Reflections on a month of ‘lockdown ‘in the Austrian Alps
It started in our favourite Alpine ski bar, eating mounds of delicious, deep fried chips, and drinking discounted beer. There was an air of excitement, tinged with sadness that the ski season was ending before any of us was ready. But this was before we really took stock of any financial or health implications. Instead we hired ourselves racing skis and blasted around empty pistes in the sunshine, one last hurrah before the mountains were closed to us.
On Monday it hit. No more guests. No more skiing. No more meeting with friends. No more mountaineering. No more visits to the sauna. And worst of all, no more wood fired pizza.
We started cancelling guests, trying to avoid a crippling financial crisis for the small outdoor adventure company we work for. We followed the news avidly, as one by one countries across the world locked down. We talked in weeks rather than months, not expecting that one month later we would still not have had ‘reasonable excuse’ to leave our secluded mountain chalet.
Week one was a blur, we felt a little lost, tried to create routine, grasped at any news that suggested that this was a short term state. By the end of the week we were gloomy, bored of the 6km loop up and down the hill through the forest. It slowly dawned on us that this was not going to pass quickly. We could lose our job, our friends could lose their business, family could lose their lives.
As week two dawned we became positive. We live in a beautiful house in a fantastically remote location. We have a vicious mongrel dog that will scare off any infected intruders. The weather was glorious. We decided this was an excellent opportunity to ‘improve ourselves’ and to work on all those projects we never had time to do. Learning German was top of the list, followed by Instagram marketing, landscape painting and welding. We made schedules reminiscent of GCSE revision timetables, and planned our days to the minute. The aim was to maximise self improvement. Watching a movie was only acceptable if it enhanced your cultural knowledge of the 80s. Posting on Facebook only allowed if put into practice everything learned from your latest online marketing course.
Of course, like any good GCSE revision timetable, the schedule was never really going to be followed. Days of glorious sunshine and hazy mountain views began to blur into one. We stopped reading the news. We also stopped trying to improve ourselves as much. The communal bookshelf heaved under the weight of titles such as ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ and ‘Everything is f****d’. But instead we chose escapism, devouring tales of epic adventure in the Hindu Kush, of road trips across Africa and Steinbeck’s ‘Travels with Charlie’, leaving us dreaming of the day we could pack our bags and hit the road with doggo once more.
You will know of course, that only an amateur in online socialising still uses Whatsapp to make a call to their friends or family. Whatsapp was quickly replaced by Houseparty which enabled you to play Pictionary, but which gave way to Zoom when we all realised you can only have eight participants. Evenings became fully booked with various online activities, allowing us to rekindle friendships with long lost friends. It is safe to say that we will never enter a pub quiz again after entering enough online to last a lifetime. Making and watching funny videos of our friends still held some interest, but really as week four was dawning, what we really wanted to know was why people preferred quizzes to Bingo.
Week four began with poor old Boris being sent to intensive care. My mum rang me happy to announce that even from his death bed Boris was ‘still thinking about her’ as more boxes of spam and white bread were left on her doorstep. Homeless people across Europe were offered housing and the vulnerable in society were badgered constantly with phone calls from volunteers desperate to do their shopping for them. We were surviving on weekly visits to our local Mpreis to buy outrageously priced vegetables, whilst clad in white masks and surgical gloves. Our local pub began a schnitzel delivery service, selling 180 schnitzels on day one to a population of 500 people. We started to read long articles on which world leaders had dealt with the crisis most effectively. Trump seemed to be losing the plot daily whilst New Zealand’s Ardern was praised for her smiley delivery of lockdown measures. Europe looked on jealously as the Swedes continued to drink coffee and eat extraordinarily expensive sandwiches at their local cafes.
As week five begins, there is a glimmer of hope for us here in Austria. The garden centres are opening! Praise be! We can now buy overpriced flowers that will surely die in the frost and snow that is yet to come in these beautiful mountains. We could really use a pizza and we are making tentative plans to order a takeaway on Saturday. On the 1st May Prime minister Kurz has promised we will finally be able to head to the shop and buy some new sunglasses. Inevitably it will rain in May.
Perhaps when you began to read this article, you thought you would come away with some novel revelations of self discovery. Alas, the following is what we have learnt from a month in isolation:
-Governments have the capacity to solve the homeless crisis, to give food to the poor and reduce carbon emissions but probably never will.
-Although reading the news is important, ensure your sources are wide and varied. Try not to read too much of it.
-People are incredible and have the ability to achieve great things when they work together.
-Positivity is the most powerful weapon we have.
-Community, whether online or offline is incredibly important for the human soul.
-We have the capacity to stare out of a window for hours without feeling bored.
-Humans can live one month without wood fired pizza.
And what will we do with this knowledge? We will look outwards rather than inwards. We will find ways to use our time to help others. We will keep trying to improve ourselves. We will ensure we have a good supply of frozen pizzas. And above all we will invest in high speed internet, because it’s really shit when “connection issues” mean you miss question 5 of the pub quiz.