Call Me Franz

 

(Kur Report – Part 10 + “The End”)

 

My third week at the health resort went by so fast that I couldn’t really keep up with these reports. I left yesterday with quite different feelings than after my first two weeks. But let’s start with what was similar.

In my free time, I repeated some of the activities from my earlier visit – except this time it was summer, so the views were quite altered. First, I walked along the river to the Soldiers’ Cemetery again. With the gravestones no longer nearly buried in snow, the feeling was less poignant. On the other hand, I was struck by the dates on so many of them which I could now read – April or May 1945 – in other words, the very bitter end of the war here in Austria. I might do some research on that mystery . . .

 

My second re-visit was to the waterfall that runs straight through the town, basically slicing it into two halves. This time there was a lot more of it. I also discovered a little secret door into the rockface next to the rushing water. Another mystery to solve:

My other re-visits were to the various therapy stations. I found myself back in the Radon bath rooms and the mud pack rooms, but, alas, there were no reunions with Ötzi, Spandex Butt, or Lederhosen Butt. There was one Goretex Upper Thigh, but that was about it. While revisiting the swimming pool, there were no meetings at all – I had the whole place to myself.

 

The biggest change came in the fitness center room. As I inserted my chip card into the first machine, I was surprised at the weight level it instructed me to set – it was about three stages higher than what I had been doing the first time around. I strained and huffed and puffed through the first few machines, not really considering that something might be off. The computer told me what to do and I just assumed it had its reasons. By Machine 6, I started to feel some guilt about being in such bad condition. At Machine 9, when I almost pulled my shoulder out of the socket (twice!), I finally realized something couldn’t be right. I called the trainer over and told her I thought the settings were all too high. She took my card and put it in the central computer. She then came back and asked if I might have switched with another patient, because this card was registered to Mr. Franz Habenmuskel (or something like that). Of course, by then it was too late to undo the damage.

On my second trip to fitness room, my card had stopped working all together and couldn’t be reprogrammed. So, I just did the machines on their default program – settings suitable for the average 30-year-old man. I cheated a lot when it came to setting the weights.

Of course, I paid for these mistakes in stiffness and aching muscles which are still around now two days after my departure. Last time I came home feeling stronger, pain-free, motivated and almost like a different person. That’s sort of true again, except for the “stronger, pain-free, and motivated” parts. This time, I came home feeling like Franz.

 

 

Mansplainers

(Kur Report – Part 9)

 

Except for sporadic traveling sisterhoods (i.e. small groups of housewives who use the health care system to arrange biannual free vacations together), we cure guests all come here alone. That means part of the experience includes finding new temporary friends. Last time I was lucky to meet a lovely woman to take walks with as well as the boisterous, multi-cultural, and interesting crowd who gathered in the smoking hut on the terrace. This time the pickings were slimmer and more homogeneous.

I remember learning in a high school Psychology class (at that time, to my amazement) that the number one determining factor in the formation of friendships is proximity. The girl who lives across the street or sits next to you in homeroom is more likely to become your friend than a less accessible girl who shares all your opinions and interests. It’s the same thing here.

On arrival, I gravitated toward the terrace and immediately met two perfectly pleasant Austrian women. The next few times I came they were in the company of three or four middle-aged+ men who all talked loudly, a mile a minute, and often at the same time. The few times the women said anything, the men took up the topic and shared their vast knowledge, often repeating what the woman had just said as if it were their own original idea. My visits to their table were mostly brief and taciturn.

Last night, I actually sat down and stayed for a while. For an hour I was instructed on a whole variety of subjects – from the secrets of growing balcony flowers to Austrian property rights, from corona virus to bartending, from various Austrian B-celebrities to the “refugee problem”, from the probable causes of to the cures for my bursitis attacks . . . With my irritation factor rising steadily, one of them began informing me about the best way to learn English. I briefly considered mentioning that he was now entering my area of expertise.

Clearly, however, my voice was too thin to be audible to them. I needed some assistance from a more powerful one.

I waited for an opening. It came along fairly quickly when someone mentioned music. They were trying to remember the name of the man who sang “What a Wonderful World” and I just happened to a have a video of my daughter singing that very song on my cell phone. I pushed “Play” and handed the cell to one of them saying “That’s my daughter.” They slowly passed it around.

