La Montaña Rusa


IMG_4640.jpg*The Roller Coaster.

A few weeks ago, while talking with a colleague locked down in Italy, M admitted he wasn’t feeling completely super-great, emotionally.

You’re in the valley,  the colleague soothed him.  Week 3 and 4 are hard.  After that, it’s just life.  It feels better, more normal.

Well, yes and no.  Honestly,  from the vantage point of Week 7, I can hardly even make out Week 3 in the rearview mirror.  It feels like eons ago.

And the trip we made to Lisbon at the end of February — we were entirely different people then, foolish people, who rode to get pasteis de nata on a bus so packed that I spent most of the 20-minute trip with my nose buried in the armpit of an elderly Portuguese woman clad head to toe in black, breathing in her (quite strong) smell of wool and sweat.

This is why Southern Europe’s lockdown looks so different from the United States’.  Daily life — normal daily life — means an intimacy with strangers that Americans, outside of those living in New York or maybe Chicago, have a hard time grasping

I certainly couldn’t grasp it, back in my American life when I spent the largest portion of my days either in a car or in a house that looked inward, to a private backyard,  rather than outward to the street.

It didn’t even occur to me how sealed off from things I usually stayed, the way John Travolta was kept away from the scary germ-filled world in his plastic bubble in that old Seventies movie, The Boy in The Bubble.   Shopping — high capitalism — was the main way I rubbed shoulders with strangers.

And maybe that goes a long way toward explaining why Americans are being asked to save the economy instead of their grandmothers.  And I should watch The Boy in the Bubble this weekend, a marathon screening along with Rear Window, and try to make meaning from pop culture, like reading tea leaves.

The other day I sat at my desk overlooking the courtyard between our building and the one adjacent, the vantage point from which I daily watch a neighbor as he washes out his grocery bags.  This time, he  was seated at his own desk, and his head was sunk into his hands, and I had the feeling he was crying.

Another afternoon I sat in our living room and observed Lonely Smoking Guy across the way, as he stood on his terrace and very very carefully wiped off canned goods and a bunch of bananas.

The couple with the corner terrace sometimes eat lunch as late as 5 p.m. and always share a bottle of wine.  They’ve taken up painting, as have Manbun and his Significant Other, four apartments away. I’d like to see the results of their labor.

Eldest was designated hunter-and-gatherer Sunday and went to the store, which is allowed because at 18, she’s considered an adult here — she could even buy a bottle of wine, if she wanted.

On the way back to the apartment, she saw a little kid, three or four years old, sprung out into the world for the very first time since quarantine started.  He was riding one of those wooden bikes without pedals, designed for the littlest kids, who can get up a good head of steam with them just using their own sturdy two legs as pedals.

He was skimming rapidly down the sidewalk, tears streaming down his face — a poignant reminder of what it may mean, to move bumpily, in fits and starts, with many missteps, toward our future normal.