In the middle of March, we came back from a rather self-indulgent holiday in post-Mardi Gras New Orleans only to find that Covid-19 had arrived in Toronto. We immediately found ourselves in mandatory self-isolation and I did not exit our front door for the next 14 days. I had just started a staycation!
Having enjoyed several days of bucket-list restaurants, cozy jazz clubs and quirky Bourbon Street, I welcomed the thought of having a good rest in the comfort of home, doing what I like doing – guilt-free. This is freedom. To me, self-isolation is an opportunity to be myself- no approval necessary. I have embraced it and am enjoying it.
Some people I know live in spacious houses with backyard gardens and still feel incarcerated. They wail that they are “going crazy.” Having to stay home, they feel their freedom is restricted. Some complaint of feeling locked up, unable to go out whenever and wherever they wish. They compare it to being in jail. I live in a high-rise condo and I can’t walk out to a garden but I am fortunate to have enough windows to look at Lake Ontario and the cityscape of Toronto and luxuriate in the space around me.
My home is my castle. If I wished to do nothing all day, I could – but I don’t. There’s just so much I’d like to do that I enjoy doing – there is no dearth of opportunities. Of course, there is Netflix and fun but mind-numbing shows you forgive yourself for watching. And then there are books, many of them dusty from neglect, begging to be read (which to many is practically doing nothing). I started off with The Plague, a relic from my university days, a tale I feel I am now living, then I followed it with the outrageous A Confederacy of Dunces, in a way re-living my visit to New Orleans. I have been travelling in time and space, without leaving my couch, in the company of interesting characters, and am now planning my next virtual adventure.
Speaking of travel, nothing is more pleasurable than a culinary trip. Since restaurants are closed, we spoil ourselves with the occasional take-out or delivery. One night it could be Japanese sushi, or Thai green curry. Perhaps a Neapolitan pizza delivery or an Indian vindaloo. One afternoon, we even “went out” and indulged in Harvey’s hamburgers, French fries, onion rings, and a large Coke in the comfort of our car, in the fast food’s parking lot while watching the traffic go by.
Best of all are the opportunities for adventure in your kitchen. I re-created the ampalaya of my childhood by following a recipe in Filipino Cooking Here and Abroad (Eleanor Laquian and Irene Sobrevinas). I discovered Poulet au Vinaigre by renowned chef Paul Bocuse in a food magazine, definitely a French version of chicken adobo. To cut down on time in the kitchen, I freeze all kinds of leftovers and make double recipes of soups and pasta sauces for future meals. I amaze even myself with all the delectable concoctions I create from yesterday’s meals. With grocery visits curtailed – for the “vulnerables,” I often shop my kitchen pantry and fridge, I also shop my clothes closets as retail malls are closed. The added bonus is the de-cluttering that accompanies these forays, resulting in neater shelves and – money saved.
In the comfort of one’s home, there is no compulsion to dress up even for many of those who work from home. Hours spent on the couch and tempting snacks at handmake for an expanding waistline, and a wardrobe of casual tops and sweat pants is the current fashion statement. If you find that your skirt or jeans don’t fit as comfortably as they used to, start moving. Gyms are closed and, if you don’t feel like doing yoga or pilates by yourself, housework, I find, is good exercise. Done with gusto, vacuuming, washing the floors and cleaning windows is no mean feat. In addition, a good walk everyday even if you can’t manage 10,000 steps is a good way to breathe in fresh air, enjoy a change of scene and manage your weight.
Even though we are in self-isolation, we are not alone. There is no meeting up with friends, no dim sums or lunches, no dinners or parties. But there is the telephone and email. Do FaceTime with your grandchildren so you can see how much they’ve grown and if you’d like to attend a cocktail party, get your friends together for Zoom time - be sure you each have your glass of wine or bubbly handy. There is no reason to be lonely.
Freed from the constraints of social conventions, we now openly express our concern for others. Conversations often end with a behest to “Keep safe” “Stay healthy” Young neighbours offer to buy groceries and essentials for the elderly couple next door. An unexpected telephone call feels like a hug to those who live alone.
It is now the end of May, ten weeks since the start of our virtual lockdown. Restrictions have eased, stores and restaurants are starting to open albeit with limited access, some workers go to their offices, social distancing remains in place, masks are not mandatory, and those of a certain age – 70 and up- are still asked to avoid going to busy places and, preferably, to say home.
While the threat of the pandemic still looms overhead, the incidence of new infections seems to have eased. As we wait for a vaccine that will protect us from the coronavirus, we must continue to do our best to control the spread of the virus and avoid infection. By being responsible and respectful of others, we help ourselves. By practicing self-isolation and social distancing, we are all in it together. Let us live as well as we can within these limitations keeping in mind that NOT thinking only of ourselves can be a liberating experience. In the meantime, stay home. Wash your hands. Wear your masks. Remember, vigilance is the price of freedom.