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The challenge to take off the mask at the first restaurant visit after 6.5 months

“Welcome, nice to see you again, how are you doing?” said the young man as he arranged a table and two chairs at safety distance from the other customers. “How was the winter?” I asked and I knew the answer before  he replied “tough!” We winked with the eyes, looked at each other condescendingly and exchanged smiles under our masks.

It was indeed “tough” 6.5 months in lockdown, for workers in suspended contract and 530 euros in state aid often paid with delay. It was tough for people with underlying issues or family members in high risk groups, the nightmare of having to be intubated in ICU and suffer from long-Covid effects. It was tougher than tough to practically live in social isolation over such a long period of time, in economic insecurity and infection fear.

Even though restaurants opened on May 3, we did dare to go almost two weeks later. We thought it would be empty as many Athenians left the city and the suburbs for their village or the islands on the first weekend inter-regional travel was allowed.

We were wrong. The tables at the large pavement were full despite the fact that it was pretty early for the local eating habits on a Sunday. But Greeks couldn’t wait. They simply had to go out in the mid-day sun and the fresh wind: young families with children, elderly couples, men-only groups, a lonesome with her dog. All stars and planets were favorable, were calling us like the ancient sirens to go out and enjoy the feeling of a “normal” living again.

Normal? As we sat down, I couldn’t get rid of the feeling that I somehow was doing something …wrong or just “missing something”.

I kept my mask on, I disinfect my hands, looked around and I was kind of shocked. Man! All customers did not wear mask! “Of course, you stupid,” I told myself, “how will people eat and drink if they wear masks?”

I read the food catalogue wearing my mask, disinfected my hands again when we gave our order. And again when they brought water, bread and the cutlery.

We sat there waiting for our food, my friend totally relaxed and me still wearing my mask. He asked if I’d wear it throughout the whole lunch. I laughed  -under the mask, of course.

At some point, I grabbed the water glass and brought it to my mouth where it touched not my lips but the surgical light blue mask. Man! I pushed it down to my kin and up again when the waiter came back with the wine and the first dish.

I was asked for one more time if I’d wear it throughout the whole lunch. I replied “I wear it when the waiter brings stuff.”

It took me some 20 minutes, three sips of wine and one cigarette to take the ultimate decision: to take off the mask and enjoy that good old feeling of normalcy. Hearing people talk and laugh – but hey! thank goodness, they were quite away (what a relief!)…

The challenge to get my normal life back

All these last weeks of lockdown, I was wondering if I will ever be able again to retain my old social life habits. I often also tried to recall: what was my normal life before the pandemic outbreak a year ago?

Meeting friends for coffee, drinks or dine out. Pay a visit to relatives or going to the movies, to the opera, to an archaeological site, to an art gallery or a museum; to a concert too. What else? Hm… What else? Occasionally shopping or to dentist, to a bank or just out to fix things that need to be fixed. What else? I don’t know.

Sometimes I have the feeling that I forgot what a “normal life” looked like.

And to tell you the truth I started to see “normality” again when the government abolished that stupid sms to leave our homes. An sms to go to kiosk and the small cheese-store 50 meters away? Give me a break…

What I definitely kept from my old habits in this one pandemic year was: swimming until October, going to very few selected restaurants (where measures were strictly observed ) until they were shut down in November, and the obligatory ‘hairs & nails.’

I once went to a shop to buy summer trousers in August and another time to buy a present in October. Both times, I went at noon, where the average Greek customer has either a nap or works. I again went at noon, when the stores opened with appointment in April. That was no fun, I hastily bought a pair of sport shoes because the old ones were … over.

I did very few online shopping which turned into a complicated disaster in 4 out of 5 times. I will hardly do it again, except from the supermarket.

Now I long for my personal swimming season to start again – usually mid-June -. I need to go buy a pair of sandals and a watch – my old one broke down in November 2020! Why should I need a watch if I spent most of the winter and spring months at home, working from home?

I also long for a summer movie theater, which I avoided last year. I was freaking out and thinking of all the people who would …cough their coronaviruses on my back. Our mental health has mysterious ways which we often cannot control especially in times of challenging stress.

So far, my close social bubble managed to survive without infection and losses. But friends and relatives I haven’t seen for over six months got infected, some with mild symptoms, others needed hospitalization and still suffer from the Long-Covid effects. No fatality in direct social circle but two in indirect one.

To tell you the truth I am more confident now. I had my first vaccine dose in April, the second is due this week. So far, the only ‘cheating’ I did was to go to a restaurant 3 weeks earlier than my full – or 95-whatever % – immunization which they say it occurs 14 days after 2nd jab.

But WFT!

The Earth is still round and moving even if in a form of crispy fried pie with wild Cretan greens. It was worth the risk.

But the tiny devil inside me still wonders if there was a “risk”…

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  1. Amusing anecdote about your incredible fear of the virus, and living with that fear! It’s humorous and sad at the same time.

    Interestingly, today my daughter’s school teacher told me that this year has been “tough” for him. It certainly has been a tough year!

    I also have had terrible experiences with online shopping. I keep telling myself that it’s a good thing that I have consumed less and I don’t need to consume so much, etc. etc

    I hope you get to the sea soon.

  2. So terrified of a virus yet apparently still smoking. Now which is more likely to kill you. Hint: it’s not the virus.

  3. We also had an enjoyable Sunday meal in a busy restaurant area of Athens … it was so nice to see things look like normal … we were also surprised at how many diners were locals and not tourists yet things seemed quite busy … online shopping in Greece has not been good to us either so we are delighted to be able to visit a real retail shop … the new promotional video on Greece “All You Want is Greece” says it all!

  4. thank you for sharing, editor! I can relate to the fear and to the smoking 😉
    KTG is great and I especially like your ps’s

  5. @Alan Powers …exactly…

  6. I wouldn’t fuss at the author about smoking. I very nearly took it up again this year myself! Better than becoming an alcoholic, maybe.

    And really, if everything I own wasn’t lycra or cotton knit, I’d be wearing a bedsheet himation-style right now. A few kilos? maybe…

    So clearly my ‘tobacco’ was food. Sigh.

    The fact that any of us can manage anything (including sarcasm – a perfectly Greek response) is amazing.