I was both charmed and staggered to learn, when Spain first went into lockdown last year, that hairdressers were deemed essential workers. “Otherwise, how are old ladies supposed to manage if they can no longer wash their own hair?” said officials, no doubt breaking into an icy sweat at the idea of having to justify salon closure to their feisty abuelas. In France, recurring quarantines require closing all shops except those selling bare necessities. “Thankfully,’ remarked my friend Maer, “the French consider wine, pastries, and chocolates to be necessities!” Les Européens are so civilized, n'est-ce pas?
I began wondering: Are Europeans finding ways to turn lockdown into a viable lifestyle? Are they learning how to adjust in ways that we haven't considered here in the US?
When I reached out to friends in France, Italy, and the Netherlands, they poured out tales of much tighter restrictions on commerce, socializing, and mobility than anything we've seen in the States. And then — human nature being what it is — they explained how some people are circumventing them.
“We are currently in our third lockdown with a nightly curfew. Be indoors by 9:00 pm and you can be back on the streets by 4:30 am,” says my friend Patrick, the Irish owner of the popular Amsterdam coffee house Monks Coffee Roasters. Lockdown requires non-essential shops to close. “This is being flouted like a badly run speakeasy with unmarked bags and bizarre hand signals. The basic rule of law is, if you sell food or medicine, you can open your doors. ‘You want fries with those new pants/washing machine/garden chairs?’”
Naturally I asked how everybody was staying (relatively) sane. “Good question!” says Carlotta, an Italian tour guide and chef living in Turin, Italy with her boyfriend Paolo. “I would love to answer that I made the most of all this free time by doing a lot of exercise and eating well; the reality is I've been eating more comfort food than ever! What kept us sane during the toughest times was our dog, Luna; we adopted her in early March 2020, by chance just before the first lockdown started. She is our furry princess, she's the funniest and most sociable dog ever, and she gave us a legal reason to get out for a walk when it was forbidden!”
“People are renting dogs on leash time,” reports Patrick. “I’ve also heard of cat walking taking hold, but can’t confirm.” It gets crazier than that; in March the Spanish news showed locals walking plastic dogs, chickens, even goldfish; the police were not amused and soon put a stop to it.
“If I could avoid doom-scrolling, I would be saner,” observes Maer, an American living in Montpellier, France, with her husband, Mark. “We’re retired from the film industry and I think that has ruined TV and most films for us. We can no longer manage that wonderful suspension of disbelief they require. We get bored and wander off to read.” They also take online classes, including Yale’s Science of Well-being (similar to Rich’s UC Berkeley happiness course).
Patrick and his Dutch fiancé, Margreit, amuse themselves with AI. “We got one of those ‘Hey Google’ speaker things," he says, "and although it was slightly creepy at first, we enjoy the randomness of asking her questions, teasing her, challenging her, and making her play obscure music. I know, it’s a machine, but hey, beggars can’t be choosers; she’s the only stranger you're allowed to have in your house at the moment.”
Carlotta says she and Paolo “do an aperitivo on Fridays to cheer ourselves up. Every week I put together something different: olives, a good salami, some mortadella cubes, a selection of cheeses, croutons with butter and anchovies, salmon, ham, savory pie... you name it! We open a good bottle and do a little ‘party,’ just the two of us.” Her favorite comfort recipe: spinach squares.
[Carlotta’s Spinach Square Recipe]
Patrick just moved and will be kitchenless until March. “We live with a loan microwave oven and takeaway food. Not great but we’re still alive … just. Once the kitchen arrives, the first thing I will prepare is my sensational Shepherd’s Pie. It’s a secret recipe handed down through generations of my family.” Oh yes, I talked him into sharing it with us!
[Patrick’s Shepherd’s Pie Recipe]
Everyone struggles. “I work in tourism," says Carlotta, "and the biggest challenge is figuring out when I'll be able to work again and how tourism habits will change. The second biggest challenge is fitting in clothes after all that comfort food!”
For Maer, staying put is hard. “My main jam is going places, walking around and looking at things; having to cool my heels has been tough. But then I realize that the only thing wrong with my present moment is my idea of how the future will be. If I manage to turn that off, all is well. We’re warm, dry, well-fed, and well-befriended, and that’s enough.”
