Home alone – a pandemic diary (days sixteen and seventeen – 26 and 27.03.20)

DAY sixteen (Thursday)


Yesterday I had to go to the office in Lisbon. There are always two persons working there and one of the directors, or managers, will also have to be there, naturally. Even though I’m now in a particular situation, working part-time, I volunteered.


A day at the office

I got up early and from my window I saw a cloudy day, but as I got to the highway the sun was shining and it was a pleasant drive, with very little traffic (in normal circumstances it would be jammed!); I listened to the radio and laughed to tears when the radio announcers began to talk about the crazy things that happen when you’re working from home as we all are now, such as seeing a fellow worker appear on a videoconference wearing his or her pyjamas…


The office was completely empty except for two colleagues. It is a bright office and the sun was all around. Good for killing the virus, I thought. It looked peaceful and orderly and I went into my own office and started working. Not before going to the newspaper kiosk on the street to buy my inseparable Hola. This week if features the passing away of the Marquis of Griñon, who died of coronavirus at 83. He was someone I admired, having read about him for almost 40 years. He was a lover of life, and certainly lived a full one, with four marriages – the last one only a few years ago with a woman 40 years his junior – five children and a brilliant career as an oil and wine producer, that earned him many prices. He was young for his age, always on the move. To me he was the last gentleman. There won’t be much more left like him.


A little adventure

At lunchtime I had a little adventure that shows how we women – especially after a certain age – are dependent on our hairdresser. Sometimes I joke and say, if asked who I would take to a desert island I would choose my hairdresser! Mine is Italian, from Milan, and shut himself home as soon as the pandemic was declared, scared by the appalling news from his native city. I was left with growing grey roots (I believe my hair must be all white by now) and the concealing spray that I usually use the week before I go and dye my hair wouldn’t last long. So, I was  desperate to find a solution.


Fortunately, I have a friend who has a hairdresser salon, being a hairdresser herself. I called and asked if she would do me the great favour of dying my hair. As she lives across the street from the salon she said yes, so we agreed I’d go there yesterday at lunchtime. I’m not sure hairdressers are among the shops that were obliged to close but we did feel we were transgressing, as all of them are now closed. When she was applying the dye to my hair, we suddenly glimpsed a police car and, even if she had locked the door, we hastily retreated into an inner room so that we would not be seen. I had a horrible picture of myself being taken to prison with the dye on my hair, looking like a witch… it was a moment of  panic! We only came out of the inner room  long after my friend confirmed they had left for good but still had the feeling that we were doing something illicit. Pandemic times  – turning something so commonplace as going to the hairdresser into a dangerous adventure!


Even so, we managed to have some relaxed time together. We talked a lot, as we usually do, trying to forget reality and discuss other matters. We’ve known each other for many years, and she is one of my best friends, as I am hers. It was totally worth it, as I came out with great hair and, most of all, with another month free of grey roots!


Lack of civility

Back to the office I left the car in the parking and when the elevator came there was one person inside. I hesitated but went in. It’s a large elevator and he was at the bottom and I stayed by the door. I have to say in Portugal very few people have masks – they haven’t been available for a long time. So, it is quite uncomfortable to be with people in such a limited space. Suddenly, the door opened on the ground floor and no less than three persons came in! Completely at ease, with no regard for precaution measures whatsoever. I was so shocked that my only reaction was to abruptly leave the elevator and go straight to the security people at the entrance asking if there were no measures regarding a maximum number of persons on elevators. They said no and I reported it to my company’s HR, so that they, as tenants, may demand that safety measures are put in place. I felt quite uncomfortable with that episode, that shows you that, no matter how many times you wash your hands and disinfect everything around you, a stupid gesture from other people may put everything at risk.


The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. It felt good to be working at my desk. Even in an empty office, it gave me a feeling of normality I hadn’t felt for a long time. Not real, of course, but still comforting.  I came back home with a bag full of fruit and vegetables, including the most delicious-looking bright red strawberries, courtesy of the company for those who go to work at the office. That was very nice!

I arrived home exhausted by the emotions of the day. Going out into the world has become incredibly stressful. I ate dinner, watched some TV and collapsed into bed.


DAY 17, Friday


In tears

I slept until 9, on my free Friday. I still felt restless about yesterday’s episode on the elevator, so after much thought I decided to postpone my ex mother in law’s coming this evening for dinner with the boys. She is 81 and, even if I believe I was not really at risk yesterday, I don’t think it’s advisable to be near someone her age. I would never forgive myself if I brought her any harm, she has been like a mother to me and I love her very much. When I called her to ask if we could do it another day and found her so brave, so courageous, so very much like herself, I broke down and cried. I cried my heart out, and it was she, this amazing, indomitable lady who fears nothing, who consoled me, telling me not to worry, that all will go well, that she will come another day. I confided in her  that I’ve been feeling terribly lonely since this has started, and she understood. I really wanted to see her, to be with her, and was looking forward to spending a relaxed evening with her and the boys, but today I would not be relaxed, I would be  in constant stress because of her. The boys were disappointed, of course, but insisted they will still come. Keeping our distances, I made then promise.


Then I went for my walk, that took me to the butcher’s. I also wanted to get some lettuce and bread at the supermarket, but there was a queue outside, and I didn’t have the patience to wait, so I walked back home. Today it’s not even sunny, it’s a mostly grey day; from time to time a few rays of sun appear, only to go away again. I came back home disconsolate and will stay inside. God knows I have many things to occupy me; writing – always – organising a few things around the apartment, preparing things for later on, having a video call with Mom…


Bleak prospects

I don’t watch a lot of news, but I do a follow up on the figures every day.  They are still scary – 4.268 infected people and 76 dead. But the scariest thing is that the number of people who are in hospitals went up by 85%, meaning these are serious cases.


Some hope was given by a slowdown in numbers in the North of Italy, but now it seems cases are exploding in the South, which is very worrying. As for Spain, things look bleak too. A friend whose daughter and son in law are doctors there, mentioned patients lying on mattresses on the floors of hospitals corridors, the Ice Palace of Madrid turned into a giant morgue and added a curious information I had never heard before: that one of the symptoms of being infected is losing the sense of smell. Confirmed by her daughter. Strangely, this has never been mentioned by the Portuguese authorities. Aren’t we supposed to learn from other countries?


Another friend just called to know how I am and says Donald Trump is now asking for China’s help to fight this crisis. The unbelievable is happening everywhere, who’d say he’d ever admit needing help from China?


So, another day in the pandemic world – day 17. It seems a lifetime since it started, and many lifetimes until it’s over. Wash, disinfect, worry, are what we do all the time. And still be grateful we are all, family and friends, in good health.





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