For five wonderful weeks in January and February I explored India, well, part of it: the northern state of Rajasthan and the southern state of Kerala, with a 40 hour train journey in between. While in the south I started to hear about a few Indian students who had come home from China carrying with them an unexpected virus souvenir. Then I noticed reports in the English language newspaper (the Indian news media is good, and very comprehensive) that this same virus was starting to impact people in other parts of the world, including my part. By the time I returned home to Vancouver, it was a daily topic of conversation with everyone. Kerala had been particularly good about isolating the stricken students and preventing spread, so it was a surprise to find out how big a deal this was elsewhere, including Canada, this new and novel coronavirus.
Friends and family joked about touching elbows or feet instead of shaking hands and hugging, and avoiding Corona brand beer, which of course had nothing to do with the virus. The common cold is a coronavirus, but this new coronavirus was definitely different, easily spread and with sometimes serious side effects. The mood however was still a little lighthearted, and it was treated as if it was “over there” instead of “right here”.
On International Women’s Day, Saturday March 8, I was flattered to be asked to give a presentation at the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library, and I made sure to bring some hand sanitizer so that people could touch the book (and buy it!) with confidence. There were about 30 people there, and I was told there would likely have been more, but people were getting nervous about being in large groups.
The following week I was due to speak again, this time in Victoria, at the Provincial Museum, at the request of the BC Archives. A road trip! I do love me some road trips. My husband and I decided to make a long weekend out of it, stay somewhere nice, and connect with a few friends who live in Victoria and who we rarely get to see. But with growing concerns about the virus, now referenced as COVID-19 (because it actually started showing up in 2019), I contacted my host to ask if the event was still going to happen. Yes, it was still going to happen. So up and at ‘em early Friday morning, March 13 (yes Friday the 13th – that should have been a sign) to catch the ferry. As soon as I am on board a BC Ferry I feel like I am on holiday.
It was definitely quiet, that ferry, with nowhere near the number of cars one would expect, even on the Friday a whole week before spring break. Once in Victoria, I had a lovely lunch with Taryn Boyd, my publisher at TouchWood Editions (it still sends a thrill down my bones when I catch myself saying or even thinking “I have a publisher”), then my husband and I went for a walk around Beacon Hill Park before checking into our hotel, the old Union Club. A bit of a treat that place, a Victoria landmark since 1879. He napped while I worked on Sunday’s speech, then we went down the hill for dinner. Normally Friday night is hopping, and it’s hard to get a reservation, but we just walked in, got a window table, great service, seafood and a cocktail at Nautical Nellies. While I was there, I happened to glance around and my eyes bugged out of their usual position. There on the wall was a brightly coloured (one might correctly use the word jaunty), mural of Telegraph Cove! Well, well, what do you know!
But Friday the 13th lived up to its reputation and later that evening, I got the call. The entire province of BC was going into its kinder, gentler version of lockdown and the BC Provincial Museum was cancelling all public events. Profuse apologies. So, what now? Can we change our ferry reservation to Sunday instead of Monday? Our friends were still okay to meet, but at a small café for lunch, an early happy hour at the pub, to avoid the crowds. By the time we leave both, the places were seething. Hug or don’t hug? It might be the last hug we get for awhile so we hugged.
On the ferry ride home, we stayed in our car. At home we showered, and dumped all our travel clothes in the laundry basket. Online – what’s the news? Daily, hourly. Oh yes, this is the start of something very big indeed.