I’m gazing at the sea again. I don’t know when I started – when I pulled up that website with the photos of beaches, with the package deals and local attractions, and the pastry thing that you can only get in one particular village that must be reached by boat. I don’t know when I started, but in the time since I did, evening has come. When I think about holidays my brain splits neatly in two, one half dreaming and planning, memories paddling alongside fantasies, while the other half remains typically livid and confused, and quite at sea – though not in the good way.
It has become boggling to me, the idea that, once, I was able to simply plan a break. That our lives have now been so neatly delineated it’s possible to mark time as BC or AC, the before Covid period now remembered as a simple cruise through tree-lined boulevards, caressing strangers (consensually), laughing in offices, high-fiving (constantly). And now, well. Even the things that haven’t changed have changed, our own new, raw eyes seeing them in ungenerous and terrible lights.
It reminds me of the feelings I had when looking back at life before having a baby. The complete bafflement at the freedoms I’d enjoyed, and the deep fury at not having enjoyed them anywhere near enough. The big ones, sure, the travelling the worlds, the staying out all nights with strangers you fancy, the moving to San Franciscos with two weeks’ notice, yes, these almost go without saying. But the slighter ones were more painful to consider. The lying on the sofas of a Sunday, allowing a hangover to live expensively in your limbs, the having of just biscuits for dinner, the unbearable privilege of a bath. Living now in 2021 AC (though the concept of “after” threatens to remain a gesture for some time still) contains many such small agonies, and eternal recalibrations. Doing the old thing in a new time often leaves me breathless.
Yesterday, for example, I went to a gallery. Before Covid I would have taken my time, browsed the permanent displays, enjoyed a bit of a chat in front of a painting, emerged on to the street some hours later rich and bloated with art. Now I wheel a buggy through the one-way system, getting flashed at by statues stored in back rooms, and once inside the exhibition, float quickly from piece to piece to avoid encroaching on anybody’s breathing space. Though oddly invigorating, it feels more like swiping Instagram than engaging with an artist; a quick submersion, cold-water swimming.
This article was written by Eva Wiseman and published on the Guardian. Featured image from Business West.
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