The mansplaining ended abruptly. For the next half hour, we talked about music and international adoption and racism. They looked me in the eyes and asked me a  lot of questions. They listened to the answers. Two of them shared stories about non-white members of their own extended families.  They became people and the conversation became a nice one.

Thanks, Mitzi.

The Masque of the Orange Death

(Kur Report – Part 8)

 

My brother’s nickname for Austria is “Clean World”. It’s his way of contrasting what he hears from me about the Covid and political situations here to what he is experiencing in the States. Well, if my home is in Clean World, where I am right now is . . . I don’t know . . . Prospero’s Castle?

As announced in my last posts, I left for my third cure week at the health resort on Wednesday at the crack of dawn. After about 4 hours of travel, I arrived, got my room key and was instructed to isolate there. Twenty minutes later, someone from the Red Cross came to my room and stuck a Q-Tip up my nose. An hour after that, someone bought me a plate of food. Five hours after that, my phone rang. My test was negative. I could leave my room. My cure week had begun.

This place is almost hermetically sealed. Everyone here has been tested, some of them more than once (if they are employees or patients who come from hotspot areas). No one else is allowed in and we have strict rules to follow if we go out. We get our temperatures checked daily before lunch. We have to wear masks outside of our rooms and sanitize our hands when entering and leaving any of the seven therapy areas. Everything imaginable is being done to keep the plague out of this place.

So, I guess it is no wonder that Edgar Allen Poe and his “Masque of the Red Death” keeps infiltrating my thoughts. What are we, if not a bunch of oblivious and merry guests concentrating only on having a pleasant time while a sickness rages outside our doors? Like the rest of the guests here, I considered tuning out the world for a week. But, unfortunately, the CNN breaking news on my TV and my list of political podcasts keep me informed about events outside, and I can’t seem to let them go. Twump’s clearly deteriorating mental state and increasingly demented actions have enabled him to sneak into this Castle of Clean World like an uninvited guest to wreak the same mental havoc here. But, of course, only for me. The rest of the people around me seem to be quite happy and fully enjoying the temporary good life.

I had free time yesterday and spent it in my room watching part of John Lewis’s funeral, including Obama’s powerful eulogy which really moved me. Afterwards, on the way down to the café terrace, I was deeply into thoughts about all the things he had said. Slowly, they got drowned out by the conversation of a group at a nearby table. It was the shallow talk of virtual strangers socializing out of necessity – complaints about the Covid restrictions and tips on how to get around them, a lengthy discussion about whether or not Hansi Hinterseer (an Austrian skier-turned-B-Grade-folk-singer) was gay, a mock feud between an Upper and a Lower Austrian, a debate about which receptionist is the rudest . . . It all struck me as so banal and meaningless. John Lewis is dead! Americans are dying and our democracy is on life support!! The “leader” is insane!

Which brings me back to Poe and another one of his stories. I remember some college professor telling us how Sigmund Freud was a Poe fan and that especially “The Fall of the House of Usher” was inspirational to him. It helped him to develop the theory of the subconscious. The upper floors house conscious, rational minds dealing – however feebly – with the world as it is. The crazy is buried in the basement – a place full of fear, obsession, and the irrationality of animalistic drives. Depending on how you see it, the protagonist either descends into madness or the crazy he tries to keep down resurfaces to destroy him. The whole house collapses in on itself.

Twump dwells in the basement of his mind. Years ago, I decided that he wakes up each morning with one thought in his head: “What dickish thing can I do today?” That has remained true up to and including today. It will be true tomorrow. It will be true on November 4th and on January 20th.

But! she says, with a budding, ever-so-slight sense of hope and change, Americans do seem to be waking up. Where locked doors fail to keep the orange menace from crashing the party and bringing the house down, the locked hands of various resisters just might: young BLM protesters shielded by a wall of moms, protected by leaf-blower dads, guarded by vets. Backing them up are the whistle-blowers, the Bulwark and Lincoln Project, the Squad, the leakers, the media monitors, the experts, the front-line doctors and nurses, the podcasters, the artists, the postal workers, the vote protectors, the voters . . .

