For inspired lunacy, it’s hard to beat the idea of a pandemic mask printed with the lower half of your very own face. We’ve spent months feeling stripped of our visual identity by surgical masks and struggling to express our personalities through face coverings of cheery print fabrics or don’t-mess-with-me dark solids; is now the time to show the world who we really are? Maskalike is hoping to launch their line of personal face masks soon. In the meantime, how about a t-shirt that shows what you looked like back in the days when we all went around barefaced?
During the early months of the pandemic, underemployed creative types kept busy posting memes and song videos we could all enjoy for free. Now they’re designing and marketing products that let them express the same humor and existential angst, only now they’re hoping to make a few dollars by turning them into saleable items like t-shirts and mugs. A quick scroll through Etsy, an online marketplace for cottage industries, reveals a wealth of wit and wisdom.
Chuckling over a clever t-shirt is just one small way to lighten these dark times and help us maintain a grip, however tenuous, on our sanity. I recently received an article from my medical provider titled, “Is the coronavirus pandemic affecting your mental health?” (Is it paranoid to wonder if they sent this to everybody or just me?) The story linked to a podcast about the symptoms that could indicate you need psychiatric help, including:
Let’s face it, if you’re not experiencing at least some of those symptoms, you haven’t been paying attention lately.
Just this morning I heard on the radio that California’s numbers took an uptick of worrying proportions: 42,000 new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, representing 25% of the state’s total cases so far. It’s hard to match up those figures with the “let the good times roll” atmosphere I’m seeing around me. Our little town of San Anselmo has started closing the main thoroughfare on weekends to allow café tables to spill out into the street. Friends gather there in clusters to enjoy the fine weather, great food, famous Napa wines, and the opportunity to exchange droplets without any of those pesky masks getting in the way. The virus, said this morning’s radio announcer, is no longer focused on institutions such as nursing homes and prisons; it’s jumped to households.
To me, all this rampant unprotected mingling seems like an open invitation for the coronavirus to spread throughout my community and keep killing us for years.
Walking past the crowded picnic benches and café tables in downtown San Anselmo, I began experiencing low mood, loss of appetite, lack of joy, racing heart, shortness of breath, and considerable irritability. In fact, I found myself scowling so fiercely at a barefaced woman walking by that she hurriedly pulled her bandana up over her nose and mouth and increased her speed to get away from me.
“Oh my God, Rich,” I said. “I’m turning into the town curmudgeon.”
People keep saying, “It’s time to start living normally.” If only! There seems to be a widespread belief that the pandemic is all over but the shouting, and that the government wouldn’t let us reopen businesses and hold public gatherings if it wasn’t safe. Do I really need to provide a list of the things the government lets us do that have proven, time and again, to be extremely bad ideas? For obvious starters, there’s binging on cheap alcohol, having sex with inappropriate strangers, and smoking cigarettes and/or excessive amounts of marijuana. And then there's all the risky business with science and technology. Didn’t we learn anything from Frankenstein? Or Jurassic Park? Or FindFace, the new Russian app that’s apparently designed for stalkers?
“If you find yourself in a café with an attractive girl, and you don’t have the guts to approach her, no problem,” says the ad, which was showcased on a program about the dangers of facial recognition software. “All you need is a smartphone and the application FindFace Find New Friends. Take a picture and wait for the result. Now you’re already looking at her profile page.” Could that be any creepier?
As far as I know, FindFace is only available in Russia, which kind of makes you want to scratch Moscow off your travel itinerary, doesn’t it?
You won’t be heading there soon in any case; Russia is one of many countries that haven’t yet unsealed their borders. The EU is slowly opening up to international travel, but so far they’re planning to keep Americans out due to concern over our nation’s infection rate. Before considering any trip abroad, see comments above re: things you may be able to do but probably shouldn’t. And then read about the perils and aggravation of My Harrowing Pandemic Journey from Seville to SF. If you’re still determined to go, here’s the latest info on what, when, and how countries, airlines, and hotel chains are reopening around the world.
If you’re wisely refraining from international travel, don’t worry, you can still pick up exotic souvenirs to wow your friends. Alabama-based Unclaimed Baggage is the nation’s only retailer selling the contents of suitcases left behind at airports for more than three months. And while most of the contents are just as boring as you’d imagine, and wind up going to charity or the recycling center, there have been many extraordinary finds. Over the years, staff members have unearthed an Egyptian burial mask, a camera from the space shuttle, a Tibetan ceremonial horn, Chinese opium scales, an entire bear pelt packed in salt, and one live and rather bewildered rattlesnake — which was not offered for resale but given away to a good home.
People everywhere are adapting to the strange new rules we live by. This week Barcelona’s opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, held a performance, billed as a prelude to its 2020-2021 season, in which a string quartet played to a capacity audience composed of 2,292 plants donated by local nurseries. The leafy crowd seemed to enjoy Puccini's Crisantemi, which was also livestreamed to humans. After the show, the plants were gifted to health care professionals who work at the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona.
Despite all the shocks and changes, our world remains a wild and wonderful kaleidoscope of human creativity. There’s plenty of inspired lunacy to keep us thinking and chuckling as we learn to navigate our crazy new normality and find ways to stay safe while living fully and joyfully. On good days, I believe this first round of the pandemic will finally subside, and we’ll somehow avoid a second wave in October. It’s up to all of us to do what we can to make that happen. I’m thinking of buying this t-shirt in case anyone needs a reminder.
Unlike some of my better-organized and more practical blogger friends, I don't accept sponsorships or do promotions; the links shown here are to resources I enjoyed so much I thought you'd get a kick out of seeing them, too.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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