Postcards From Quarantine

At this point, it feels a mantra to say today, 60+ days after quarantine started, that we’re living in strange times. How far into weird do you have to go before weird becomes normal? Will our reality now forever include mouthcovers and touchless greetings? Will sharing your mate now forever be met with “that’s so irresponsible” stares?

Life starts to look like a never-ending Zoom meeting, birthdays are celebrated with videos and pre-scheduled food delivery, and long-forgotten video games reemerge from the shadows. While the essence of a lockdown is the same for everyone, we somehow still find new things to tell each other about our uneventful yet endlessly weird reality. Yet another testament to humankind’s ability to adapt to what just a few months back would have been utterly impossible to imagine.

At La La Lista, several of our writers decided to share a fragment of our own quarantine experiences. We wonder – when will reading these feel like revisiting a strange, faraway memory?

As is the case for many, this year will surely be the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing my family. My roommates and I keep busy, honoring an unspoken pact to fill the void. I cook a five kilo ham on Easter, Chris tries new desserts (lately it’s been an exploration of fruit tarts), Pablo perfects his homemade chili. We invent traditions like movies and delivery on Saturday night, we save the good wine for the weekends, we play poker for household items. But there’s no getting around the missing. In some ways my family has never been more available — my phone dings with fb chat notifications all day long, my siblings and I trade TikToks that make us laugh. But then, a couple weeks ago, my dad started sharing his recently digitized Hi-8 tapes with the whole family, and my homesickness morphed into something deeper. I don’t just miss them now. I miss them 25 years ago.

As the weeks have dragged on and the lockdown of the country seems to be extended bi-weekly, it’s hard to stay positive and keep yourself sane while confined to the small space of your apartment. I certainly know it’s the case for my girlfriend and I. We’ve been in Buenos Aires for a short amount of time and our dream of traveling throughout South America during the year has been quashed by uncertainty and the over looming issue of job security. However, among all the doom and gloom we’ve had moments of pure joy and happiness. The peak took shape with us forming a bed of pillows and wrapping ourselves in blankets out on our balcony, sipping on cheap red wine, watching Mamma Mia, and belting out ABBA songs to our great pleasure and our neighbor’s ire. Yes, the wine ended and so did the movie, but at least for one night, we were the dancing queens.

I’m writing to you from the improvised bunker that is now my apartment and I can safely say there are two things that this quarantine has taught me: one is that pickled goods have become somewhat of a new religion for me and the other is that becoming a father during quarantine is not precisely the best of plans. Unrelated? Perhaps, but truth be told, this quarantine got me in a real pickle. My partner and I live far away, so when they told me their period was late, my busy and over-thinking brain jumped to horrible dystopian-esque scenarios. Because of the possible baby? Yes! But also because my partner lives with their other partner. No pharmacies were open and/or offering delivery service round their side of town, and so after some intense planning and extremely kind delivery dude’s willingness, we succeeded in our stealthy delivery mission. In the end, we were able to avoid a pile of drama — and diapers. All I know is that regardless of what happens after lockdown, I’ll be the first in line for a vasectomy. 

I turned 23 during the first round of quarantine in March. In this period, my neighbors were clapping enthusiastically at 9 pm every night, I turned on the news a lot, and the daily death tolls reported in Italy were still shocking. To celebrate my birthday my roommate and I shared a bottle of wine on the roof of our building. A helicopter that flew right over our heads contributed to the dystopian mood. As we looked around at Caballito from above, it felt like we were saying goodbye to the city for an undetermined amount of time. My roommate’s birthday is May 5th, and we speculated that we’d be celebrating it in the same fashion, but May seemed very far away back In March.

By the time her special day rolled around, we were no longer counting the days in quarantine. We had new routines and social distancing had become the new normal. All we can hope for is that next year, instead of birthday video calls we will again have real, face-to-face interaction.

A few weeks ago, my cat, Cocoa, jumped down off the roof to greet me on the patio, and I noticed she had something tied around her neck. It was a ribbon, with a note attached. With great curiosity, I untied the ribbon and opened the note. “Hi, we are Mai, Eze, Gilbert and Sebas. We live on Crámer street in front of the supermarket. Your cat has been coming to visit us and she has such a lovely energy. What is her name?” And so began a series of exchanges in which, thanks to Cocoa, we became friends with our neighbors, who also happen to be a group of creative twenty-somethings living in a shared house. We can’t wait to get together when the quarantine ends.

During this quarantine, the Sims have taught me a few things about life. The most important one is that Sims won’t die if you lock them in, even if you leave them without food, water or sunlight. Surprisingly, that keeps them entertained. It’s when you let them free that they actually get bored and die. 

I started quarantine with a non-quarantine-related fever but very much a real illness. I laid in bed feeling sick and bored, and not quite understanding the chaos unfolding outside my house. When the first Saturday night came around, I received a text message from a dude I had only seen a few times before the lockdown started. In my already shitty mood, I read his words — he was asking me out on a date. He requested I got my dinner ready and he would send a youtube link: one of my favorite writers was doing a live reading of his stories, and he had bought us tickets.

We’ve now gotten used to zooming everything, but on March 21st, the concept of a youtube-enabled date was quite novel. I listened to the reading and enjoyed every minute, commenting on the short stories via WhatsApp and pretending he was walking me home once the show was over. I’m not here to say the internet can replace the real thing — it can’t. There’s no match for reality. However, I will also say this: the date may have been digital, but the smile on my face after the night ended was very, very real. 

I don’t trust any of the numbers they’ve been publishing. I prefer concrete measurements. I’m 8 empty coffee bean bags energized. A rough 16 empty wine bottles stress-free. 6 different types of flour in the pantry, 2 sourdough starters in the fridge full. 3 finished paintings and 5 discarded attempts creatively flowing. 4 seasons down with 5 movies we’ve abandoned more than halfway through tired. 1 unfinished puzzle spread out on the living room table committed and two times (that someone has spilt wine on said puzzle) flustered. But so far there are zero cases in the pueblo.

I’ve been making playlists, looking for a flow. When life strips us of any semblance of power over our own destinies, we assert control however we can, the little rituals of mundanity suddenly charged with ontological meaning. Some cut their own hair; I make playlists. A lot goes into it: track selection, once-over, start scanning for a through-line. Find a thread and follow it. Strive for sonic continuity. Match timbres, keep tempo and intensity fluctuations gradual. Look for her in the crossfades. Don’t peak too early; we want an arc. Think of another contender. Drag and drop. Delete because it’s incongruous; because the feel is wrong, because you remembered one time she said that she didn’t like it. Don’t put too many ballads together, and don’t front-load it; we want this thing to carry us. We want it to swing, and we want it to thrash, and we want it to be pretty; we’ll forever find a spot for “Web in Front,” because one could die happy in a city destroyed by fire from the sky with this candy-rain bursting from one’s headphones. Keep an eye out for transitions; the only thing better than a perfect chord change is her glance of recognition. Think of how these songs might hit her ear, but try not to wonder where she is. When you’ve finished, play it back exactly once, then file it away with the detritus of this lost quarter. Click and start anew.