Together they may finally pull off the orange one’s masque, revealing for once and for all that underneath, there is absolutely nothing.

 

Things Change

 

There have been some developments in the things I related in previous posts, so I want to update them in a somewhat rambling and random way, starting with:

Remasking

After a lot of speculation and delays, the government here has gone ahead and reinstated the national mask wearing order for stores, banks and post offices. Despite the starting date being set for today (Friday), many people began earlier – as in right away after the announcement, including us. Two days ago, we spent almost 3 hours in IKEA getting our daughters furnishings for their apartment. It was the longest time I have ever spent in a mask. I found it surprisingly suffocating. Then it occurred to me that long before Covid, just being in an IKEA with its massive crowds always made me feel that way, mask or no mask. Anyway, we don’t know the true reason behind or the end date of the current policy, but the general opinion among friends is that the government decided it was necessary to remind the population about how we should be behaving. With things opening up, we had gotten too relaxed about social distancing, etc.

 

Cure Continuation – With Conditions!

Speaking of opening up, the health center I went to for my cure can now start taking patients again. I just got the dates for my third cure week which was cancelled during the lockdown – it begins next Wednesday already. When the confirmation came, there were three extra forms attached about all the Covid restrictions and regulations. I had to sign them (i.e. basically swear to follow the rules) and send them back. I have to arrive there by 10:00 am on the first day in a mask, get a Covid test, and then self-isolate in my room for the rest of the day till the results come in (usually early evening the same day, they say). Masks are to be worn indoors at all times. I am not allowed to go to any other restaurants or cafes in the town. I can’t socialize with anyone who does not live in my household – so that means everyone – and I can’t have visitors. The list of rules goes on and on . . .

It is hard to imagine that this week will be as therapeutic as the first two were. On the other hand, I have been saying that I don’t know a single person who has been tested and now, in just five more days, I will know one person. (I hope they aren’t still sticking swabs way up noses.) I imagine y’all will be hearing my thoughts as I sit in my room alone waiting for the results. It’s a good thing, too, that this will not be the only travels of the summer.

 

Staycation

The onset of summer vacation was delayed this year as the first week included three somewhat obligatory social gatherings with my coworkers during which all the tensions and melodrama and plot twists of the school year were rehashed ad nauseum. So, instead of the usual end-of-the-year, 1-day system crash (traditionally spent on the couch in the company of a box of aspirin, a pukey bowl and the remote control), I went through a prolonged sort of joyless malaise with no travel plans and no energy to come up with ideas about how to fill the seven weeks stretching out ahead of me. I finally booted myself out of it a few days ago, starting with a call to the health center to schedule my cure week. That quickly led to plans to follow it with a visit to my aunt and uncle in Tyrol. After that, there will only be a week at home before taking off for our annual hiking trip in Carinthia. Then there will be just one more week at home before . . . no . . . it can’t be . . . don’t want to even think about it . . . Something seems wrong about the math here. Within a day, the summer went from being a long empty expanse to being all filled up with plans. I’m confused.

 

Clutter Box

I guess it is a good thing I didn’t plan any major projects for the summer. Instead, I dove into one of those little things that has been on the back of my mind for months. Everywhere you look in my house – on every shelf or piece of furniture or windowsill or counter space – there is . . . stuff. A small proportion of the . . . stuff . . . is actually put there for decoration. The vast majority, however, is supposed to be somewhere else, but just got left there by someone in this household. Every so often, I go on a decluttering rampage and begin sweeping all these surfaces clean, sorting all the stuff, returning some of it to where it belongs, throwing some of it away and finding new places to store the rest.

When I am done, there is always about a handful of undefinable things left over. I can’t throw them away. They look like they could be part of something, but who knows what? I imagine some future time when the husband asks me “Have you seen the gizmo for my gadget? It’s a small curvy piece of black plastic with some holes in it and a doohickey on it?” And I, having tossed it out, would have to avoid eye contact while saying, “I have no idea whatsoever what you are talking about! Never in my life have a seen anything remotely like what you are describing!”

So, instead, I throw these thingamajigs in the “Clutter Box”, just in case. I tell myself that one day I will make a piece of modern sculpture out of it all. I will title the finished product “Bob” (and then keep it in a plastic box in the basement storage room).

