Saturday, 2 May 2020

Coronavirus diary: the beginning

For me, the beginning of the coronavirus crisis was in Italy where part of my family lives. On the Italian TV they have been speaking about Covid-19 since February. The government said that Italian people did not need to worry as the National Health Care (Servizio Sanitario Nazionale) was prepared to face it. When people started to die they said they were elderly or already sick people. But then the situation got worse and out of hand, especially in the north of Italy, in Lombardia. Here is an article I wrote for Woking Writers Circle giving my view of the situation in Italy, Japan and the UK: Coping with COVID-19 in the UK, Italy and Japan: a comparison

Travelling to Japan at the beginning of March, I could feel the change. Airports were almost deserted and there were a lot of empty seats on the plane. There was a lot of space to stretch my legs and place my things. At the check-in desk they did not let me take my crochet stuff on the plane (apparently the hook was a problem), so I bought six water-soluble colour pencils at Düsseldorf airport where we changed plane and started to record images on my sketchbook, a sort of travel journal. I drew the Gucci bags I saw at Heathrow duty free shop centre, the Japanese masks of kabuki theatre from the intriguing ANA airlines safety video ( ) and magazine covers in Düsseldorf with Covid-19 headlines. Once in Tokyo, I made sketches of photos I took downtown and kimono patterns from the books my daughter had on her shelves. I especially liked the pictures on a book by Sheila Cliffe ( ) where the author wears elegant old and new kimono. She adapted them to her taste with cleverness and expertise. I also made collage pieces using cuttings from Japanese brochures and magazines.

I could finally hug my daughter after a year. My eldest son was already there as we were supposed to attend the graduation of my daughter’s master in fashion at Bunka Gakuen University, but the ceremony could not take place because of the coronavirus emergency. We were there, and we celebrated the achievement all the same. Unfortunately, I had a terrible jet lag. I woke up at two or three at night hungry and sleepless. I locked myself in the toilet with a book or my crochet and waited to feel sleepy again. This didn’t happen until six or seven in the morning when the day began. I felt sleepy from the late morning throughout the rest of the day and fell asleep everywhere I sat down, in the underground, at cafés and restaurants. I couldn’t help it, my eyes closed, I leaned against my husband’s shoulder and had a nap.

The weather was warm, almost spring time and the sakura (cherry blossoms) were starting to bloom. We could not visit museums as they were closed for the pandemic, but we did a lot of shopping at Senso-ji temple and shopping centre and at Solamachi. I bought some beautiful kimono and haori (sort of jackets), Japanese ceramics and two books: The Pillow Book and selected haiku by Masaoka Shiki. My husband and son spent a whole day at Yodobashi Camera department store and Akihabara, places full of games, video games, anime and toys of all kinds and materials, from plastic to wood, paper, metal and fabric. Everything was so diverse, colourful and stimulating, I felt flabbergasted in such a profusion of creativity.
We took a trip to Mount Takao. Despite my jet lag, I managed to reach the top, 599 metres, and admire the beautiful view with layers of dark mountains against the blue evening sky. We took the easiest trail going up but going down my son opted for the hardest one across the forest. It wasn’t easy for me because my shoes had no slip grip but I managed to reach the end. Luckily the last bit had a cable car connection.

We had some problems with our flight back, as I explain in my article, but we eventually reached the UK safely. On the plane back home, I read The Pillow Book and the haiku. I also listened to relaxing music and watched Parasite, the film that won the best foreign film Oscar 2020. It was funny, cracking at first, but harrowing and hyperreal towards the end. I was mesmerised and shocked at the amount of cruelty that was so easily performed and the aftermath of it.

Back in the UK in the middle of March, I had jet lag again but it lasted only a few days. In Italy the lock down had started. We were supposed to fly to Rome for Easter but the flight was cancelled. All the events I had booked in the UK were cancelled as well and the conference I was supposed to attend in Canada was postponed to next year. My husband’s school was temporarily closed, so he started teaching online. I felt vulnerable, in an indefinite position of possible danger though everything looked normal outside. The weather was gorgeous; nature was inexplicably blooming as if nothing was happening. In Italy my family was all right though the death toll was getting higher and higher especially in the north of the country. And then the UK lockdown began.

1 comment:

  1. I like how you show how happily proceding with life, the fabrics, books and family, suddenly came to an end. Plans were binned. Then "nature was inexplicably blooming as if nothing was happening". However, I feel there will be anger later that even public school manerism won't stifle (this time)