This time last year I was counting down my last days of winter, 2020 as I have been able to do since 2012. We would fly to Europe some time in mid-February putting an end to snow, freezing rain, slush, and freezing temperatures until November or, with luck, December. We would only come back to Montréal at the end of March or early April.
We were leaving for Paris on February 17. Wuhan had gone into lockdown on January 23 but along with most in the West, I saw the emerging medical event as an isolated problem. We flew on the 17th as planned and had two great weeks in Paris. Far fewer tourists crowded the streets as travel from the far East had slowed to a crawl. So, no line-ups at the Louvre or any of the other museums, and it was easy to get restaurant reservations where ever we wanted.
We got to do everything we planned. We travelled on the busy public transit system or on foot. There was no television in our apartment so we did not get caught up in the rising Coronavirus panic but I did catch up on some of my leisure reading.
We took the Eurostar to London. I found the security and check-in procedures messy and troublesome at Gare du Nord but the half-empty train left on time. It was comfortable and on-board service was excellent, as usual.
London was busy. The streets, pubs, and restaurants were full. My daughter had come to join us with her husband and son. On one sunny day we were joined by two friends and the seven of us went walking on Hampstead Heath. The walk had whetted our appetite but we couldn’t find a restaurant or a pub in all of Hampstead for lunch. They weren’t closed, they were full.
My grandson and I went to a football match to see the Watford Wolves play Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park, an old fashioned venue. It was standing room only, everyone wedged in shoulder to shoulder. Social distancing at the refreshment stands? Forget two metres, think less than a centimetre. There were no face masks as the crowd sang the old Dave Clark Five hit, Glad all Over with gusto.
My wife, daughter, and her husband saw a West End show that same afternoon in a theatre that was full to capacity. Over the next several days it was Fidelio at the Royal Opera House, MacBeth at the Globe, and Madame Butterfly at the English National Opera. We travelled everywhere on the tube or on buses. Often, we would wait for a second train to be able to find a little bit of room to get on.
At the end of March break, my daughter and family went home leaving my wife and me alone. We had a little more time for television and so started to get a sense of the rising fear over the spread of the newest Coronavirus. The Brexit saga still dominated the UK news cycle but COVID-19 coverage was gaining ground. The story started to take the fun out of our getaway.
And then we visited Hampton Court. We expected to see flotillas of tour buses and wait in long lines. We almost had the place to ourselves. Covid fear was turning into panic. On March 11, the US started blocking flights from Europe and I started to worry about getting stuck in the UK so on March 12 we decided to go home, two full weeks early.
This year we are stuck in winter. It has been cold for the past week and there was a snowstorm yesterday. I do have a snow removal contractor but I still need to shovel the front steps. As I grew up in Sept-Îles, QC , I still like a driveway with sharp edges so I fuss more than I need to. There is incessant and depressing news coverage of the persistent and mutating nature of the pandemic. I want to go to Nova Scotia and live on the beach for a month this summer but even that may not be possible.
Yet, I live in hope. Hope that:
I hope that this time next year will be like this time last year. I hope to be counting down the days to getting on an airplane and escaping the dog days of winter.
The usual reminders:
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