Elbow-bumps instead of hugs, and hand sanitiser everywhere. This is the reality in Montevideo. I arrived on Saturday to a city on partial lockdown, and a usually buzzing city is eerily quiet. It’s not empty exactly; there were people out in bars and restaurants, but many were closed. It seems arbitrary how some establishments are complying with the government’s orders to close and others blithely ignored it. Some people were determined to carry on as normal: eating, drinking, smoking pot. But many shops, cafes and restaurants were closed, and many that were open were barely doing any business.
It seems so odd as just a few days ago I was in Buenos Aires and hanging out in a hostel with young travellers from all over the world who couldn’t care less about coronavirus and were more concerned with drinking and hooking up. I am supposed to be returning there next week – if I can get in, that is. The country may close its borders soon.
As I write this I am hearing news of Ireland heading into total lockdown later this week, while in Britain they’re seriously talking about actively trying to infect as many of the population as possible. There’s a horrible blend of blind, wilful arrogance, gnawing fear and utter despair, a strange combination of pre-Great war “This will all be over by Christmas” and “Last one left alive please turn off the lights”.
It’s difficult to put into the words the feeling, probably because like so much else of modern life, how we feel about things is usually filtered through the distorting lens of social media. Given the histrionic tone of much of Twitter when it comes to discussing the world of politics, sports and Love Island, what else is to be expected but ignorance and panic now that we’re facing something utterly new. If there was ever a time to turn off the internet and read a book, this is it.
My friends in Montevideo are throwing a little St Patrick’s Day party for me. It will be a barbecue and beer affair. The balcony is large enough that we can all keep our distance while enjoying each other’s company, so I don’t feel irresponsible. Sadly, though, there won’t be tango.
Niall McArdle’s work has appeared in the Irish Times, Banshee, Spontaneity, Honest Ulsterman, Bangor Literary Journal, RTÉ Guide, AGNI Online and Phoenix Irish Short Stories, and has been broadcast on RTE Radio. Say hello to Niall on twitter.