All of a sudden, our daily vocabulary has been invaded by new words or expressions; everywhere you look, whatever you hear, they are there. Such as social distance, respiratory etiquette and others I won’t impose on you as, like me, you must be wishing they would disappear, sooner than later, never to return.
One of them is the much talked about “new order”.
New order may mean many things, from a very original conspiracy theory I heard last week, according to which the Covid-19 vaccine, when it is available, will be used to implant a chip under our skin and thus allow something like a new world government to control everyone – a sort of high tech Orwellian world. For others it means nothing will never be the same, as this lockdown has made us realize a different kind of life is possible – and many of us not only believe it is, but also wish for it. For instance, a life where many of us may work from home several days a week if not all. This will not only reduce the lost commuting hours and the resulting stress, but will also contribute to less pollution, something our world desperately needs. I much prefer this last meaning and I’m already trying to contribute to this new order, as I‘ll be working mostly from home at least until September, only going to the office once a week; and I do hope I can keep working mostly from home afterwards. It also allows you to lead a simpler life, as you won’t need as many clothes and shoes as if you went to work every day; you save precious time that you can dedicate to other activities, such as cooking, something I have been discovering during these last months.
Unfortunately, and for the time being at least, this new order also brings some strangeness into our lives.
As when you go to the beach, or to a restaurant or a department store, among others.
In Portugal, a country with a long, warm summer and more than a thousand kilometres of beaches, there was much discussion during the lockdown about beach regulations – was the government going to establish some numerus clausus to ensure social distance was kept? This was of course impracticable, but some rules were established, like a way in and a way out of the beach and posters with safety recommendations, that people may, or may not, follow. I’ve been living by the beach during these last months, so I’ve been avoiding it on weekends and going there on my free days (working three days a week as I do is a privilege!) or after working hours during the week. Some days you feel at ease there are only a few people on the beach, all distant from one another, but on days like today there were many people and every time you hear a voice nearby you almost jump, fearing the social distance won’t be kept. Where before only the noise of overheard conversations annoyed me – most of all because I don’t really want to know about other people’s lives – now they mean someone is too close to you, and your once gregarious self now shuns the proximity of other human beings. That’s how this pandemic has changed us! Even if I’ve read somewhere that beaches will not be a high source of contagion because the virus does not thrive under ultraviolet rays.
Regarding restaurants, the rules seem a bit silly. You have to go in with a mask on your face, but from the moment you sit down at the table you can remove it – otherwise how would you be able to eat or drink? So, while you’re sitting there, talking to your friends, you forget about the virus for a while, but as you prepare to leave you have to put on back the mask, to walk the few metres to the door.
At times I feel like pinching myself so that I can wake up from this strange new world. Last Saturday I went to El Corte Inglés, my favourite department store in Lisbon, that opened only recently. I parked the car and went up the escalators, the small lifts going up form the parking being closed. I had my mask on, of course, and as went up and looked at the crowd of masked people, it felt strange; it seemed I was in a horror sci fi movie, in an alien world I could not recognize as my own. I, who so enjoyed spending some time over there, trying some clothes on, looking at the latest arrivals or taking tea with a friend in one of the many cafés, bought the things Mom had so insisted I get for her and left as soon as I could. The image of the masked faces going up and down in the escalator, a few metres from each other, will linger on my mind.
So much for the new order. Hopefully, one day when I remember this time of pandemics, I will keep the lessons I have learned during this time rather than those images of a strange world where humans have to be less so. I will much rather remember my relaxing meditations, watching the beautiful sunset every day from my window – each day painting the sky in a different colour– the dinners and long talks with the boys, having a drink with a friend at the beach café, going for a walk in the early evening or just making a pause from work to look outside and listen to the birds singing on the trees below my window.
Thank God some of the good things in life are still out there, no matter what new order falls upon us.