31 December 2021
The tightening grip of the Omicron variant has inspired me to make a radical move. Now that this virus has been roller-coastering through our lives for a good two years, it’s time to get off. I vote we sleep through 2022.
My initial illusions about the duration of this pandemic were recorded for posterity in an unexpected fashion: with a handwritten, two-line entry in my Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. It’s an old habit I copied from my mother: to note down the date on a recipe the first time I make it, including ideas for improvements. This turns a cookbook into a culinary history. In this case, a pandemic history: I found an entry that read “March 2020 – in the middle of the pandemic.”
How naïve I was! But nobody could have known just how long this pandemic would last. Except for the experts, but seriously, who listens to them? As we head into 2022, we can draw inspiration from the wisdom of fairy tales. The story of Sleeping Beauty offers a simple solution: a very long nap. This would let us simply skip the rest of the pandemic.
Imagine all the things Sleeping Beauty missed out on during her extended respite. The local fashion likely changed from long gowns to mini-skirts and back again, all while she lay there immobile, clad in – what else? A long gown. While thorns grew thick around the castle where she slumbered, radical elements probably took over the local government, demanding changes in village laws:
No trellises except in the backyard.
Hedges shall be kept trimmed at chest height.
It is strictly forbidden to throw offal into the castle moat.
Hangings shall be restricted to the first Saturday of the month.
By the time she woke up, protests against all of the above ordinances had subsided. The town was cleaner, the hedges uniformly prim and public hangings had become passé.
What a drag.
In my house we drew inspiration from Cinderella at the height of the pandemic – at least that’s what we thought it was at the time. It was December 2020 in Bavaria and strict regulations on socializing were in effect. If the seven-day running average of virus cases per 100,000 population was above 50, a curfew of 9:00 pm kicked in.
Our next-door neighbor, Akshay, was part of our pod. He came over regularly to alternately watch Netflix and DVDs, our sole source of entertainment for months. Parked on the couch, we would laugh, mindlessly stuff ourselves with potato chips peanut flips, and just as we got into the flow of Hollywood’s latest blockbuster – just as it happened to Cinderella at the royal ball – the clock would strike the hour of reckoning.
OK, it was just the timer on my smartphone, but you get the picture.
This tiny beep-beep-beep struck panic in our hearts.
“It’s pumpkin time! Run for it!”
Akshay would scramble down off the couch, stuff his feet into the loafers waiting outside our door and sprint down the stairs, his open winter coat flapping. I would watch the clock as the seconds ticked by, imagining him running the 200 meters back to his front door, wondering if it would be slammed in his face.
For there was a real danger in the form of Akshay’s elderly Bavarian landlady. She was quite strict in keeping to the virus restrictions and repeatedly threatened to lock him out if he came home too late. The wicked stepmother in this saga, if you will. We issued a standing offer for him to sleep on the couch if she ever made good on this threat to save him from having to curl up behind one of the bushes next to the front porch.
But there’s no need to create a virus version of Sleeping Beauty, since it happened in real life. Franz Kafka, one of the most celebrated writers in the German language, fell ill during the last great pandemic, the Spanish flu of 1918. Kafka lived in Prague, part of the Habsburg dynasty at the time. He took to his sickbed as a loyal subject of Karl I, the last Emperor of Austria. After several feverish weeks, Kafka awoke to find himself a citizen of freshly-baked Czechoslovakia. Prague’s train station was now named after U.S. President Woodrow Wilson in honor of his support of the new nation.
As we now ride out Omicron, I wonder how many more letters of the Greek alphabet we are going to learn as subsequent waves arrive? For I have stopped hoping the waves will stop.
The only question now is: what will they be called?
Delta was the last one, but Omicron is not the next letter. That would be epsilon. If you’re wondering, as I was, why they skipped ahead in the alphabet, I think I figured it out. Some virus-naming committee at the W.H.O. – let’s call them WHO – picked a name with a nod to another word English inherited from Greek: onomatopoeia. This is defined as the use of words that imitate the sound of what they represent: like snap, boom, pow!
I’m going to stretch this definition and claim that the WHO-dunits have employed it as a kind of Cockney rhyming slang, thus:
Omicron = Oh my God! It’s yet another variant!
With some imagination and tongue-twisting, we can foresee which Greek letters the WHO-dunits will use for the next variants lurking around the corner in 2022:
Mu = Mutated again!
Rho = Wrong! The virus is not going away.
Sigma = See what I said? It’s yet another variant.
Tau = Told you it wasn’t going away!
Come to think of it, the W.H.O. should reimburse me for supporting them with this eloquent wordsmithing.
In any case, I will take my cue from Sleeping Beauty. While others debate what to name the next slew of virus variants, I shall put on a long gown and nestle down in the covers.
Wake me up when we’ve reached the last letter of the Greek alphabet, omega, as in: Oh my God, it’s over!