For the last few months I have been asking myself, what does it mean normality? What makes life normal, and what does not? What makes us, humans, normal, and what defines us differently.
I cannot find a clear answer.
Going back in memory to my pandemic experiences, I want to follow the paths of corona around me.
January. I buy flight tickets for Passover to Poland, to once plan it in advance.
Mid-February. Jerusalem. For 5 hours I am interpreting business negotiations of Polish and Israeli entrepreneurs. All are confidential, so all stays with me like a confession with a priest (at least from what I heard), but one thing I can share. The investor wants some reinsurance in case of a hypothetical catastrophe that would preclude the production or delivery of the product. Completely hypothetically…
February 20th. Also for work, one day in Jerusalem, with a Polish delegation. On the street I see an Asian woman wearing a mask. “Must be afraid of pollution” – I think.
Tel Aviv. February 24th – I celebrate 6 years of my aliyah. For the very first time, a huge party in a club. For some reason only this year, I decided to celebrate it. All my guests sit close, some dance, we all hug – hello and goodbye. One friend says: “In fact, I just got from northern Italy, I might be dangerous”. We all freeze for a second and laugh, continue to party. A few days later following the new government’s orders, she must stay at home for 2 days of quarantine
February 25th – invited by Italian Cultural Institute, I am at the theater in Jaffa, enjoying ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ and listening to the fantastic lecture & performance of Carlo Dalla Costa from Italy, about, nomen omen, the meaning of MASKS… in the theater. After that, we all, Tel Aviv locals and guests from Italy, enjoy the evening on the roof of the theater. We all hug goodnight.
Later that night I get a call from Warsaw: “Basia, buy yourself masks. Just in case”. I start reading about the situation in Italy…
February 27th – Herzilya Museum of Contemporary Art. The opening for the press. I decide not to shake hands and no hugs with friends. “Portrait Time” – the collective exhibition of Leonid Balaklav, Iddo Markus, Jan Rauchwerger, Aharon Shaul Schur, Elie Shamir, Michal Mamit Worke. Different aspects of portraits. I recommend it on my social media, not knowing that soon the exhibition will be accessible only online.
Portrait, in Hebrew ‘DIOKAN’. One of the curators of the exhibition tells me the Hebrew word comes from the Ancient Greek word: double image. [I checked, his hypothesis makes sense: eikon[i] – image, likeness; possibly dyo eikon – a double image] At the Museum, in my mind I go back to MASKS from ‘Commedia dell’Arte’. Masks to protect our real face. Masks to protect… Still February, a cashier at my supermarket wears gloves. I ask him: “Because of the coronavirus?” “No – he replies – because of the money”. But something enters my subconscious. I buy a box of plastic gloves.
First days of March. I start wearing gloves if I touch things other people touched. But yet not every day. Not very consistently. On Shabbat, I decide not to touch food at Kiddush after the service. Earlier, at the synagogue, I begin to feel unsafe, when I see people sneezing and touching chairs and siddurim [Jewish prayer books] after. I make fuzz about it. Some people understand. Some make fun of me. But in the result, in the evening I receive a message that the synagogue will put sanitizers ‘like in hospitals’ at the front door. I pass the message to another synagogue in Tel Aviv; they will do it, too.
The 9th and 10th of March – Purim. Should I go to synagogue or not? I dress as Frida Kahlo and go. Fewer people than usual. Much less. But still a crowd. I wear gloves. I choose a place next to the window. I join my friends at the street party. Not indoors. In the morning I choose reading the Megillah outside. For the Purim Seudah, I am at my friends in Jaffa. At the roof afternoon party. In the fresh air. But I wear gloves. And don’t touch bread. I walk back to the center of Tel Aviv watching a misty sunset. Not knowing this is my last long walk for the next two months.
In the next few days I still go out, but I avoid people. Having the immune system imperfect, I am told by a doctor to keep a distance, at first one meter, soon – two meters. Soon I lock myself at home.
The rest of March, the entire April. At home. In the risk group. Going down only to throw away the garbage and pick up food from a delivery service or my friends who volunteer to help me with groceries (Thank you!). Masks become part of my face.
I look from far at the end of my street. I long for the sea. Lockdown. Sea is forbidden, too. My friend breaks the law, goes to the beach, gets NIS 500 fines.
My neighbor from the building opposite mine gets fined for walking at 1 AM, farther than 500 meters. We talk from our balconies. Total strangers become neighbors. We scream “Hag Sameach” during the Passover Seder.
My friend in Poland asks on Facebook: “What will remain from this time?” Cynically I answer: “I hope the washing hands with soap”, as it seems the soap is the recent discovery of the Covid-19 era…
My friend in Spain meditates and learns how to cook. My other friend discovers planting. Another is happy to have time for her new boyfriend. And yet someone else is struggling with a too intense presence of the spouse; with online schools; with working from home; with no work at all; with online and offline! With too many people at home; with empty walls of single’s homes; with the concern for elderly parents (I become the personal trainer on Skype) and for little children – all trapped at home.
May! I can go to the beach. I cannot sit at the beach, but the law says I can do sports. It’s not clear what sport is. One surfer is arrested by the water and the land police, like a terrorist. The video of this goes viral on social media. But at the same time, if my subjective memory is not mistaken, they open IKEA and hairstylist saloons…
Against all odds I run to the sea, to swim. This is the sport by me! I swim and go back home. But slowly, day by day, people start to conquer the beach. Legally or not, nobody knows. On one part of the beach, there are a few hundred people. I choose an empty spot, farther away. A man in an orange T-shirt approaches me telling me I must leave or pay the fine. I show him the crowd. He says, over there it is OK; I am in an illegal place. He works at the beach, doesn’t wear a mask. I ask him to keep 2 meters from me. The same policeman, I tell the policeman to put a mask on if he wants to talk to me.
June. I start to meet friends. Still in the mask, trying to keep the distance. Most of the people do not. I feel like Tarzan, who just left the jungle. My jungle of solitudinous. From the social person yet at the end of February, at the beginning of June I realize I must learn how to be with people, again. Having studied in the past Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, I give myself experiments of exposure… to my friends.
July. Tomorrow. There is a danger of the second wave. Or maybe there is already the second wave. I try not to read News, especially since the government of my country, and the Knesset I voted for, three times last and this year, ignored me and all the other self-employed. Leaving our lives in our own hands. I only know that borders of Israel are still closed (with some exceptions), that my April tickets were canceled, and I am not certain when will I fly, or when will I take a bus – not being afraid.
I am also not sure anymore if I should protect my physical health or my mental sanity. Together, these days, they can exclude one other.
Will we ever come back to normality? What will be the normality in August? Or maybe this is already the ‘SURnormality’?…