These snapshots — postcards from a moment in time during the coronavirus outbreak — are fleeting by nature. But they are strands for the countless stories that will be told and retold for years among family and friends on what happened during the virus.
The Washington Post asked contributors in Europe, now the center of the pandemic, to offer their postcards.
Christine Spolar, London:
Cafe Kick is the sort of London sports bar ready to pull pints at 8 a.m. or pour shots through midnight for its foosball-playing crowd. This week, you could have rolled a bowling ball down its empty floorboards. Owner Gareth Kerr usually counts on serving up to 50 lunches a day. On Monday, he sold three.
In my neighborhood in central London, the local wine bar is running low on cash. Down the street, the oldest Italian deli/pizzeria in the city decided to order 100 cases of dry pasta Monday for customers who are too fearful to eat in a crowd.
“I’ve sold more pasta like that in five days than I have in a month,” said Felice Sula, the co-owner of Terroni of Clerkenwell, one of the last vestiges of London’s Little Italy. “I might have to cut back on the dinner hours, but I want to stay open. This place is part of the community.”
Quality Wines is an independent wine bar usually teeming with customers at dusk. Tuesday at 6 p.m., manager Gus Gluck was pulling chairs up on the bar and mopping the floor. For now, Quality Wines will rely on retail wine sales and takeaway orders.
Gluck grimaced and pointed to his cellphone. “All day, all day, I was getting calls from people who were being sacked.”
David L. Stern, Kyiv:
In Kyiv, restaurants, gyms, shopping malls, clubs and other public venues have been shuttered and the metro closed.
My wife, Yana, and I are practicing social distancing as the government “recommends.” Both of us are working from home and venture out only as needed. From our window, we see pedestrians on the street and strollers in the park across the street, but the number of people is definitely diminished.
So far, there isn’t a complete lockdown. But many anticipate that it is just a matter of time. It’s widely feared that Ukraine’s health-care system is woefully unprepared for even a medium surge in cases. The best we can hope for is to minimize the impact. But in telephone calls, social media postings and rushed conversations on the street, there’s a palpable anxiety that this will fall short.
We’ll make a food run a little later. We’re taking turns preparing meals. Tonight she’ll make chicken soup. Last night was my turn — calamari risotto. (The calamari was bought frozen, before all this began.)
Diana Hubbell, Berlin:
“Hamsterkäufer,” a man in the drugstore store muttered, shaking his head. We were both staring at the vacant shelves where the toilet paper had been. Literally translated as “hamster buyers,” the German slang for “hoarders” ranks right up there with Kummerspeck (“grief bacon,” or the fat put on after a breakup) as one of the better words this oddly specific language has produced.
Last weekend, it was the word I kept overhearing as I raced around Kreuzberg before the shops closed.
While Berliners cleared the supermarkets of flour, yeast and every conceivable shape of pasta, I found myself impulse-purchasing with erratic abandon — a venison salami from my butcher, sumac and a pound of olives from my Turkish grocer, a rare bottle of maple syrup from the fancy BioMarkt.
As I looked around a small kitchen supply shop, the French cashier received the news that her store would shut down until Easter, at least.
She told me it was the right thing, that she’d been on the phone with her family in Paris and her friend in Milan and only hoped we could stop it in time. Still, with her husband’s bar closed, she didn’t know what she would do if the business folded. I said I was sorry — what else was there to say? — and bought more things I didn’t need.
Pamela Rolfe, Madrid:
After stocking the house with food and supplies for the lockdown and given I don’t have a pet to walk, allowing me the luxury of a quick foray outdoors, picking up my daughter at the airport was the big adventure for the week.
The decision to bring her home to Madrid after her U.S. university shifted all classes online for the rest of the semester seemed like a race against time before Spain closed the borders. Border crossing by land has stopped and the government is urging Spaniards abroad to hurry home.
Driving to Adolfo Suarez Madrid-Barajas Airport along Madrid’s main highways was weird. All the electronic billboards admonished me to “Stay at Home.” In the half-hour drive, I passed four cars and wondered where they were going. The empty parking lot at the airport was an eerie reminder that life is on pause in Madrid. Only long-term cars were scattered in the international parking lot, while the string of eight vehicles waiting for travelers to emerge from baggage claim respected social distancing and left unusually wide spaces between them, with drivers not leaving their seat.
Rebeca collects her bag and shows up. We scurry home quickly. Not only are we relieved she is back in the nest, but we’re glad we weren’t stopped by the police and forced to justify why we ventured outdoors or receive a hefty fine.
Dariusz Kalan, Warsaw:
Tuesday morning, I bumped into my neighbor, an elderly man. I volunteered to shop for him.
He thanked and added resolutely: “Everything will be fine. We survived the Germans, the Russians and Jaruzelski.” He referred to destruction of Warsaw in World War II and the martial law introduced in the early 1980s by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, de facto dictator of communist Poland.
Yet I couldn’t help thinking that this city, always standing up to danger, has never faced that kind of enemy: invisible, imposing patience and self-discipline rather than the ability to take risks.
For many fellow citizens who work a 9 to 5 job, it’s becoming frustrating to stay home all day — with no one to talk to or, on the contrary, with too many of the same faces hanging around.
Early in the morning, I see Górczewska Street, connecting my district Wola with the city center, eerily empty. Small shops display signs specifying the maximum allowed inside — one at a grocery store where I buy cheese and meat, and two at my favorite bakery, Galeria Wypieków. Those who form lines outside stay calmly at least one meter apart.
I wonder how long this calm can last.