 

While doing the above, I also managed to somehow declutter my mind. I got rid of or stored away all the little pieces left there by other people during this crazy year. I cleared a path out of malaise and into the enjoyment of summer.

 

Hope for the Future

Not only is the future looking brighter now, it is looking brighter orange! On a whim, I checked my junk food website and was delighted to see my favorite thing in the world is back in stock and ready to be delivered. I pounced. With any luck, they will arrive before I leave for my cure. In the case that all the Covid regulations ruin the week, it would be nice to have a back-up therapy at hand.

 

 

Empty Nests

My four-week stint (or eight, depending on how you look at it) of experiencing unemployment has come to an end. I just had my first day back at work. The Hummingbird School has survived its own initial incompetence in crisis management, and starting Monday, (most of) the kids will be coming back. To comply with all the requirements set by the government and school board, we had to prepare a whole new physical environment in the classrooms – new nests, so to speak. Gone are the couches for lounging and the big carpets where we sat for circle discussions. Gone are the balls to play sports with during the recess. Gone are all the chairs in the small kitchen. Gone are the Montessori materials that get passed from hand to hand or are not conducive to being disinfected. Gone are the glasses and pitchers of water in the classrooms. Gone are the computer stations for common use. Gone are the musical instruments and board games. Instead, the room is filled with socially distanced, individual desks where the students will sit for most of the morning. In the front of the class there is a space for me to stay put and – for the first time in my career – teach lecture-style to a captive audience.

We’ve divided the students into 4 groups of roughly 10 kids apiece. Two of the four will come each day on an alternating schedule and each group will have it`s own entrance into the school. The ones who will be filling this empty classroom will disembark from their school buses in masks, enter the building, and immediately wash their hands before going to the classroom. They will take a seat and only then remove the mask.

I confess that I feel uneasy in more ways than one about these first steps into the new normal. While planning with my team members, we talked about whether it was a good idea to assign yet another text about their experiences in the lockdown and distance learning. I suggested that the kids reread the reports they handed in near the start and then write about what changed over time. In my case, I worried about feeling confined at first. Now at the end, I find I don’t really like the idea of leaving the house if I don’t absolutely have to.

I wonder if this feeling is normal. Clearly, I have had it easy. Between my spacious house and big garden, my family situation and hermit genes, it’s not like it has been hell. I’ve honestly enjoyed having my whole family around me, not to mention so much time that I stopped monitoring its passing. (“What day is it today?”) I could have continued on like this indefinitely.

But this is not where we are at here in Austria, so I guess it is time for me to come out of my hiding place. The rest of my household is doing so too (if somewhat more eagerly than me).

Whereas the school nest shown above is about to be filled up, my home one is emptying out. Last week, our refugee son moved to another village to be near his brother. The plan is for him to transfer to a school in Graz for his last year. (There is a long story behind these decisions that I won’t get into here. I will only say that I hope he will be happier and more productive with this new living situation.) Yesterday, my elder daughter moved back to her apartment in Graz after two months with us. She took my daily concerts with her. That leaves just one – my youngest daughter – who will be taking her graduation exams starting a week from now. Her original plan for a work/travel gap year got nixed by Corona, so she will be starting university in the fall and, of course, moving into the apartment with her sister.

It was while listening to a conversation between the daughters about decorating the place and the timing of Lily’s move, that the realization finally washed over me. They were talking July – or August at the latest. “Wait!” I thought, “It’s almost June already!” Too months from now, it will be just me and the husband and a whole lot of silence.

Somehow I thought “reopening” would feel different.

 

Remotely Reconnected

After marrying a foreigner 30 years ago, I stayed in a state of denial about my emigration for another six or seven years. Eventually I had to face the fact that I had settled 4,635 miles away from my family. This was made somewhat harder by the fact that we all seem to share a hermit gene and are pretty pathetic in the pen pal department. Years could go by without a peep from any of us. But then, every so often, some excuse for a reunion would arise, flights were booked and free days were arranged. We would all congregate on my sister’s porch and simply pick up from the point where we left off – be that three or five or ten years earlier. No recriminations for previous periods of silence. No “So you ARE still alive!” remarks. Just great conversation and laughter and enjoying the precious moments together.

