A Journal of the Plague Week 9

Saturday, May 16th, 2020

We were supposed to be in the States this week.

My first event to be canceled when all of this kicked off in March was a performance by Acosta Danza at the Brighton Dome. My friend Alison and I had gotten tickets back in December and we were excited about going. But as the viral fire spread in that second and third week of March, I began having doubts about whether I wanted to sit in the packed Dome for two hours with people inevitably coughing and sneezing around me. I hemmed and hawed and finally decided to tell Alison I was too nervous to go—but the decision had actually already been made for me: the day before the first scheduled performance, the Dome canceled the show. It made me sad, but it was also a relief.

Over the next weeks, the dominos fell one by one. No Creature at Sadlers Wells, the show I was most looking forward to all year, for which I’d frantically bought tickets the minute they went on sale last year (while sitting in a hotel lobby in Paris). No 1920s Charleston party with my ballet teacher, for which I was going to don my fabulous flapper duds. No performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre with the Brighton Ballet Company, for which we’d been rehearsing for months (it’s been postponed until August, but I’m not holding my breath for that new date either). No Dante Project at the Royal Opera House, which had been scheduled for the end of May (no Royal Ballet performances at all, in fact, for the rest of the season).

And now the travel dominos are falling as well. We were scheduled to fly to Seattle this past weekend so Jeremy could speak at An Event Apart and I could finally get to Deep Dive, which looks like the cocktail bar of my dreams. I was unusually excited to visit Seattle again, a city very close to my heart. I looked forward to seeing friends and going to bookstores and maybe getting back to Bateau for delicious steak and just standing by the water to watch the ferries go back and forth across Elliott Bay (heck, maybe I’d even hop on one to head to Bainbridge Island for the day).

After Seattle, we were going to fly down to San Diego to spend a few days with my brother, sister-in-law and adorable niece. My parents were going to drive over from Arizona, so it would be a little family reunion in the southern California sun. My brother and sister-in-law just bought a beautiful new house with a massive yard, and I planned to relax out there with Lola (a Very Good Doggo), an açai bowl in one hand and a really good cup of coffee in the other. There were fish tacos in my future, and carnitas, and beers with my brother, and lazy breakfasts with my family, none of whom I’ve seen since mid-December. It was going to be delightful. And it will be delightful when we finally get to do it—but I have no idea when that’s going to be.

We also won’t be going to Lisbon by way of San Sebastian in two weeks, an elaborate train journey that we were planning with much gusto, the memory of San Sebastian’s dazzling pintxo bars and Lisbon’s custard tarts looming large in our minds. And Jeremy won’t be going to Cologne at the start of June, and neither of us will be going to Miltown Malbay for a week of Irish music in July, and whether any of the other trips we were planning to take this year will still happen is anybody’s guess.

Some folks will read this and think “whining about not being able to travel around the world is a very privileged thing to do” and/or “you shouldn’t be flying so much anyway”—and to both of those things I would say: yes. Yes, not being able to eat tapas in a beachside town in northern Spain doesn’t even begin to register on the scale of Things That Are Currently Terrible in the World. And yes, Jeremy and I have flown way more than strictly necessary, and for the past year we’ve been making a concerted effort take other modes of transport wherever possible. Even ocean liners.

Nonetheless. Ten(!) years ago, during the ash cloud (which, funnily enough, also stopped us from going to Lisbon), people started rhapsodizing about a world without planes. No contrails! No pollution! No noise! Nature is healing! (As an aside, all of this “nature is healing” stuff? News flash, folks: nature is currently what’s killing us). To a world without planes, I said no. Specifically, I said, “if the planes never took off again, then we would revert to a time when the oceans were tremendous barriers to personal contact, and when living on a different continent was almost like living on a different planet.” We are now, again, essentially living in a world without planes—or at least, a world in which I would not board a plane unless it were absolutely, desperately necessary. Jeremy and I are on one planet, and my family is on another, and Jeremy’s family is on yet another, and it’s impossible to say when those planets will align again.

The mental toll of being stuck in one place extends beyond the pain of not being able to see our loved ones. I’ve been moving from one city/state/country to another since I was born. Jeremy was born in England, raised in Ireland, and took off to travel around Europe at the first opportunity. We are an American and an Irishman who met while living in Germany and subsequently moved to yet another country, which has basically served as a base of operations for us to go out and explore the rest of the world. Our relationship and our lives have, in many ways, been defined by movement, and we like it that way.

But for the past nine weeks, we have not moved farther than a mile or two from our flat. Most of the time, the farthest we go is our back garden. All movement has come to a halt and we are in stasis. It’s a comfortable enough stasis, and for the most part I’m not unhappy to be stuck in this particular place. It’s only when I really think about life Before—or about the life that’s happening right now in some parallel universe, where I am drinking a beer in San Diego with my brother—that the walls close in and I wonder how (or if) I will ever get that life back, or how (if necessary) I will come to terms with a new life that no longer looks anything like that.

Weekends have always been my Fernweh days, when newspapers publish their travel supplements and I sit at home and dream of being away. (Actually, even when we’re already away somewhere, I’ll read travel articles and daydream of being somewhere else again—I’m never not wandering the world in my mind.) But the dreaming has lost some of its wistful pleasure these days. Now it’s just wistful, full stop. There’s no dream in which I don’t eventually come up against the hard reality of being crammed next to people on a flight or a train, no scenario in which my biggest worry is trying not to get pickpocketed rather than trying not to get seriously ill. There is currently no vision of travel that gives me a thrill of anticipation rather than a pang of anxiety. I feel all the yearning without the possibility of release.

So we hunker down on our little planets, orbiting each other at a distance, all those other worlds seemingly just within reach but really a universe away.

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