Thoughts on Social Distancing and the Coronavirus Pandemic – Part I
…just me and my dog wandering the night streets
like Will Smith in I am Legend...
In the meantime, “Murder Hornets” have invaded the US.
I’m guessing the biblical locusts can’t be that far behind…“
Art & Words by Fanitsa Petrou
Remember those diaries we used to keep as kids? Those of us who were lucky to have been born in the late 60s, early 70s, in the time before the “shift”. Before screens started sucking up everything around us, back when we were allowed to live unrecorded lives, have innocent secrets we were not meant to publicise, photos we would never share with strangers, habits we were not meant to advertise. Words and thoughts, which were meant to be for us. A sense of self, that was not formed by likes and followers.
We would usually receive them as Xmas gifts, from clueless aunts who thought we needed even more reasons to be introvert and unhealthily focused on every minute detail of the things that hurt us. They usually had tiny, flimsy keys (that were obviously supposed to protect our privacy from tiny little elves), and ponies with rainbow manes on the cover. And if not ponies, then drawings of girls with huge eyes and ponytails that came down to their knees, who were holding flowers while having pensive thoughts – no doubt – about boys.
We would be vigilant at first, choosing quiet corners, writing furiously, hand capped over the page protecting our secrets from thoughtless adults and nosey siblings, but by the third week of January, we would predictably get bored with them and give them up. Because let’s face it, how many times can you begin each entry with “Dear diary, I hate my life!”? Usually on account of not being Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face, living in a bookstore (this alone could do it!) and being discovered by (a preferably younger) Fred Astaire (even as kids we could recognise the ridiculousness of that mismatch) who would take us to Paris to meet existential philosophers and be photographed at Champs-Élysées, holding balloons and pigeons. Or to be more precise, to be the one who came up with the idea… (Which might mean the “Think Pink!” lady! was the dream, not Audrey Hepburn…)
Well it’s been decades (four to be exact), and here I am again attempting to keep an isolation journal of sorts, marking time on a hypothetical prison wall, as it were. I got another one as a gift. I’m actually not kidding. It’s a leather bound notebook actually. It’s hand-stitched, and has markings and seals and yellowish – no doubt recycled – pages, and a smell… Tree-free and acid free I was told – never mind about the water buffalo that had to offer it’s skin. It even has a crystal in the middle (amber? citrine?) like something out of Harry Potter. The “memoriae stone” or something like that… One of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received! (Thank you A.) Writing longhand in it, makes me feel like one of those female explorers who were crossing the Sahara on camels, stopping at Cairo for tea, and writing nostalgic prose about sunsets on the Serengeti. Now I wish I was wearing a riding culotte, or at the very least, a safari jacket. Or that I had something more romantic to write about, involving the beduins’s song rising in the night, and not the purchase of toilet paper…
I don’t know why, but 2020 just feels lucky, you know?! Yes sir! 2020 is going to be spectacular! I feel it in my bones! Something great this way comes! I’m never wrong about these things!
News of a new mysterious decease is being reported. People in far away lands (China, then Thailand) getting sick, leaving scientists perplexed, and the rest of us feeling mildly interested, sad, but still safe, you know? Talks of bats and snakes being eaten in weird meat bazaars being the cause of it add an exotic touch, and the vague certainty that this won’t affect us. This sort of thing doesn’t happen here. This has nothing to do with us, we tell ourselves. This is still going to be a great GREAT year! No doubt about that one. Plus the mean thought: Meat eaters. What do you expect?
The mysterious virus had made its way to Europe, Australia, the USA. In pharmacies, people begin to casually ask about masks. In the week that follows, they will be less coy, less eager to prove they are not really scared, less self-conscious about how they will look if they buy whole boxes of them.
The city of Wuhan, the city of patient 0, is mentioned daily in the news, and gradually so are the numbers of confirmed cases in Asia, Australia, France, America.
58 millions living in four cities in China are quarantined. We are still surprised by this news; not quite believing it might affect us. This is after all our year!