I’m betting most people have some remorse over neglected relationships in this time of forced distancing. I’ve found myself calling up this or that old friend almost daily – just to check in or catch up. And people have been doing the same to me. I’ve had messages from high school friends back home, calls from students and in-law family members, emails from former colleagues, and yesterday, this text message from my bff:

Well, Ly, I have to confess that a certain evil penguin is not the only culprit to blame for my blog silence. I’ve also been preoccupied with this motley crew:

At some point in the late evening, one of these guys plants a meme bomblet in a sibling(+) WhatsApp group and we are off to the races. Some subset of us begins to chatter engage in witty repartee sprinkled with slightly painful punning and obscure movie quotes. Time zones are a recurring theme. Childhood nicknames are debated. Moments of trek-iness pop up leaving at least one of the sisters in the dark. Sometimes one brother writes in what he thinks is German. The other brother finally discovers John Oliver and gets immediately hooked. One hilarious thread creates a sketch about Twump captaining the Titanic. (“Only I can avoid hitting the iceberg. I am not responsible for hitting the iceberg. Now where’s that presidential lifeboat, Marine 1?”) We talk Wisconsin politics, the pros and cons of Biden, and the cons of brown sugar lima beans. Just last night, one brother and I philosophized till 3:00 o’clock in the morning about the triple-whammy of current catastrophes (corona virus, economic collapse, and the twump pwesidency) and compared them to “that old chestnut of nuclear annihilation”. Aaaahh! The good old days when calamities were simpler!

The exhausted Essentials among us worry about the state of the world. The Retirees among us worry about the Essentials. The Recently Unemployed among us just worries in general. But for an hour or two each day all of that ebbs while the messages flow. 4,635 miles shrink down to about a foot and a half – the distance between my eyes and the screen, my ears and the “Ding!”’s, my heart and the messengers.

 

Meet My Pandemic Penguin

I have been crocheting my way through this crisis. My most recently finished project is for a sister-in-law (the one of “Tuesdays with Dafi” fame). As usual, it came out looking ever-so-slightly evil. Perfectionist that I (sometimes) am, I will probably rip off and redo his legs and feet. Might replace the eyes too once the yarn store opens back up. I am also thinking the beak is too big and a nose job might be in order. Decisions, decisions.

 

Waiting in line is this squirrel for sister-in-law #2, who joined the Tuesday meetings about two years ago – except that they became Thursdays, started including dinner, and happened only once every 6 to 8 weeks. Of course, now, they are on hold, like everything else.

I miss them.

 

Unneedful Things

 

I had this whole list.

All the projects I was going to get to during the Social Distancing weeks. It even included an exercise plan. But, instead, for a person who was technically going to be fired along with her entire team because “they have nothing to do”, the past two weeks have been the most work-intensive ones in all of our years at the school.

First, we all became IT specialists on the fly and out of necessity. Teleconferencing began almost immediately with various constellations of team members and parents. The team spent hours and hours on the phone, trying to keep the school alive, while parents bickered and raised old grievances among them. “Really? Is this all necessary? Can’t it wait?” I thought to myself. It quickly became clear that the crisis in the school had existed long before the virus arrived. Corona just let it all come bubbling to the surface.

Meanwhile the team was trying to figure out how to set up learning platforms for the kids and creating a schedule for who will man the empty school on which days – as ordered by Ministry of Education.

Meanwhile, hundreds of emails were flying to and fro, most of them requiring attention.

Meanwhile, new WhatsApp groups were popping up like mushrooms, setting my cell constantly a-dinging.

Meanwhile, the website I used to post all of my assignments for the school kids came crashing down, adding an extra dose of stress that I seriously did not need.

 

Meanwhile, I began noticing again and again how the comfortingly familiar – the taken-for-granted stuff – can suddenly get hinky and . . . eerie. Take this, for example – I go daily to the MSNBC website for updates, but one day this week, the big red banner at the top for breaking news looked like this:

I spent an unreasonable amount of time trying to decode “Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE”. Was it some kind of secret code? Hackers? A Russian bot? Subliminal messaging? A warning? I confess it unnerved me a bit. It was creepy.