At the coffee house, Patrick deals with maskless conspiracy theorists and other tests to his patience and diplomacy. On a personal level? “The biggest challenge I faced was grief. We lost two family members back in Ireland to Covid, and being unable to be at funerals due to travel restrictions was difficult. My aunty was a particularly close person to me and watching on a computer screen my mum, that I haven’t hugged for over a year, at the coffin of her sister was heartbreaking.”
None of them expects to be vaccinated any time soon. Carlotta and Maer are hoping for fall; Patrick says, “By Christmas.”
All three feel they’ve learned a lot during lockdown. “I had the illusion to be in control my future; well, that was a big fat lie!” says Carlotta. “I'm learning to enjoy the simple things that I have always taken for granted.” The pandemic, observes Patrick, “made me realize how entitled and indulged we are as a species. Personally I took stock of what I had and how much I actually need.” Maer echoes this sentiment. “It’s a superpower to be comfortable with very little.”
When I asked Patrick if he thought the world would ever return to normal, he said, “There is never really a ‘normal.' We are always evolving. Now there is a shift in mentality and behavior, and I think it’s a good one. I’m hopeful for humanity as a whole. Fighting a pandemic as opposed to a war has made the planet smaller and made us realize how very vulnerable we are.”
“Holy smokes are we all interconnected,” says Maer. “The butterfly effect is very real.”
This has been a rough time for everyone. As one gastroenterologist put it, using the terminology of her field, “If 2020 was a drink, it would be a colonoscopy prep.” While 2021 offers reasons for cautious optimism, the pandemic is far from over, the outcome still uncertain. “At the beginning I thought we would return to a better normal,” says Carlotta. “Now I just hope it won’t be worse. But I can’t hide a sparkle of hope for us to learn a lesson and be a better society.” Amen to that!
How's your pandemic going? Any tips for adapting gracefully to the new abnormal while we wait for our vaccines?
This post is part of my ongoing series of articles on surviving the pandemic, if possible with some of our sanity and sense of humor intact. Each week I provide tips, strategies, and reasons for hope.
Sign up HERE to get free stories in your inbox each week.
Feel free to share this post link with family and friends.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY
2/13/2021 07:12:59 pm
We took advantage of our age when we were in lockdown in Spain. Our Spanish sons, aka our landlords, came to visit us twice a week for tapas and wine. Later we started ordering restaurant delivery once a week. As we were over 70, they could check up on the "elderly". Sure helped pass the time til we could go back to the states.
Karen K McCann
2/14/2021 02:07:06 am
How lucky you are, Kay, to have those happy memories of regular visits with your sons over tapas and wine. Age does have its advantages!
2/13/2021 10:37:21 pm
Not much has changed for me here in a suburb of Phoenix Arizona. I still go into the office every day, shop at stores and see friends though in very small numbers. Hardest has been not seeing the Chicago grandkids, or traveling to Iowa to bury my mother who passed just before the pandemic hit AZ. However, just received my 1st vaccine shot so looking forward to seeing those grandchildren soon.
Karen K McCann
2/14/2021 02:10:41 am
You are fortunate to have gotten your first vaccine, Lucinda, and I know you're looking forward to the second, so that you can see your grandchildren again when it's safe. I'm so sorry to hear about your mother's passing, and I can only imagine how much worse it was for you not being able to be there. I think we're all hoping and praying that the vaccines will get this pandemic under control soon, so we can get on with our lives again.
2/15/2021 08:47:10 pm
I have talked with and listened to Europeans and I hardly believe they are better adjusted to the pandemic and to life, in general, than Americans.
Karen K McCann
2/19/2021 04:57:42 pm
Faye, we're all struggling to cope during these difficult times. I am sorry for your grief and deeply admire your ability to see the happiness and joy of life in spite of it all.
Leave a Reply.
Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
#1 Amazon Bestseller in Tourist Destinations, Travel Tips, Gastronomy Essays, and Senior Travel
This blog is a promotion-free zone.
As my regular readers know, I never get free or discounted goods or services for mentioning anything on this blog (or anywhere else). I only write about things that interest me and that I believe might prove useful for you all to know about. Whew! I wanted to clear that up before we went any further. Thanks for listening.
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
Don't miss out!
SIGN UP HERE
to be notified when I publish new posts.