While I’m living in pandemic quarantine, my outlook has become virtualized and elementary… a life observed from my screen or my balcony.
Less is more. Details are the big picture. Art is life. As the pandemic rules over humankind, confining us in a high-tech worldwide prison, my time as an online early-adopter has ironically become the norm. Beware what you wish for, you may get it.
Adversity is revealing of character. Obstacles stimulate creativity…or maybe misery makes you crueler, so that obstacles seem weaker. What did I see from my Turinese balcony? The backdrop of the beautiful Alps in purple-tinted twilight snow, while ambulance sirens moaned in my street.
Picture one: my little window toys, solar-powered rainbow makers, cast vivid colors through my window as a grim red-and-white ambulance stops across the street. Three unearthly creatures, medical techs fully-shrouded in plague-resistant transparent plastic, debark in haste from their medical conveyance, with oxygen bottles, chromed drip-feeds, snarled tubing.
They don’t enter my own building, but the one across the street. The solemn double doors yawn open, and a stretcher-bed is quickly ushered inside…
From my private balcony, where I can stand without a mask, I can see that my neighbours are watching also breathlessly, in a state of total silence in the crowded quarter of a big city.
A few minutes pass. Then the wheeled medical pallet emerges, dragged toward the ambulance with a much-practiced ballet of those faceless emergency creatures in their airtight red and white shrouds.
Beeps and squeaks, the sounds of the new normal; and my thought is, today it is not me, bumpily hauled downstairs from my balcony, but who knows tomorrow?
Denying the virus, pledging one’s faith in God’s will, these mental efforts are not helpful, for the coronavirus plays no favorites, it strikes everyone alike and kills those who succumb. Class, ethnicity, gender, nationality, the virus transcends these lame distinctions, and the biggest difference is between those who have it and those who don’t have it yet. The biggest difference aalways among people is between healthy and sick.
Downstairs in the street, the three creatures in their red plastic gear, as sudden as flapping swans, open, unveil, remove layers, with care, with gloves and tongs, disposing of tainted material into red bags and packing the red bags into larger red containers.
Out of those sterilized cosmonaut suits three young Turinese women emerge, neatly-dressed nurses with long, beautiful tresses like mermaids or sirens.
These young veterans of calamity exchange a few words among one another, with no time to fritter away… They don’t seem to touch their ambulance of doom, or even the asphalt of the street; they almost levitate. They smile, undaunted by the latest casualty — they even laugh!
While the Alpine light strikes and blurs their shining suits for a moment, they turn into street-angels, as seen from my balcony point of view.
Who is saving the world? Of course it’s women. Faceless, shrouded, underpaid women, risking their lives in grave dangerous so as to nurse and nurture. Like post-war “rubble women,” collecting the garbage of a stricken humanity, restoring order to a cosmos of chaos.
I know some nurses personally, young women with young children, some are single mothers, and not even in good health themselves… They labor, day after day, through 15-hour shifts in coronavirus hospitals.
One Italian nurse in particular, has achieved a kind of meme status, due to an iconic photograph of her falling asleep at her desk while working in full decontamination gear. Her heavy mask marked her tender face as if it were tattooed.
These women are encased in plastic because of the contagion, so they wear diapers. They don’t get tearful bathroom breaks in the ladies’ room, for even those private moments would risk their lives.
Women often wear diaper-like garments because of their reproductive cycles, because a woman’s body gives new life, but now they wear diapers to preserve the living… And though many die, they save many more, and they smile or even laugh.
Picture number two: a few days later, from my same balcony, and at sunset again. Red twilight falls from the beautiful white and red Alps , and a long shiny black hearse arrives at the same building.
Three men in black suits, with masked faces, open the doors that had once admitted the medical stretcher. This time, they roll in a big, dark, ornamented, wooden coffin.
The men wear cravats and black pointed shoes. Soon they emerge out with their same coffin, complete with occupant, with a host of funereal flowers on top.
They replace the festooned casket into the fancy hearse. They take a break to smoke a cigarette and chat among themselves, for their client is no longer an emergency; no diapers required to convey these last honors.
Having retrieved the inert corpse of my respected neighbor, these functionaries slowly drove away to the last resort. My living neighbors observed this last farewell rituals from their respective balconies. Not me today but tomorrow who knows!