I need my normal things in life to remain normal.

I have been finding excuses to go to the neighborhood store every other day. I’ve discovered that seeing the fully stocked shelves puts my mind at ease. I then buy things I don’t need to justify my visit there. Yesterday, I really did need a particular thing though. The husband was making spaghetti carbonara and we realized we didn’t have enough noodles. I zipped down to the store and . . . they didn’t have any. “OMG! THEY DON’T HAVE SPAGHETTI!!” I thought. Now let me add that there were about 15 other types of pasta in plentiful amounts, but . . . “OMG! NO SPAGHETTI!!” Creepy!

And then there was the stranger. He walked past the house and then stopped to ask which direction he should go to get to a certain wine tavern in a nearby village. It was a situation I have had a thousand times, living in a resort area and right on one of the major hiking paths. But this time it was weird. “Where did this tourist find a room when all the hotels are closed?” I asked myself. “And why is he heading toward a closed restaurant?” Creepy.

And then there is the constant low-grade anxiety. “Do I have it?” one thinks by every tiny ache or pain. I mentally run through the litany of virus symptoms on a regular basis. If I cough, I think “Was that a dry cough?” And then I go sanitize my hands and try to tune my body out. I tell myself that we are all suffering from activeimaginationitus. It’s creepy.

I used to have a rhythm. There were workdays and there were free days. Now, every day, I have about an hour for my morning rituals before the emails and text messages and WhatsApp messages and the conference calls start coming in. And even that hour is disorienting. A week ago it was sunny T-shirt weather. Three days ago I was woken up by a frigging earthquake (!!) Yesterday, I woke up to a white wintery world covered in new fallen snow. Mother Nature is now sending me disorienting messages too. I raised my hands toward the sky and, looking up, I asked her “Really? Is this all necessary? Can’t it wait? It`s creepy!”

These are all unneedful things.

So, what makes all this bearable? The fact that Corona isolation causes creativity.

There has been a veritable explosion of it everywhere I look. My backward, alternative school has gone high-tech in the space of a week. The gym teachers in my husband’s school started posting funny “Sports at Home” videos and within 24 hours the students started spontaneously contributing videos of their own. My team and I had a WhatsApp cocktail party, sending one another pictures of our gin and tonics while chatting. A creative writing group of parents found a way to meet online and created a wonderful collection of “Life under Corona” pieces along with new, deeper connections among the participants. I’ve just been invited to join an online needlepoint circle who will collectively make blankets for a homeless shelter. Yoga teachers have found a way to keep their classes going through live streaming. My daughter had her first piano lesson by Skype. Musicians are finding ways to collaborate from balconies and basements to make completely new forms of music. As I write this, my other daughter is upstairs taking part in an open mic session with a group of jazz singers. And in the offline outdoor world, long-time laconic neighbors are meeting and talking (from a safe distance) for the first time.

It’s all communicative. It’s all collaborative. It’s all free. It’s all needed.

 

I try to be wary of romanticizing a pandemic. But there are things happening that I hope we will be able to take with us into the post-Corona world. As much as I crave normalcy – I would love to see a new normal emerge. A new school rising out of the ashes of the one being burned down now. An economic system with longer-term thinking and contingency plans. A new consciousness that a health care system based on profit and with gaping holes impoverishes and endangers everyone. A realization that we had become isolated long before this sickness began to spread. And when that isolation became a physical reality, we discovered that reaching out to others was the only way to return to sanity.

 

 

Babysitting Till Easter

 

Here’s a sort of continuation of my previous post. A lockdown update, so to speak. It is not every day that you get to experience a country going dark. Ripple after ripple of what this all means have been washing over me for the past three days.

As we suspected, the directive from the Ministry of Education to start preparing distance-learning materials for our students was a prelude to school closings here in Austria. Our 17-year-old Chancellor held a press conference on Wednesday to announce the government’s decisions. High schools will be closed starting Monday and stay that way till the Easter vacation begins. That means for three weeks. For elementary and middle schools, a compromise was found. Those kids who can stay home, should. The schools will stay open only for the kids who have no day care options. We teachers should not teach anything new to these kids, just take care of them and maybe review past lessons. One point stressed was that kids should not be cared for by grandmas and grandpas – if that is the only option, they should go to school instead. As a near-grandma-aged teacher, I’m not sure how I feel about that. But, in general, the decisions seem measured and sound to me.

