Puzzle #9. Quarantine Habits

The current situation has affected even some of the most ordinary activities and daily chores: grocery shopping, going for a run, and reading the news.

28 Mar 2020. In the last post I wrote about home office, random thoughts about random topics, and life in quarantine.

But aside from thinking a lot and missing the people (still two of the most frequent occurrences in my daily routine), I can’t help noticing how the current situation has affected even some of the most ordinary activities and daily chores.

If I had to name three on the spot, these would be grocery shopping, going for a run, and reading the news. This is how my perception of them has changed over the past few weeks.

(Technically it’s only been two weeks, but it feels like it’s been much longer than that.)

GROCERY SHOPPING

Before the quarantine

5.30pm on a weekday. I shut down my work laptop, slide out of my office chair, and lock the laptop in my locker. In over a year I’ve piled up dozens of notes and handouts in there. I really have to tidy it up one of these days.

I put on my coat, shout out the usual ‘Bye guys, see you tomorrow’, and go. I have to hurry, or I’ll miss the bus. I rush down the stairs, swipe my badge, and step out of the building.

It’s rush hour, the bus is crowded, and it’s too hot in here. I can barely stand, because the woman behind me has something pointed in one of her shopping bags (a milk carton or something), and it’s pushing right into my calf. It’s going to be a long bus ride.

I get off the bus in Mendlák with pins and needles in my leg. I cross over at the green light, step through the sliding doors of Albert (the supermarket), grab a basket, and head straight to the fruit section. I’m a fast shopper, I know that. I move as swiftly as I can through the aisles, pick familiar items off the shelves, dodge slow shoppers standing in the wa-

I stop abruptly right between the bread crates and the cereal shelves. Wholemeal bread and smoked tofu in hand, I wait as the elderly woman in front of me slowly pushes her cart in front of her. I’m in a hurry, but I can’t lose my patience: she reminds me of Gran.

After a while, I make it past the bread crates. I resume the quick pace, dodge a few carts here and there, and intentionally skip the aisles where I know I don’t need anything. I reach the dairy section. I’m almost done. I pick my favourite blueberry yogurt from the shelf, and carefully check the expiry date. I knowingly place it in my basket, and-

I stop abruptly right between the freezers and the toiletry shelves. The kid in front of me is pushing a loaded cart three times his size, but he’s pushing it sideways, so he’s blocking the way. His Mum rushes to help him right then. She audibly scolds him, he audibly sniffs. She’s visibly cross, he’s visibly sad. I go and queue at the checkout.

The cashier that serves me is not the friendliest of all (insert euphemism here). I struggle to bag my shopping as she tosses item after item past her one after the other after scanning them. She’s fast, but so am I. It’s a silent race.

I pay, take my bags and head to the door. The elderly woman from before is standing by the rice shelf, holding one pack in each hand, as if not knowing which to pick.

As I wait for the green light, I resolve to make frittata for dinner. It’s dark, Mendlák is crowded, and cars and buses drive through, their headlights zooming past like a swarm of urban fireflies.

Can’t wait for dinnertime, I’m already hungry.

In time of quarantine

5.30pm on a weekday. I shut down my work laptop, stand up from my kitchen chair, and place the laptop in its bag. In almost three weeks I’ve piled up quite a few items on that chair. I have to tidy it up one of these days.

I don’t even have to get changed, the supermarket is just across the street. I wash my hands with soap, lace up my homemade mask, grab the shopping bags, and step out of my flat. 

It’s rush hour, but the street is empty as usual, and so are the buses driving by. As I stand at the traffic lights, I realise the woman next to me takes an extra step to the left, so she’s standing further away. It’s going to be a long spring.

I walk the stretch to Mendlák with a tired look on my face. I cross over at the green light, step through the sliding doors of Albert (the supermarket), grab a basket, and head straight to the fruit section. I’m a fast shopper, I know that. I move as swiftly as I can through the aisles, pick familiar items off the shelves, dodge slow shoppers standing in the way.

I make my way past the bread crates and the cereal shelves. Packaged bread and smoked tofu in hand, I notice the middle-aged woman in front of me as she readjusts her mask. She holds it from the sides with gloved hands. She avoids touching her face while doing so.

