Zur deutschen Fassung dieser Geschichte.
When I flew to the Azores from Lisbon on I-don’t-remember-exactly-but-some-time-in-the-beginning-of-March, there was this person at the airport who was probably just snickering disparagingly about people with facemasks. And maybe eating a Snickers bar under the hood, just for the pun of it.
At that time, a mere two months ago, although it may seem slightly longer, that person already knew something. I can just assume that he/she was a virologist or the Portuguese Minister for Health.
Elsewhere in the world, you might have worried that the hoodie was with the Ku Klux Klan. But this was in Portugal. There are no radicals in Portugal, no extremists, no terrorists. Everybody and everything in Portugal is moderate. “Even our communists are moderate,” my friend Romeu had explained in Lisbon, almost with disappointment because, in a way, it moderates even his staunch anti-communism.
Anyway, you are not here to read about politics, and it was time to get on the small plane that would hover me to the island of Faial. That flight was quite something, but remind me to tell you about that in another story, for we shall keep the digressions to a minimum or we are all going to die because we forget to protect our respiratory system.
I survived the flight (Portuguese airspace has only moderate turbulences), and as I left the harbor (that will be explained in the flight story, but stop being interrupted, will you?), I did see a few people, mostly ladies, it seemed, who were apparently conscious of the virus and already wearing facemasks.
Strange fashion, it may seem to you, but the islands are thousands of kilometers from the mainland, and time moves differently here. Faial was last struck by the bubonic plague in the winter of 1717 and 1718, but when people told me about it, it was as if they had been there. “It killed Henrique,” they would say about one of their forefathers, wiping a tear. Or “Maria Luísa never got over the loss of Cajó.” Of course people still had the old anti-plague suits at home, ready to be utilized after only 13 generations.
When I said that I was going to stay in the municipality of Cedros, people would inform me with a ghastly look: “Oh, Cedros, they suffered the most from the plague,” as if nothing remarkable or disastrous had happened in the 300 years since. In reality, hundreds of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and hurricanes have occurred since.
I am digressing again, am I not? So let’s wind our grandfather clock forward to 2020, the year of the Corona plague. I rarely saw anyone with a facemask, because there are not many people here anyway. And people are very reasonable, not hugging and kissing anymore. (The Azoreans who were into that kind of behavior all emigrated to Brazil a long time ago.)
But last week, I went to the supermarket and realized that I was the only one without a facemask. Everything had changed from one day to the next. I felt weird, almost naked. But they still let me in and gave me chocolate and stuff.
As a guest on the island, I want to fit in. So I went to the pharmacy, hoping they would have a facemask. But already at the door, a handwritten note said that they were out of masks until the next ship would arrive. I did learn that it was now required by law to wear a facemask in supermarkets and on the bus.
And then, friends, or shall I call them “friends”, wrote me with “helpful” advice on how I could make my own facemask. “It’s very easy: You just take a piece of cloth, preferably cotton and not used, you cut it this way, fold it that way, iron it, attach some rubber bands and sew around the edges, and there you go.”
I couldn’t even follow the instructions, let alone imagine where I would get cotton, an iron, a sewing machine and rubber bands. What do people think I have in my backpack? If I had that kind of equipment with me, I might as well build a spaceship.
The more “advice” people gave, the madder I got. It was as if someone complained that they are bored, and I told them: “Oh, just write a script, hire a few actors, set up a movie studio, shoot a film, and by tonight, you will have a movie to watch.” Seriously, it’s annoying to assume that everyone has practical talent – and tools to match. I don’t go around assuming that everyone has a penchant for constitutional law or the history of Montenegro, do I?
So I was already rationing food, thinking about putting a sack over my head and cutting two holes for the eyes, when one of the maxims of my life proved true again: If there is a problem, just wait. Somehow, it will be resolved.
Today, as I was going back home from having studied by the sea for a few hours, I had to pass the mail delivery van. The lady who distributes not only letters, but also her heart-warming smile wherever she goes, waved at me to stop. I obliged, naturally, and she handed me a package, saying that it was a gift from the government of the Azores.
In it, there were not one, but three fresh facemasks! With instructions.
This may be moderately socialist, but I just love it when governments, upon making it mandatory to wear a facemask, mail a box with enough facemasks to everyone in the country, including to people living on a small speck of volcano in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Especially when the mail person flags me down in the middle of the road to make sure that I get one.
It reminded me of my friends in Lisbon, Romeu and Mafalda, again. When we met, they took me to a mural about the history of Lisbon, which you can find if you are at the Portas do Sol viewpoint and ask for the bathroom. They used the cartoons on the wall to give me a very quick overview of Portuguese history. As they got to the time when Portugal was somehow united with Spain (from 1580 to 1640, I believe), Romeu said, jokingly of course, for he is a (moderate) patriot: “We sometimes wish we would have stayed in the Iberian Union because Spain is so much better organized than us.” I, knowing only little of both countries, felt that I had to object. From what I had seen, Portugal is superbly organized. As this episode confirms, one could easily call Portugal the Switzerland of the Iberian peninsula.