I start a new illustration with Frida Kahlo wearing a mask.
What is it about her that fascinates all artists? We all love creating portraits of hers (God knows I have created my share!) Those eyebrows, those flower crowns, that hair, those skull earrings, those clothes, those shawls. That defiant stare. That fragility! It’s like one of us has created her in our minds… No wonder we all love painting her… She is still being rediscovered by generations of artists who are keeping her memory alive.
New cases are confirmed in Canada, Germany, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Singapore, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, the US, the UAE. The tally of deaths shocks us daily. This is getting serious. This is now real!
I decline an invitation to a dinner party, on account that I would rather stay home… Dinner parties still take place, yes. And I still hate them. Especially this kind: a room full of accountants and bankers – my basic nightmare – who think there is only one way of doing things: theirs. Me, being the hostess’s attempt at proving to them that she is open-minded really, and “cool”: “Look everyone I invited an artist!” (as in a three-eyed alien who speaks in tongues) The entire room cornering me, giving me those looks that are a strange mix of envy and utter contempt, asking me in total disbelief “and you make money out of this?”…
I start a new painting. Another Fantasy Art piece (An Art Nouveau inspired Mermaid, titled “Mermaid Dreams” – Because that is what the world needs during a pandemic: mermaid art…
I decide that I will record the process. Be one with the times for once. Betray my principles and break the fourth wall… (Being an artist is no longer enough. You have to be watched being one, as well…)
China’s Health Commission reports that there are at least 80,651 confirmed cases in China!
The first local confirmed case. The shadow is approaching our doorstep. In the meantime, Iran releases 70,000 prisoners because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country! Wow!
Much like people in WWII movies, we now can’t leave home unless we have a permit and identification papers. So retro. So scary! You are half expecting to hear the policemen (who are suddenly patrolling the streets) to bark at you “Ihre papiere, bitte”
The World Health Organization declares that it considers the coronavirus outbreak to be a pandemic. (Yethink?!).
“Mermaid Dreams” is finished. I post an Art process video on Youtube. It gets no views. Am I supposed to let anyone know that it's out there? I haven't a clue. The fourth wall is safely up… Not even a crack…
As I’m searching through old paintings, I come across two, which are meant to offer a theoretical glimpse into the future. They both depict mask-wearing people. They were both made in 1999… (otherwise known as “my last good year” before I was apparently cursed by a gypsy)
I start a series of designs inspired by what is happening around us.
Europe is now the epicentre of the pandemic. Italy is mourning 4,825 deaths! We hear stories about doctors being forced to make tough decisions: Who gets the ventilator? Who gets to live? Who dies? It has come to that…
The first death is reported here, and a curfew is imposed. The irrational, selfish thought: like they couldn’t do this on th 1st of the month? What a brilliant excuse it would be for declining that dinner party thing! “I’m so sorry, the government says I shouldn’t! It kills me, as there’s nothing that I want more than spend 4 hours with a group of people who bore me to the point of tears and cause me to have dark thoughts about the future of humanity, but there you go. It’s forbidden.”
Time to follow the global trend and stock up on toilet paper. And tea. And biscuits. The apocalypse won’t find us unprepared…
The lockout measures become even more restricting, after a bunch of idiots were discovered by the police having a bingo block party. (I kid you not!) Now we are only allowed to go out once a day, and each time we do, we need to let the government know via text! Much like when women are dealing with a jealous and unreasonable husband: we are being infantilized for our “own protection”.
New cases are recorded daily. Time to stop pretending this is not serious and invest in some masks. Pharmacist says they are out of stock. It pays to panic early.
After going to three pharmacies, I was finally able to buy two disposable masks. Two!They are rationed like sugar during wars… Thank goodness for the countless scarves I have bought (and designed!) over the years. I knew there was a reason. Floral is the new black.
We are now banned from leaving our home after 9.00 in the evening and until 6.00 in the morning. Which prompts the question: where the hell would I go after 9.00? And also: why??