Traveling During the Pandemic
We reached the airport in about a third of the usual time. Once at the airport, we didn’t have to sit in our car for at least an hour, surrounded by nervous honking, as is usually the case. I entered the airport building in my newly acquired hazmat suit, with a mask and a plastic visor on my face. I felt as if I was back on “Babylon 5”, albeit in a different role. What was my character? What was the story? How will it end? One thing is certain: the genre of this piece is definitely science fiction. No doubt about that.
The airport, usually crowded with people, was almost empty. Just a few of us, the bravest, the craziest, the least cautious, or the most stupid ones – depends on the point of view, as usual – were milling about, among the closed shops and restaurants. Forget about the planned purchase of that miniature Louis Vuitton purse for a humble price of 2,000 bucks! This existential loss could have maybe been bearable (leaving deep psychological scars, nevertheless!) if the Duty Free area was still open. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Our unalienable human right of buying a Lancôme face cream for a meager 700 dollars was thus cruelly denied. And then, the ultimate shock: the business lounges are all closed!!! Where are we supposed to wait for our flights? Are we meant to sit with the proletariat from the economy class? This truly is a scandal!
We were entering the plane one by one, obediently following the rules of social distancing, the rules we had accepted so quickly that I started to ask myself if we would ever come back to what used to be normal just three months ago. Maybe we’ll all move to solitary cabins high up in the mountains, spending our days in search of berries and roots for our bare survival. And maybe we’ll even be happy. (I’ll mercifully allow one Louis Vuitton bag per person, though. No reason to worry!)
I sat down in my seat. The whole row was empty. What delight! A curtain separated me from the economy area. Well, good enough. Since a barbed wire was, unfortunately, not an option. (Maybe we can introduce that idea? We would most certainly have a wholehearted support of the current president.)
But no, the assault on our fragile beings did not end here. Not yet. The final shock came when the flight attendant appeared with a transparent plastic bag filled with two crackers, one piece of cheese, a bag of pretzels, and a lousy sandwich. She informed me that this was the only food we’d receive for the entire length of the trip. She also informed me that there was no alcohol on the plane (the final assault!). (Do I have to point out that the airline company, KLM, did not even think of lowering the prices for their business class?) From a safe distance, she threw the bag into my direction, so as to limit all interaction with the passengers. Oops! I failed to catch the bag and the pitiful contents scattered all over the floor. So here I was, in business class, on my knees, gathering the (in)edibles. Should I also wipe the floor while I’m at it? The flight attendant was watching me with a sympathetic smile. (At least that’s how it seemed to me. It’s not easy to detect human emotions when faces are covered with masks.) She said (condescendingly?) that she couldn’t help me, according to the new rules. Ok, got it. I was on my own.
We are ordered to keep the mask on during the whole flight. After a while I decide to take off my visor since my face is starting to burn. (And, in spite of the righteous anger I feel, I still have no intention to burn down the KLM plane. Although my indignation with all air line companies is a life long affliction. With their practices of systematically reducing the amount of seating space for customers, as well as eliminating almost all other comforts of flying, while at the same time shamelessly making huge profit, I feel that they have been justly punished by highest powers, God or Karma, depending on how we understand the Universe.)
The plane lands in Amsterdam. The shops at the airport are closed but, oh what relief, the Duty Free area is open. Yay! I’ll fill my shopping cart with Shiseido (if I feel like a big spender) or Clinique (if I want to exercise humility, just for fun). Which reminds me of a time when I was returning from a shoot with a fellow actor (what movie? Which airport? What city? The answer, like many other answers at this stage of the game, “is blowing in the wind”.). At the airport we were both waiting for our different connections to different countries. He rose, and started making his way to the duty free shopping area. I stayed seated in the waiting room, reading my book. “What? You’re not going in?” he asked in shock. “What do you mean?” I asked. “No woman in this world can resist the creams and lotions and perfumes at reduced prices, can she? At least, I’ve never met such a woman.” I smiled and thought: you just did. But then again, maybe I’m not a “real” woman? Could be.
And then, I entered a small Croatia Airlines plane. And, although the middle seats were empty, the aisles were so narrow that your fellow passenger in the other section was practically at your fingertips. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed by a fierce bout of panic. Why did I even bother with the hazmat suit and the visor and the mask, if I am now suddenly throwing all caution out of the window? At least we were all still wearing masks. As if we were at a Halloween party or in a commedia dell/arte show. But much less amusing.
In Zagreb, my final flying destination, I exited the plane and realized that I had stepped into a different dimension. Or is it a different planet? Hey, nobody, but nobody and I mean nobody wears a mask! What is this? Was America just a dream? Or is this here a dream? Nothing was clear anymore.
But oh, how quickly and how easily we adapt to whatever seems “normal”, to whatever is our deep human need. Yes, we did adapt to “social distancing”. But we’re going to abandon it in a jiffy! My fears were unjustified: no remote wooden cabins in the woods will be needed!
And then I’m in Rijeka, by the sea. The Adriatic shimmers and glimmers and my heart jumps with joy. Nobody wears a mask. People sit in cafés and restaurants, absolutely relaxed, it seems. And here I am, the cautious traveler, the scared American, suddenly freed after 3 months of total isolation, walking around the city, entering bookstores, restaurants and little shops, chatting with people. Free. Ah, freedom! I can almost taste it. And it tastes good. Even better than all the fresh scampi from the Adriatic.
So, I ask, together with the rest of humanity: was this total lock down of the world necessary? If it was necessary, why are we abandoning it so fast? What is this disease that behaves so differently in different communities, different countries? How will it all end? What is the truth? Does anyone even know it? Are we ever going to find out?
For years, I’ve been living in two worlds. At this particular moment, these two worlds are two different planets. But it won’t last long. People in America have gone out into the streets because the anger at injustice turned out to be stronger than fear. And there’s no force that will get the people back inside. Except real, fundamental change. At least, that’s what I want to believe.
But what about the disease? Are we, the humanity, currently entering a suicidal, go-for-broke, “jump in and see what happens later” phase? What will be the price of it?
The only thing one can say is:
Que sera sera.
Whatever will be will be.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the taste of freedom.