The Artist Abroad

A day in the life, in the Age of COVID-19, Part 2

/ 09:30 AM March 30, 2020

NEW YORK — Espresso 77, the local café, closed down a couple of days ago, and so did Lemon Farm, the fruit-and-vegetable shop we really liked. Along with other small businesses in the neighborhood, both promised to open “soon.” Ah, soon! How soon is soon? That is the question. With this city now the epicenter of the pandemic in the country, and the country having the most cases of COVID-19 globally, thanks in part to the ineffectual, head-buried-in-the-sand approach of President Less Than Zero, these businesses may never arrive at soon.


PLTZ babbles about this being a war, but still won’t invoke fully the Defense Production Act mandating that industries manufacture the “weaponry” necessary in the fight against COVID-19. As of this writing, only General Motors has been ordered to produce ventilators. In the meantime, so many will have departed, bound for that country from which no traveler has ever returned. Like Lady Macbeth, no amount of hand washing on his part can ever expiate his feckless posturing.

Here are more accounts of friends living elsewhere and dealing with the pandemic.

The novelist Reine Marie Melvin in Paris:

After days of rumors, President Macron declared a nationwide lockdown on March 17, for an initial period of two weeks. We know it will last much longer. Every night at 8 PM, people appear on balconies and clap for medical workers. In Montmartre, in the minutes before 8 PM, neighbors open their window and play loud music: Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Edith Piaf’s “Hymne à l’Amour,” resonating in the lamplit night through empty streets. Paris’s beauty seems both shadowed and intensified by the threat of illness and death.

Only “essential” shops and services remain open: groceries, pharmacies, some banks, tobacco shops and bakeries. Schools are closed. People have been ordered to work from home whenever possible. We are allowed to leave our homes, with a certificate, only briefly and for a few defined reasons, such as urgent medical care, grocery shopping, family-related emergencies and solo exercise. Police check certificates in the street.

The country faces a serious shortage of masks, coronavirus tests and intensive-care facilities. People are getting sick and staying home. Many who call the government hotline or emergency medical services can’t get through. Only those with the most severe symptoms are taken to hospitals, the only place where they can be tested. The feverish excitement of the rumor-filled days before lockdown has given way to fear, almost palpable in this deserted city. We are told the epidemic will soon get much, much worse. Many will die.


Parisians are kind again. They telephone older neighbors, friends, family. They offer to shop for those at risk. Friends organize virtual coffee dates or cocktail hours. Our pleasures seem both frivolous and distressing, an ominous mask to hide our helplessness. Paris is not only empty, but silent: no cars, no motorcycles, only the occasional siren or birdsong. In the midst of lockdown, spring and sunshine arrived. Yellow, red and violet flowers explode in deserted parks. Trees have leaves again. Lovely, lively, insouciant Paris has come to a standstill. Fear is everywhere.

The artist Agnes Arellano of Blue Ridge B, in Quezon City:

Yesterday, Sunday, our barangay [village] organized a pop-up talipapâ [impromptu market] for us in the big covered court where the villagers play basketball or volleyball or badminton, and where Billy and I do our morning workout of tai chi and its requisite one hour warm-ups.


There used to be just a little tent selling organic fruit and veggies (and heavenly frozen langkâ, or jackfruit) from Batangas. Yesterday they were selling all kinds of veggies, plus chicken, eggs, fish and rice, and in one corner was a table selling frozen carabao milk and yogurt, yum. Nearly all the residents were wearing masks that the barangay staff had previously distributed house to house as they patiently waited their numbered turn seated on plastic chairs spaced one meter apart as per social distancing rules. Some carried red plastic baskets which only last December were filled with Christmas goodies.

It’s summer here, and the hours around noon can get unbearably hot. The mango trees are heavy with young fruit and the breeze occasionally blows little ipu-ipo [whirlwind] of dust from the parched earth. My seasonal bungang araw [prickly heat] is back with a vengeance on my neck and chest.

Many of us follow the lockdown rules but we are still allowed to practice our tai chi in the court. Basketball groups are no longer allowed. Residents of A cannot enter B anymore. Early evenings when the heat has subsided, many of us take a walk around, exchanging news and pleasantries. Thus far our village is safe. 

Poet Priya Sarukkai Chabria in Mumbai:

India is in lockdown. Migrant worker families are walking back to their homes, sometimes five days away. No transport is made available for them. Though the underprivileged tragically face maximum distress, such suffering is unacceptable. How are we, as a nation, coping? Since the contagion isn’t localized, will the government contain the spread of a seemingly uncontainable virus through cramped urban sprawl in city after city? What will happen to the economy and livelihood of millions? When normalcy returns, what fallout will our sudden obedience to government diktats have on India’s diverse cultures and already tattered democracy?  Will people cede more readily to clampdowns on political freedoms, and accept excessive surveillance?

Or, after this experience, will humankind rise to greater harmony, nationally and globally?  Could revisioned ways of social interaction and artistic expression arise? Could self-isolation lead to more creative approaches to the self, when isolation perhaps takes on shades of introspection and greater kindness?

In this imposed silence, for the privileged, colours seem to brighten, distant birdcalls are more resonant, time seems to become translucent. The eye traces the outlines of near things, small things, in stillness.

In the heart, a sea, not at peace, but vast. While the horizon glows through the mist. So I seem to see. To Be Continued

 Copyright L.H. Francia 2020

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TAGS: coping with pandemic, Coronavirus accounts, COVID-19 diary
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