Unfortunately, I fear there will be parents who don’t grasp the concept of social distancing. We have already gotten the first notice of a child who can’t stay at home. In his email, the father wrote that “it will be fine because [the child]’s immune system is very strong”. The email was sent to every family in the school and it got me wondering how many other parents would follow suit. Sure enough, a second email arrived on Thursday. In this case, the child’s parents both work from home, but apparently, they still need us to take of him during school hours. I’m not sure how this one will be handled, but in any case, it seems my team and I may be glorified babysitters for the coming three weeks.

Or . . . maybe not! On Friday, one of the parents sent an email suggesting we teachers be fired for the duration of the corona closings – with a guarantee of being rehired again. That way, the social welfare system can pay us and the school can save a few bucks.

I have no words.

Yes I do.

Firstly, we will all still be working. Secondly, in my entire life, I have never applied for or received unemployment benefits and I don’t plan to do it now. What is this woman thinking?? I told my team members that they can quote me if they want: if the parents go through with this crappy idea and fire us for a month, in my case they can spare themselves the rehiring part.

This was just one of the many many ripples on Friday. Despite it being my day off, a frantic phone call from a colleague had me jumping in my car and driving to the school. It seems most of the parents had decided not to wait till Wednesday. They would keep their kids at home starting right away. We had four hours to prepare them all for a month of distance learning and home schooling. We threw together materials and documentation sheets, we compiled email address lists, we helped them pack up all their books and assignments, meanwhile, the photocopier was running constantly, and the emails kept coming in. New information about the closings from the school board, the youth hostel cancelling our week in Carinthia in May, the big Montessori conference also cancelled, announcements from grocery store chains telling people there is no reason for panic buying – the warehouses are full and more food is on the way. There was a notice from the health resort that my third cure week is cancelled, news that the huge health spa near my house as well as all the hotels around it are closing and that the upcoming local elections were postponed, that the chancellor would be holding a press conference at 2:00 pm to announce the closing of all stores except food stores and pharmacies, and then the email mentioned above about the team being temporarily fired.

The news kept dribbling in all afternoon and evening – facility closings, border closings, cancellations of all kinds. My daughter sent me pictures of empty store shelves in Graz and asked, “What’s going on?” Amid all this, another dispute-by-email broke out among parents from the school. “Really??” I thought. “Is this really what you are worrying about at this moment of national emergency?” The exchange ended abruptly when the upcoming General Assembly was cancelled.

To be fair, though, these parents are not the only ones who are slow to realize the gravity of the place we are in or what “social distancing” or solidarity really mean. My younger daughter asked if she could sleep over at a friend’s house. My older one keeps talking about going to work on Monday despite her cough and cold and the fact that she isn’t really required to do so. Some of her band members don’t see why they shouldn’t get together and practice. We also had to track down our refugee son. He was by friends and planned to stay over. I had to text him in a pretty harsh tone that if he thought he could be going out with friends and still come in and out of this house, then we had a problem. My daughter then went to pick him up and bring him back. He gets it now too.

Somewhere during all of this, I had to get away for a while, so I took my dog for a walk. I ran into Mean Neighbor Lady by the mailboxes and, of course, we talked about Corona measures. There is no other topic right now. She wasn’t worked up at all about the shutdown in progress.  She even saw the bright side of it. “People can act so dumb,” she said. “They have way too much of everything and it makes them crazy. Years ago, we didn’t have all this stuff, but, you know what? No one went hungry. It was the same when all the refugees came. Everyone got so worked up about it, but, look – they are here now, and everyone still has enough food. And you know what else? If people here don’t want refugees from other countries coming, then maybe they should stop selling them weapons.”

It was the first time I had ever heard her political views and it floored me. For thirty years I have been assuming she would have xenophobic tendencies or be somewhat ignorant of the world. I guess that was pretty unfair of me. This short conversation turned out to be the bright spot of my day.