Quarantined in Bogota

A friend asked me on Whatsapp today how my cats were doing. They’re doing just fine. Early on, I fretted about having enough food for them for an elongated period going forward, but then I realized that I was able to order in. Ordering in just about anything is not new here in Bogotá, Colombia. I’m thankful that it’s still possible. The most fraught moments are the actual exchanges at the time of delivery. I sanitize as best as possible every new product entering my home, and then I do it twice just for good measure. And then I wash my hands vigorously. And then again, just for good measure, I wash my hands twice for probably way more time than the 20 seconds recommended.

My cats are doing fine. If anything, they are happier that I am home 24/7, and I commiserate with them more. They are indoor cats and thus basically under a permanent quarantine, for their own good, In fact, their reality day to day forever going forward is not at all unlike mine at present. They are indoor cats. Now, I’m an indoor person.

My cats and I have a daily habit where every morning I take them one at a time to an open bathroom window to breathe in the outside air and see what’s going on in their nearby outside world; cars leaving the parking lot, birds flitting around from tree to tree, neighbors coming and going. These days we make an odd picture from our bathroom window; me in a mask holding my cats one at time as they breathe in an air that I have come to distrust, watching an altered landscape where no cars leave the parking lot. My cats focus on insects that fly past from time to time and on birds that make an all too brief appearance at a sadly untenable distance. I focus on the sky, on the fact that today is cloudy or sunny. It’s a good beginning to our day. Without my cat window in the morning, I might never pay attention as to how today is different from yesterday.

Bogota, Colombia: [top] Before quarantine. [bottom] During quarantine
Now beginning my fourth week of originally self-imposed, and now nationally mandated, self-distancing here in Colombia, I take note. Our mayor in Bogotá is telling us that we need to prepare ourselves mentally to be in quarantine for at least another three months.

As a freelance writer and artist, spending long hours working from home is not new for me. It’s always been part and parcel of my day to figure out new ways to connect to my creativity. Because of that, I might just be more prepared for self-isolation than many. And in fact, in these recent weeks, I’ve been involved in self-chosen creative projects pretty much from when I get up in the morning to when I decide it’s time to call it a day. And if I, given my propensity to work alone, am experiencing anxiety and at times reckless panic thinking, how must others unaccustomed as I am to being alone for long periods be reacting?

Silence has pretty much imposed itself on the world that I see outside my windows. It’s a soundless environment. Occasionally I see neighbors walking their dogs for short periods. At times, one or two other neighbors seek out the public areas of my building complex simply to alter their environment, I imagine, or talk on their cell phones in some kind of privacy. A couple of parents were taking their kids out to play in isolation last week, but that has stopped.

The external silence is sometimes broken by the sound of a motorcycle, a deliverer bringing food or medicine to someone living nearby or right here in my conjunto. I find the resonating and distant sound of the conversation between the deliverer and our doorman/gatekeeper a kind of solace. Our airports in Colombia for both domestic and international flights are closed. So I was astounded this week one afternoon to hear the sound of a jet taking off in the sky. And then I realized that, of course, cargo continues, must continue. Who knew that the sound of planes coming and going might provide daily comfort?

I have come to love the Bogotá birds that announce the coming of daylight here at 4:30 in the morning. I don’t sleep deeply these days (go figure). The birds give me reassurance that a new day is beginning, just like yesterday and just like any other day. These birds give me joy. I love the light that they daily predict, their message that at five in the morning the shadows of night will begin to disappear; that at five in the morning, I can finally fall asleep. And I do, often for hours, knowing that we continue as a human race and that my confused dreams are no more than an attempt to make the bounds of meaning come together for another day. It’s what we’re all doing communally right now, trying to make the limits of meaning come together for just one more day. Then, those same birds come back at 5:50 in the afternoon to announce another evening, another continuum, another everyday night approaching to another tomorrow.

I listen to music haphazardly. Sometimes it soothes, and sometimes I prefer quiet. Yet even within those parameters, I find time almost daily to listen to at least one Bach cello suite by Yo Yo Ma. I listen on YouTube to all or part of the Six Unaccompanied Suites by Johann Sebastian Bach concert that he gave at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2015. The music is calming and I love this performance for various reasons. It was recorded with live commentary for radio, so the concert has a sense of immediacy – it might just as well be happening today. It‘s a way of getting back life as normal. And there is great audible joy in Yo Yo Ma’s playing and in the audience’s reaction and appreciation of his playing. He performed all of the suites from memory, a feat that is simply inspiring, that one among us might just be capable of so much. It’s a reminder that we are all capable of great things. And the music is healing. Yo Yo Ma on the day of the concert had this to say about the curative potential embedded in Bach’s Cello Suites:

One of the reasons that I’ve played these Bach Suites so much is that I think they do have a very powerful effect that’s encoded in the music. For some reason, this music more than almost any other piece seems to elicit or give to the listener some kind of response that is helpful going through tough times. I’ve had more letters from children, from adults, from people who just say I was going through this operation I was just…things were really tough … this music was really helpful. So I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to actually play this music live, but also now on radio, because maybe this music can be helpful to people going through hard times.”