-coded menus, with contact-free ordering and payment systems, are replacing traditional protocols. In Amsterdam, a ‘Dutch greenhouse’ restaurant seats each party in small glass booths for two, while most countries permit outdoor patio dining. A Canadian restaurant owner has set up personalized dining areas within separate gardens. A masked chef cooks on the outside grill; the wait staff bring the food on sanitized trays; and the patrons help themselves to their own food and cutlery.

Spring is the prime time for students to commemorate their achievements. This year, signs on front lawns proudly displayed the accomplishments of their resident graduate and technology brought the classmates together for virtual celebrations. One drive-through event featured whimsically decorated cupcakes and certificates delivered via a hockey stick.

New tools; new habits

We’re fortunate to live in the digital age. Zoom meetings and virtual conventions, conference calls and webinars, podcasts and videos, on-line commerce — business can continue in a way that our predecessors could not envision.

As for our traditional social customs? We’re used to hugging our siblings, shaking hands with our clients, high-fiving our friends. Elbow-bumps, salutes, and bows may become our new norm. We’ll learn how to share affection and respect without risk.

Netflix recently aired a series called ‘Love is Blind’ which spun a modern twist on speed dating. Locked into a pod, participants became acquainted with potential partners through conversation alone, with no face-to-face meetings.  While reviews are mixed on whether love can be truly blind, the show does offer a portrait of relationship-building without physical contact.

There is no doubt that pandemics are frightening, with tragic consequences for many people. But they can have a silver lining, spawning medical breakthroughs, improved hygiene, cleaner environments, and closer connections.

COVID will pass, and it will be a new world. Perhaps even a better world, as we become more acutely aware of the things and the people that matter to us the most.