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Quarantined Part 5


Wasn’t it superb to have a sunny Sunday to relax?


Although I couldn’t get out in that sunshine, I was so pleased to see it – and to see others on their balconies reading, relaxing, and even one, presumably, father and son playing catch. The boy was about 4, and it didn’t take long before the father put a bit of a twist into his throw to advance beyond the loop-the-loopiness of his son’s ball skills, I noticed.


I had an eventful day food-wise. I woke up starving, and realised I hadn’t had any protein for days, apart from some teensy yoghurts for breakfast a couple of times, plus some milk on my cereal, so I decided to complain. Oh, those whingeing Australians, staying in fancy hotels! I know ...


In my defence, this is a 3 and a half star hotel and I’ve been pretty reasonable, I think – but as a vegetarian, it doesn’t mean you don’t want to eat foods that actually satisfy your appetite. And that’s what protein does. So I rang Reception.


‘You know, when I filled in the questionnaire on arrival, I ticked vegetarian (not vegan) for meals and added that I eat eggs and dairy foods,’ I explained. ‘I haven’t had one egg since I’ve been here. And what about a bit of cheese sometime?’


‘Well, no one else is getting eggs and cheese,’ was the smart come-back.


‘Yes, but they are getting some meat, aren’t they?’


It made me wonder … We’re unable to consort with others in a similar position, since none of us can leave our rooms. We’re allowed to pop out our heads to gaze down the corridor, waiting for our food bags at meal time, but don’t dare take a step out. I have no idea what the other over-400 guests in the building are eating, since they’re mostly not vegetarians, I presume.


We’re each allowed one personal parcel delivery a day, so many are by now ordering in, I guess. And in such a confined space it's hard not to think about when the next meal delivery will roll around, as it varies, and what surprises lie in store.


Well, breakfast arrived and there was a creamy yoghurt included. Then a lunch of not 1, but 2 boiled eggs! By mid-afternoon I had dinner delivered, an Indian chick pea curry. Plenty of protein in that lot. So it’s reassuring that my complaint brought results. I may not have to complain again at any time over the next 8 days – if the message sticks.


I’ve heard that the Government at first offered caterers $60 per person per day for provision of meals, but reduced that to $20 – which would make it difficult for a business to employ staff and make any profit without skimping. But that might be hearsay – don’t quote me on that. It would be useful for a journalist to follow up the facts though – if there are still any journalists lucky enough to have jobs …


One thing I am feeling a little perturbed about is a quality of ostracism that floats in the air whenever I have any slight interaction with meal delivery staff. They’re kitted out with mask and gloves and I am too, sometimes, though I have to admit not always, since I often hear the knock on the door and jump up to answer, forgetting to don my mask – plus nothing is passed hand to hand, and we’re never closer than the 2 metres rule. The food bag is left on the floor outside my door, and the deliverer has often rushed away already. But if they’re still there, waiting for me, I’m treated as if I do have coronavirus.


And maybe I treat the deliverer with equal suspicion. The person might be a carrier of more than the meal; the bag may have been touched by someone with the virus, I think. It’s all very unsettling in terms of human interaction and goodwill.


I’ve been observing the ground rules for weeks, including in Peru. Yet I feel I’m being equated with an actual sufferer from the illness. What’s to be done? Cop it, I tell myself. But I think it would be a lot more helpful if we could all have a test to be ruled in or out. Surely the temperature test would only identify the high temperature phase of the illness. Or is a high temperature in all stages? Are there simply not enough test kits available? Maybe a medical professional could answer that question for us all ...


During the afternoon I did a spot of reading – fiction, that is, as a relief from the relentless coverage of the spread of coronavirus, essential though it is to keep up with the news. I came across a piece of writing by Ivan Turgenev, just a snippet described as a ‘prose poem’, though I doubt he would have classified it as such. The account is titled, ‘The End of the World - A Dream’ – and so it seemed to be. It carried such foreboding, set in Russia: ‘in the wilds … in a room big and low-pitched with three windows; a grey monotonous sky hangs over it’. By contrast, I read it on a balmy afternoon in Sydney, aware that we’re now all living through not necessarily the end of the world, but certainly as we’ve known it.


I am not alone; there are some ten persons in the room with me. All quite plain people, simply dressed. They walk up and down in silence, as it were stealthily. They avoid one another, and yet are continually looking anxiously at one another.

Not one knows why he has come into this house and what people there are with him. On all the faces uneasiness and despondency … all in turn approach the windows and look about intently as though expecting something from without.

Then again they fall to wandering up and down. Among us is a small-sized boy; from time to time he whimpers in the same thin voice, ‘Father, I’m frightened!’ My heart turns sick at his whimper, and I too begin to be afraid … of what? I don’t know myself. Only I feel, there is coming nearer and nearer a great, great calamity. …’


Turgenev gave us the ending we all hope for: ‘Scarcely breathing, I awoke.’


The sketch was written in March 1878, the month a treaty was signed between the Russian and Ottoman (Turkish) empires after a long and bloody war. Perhaps it is appropriate to remember now that the human race has long survived - many bitter wars, famine, pestilence and epidemics – and at this point in our history we can only look to medical science, self-discipline and bravery by the masses across the globe, to fight this latest war, a pandemic on a scale never before realised.


Note to self-interested me: I'll drop all the testy references to food in the rest of my blogs.


Copyright: Wise old owl drawing by a Sydney School of Arts & Humanities member, Jennifer Neil.

Turgenev quote from ‘The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem’, Penguin, UK, 2018, pp. 392-94.

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