Updated: Feb 7
Marianna heaves a sigh of relief as the plane descends from the clouds. The winding Seine and the Eiffel Tower come into view and, soon after, the runway at Charles de Gaulle.
She had struggled with wearing the mask on the long flight. The AC was much colder than usual and the minimal food and drink service disgusting. These new post-COVID restrictions took all the joy out of air travel, which she used to love.
It had taken her two hours to board in Sydney, between the form filling, the vaccination and temperature checks and extra quizzing on her final destination. Some countries hadn’t yet received the vaccine.
However, she'd persevered and is now looking forward to seeing Marcel again after so long. Zoom romantic dinners can only do it for a while. She wonders what it will be like to actually touch a man. She feels rusty in that department.
The security and health checks are just as bad in France and she feels herself wilting in the long queue. The drinking fountain nearby is shut down.
An announcement is made in French, then in English, and suddenly they are directed to a different exit.
‘What’s happening?’ Marianna enquires of a man near her. He grabs his phone.
‘We’re being taken to a quarantine hotel, it seems. Someone on the flight had a fake vaccination certificate and has tested positive for the virus.’
Marianne can’t believe it. This is a nightmare.
She jolts awake and notices she's sweating profusely. The Sydney sun shines strongly through her window.
She rises fast and dons her running gear for her usual morning circuit. Passing the pretty marina where the early sun glints on the water, she halts beside her favourite Morton Bay Fig.
I think I’ll do a staycation to Noosa this year, she thinks. And maybe I’ll give Tinder another go.
As soon as patrons enter the hall directly via an automatic sliding door or through the casino and hotel lobby, they are greeted by a towering Christmas tree. It is one of the most magnificent of its kind, standing at over six metres or the equivalent of three very tall men. Colourful decorations dot the tree from top to toe; a bright star, the size of a human head, sits proudly at the top. It would have taken many hours of labour to put this spirit of Christmas together.
Many who are viewing the tree for the first time come to an abrupt stop. They gawk, turning to family and friends with gushing words of praise. Those who’ve seen it before still pause to take a few snaps. Others are vain enough to do a quick 180-degree spin so they're well-positioned for a selfie to post on social media.
Be careful if you’re navigating through this mob; be sure your head is not bowed down while you tap on your phone. You might easily stumble in the midst of this human traffic if you’re in high heels, which could cause some embarrassing moments. Imagine if you happened to fall into the photo frame of someone’s shot that later became a social media post much commented on.
Above this group’s chitter-chatter is the clinking of glasses at the far end of the space. The bar is filled with people cosying up to each other on soft-looking beige couches. There are a few stools at the bar should a lonely patron decide to converse with the bartenders, but there's no one there. It’s the festive season; everyone’s there with somebody or waiting on a couch for somebody. Loneliness is not part of the vocabulary for the season. Even those who are lonely manage to find others, other loners, to concoct a feeling of belonging, to get through the end of year festivities. In addition to the people standing or sitting in close proximity to each other, other bodies move into contact for hugs, with cheeks pressed against each other. Some people take it one step further and kiss for one second or, god forbid, much longer. Their lips part and one hole cups over another. Many would quickly label everyone here a covidiot – there is no social distancing, no masks being worn.
In fact, this Christmas feels just like last Christmas. What has happened over the last nine months might easily have been a dream. COVID left as quickly as it arrived, travelling to more distant populous lands.
It’s good to be back in Perth!
Copyright: text Cherry Chang, Gerdette Rooney; photos Ross Parmly; Wix
SSOA writers' blogs are made possible through the support of City of Sydney grant assistance.