I make it past the bread crates. I take my time to go through each aisle. Some of them I walk through even if I know I don’t need anything. I dodge a lonesome cart by the beer shelves, and reach the dairy section. I’m almost done. I pick my favourite blueberry yogurt from the shelf, and carefully check the expiry date. I knowingly place it in my basket.

I stop abruptly right between the freezers and the toiletry shelves. My phone is buzzing. Mum has texted me a photo of one of our cats. He’s lying on the couch, belly in sight, cluelessly staring at me. The text reads: ‘He #stayshome too’. I text her back, and head toward the checkout. One of them is empty, so I don’t even have to queue.

The cashier that assists me is not the friendliest of all (insert euphemism here). I struggle to bag my shopping as she tosses item after item past her one after the other after scanning them. She’s fast, but so am I. It’s a silent race.

I pay, take my bags and head to the door. The middle-aged woman from before is standing by the rice shelf, holding one pack in each hand, as if not knowing which to pick.

As I wait for the green light, I resolve to make frittata for dinner. It’s dark, Mendlák is deserted, and only the odd bus drives through, its headlights zooming past like slender urban silhouettes.

Can’t wait for dinnertime, I’m already hungry.

GOING FOR A RUN

Before the quarantine

Sunday morning. As I put on my running clothes, my sleepy mind roams: Which route shall I pick today? Riverside to Olympia, Jundrov or Přehrada? Wilsonův les maybe? Or Medlánky. I can never decide.

I step out of my flat and, suddenly, I know. It’s mostly some other route that springs to mind on the spot, one I didn’t even contemplate over the thought shower from a few minutes before.

It’s early on a Sunday morning, Mendlák is beautifully empty and silent – which always strikes me as surprising, as it’s usually noisy and crowded any time of the day. Silent Mendlák is my favourite Mendlák, because I’m not used to seeing it like that.

It’s Sunday, so I avoid running in the vicinity of my building. Wherever I am, going for a Sunday run means getting lost somewhere: the countryside, the riverside or the woods. I just go out and run, and it feels right. I venture as far as I want. Or I choose to run a few laps in the forest up this or that hill around the city. Not too many laps in a row: I don’t want to feel like a hamster on its wheel.

I bump into the three usual human (and four-legged) categories along the way: people walking their dogs (or the opposite), quite a few cyclists, and other runners. I love my Sunday morning routine. I’ve been practising it for so many years that it’s grown into being a part of me. It’s such a familiar feeling.

Here and there I bump into runners running in the opposite direction to mine. I lift my arm to wave at them. Most of them return the wave almost at the same time (it’s the usual ‘runners’ greeting’). Others look too focused on their performance to get distracted. I wave by default, whether the gesture is returned or not.

When I bump into the super focused runners I usually throw a swift, furtive glance at them. I can’t help wondering whether I have the same focused look when I run. Some of them are so focused that they almost look scary, like they might hit you if they’re sprinting and you’re standing in their way.

I’m almost home, so I try to speed up a bit, I’m not too tired. As I approach Mendlák, I already know I’ll have to stop at the traffic lights. Every time I get there it shows the red light. I could take it personally.

I pause the stopwatch and wait. As I stand on the pavement, I shift from one foot to the other. I’m always fretting at these traffic lights. It always feels like the red light will last forever.

But the green light comes, and I resume running. I run across the street, down the pavement, through the car park, and up the stairs, all the way to my front door. It was a good run.

In time of quarantine

Sunday morning. As I put on my running clothes, my sleepy mind roams: Where would I go today if I could choose? Riverside to Olympia, Jundrov or Přehrada? Wilsonův les maybe? Or Medlánky. I wish I had the choice.

I step out of my flat and, obviously, I know. It’s always the same one or two routes, and neither match any of those I dreamt about over the thought shower from a few minutes before.

It’s early on a Sunday morning, Mendlák is beautifully empty and silent – but then, since the quarantine started it looks like that any time of the day. Silent Mendlák is still my favourite Mendlák, but I don’t want to get too used to seeing it like that. 

Even on Sundays I’ve got used to running in the vicinity of my building. In Brno it’s not like in Italy, where, when you go out, you’re not allowed to walk further than a few hundred metres from your house. Here I could just go, but somehow it doesn’t feel right. So I don’t venture too far. Sometimes I run in circles around the car parks near the building. I feel like a hamster on its wheel.

