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It’s a weird time in the life of the pandemic as the vaccinated, half-vaccinated and yet to be vaccinated venture out and tentatively try to co-mingle. I’m half done, shortly to be full, on the basis of which, in a moment of rashness, I promised to take my children to a water park in New Jersey on spring break. Too late now, but it’s something which, on reflection, it might have been worth living without antibodies for a few more months to avoid.
One odd element of the current climate is that you have to be careful what you say to people. There are, suddenly, a range of new sensitivities and areas of radical disagreement among those who would, prior to the pandemic, have been broadly aligned on most topics. In New York, where mask compliance is basically 100%, no one questions the wisdom of kids being masked in schools, and everyone agrees that the governor, Andrew Cuomo, is a disaster, sudden schisms are appearing over the next phase of reopening.
Is it, for example, an infringement of civil liberties to follow Israel, as Europe is threatening to do this summer, and issue “green passports” to the vaccinated, only allowing those with antibodies to enter businesses and airports?
“Seems fine to me,” I say unthinkingly in the playground on Monday, to be met with a look of incredulous outrage by the mum I am talking to. “It’s totalitarianism,” she says firmly and goes on to delineate all the red lines that have been crossed in the last year, including – wow, we really are far apart on this – the shutting of businesses by government in the first place. “And what do you think about the fact they’re giving vaccines to breastfeeding women with no trials?” she says. I hadn’t thought about it. I give it two and a half seconds’ thought. “I mean I guess that’s … isn’t that a way to pass on immunity to babies? I have no idea.” “It’s crazy, is what it is.” And there we stand, nursing our opinions, each wondering at the discovery that the other is a nut.
I remember when Starbucks first became a thing in the ‘90s, newspapers ran a lot of trend pieces about the power of the “third space”. It sounded rubbish back then, but weirdly, now, after a year spent enjoying the ambience of my own kitchen, I suddenly get it. Oh god, the third space! I’m desperate for one. In my half-vaccinated state and with New York recently reopening indoor dining at reduced capacity, I tentatively take my kids to the first restaurant we’ve been inside in a year.
It’s not like the old days. They take our temperature at the door and ask for my phone number and address for contact tracing. Inside, ever other table is blocked out with tape. It’s a burger bar on the east side of the city where, prior to the pandemic, the line always stretched out the door. Now we’re the only ones here. In a phrase it would once have been impossible to imagine being uttered in this place, the host sweeps his arm and says: “Any table you like.”
This is, obviously, terrible for restaurants. But guiltily, I have to say, it is a vast improvement for the person with young kids, used to being rushed, and squashed, and stressed in the middle of a heaving restaurant. Now, I scan the bar code on the table, bring up the menu and order calmly by phone. Five minutes later, our food arrives. “God, this is weird right?” I say to my kids.
They stare back at me blankly. “Is he bringing the food?” they say, anxiously. “Of course he’s bringing it, it’s a restaurant.” When the chicken tenders and french fries arrive, they regard the waiter with wonder. At the end of the meal, my daughter lingers by the table. “Come on, what are you waiting for?” I snap. She indicates the rubble-strewn mess of napkins, french fries, ketchup and spilled water, all memory of how restaurants work apparently wiped. “Are we just leaving it like this?” she asks.
All those sourdough starters and grand plans to learn, during lockdown, how to make things with more than three ingredients in them have come to nothing. According to the ONS this week, the two big spikes in UK grocery shopping over the last year were not yeast, nor interesting cuts of meat, nor, I don’t know, turbot, but couscous and frozen pre-prepped vegetables. We’re as harried and indolent and last-minute as we ever were.
I’m deep into menu fatigue, burnt out from the rotation of nuggets, bolognese, fish fingers and the handful of other things people in my house eat, although apparently not demoralised enough to try anything new. Instead, I buy a Nespresso coffee machine, my biggest extravagance for a long time. It ruins the ping of sanctimony I used to get by not buying from Starbucks and thinking that the savings I made justified, for example, buying a dress I will probably wear twice.
Now I’m dropping $1 a cup on Nespresso without leaving my house. The reward is being part of the “global Nespresso community”, which is, I’m excited to report, hands down the best global community I’ve ever been part of. If anything in life has given me equal joy to the milk frother, I can’t think what it is.
Ten days out from the interview, and American friends are still baffled by Meghan and Harry – or rather by why, when embracing Meghan was such an easy win for the royals, they chose to mess it up so spectacularly. (As the interview aired, one American friend texted, simply, “good God.”)
I’ve tried my best to explain how the royal family works – their habit, as the poet Carol Rumens once put it, “of peering down a nose of ancient lineage/Dispensing tiny drops of sour noblesse” – but before we can get very far, the whole debacle is bumped down the running order by the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow documentary. People pick their sides, although the measure of the man seems to me fairly plain at this point. One, small detail: Mariel Hemingway, the actor who appeared as a teenager opposite Allen in his movie Manhattan, reported how he invited her to Paris after filming (she declined); Dylan Farrow alleged that he told her he would take her to Paris. My friend, lately appalled by the royals, texts with what feels like a definitive assessment: “He’s such a fucking dork inviting people to Paris all the time.”
Thank God for Tina Turner, who along with Dolly Parton, Cher and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Celine Dion, restores one’s faith in the celebrity class. At 81 and with failing health, the legendary singer has used a new HBO documentary to announce her retirement and take stock of her extraordinary life. It is shocking to hear someone speak the plain truth in public. “I had an abusive life,” says Turner. “There’s no other way to tell the story. It’s a reality. It’s a truth. That’s what you’ve got, so you have to accept it.” She might accept, but she won’t gild it, and in a phrase that stays in one’s mind long after seeing the documentary, says: “The good did not balance out the bad.”
In the spirit of gather ye rosebuds, then, some final, cheering news of the week from a waxwork museum in San Antonio, Texas, where a likeness of Donald Trump has had to be packed away because people keep punching it. Happy spring.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Digested week: I’m taking tentative, post-vaccine first steps in a changed New York | New York