Pandemic Musings: 4. The Daily Routine in the Second Wave of Altered Living in the COVID-19 World

Losing track of phases and waves in this COVID-19 world, we are all wondering what these months of altered living have come to mean for our daily routines. Are we in the second wave now? Or is it even the third wave? The French are classifying this latest “curfew lockdown” as the second wave, but the US seems to be on a third upswing, if not technically a third wave. We are all learning as we go along, even as we become distracted from time to time with developments in the real world outside of this weird cocoon. Aren’t we all experiencing a bit of that “COVID-fatigue”? And yet, in this time of alarming upward trends in recorded cases, both in the US and in Europe, we are being called upon to be more cocoon-oriented than ever.

This commentary was drafted before President Macron’s speech of 28 October 2020 announcing a second lockdown, which is proving to be far more dramatic than anything we had anticipated. Just as we were wondering how to cope with COVID-fatigue, we are suddenly being challenged with renewed seriousness. The announcement was triggered by ever more alarming statistics in this second wave – of real-life infections, hospitalizations and deaths that are confirming a truly serious second wave.  But our circumstances are not likely to change much since our daily routine was almost entirely home-bound before this latest development. It reinforces the point that we don’t have much to complain about, even if we share an appreciation for the alarming trends. And we do share, of course, the recognition that so much is unknown about its contagious characteristics and that we are clearly in the high-risk population category. But here, for the sake of psychotherapy by way of writing it all down, I reflect on the daily routine.

The Comfortable Routine

Envision the cocoon. We enjoy early morning reading of news and emails and Facebook posts over coffee and juice in bed before venturing downstairs to check out the state of the terrain and the weather. A breakfast of fresh grapefruit or cantaloupe can either be in the veranda on a cold or rainy day or poolside when the sun is out.  Now that we are moving into the fall, however, there are few poolside mornings other than to check how our olive harvest is falling into the nets that Ralph has laid out under the olive trees. And on Monday mornings, we have become accustomed to completing our weekly Internet grocery order for pick-up later in the afternoon.

Ralph will occasionally combine the pick-up run with a stop at the hardware store for renovation work supplies or to the pharmacy for prescriptions. If I have the pick-up duty, then it might include a trip to the gardening store.  Both of us have had medical visits, and I even had surgery with an overnight stay at a clinic nearby. That’s about it. We have only splurged with a shopping spree once or twice in the past two months and not to any dining out. All of this has been with proper (homemade) facemasks, regular hand-washing and social distancing. Although we have had no interest in exposing ourselves unnecessarily, we have entertained socially distanced visitors at poolside a couple of times in August.

As for the rest of our daily routines, they are in and around the home. Ralph combines his photographic interests in his “Studio” with steady renovation work in the “Dining Room” (to be). His camera work may take him to a nearby field or river but is more often focused on things in our own garden (from rainbows to butterflies). Selected items are shared almost daily with an avid collection of followers and even serious critics on Facebook. Renovation has been inspired by the gradual transformation of a long-neglected hovel on the old Martin side of our villa into a magnificent new dining room. (Dreams of having it all done in time for hosting a Thanksgiving feast with friends have necessarily been modified to making the hosting idea more “virtual”.) And now that the olive harvest is underway, he will also be managing the trips to the local olive oil mill and the packaging of our Villa Ndio olive oil for friends and family.

Both of us have undertaken a serious dieting regime. For Kathy, this has been supplemented with daily long walks in the neighborhood or occasionally in places like Grasse or Mouans-Sartoux nearby. Always with a mask handy, and always in search of routes with few passers-by. Her weekly English classes in Peymeinade and cultural exchanges in Grasse have been indefinitely suspended. Gardening will occasionally fill up the rest of the morning, but otherwise it is a blogging and researching routine in her “Bird’s Nest” of an office on the top floor. Racial justice and absorptive acceptance of diversity are on her mind along with her usual preoccupation with multistakeholderism (including a search for a better word to describe this!).

Our mid-day diversion is a daily Skype chat with daughter Kristina and grandson Remy – whose development path has been a joy to follow – about to shift from a healthy crawl and standing up on his own to his first steps of walking. Wow! What a happy and smiling boy he is becoming!

To continue with this ho-hum report, afternoons are short these days but filled with our separate endeavors until the 6 pm news brings us back together over a daily dose of popcorn. The news is almost always COVID-driven, but we enjoy the in-depth politics, culture and business news segments that fill up the evening. Dieting keeps our dinnertime simple and always consumed in front of the evening’s TV selections rather than in any kind of formal table setting. Occasionally, Kathy will step away for Zoom chats and meetings, benefiting from her membership with the Council on Foreign Relations or her White House Fellows class. Bingeing on a Netflix or Amazon series will sometimes keep us hooked until late at night, but otherwise it can be an earlyish bedtime with a book or crossword puzzle or Sudoko game. And that is it!

The exception is Sundays when the American talk shows fill our afternoons, followed by weekly Zoom or Skype chats with immediate and extended families. These add some variety to our routines. They connect us to the world outside of our cocoon and even beyond the COVID-19 world – worrying about the alarming deterioration of democratic values around the world and commiserating about the loss of loved ones. The US elections are for us in anxiety-driven countdown mode! And we engage in discussions about racism in our lives or getting serious about climate change or how the new technologies need to be better regulated.

Escaping COVID-Fatigue is not in the cards

In conclusion, we are settling down for a diversion from the COVID-fatigue with the preoccupation over the US elections. That will keep many of us well occupied tracking the news state by state. Democracy is at a turning point and depends on a convincing win for the Biden/Harris ticket. The results are likely to be drawn out over several weeks if not months, and even a successful outcome will require further actions to revitalize what has been lost in the past four years. But the setbacks we have endured are more symptomatic than the cause of our crisis in democracy. So forget Thanksgiving. Forget Christmas. We may be hemmed in by this second lockdown, but we have plenty to entertain us – as long as we get past this turning point!



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