I’m only bumping into very few people along the way: the odd owner walking its dog (or the opposite), maybe a cyclist, and the odd runner. I’ve always loved my Sunday morning routine. I’ve been practising it for so many years that it’s grown into being a part of me. Something feels different these days, though. 

If and when I bump into a runner running in the opposite direction to mine, I lift my arm to wave at them. Most of them return the wave almost at the same time (it’s the usual ‘runners’ greeting’). Others look too focused on their performance to get distracted. I wave by default, whether the gesture is returned or not.

With the super focused runners I usually throw a swift, furtive glance at them. I can’t help wondering whether I have the same focused look when I run. Some of them are so focused that they almost look scary, like they might hit you if they’re sprinting and you’re standing in their way.

I’m almost home, so I try to speed up a bit, I’m not too tired. Because I ran through the car parks, I don’t even have to cross at the traffic lights in Mendlák. Every time I get there it shows the red light. I could take it personally.

I look at my watch, run around the big car park one last time, and I’m almost home. I realise I’m almost missing the traffic lights. It always feels like the red light could last forever there.

I count the laps I’ve run in my head, and I keep running. I run through the arch, and up the stairs, all the way to my front door. Despite everything, it was a good run.

READING THE NEWS

Before the quarantine

Morning. Coffee is ready, and I sit at the kitchen table. I swallow a mouthful of cereals with milk, while I distractedly start checking the news. I’m still too sleepy to devote my full attention to the main happenings of the previous 12-24 hours, but I like to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world.

I’m used to checking the usual online papers. Some tragic events from the previous night always make the headlines, alongside business and crime reports. I read titles about the EU, the UK, the US, China, migrants, Greta Thunberg’s latest speech, and climate change in general. There’s still too much plastic in the oceans.

Needless to say, there’s always the odd article about the usual moronic Italian politician (which I tend to skip, because he gets on my nerves), plus culture pieces and photo galleries. Photo galleries are one of my all-time favourites.

I only manage to scroll down the homepages, maybe click open one or two articles, before I realise I’ve sipped all the coffee. I have to get ready for work or I’ll be late for the bus. I don’t like running to the bus stop.

Evening. I’ve just had dinner. I was so hungry, and now I’m so full. I duly wash the dishes, change into my PJs, and get ready for some evening entertainment: a TV series episode, a bit of writing or my book.

As I turn on my laptop, though, I quickly run through the news again. Not much has changed since the morning in terms of topics. I skim and scan the main headlines, and I read a few articles I’m especially interested in or curious about. I click open the odd photo gallery.

All in all, I like it. I want to know what goes on around me.

In time of quarantine

Morning. Coffee is ready, and I sit at the kitchen table. I swallow a mouthful of cereals with milk, while I distractedly start checking the news. I’m still too sleepy to devote my full attention to the main happenings of the previous 12-24 hours, but I like to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world.

I’m used to checking the usual online papers. Some Coronavirus events from the previous night always make the headlines. I read titles about Coronavirus in Italy, Coronavirus in other European countries, Coronavirus in the UK, Coronavirus in the US, Coronavirus in China, and Coronavirus in the rest of the world. Little else these days.

Needless to say, there’s always the odd article about the usual moronic world leader (which I always check, even though they get on my nerves), while culture pieces and photo galleries are confined at the very bottom of the page.

I only manage to scroll down the homepages, maybe click open one or two articles, before I realise I’ve sipped all the coffee. I have to get ready for work, even if I don’t have to run for the bus.

Evening. I’ve just had dinner. I was so hungry, and now I’m so full. I duly wash the dishes, change into my PJs, and get ready for some evening entertainment: a TV series (not too often these days), a bit of writing or my book.

As I turn on my laptop, though, I quickly run through the news again. Not much has changed since the morning in terms of topics. I skim and scan the main headlines, and I read about the lockdowns, the numbers on the rise, the new grim records hit by this or that country (Italy still leading the way).

I really don’t like it, but I still want to know what goes on around me.

LOOKING AT THE SKY

Before the quarantine

Whatever the time of the day, whichever the reason I’m going out, when I step out of a building the first thing I do is look up at the sky.

In time of quarantine

Whatever the time of the day, whichever the reason I’m going out, when I step out of a building the first thing I do is look up at the sky.

Some things, some at least, haven’t changed a bit.

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