COCOONING, Reunion Hugs
Years ago I had about of pneumonia. I remember lying on the sofa, thinking how going upstairs to get a pair of socks seemed like a real odyssey, something I was totally incapable of doing. Later, when my lungs recovered, I felt fine again and even went out running – a lot. That illness was like a window that gave me a very clear preview of my old age: of that lack of strength and oxygen that’s now being suffered by so many elderly people. It’s a distressing experience.
I mentioned that I went out running. In those days, some people were already calling it jogging. Even Murakami, the author who also runs 100 km marathons, wrote a book about it. Running is a kind of universal pandemic, too! Executives from leading companies no longer meet to play mus, like they always used to, but to go running. But now they’re all suddenly sitting at home with their magnificent American designer training shoes made in China.
Now, we’re all in lockdown thanks precisely to a virus which, like sports shoes, came from China and ended up in the United States. Somewhere along the line this lockdown, which, being compulsory, is extremely bothersome, started being referred to in the colour supplements as cocooning (i.e., hiding ourselves away in the safety of our living room and enjoying all the benefits of the media, television, reading, cooking, baking cakes, etc.).
Spending long periods in confinement is a way of living for many people – Eskimos in their igloos, astronauts, sailors on their ships. And then there are cloistered monks and nuns, sometimes with vows of silence; prisoners (now we know what house arrest is all about!); and those machine operators who spend hours and hours in bubbles where nothing ever moves, or – worse still – a little light incessantly flashes to remind you that you’re not moving. Or people who lives their lives in war zones like the Gaza Strip, hiding away for years on end to shelter from the bombing; or the scientists who live in airtight buildings in Antarctica (like the ones Hugh Broughton designs), locked up doing their research for days on end.
I actually met Broughton three years ago at the “Open Madrid” event. He sat next to me, literally elbow to elbow, telling me rather cockily how the day before he’d been to the Chelsea – Atlético Madrid match and his team had won. Being able to do things like that – sit together at a lecture or go to a football match – now seems like something amazing. Now it’s “Closed Madrid”!
In Hamlet, Shakespeare wrote, “I can be bounded in a nutshell and feel myself King of infinite space”. That’s really just a reflection about the power of the mind to break down boundaries, to change situations.
Because another way of fighting boredom is to analyse the situation in greater depth, to stretch space by varying time: that’s to say, by varying Proust’s “madeleine cake” moment, by closely examining everything around us as a means of making the world bigger. They say Galician photographer Xurxo Lobato drives very slowly so as not to miss any of the scenery. Going more slowly allows us to enjoy things more. The slow life – another buzzword, another piece of Sunday supplement blarney. Let’s face it! Look at Carl Honoré and his In Praise of Slowness – which, by the way, waxes lyrical about life in those same little villages in Italy that are now having such a tough time of it. We’re just as bad as each other. How I love you, Italy!
In Valencia – a city now empty but in other years packed shoulder to shoulder with a human mass enjoying the Fallas – Sifre (a professor who had worked with Louis Kahn) used to tell us that the need for space varies depending on zones. Arabs in their souks, and we Spanish, especially in the Moorish influenced south, touch each other and live our lives very close to one another, whereas Americans need much more space around them, hence the size of their cars, their parking lots, their supermarkets…
Saénz de Oíza noticed how sheep in Castile huddled together in flocks (like villages) while in the north they spread out like the houses that dot rural landscapes in mountainous areas. But in the north we also want to see those lights glowing in other people’s homes, which at night, being high up in the hills, look as if they’re in heaven. In the present situation, we want to hear their applause and feel their shared warmth. We want to return as soon as possible to Ortega y Gasset’s notion of “seeing and being seen”.
People are now making great efforts, and then afterwards marvelling at the how easy it is, to buy things online for the first time, to use programmes that we’d never even heard of to continue giving classes, and to reply remotely to employees of official organisms who are surprisingly sympathetic to those using such digital channels. We’re also getting back to marathons… but now at home, with marathon sessions of series on movie channels… All this cuts down on emissions, reduces the greenhouse effect and gives us SILENCE, something truly amazing. If this continues, won’t it grow on us? Couldn’t this situation augur the death of the street as such, as Jane Jacobs predicted more than fifty years ago, and the end of social life as we have, until now, known it? Will this be the death knell for cinema? And for the printed press? We saw it coming. How are we going to rethink our way of living, which up until now has been so close, so social?
I may already be suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome, but just as my pneumonia gave me a glimpse of my own personal old age, this situation is a window through which we, as a society, can see a preview of a future marked by change, an inevitable future that will force us to temper our attitudes.
Let’s hope this situation doesn’t last for long and that soon shops will be open again and we’ll all be able to hug and kiss, go for a beer, wander through packed markets, sweat in concerts, attend the theatre or opera, get our hair cut, go to a cinema, or a museum, or just have a coffee and read the newspaper with the sun on our face at a terrace bar or pray together (fede, perseveranza e coraggio!). And that soon, very soon, we’ll be able to greet each other with affectionate slaps on the back with no fear of contamination. Reunion hugs…