The weather is great, infection rates are down, and the Dutch government loosened Covid restrictions. Masks are no longer required in public indoor spaces. I’m at Basquiat waiting to catch up with a friend, and an Irish woman strikes up a conversation.
“I like to sit here late in the afternoon to watch the sun set between the buildings. I can’t take much sun, I have Irish skin, you know.”
She sneezes, and I remark how, since March 2020, “gesundheit” has been replaced by dirty looks. “I need my allergy meds” she says, in her voice a hint of embarrassment. Then she tells me about her successes of late: she and the old English Bulldog next to her have finally begun frequenting the neighborhood bars again, the ones “where everyone recognizes them”. She’s also been making lots of new friends. She suspects it’s the sign she’s been sporting on her mobility scooter, which reads if I die because of Covid, it’s not your fault.
“I feel so sorry for all the young people, you know? One of them told me they were scared to go out and party, fearing their reckless behavior would kill their grandparents. You know what I told him? I told him it wasn’t his fault. And you know what? He fell into my arms crying.”
Apparently, she hasn’t missed a single Sunday protest on Museum Square.
“It’s really insane, the weaponry and violence that are on standby on Sundays. I’m from Belfast, you know, so you could say I’ve been around the block a few times. Even in Belfast, during our protests, they only pulled out weapons when things got really tough. Here, it seems that’s their only strategy. And I’m from Belfast, go figure.”
In the evening, Anja and I go to Dignita Hoftuin, where our friends plan to announce their elopement in Kopenhagen earlier this week. Upon arrival, before I’ve been able to discern whether I’d like to consent to anything, I receive a warm hug from my friend, and a handshake from a total stranger.
What makes the pandemic such a fickle game is that nobody looks like they’re infected. Everyone who breaches my personal space looks kind. Still, the Delta variant is coming for us, and I’m surprised by how much my conservatism sticks out like a sore thumb everywhere I go.