I haven’t written for a while because life has just been … normal. I’ve been working, going to lunchtime concerts, to the gym, tending the cats and chickens, and trying to plan five and a half weeks in Europe after my house sitting gig in Oxford ends next month.
I was on the verge of booking a tour of Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. I was going with Responsible Travel, a company with which Lynn and I toured Colombia two years ago. They’re UK based and I had to call their American branch to book. The branch didn’t open until 4pm my time, and I got distracted with other things.
Then I watched the news.
Coronavirus has been the top story here in the UK every night save one or two for over a month. I don’t recall what the particular news was on this night, but I crossed “Book Tour” off my to-do list.
I’m not worried about getting the virus. Of course I am taking all precautions but if I get it, I get it. I do worry about being in Bulgaria and my return flights being cancelled. I worry about being banned from the UK, from which my flight home departs. I worry about being quarantined in a 2-star Hungarian hotel and having nothing but pork hocks to eat.
I worry that my cousin Molly and her husband will cancel the trip they’ve been looking forward to for months—to Oxford and the Scottish Highlands—scheduled to commence a week from tomorrow.
To their credit, as of yesterday they were saying they would come, knowing the worst case scenario was they would be “stuck” in the UK or be sick here. In my opinion, the UK would be a good place to have the virus. The NHS seems to have been very aggressive with quarantines, testing, and public health messaging. While there has been a run on loo paper and pasta (photos below of my local Tesco store’s pasta section), there is still plenty of food to be had.
Yesterday after taking a long walk along the Thames I sat perusing a travel book at the Eagle and Child pub with a pint of local ale and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps.
Here’s a book I didn’t buy:
My advice to any Brits who think Kansas sounds exotic is, “Don’t do it!”
The book I bought is, Europe on a Shoestring. I hoped it would kick start my plans, but I wasn’t feeling excited. I can’t afford to lose significant money if my plans are cancelled.
I noticed that—ironically given Brexit—the book included the UK. I flipped to that section to see what it said about Oxford, then kept reading, and began to feel excited. Why not just stay here and see the places I’ve never been? I started yellow highlighting and making lists of “base” and “day trip” destinations.
I awoke this morning to messages from friends and family informing me that all travel from Europe to the US has been banned. This is idiotic on many levels but it confirmed my gut feeling that I would limit my travels to the UK.
The ban is muddled and, I believe, will exacerbate the worldwide economic downward spiral into another recession or even depression.
When communications are unclear, people panic. For instance, the ban does not apply to Americans returning from Europe. Why? Don’t we carry germs? The UK is exempt from the ban. Why? Heaps of people pass through the UK all the time on their way from Europe to the US. Are they magically cleansed of contagion as they pass through?
Trump called coronavirus a “foreign” virus and Mike Pompeo, head of our State Department, calls it “Wuhan” virus. This “pure” us vs. “dirty” them language will ratchet up the xenophobia already rampant around the world and probably motivate foreign leaders to ban on US travelers.
Meanwhile, back in Oxford last night, my yoga instructor, who I think is Canadian and the most miserable-looking yoga instructor ever, encouraged us to “feel your bioenergy harmonizing with the universe.” I couldn’t feel it, but I felt grateful not to have a cough or fever.
Breathe in, breathe out.
And wash your hands!