They say it jumped species—from a bat to a human. We forget how close we are to some animals. We forget that we are animals. Not invincible. That we can fall prey to our own strength: our interconnectedness.
In a matter of weeks, the world went from a spiderweb of intercontinental flights, taking off multiple times each day, to only a smattering of half-full vessels that nervously crossed borders, sanitizing as they went. Have you seen in the movies, in Mad Men, how flying was such a big deal only a few decades ago? Now any old schmuck can lace up his sneakers and get on a flight to Aruba or wherever. Anyone can visit Paris. You could have a layover in Shanghai for dinner.
You can live, as I do, in Australia, on the exact opposite end of the world from the family that raised you. You can be forced to cancel the trip you have planned to bring your newborn daughter to meet her grandparents and aunts and uncle—because that part of the world has become a hotzone for sickness.
They thought, It can’t happen here, we’re not Europe, we’re not China, we’re something else. More modern. Didn’t they think? More sensible, surely, we are. Resistant, maybe.
They were not. Nobody is resistant.
They say that birds are now building nests on the patios of skyrise apartment complexes in Taipei. They say that, after two weeks of the city being shut down, you can see clear to the bottom of the canals in Venice.
Years from now, we will talk about this coronavirus as a defining event. There was before, then there was after. After is when we understood our own collective mortality. When we knew not to take for granted the ability to hop on a plane and visit loved ones in another country.
When we could hug. Meet a friend at a wine bar. Go to a dance class. Listen to a podcast about something random on our headphones, on a packed subway car, headed to work. Send our kids to school. Flirt with the barista. Dine in a restaurant. Wash dishes in our restaurant.
We have been stripped to near survival mode. That said, I live in a unique situation—we live on a farm, which grows vegetables. Although we still get many of our kitchen staples at grocery stores, we are already in near isolation. Social distancing, for us, in South Australia, mostly means not seeing friends, not going to restaurants, and my husband’s restaurant converting to a vegetable box service.
But it also means that we will not be taking our planned trip during the Australian winter to the Northern hemisphere, where we would have connected with other natural winemakers and industry leaders, heard updates from their countries, and shared the warmth that comprises the natural wine movement. In a way, regular travel has sometimes helped us feel more assured in what we do here in Australia. Knowing that other people are also making sulfur-free, organic, no-intervention wine, despite the challenges, is comforting.
However, my husband and I have nothing to complain about, as long as we and our 3.5-month-old baby girl are safe and healthy. So far, we have been truly lucky in terms of this virus. Canceling a trip is a minor inconvenience.
It’s hard not to think of all this as the world begging us to slow down, to pause—especially as it’s come on the heels of massive, apocalyptic bushfires that raged across Australia, destroying vineyards and farms and homes and making us all feel helpless in the face of nature’s random cruelty. And so I am choosing to think of the coronavirus pandemic as the world’s desperate urging to Just. Stop. Moving. Stop working. Stop producing and consuming culture. It’s not that it’s all bad. it’s that it’s become excessive, out of control, almost like white noise, rather than something we truly notice and understand as we experience it.
Our biggest hope is that the virus starts to decline soon, and that scientists find a cure, and a vaccine, as quickly as they can. The medical workers on the frontlines of this crisis deserve an end to the long, dangerous hours they are pulling, and soon. If anyone has been sick or lost someone, my heart goes out to you. To those who haven’t experienced this yet, I urge you to boost your immune system by eating well, sleeping, and practicing yoga in your home. Staying inside and riding this out is a real way to do your part.
I wrote this in part because I’ve been feeling like I “should be productive.” It’s an annoying feeling. I just finished a massive book proposal, had a baby, and made several wines. That should be more than enough. And yet, even as the world tells me to slow down and just be, my mind is flying in so many directions, looking for ways to “produce” things in response to this horrible crisis.
Are any of you feeling that way? If so, you’re not alone. I think we are all so addicted to the rush of capitalism. It’s very difficult to just switch off. We’re used to the slog of working full-time just to get two weeks of vacation. Or if you’re self-employed like me (running a magazine and a winery), then you have long ago forgotten about a five-day work week, or leaving the “office” at 6pm—and rather, you are constantly on.
Every morning for the past few weeks, I instinctively reach for my phone. The people I live with and I gather and drink coffee and react emotionally to the coronavirus updates. Sometimes it’s shock. Other times it’s sorrow. Often it is anger at the way President Trump has bungled his handling of the virus, to the peril of many. And slowly it is becoming resigned, to this new reality: that we can do almost nothing except stay at home and do things here. There will be no socializing. We cannot show our guests from abroad (who now plan to be here for an indeterminate time) the sights or our favorite local restaurants. My husband’s restaurant, The Summertown Aristologist, may at some point close for good. We have no idea when we’ll take our baby to meet family in the U.S. No idea when or if I’ll get to host the natural wine tour I‘ve got planned for Italy. I really really hope the tour does happen, because I want so much to bring tourism into Italy, now more than ever, knowing how the country will be reeling from this virus. I don’t know when I’ll see my best friend who lives in Paris, and her toddler. Everything has been thrown into question.
One thing we do know: when we can once again travel, dine out, warmly greet acquaintances, and enter a sweaty subway car or outdoor plaza full of strangers of all shapes and sizes hailing from all corners of the earth, we will do all these things with the deepest, fullest appreciation. Being human doesn’t make us above getting sick. Our species is immune to nothing. And our greatest weakness may also be our strength: our persistent need for each other.