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Tales from a Quarantine
By Felipe Rosa
April 8, 2020
Since I haven’t written in this space before, let me introduce myself. My name is Felipe Rosa, born, bred and lived most of my life in São Paulo, Brazil. I have known David and a large number of BOP contributors for the best time of 20 years, as we all share the same passion for films and numbers, among many other things we discovered over the years. Even though I haven’t written columns here, I’m often part of the Oscars Live Blog and a proud voter of the best awards on the Internet, The Calvins.
David invited me to share my experiences during the COVID-19 Great Shut-In. I’ll start with the macro experience, as things in Brazil may be different as a whole than they are elsewhere. Our first confirmed infection happened on February 26th, a man that had arrived from Italy five days before.
Those days, the pandemic was already out-of-hand in Italy, but the Western world as a whole was otherwise relatively untouched, so the general reaction was of cautious optimism, and little else.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that the situation started to get out of control here, too, about ten days later.
Personally, the idea of the pandemic truly hit me when my sister’s boss was barred from entry in their office, as she had been present at a wedding where a large number of people started testing positive. My sister comes by every day to “my” apartment (where I live with my parents, both over 70-years-old and with, shall we say, delicate lungs) so we can pet-sit with her lovely and spirited Westie. If she could be sick, my parents and I could be sick and, well, you know how it goes from there. Thankfully, my sister’s boss (and other co-workers who had direct contact with the confirmed infected person) all tested negative.
At the end of that week, Brazil’s Health Minister was suggesting that we follow the WHO guidelines of social isolation; his boss, Pres. Bolsonaro, however, was marching to a different tune and following what his ideological idol, obscurantist Pres. Trump, insisted: That lockdowns would be bad for the economy and therefore should be loosened as much as possible, that the Coronavirus gave little more than a “small flu,” that “people will all die someday.” Thanks to the efforts of local governments, however, most places were put on lockdown starting on March 13th, or a few days later. The lockdown in São Paulo officially started on March 16th.
Now, my usual routine, even at the best of times, is pretty light. Being out of a regular job besides the odd freelance gig, the only fixed commitment I have is going to school for Japanese classes twice a week, but on a typical week, I watch two films at a movie theater (Here’s hoping I’ll be able to continue to do that when all is said and done). A lunch with friends here, a happy-hour there, and that was it. Also, as is quite typical in Brazil, we have a cook and a cleaning lady, each coming once a week.
March 12th was the last day I left the apartment. I had Japanese classes in the morning, and one could notice already things slowing down a bit. In the afternoon, I made a decision that in retrospect was a bit selfish, and went to a movie theater, to watch the newly released “J’Accuse,” by Polanski. I drove instead of taking the subway or a cab, as I usually do, and the theater was empty, as it usually is on Thursday early afternoons. Still, it was a bit stupid, but I was sensing that it could be my last chance in a while.
My personal routine hasn’t changed all that much. I still divide my time basically between a handful of activities. I wake up, have the same breakfast, play my morning session of Collectible Card Games online or check YouTube, all the while communicating with my friends over the Internet (David and BOP’ers included) and generally checking the news. In the afternoon, I either watch more things on YouTube, or a movie, read, play videogames (some on Xbox, some on PC; preferred genres are strategy and CRPG, but that changes often). Currently, I’m playing a CRPG called “Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire,” which takes place in a fantasy world filled with pirates, and it has been a great time-sink.
As I’m not going out to see films in the theater (which usually amounts to two-thirds of the films I watch every year), I have picked up the slack with the streaming services available here. I aim to watch about four films a week, one more than my historical average. That gives me plenty of films to write about in my own blog, leaving enough time to my other “vices.”
One side effect is that, even more than before, I have been able to see films from a more varied set of countries (since the lockdown started, I watched 15 films from ten different countries); with more time to browse the streaming services, there are greater odds of finding something less obvious. As the physical horizons are currently so limited, it’s time to broaden the mental ones. If you are likewise feeling adventurous and willing to, as Bong Joon-ho said, overcome the one-inch tall barrier of subtitles, may I suggest you look for Céline Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” one of the most touching and powerful love stories I have seen in a long time.
I also have more time to read, which has allowed me to catch up a bit on my William Gibson. Even better, I have been making video conferences with friends I hadn’t seen or talked to in a long time. I had such an extremely entertaining video conference game session that it made me wonder why we don’t do it more often.
Something newly acquired in these times is to watch streams or old videos of role-playing game (RPG) campaigns; Critical Role, which is on YouTube, is the prime example. Watching those further opened my eyes that storytelling can happen in many different forms, and RPGs approach the more primitive (not as in rudimentary, but as in original) ways of doing that. I never played a tabletop RPG, but talking about those episodes with friends, I will soon start something that I long wish I had done in my high-school days and play some D&D. All it took was a pandemic to form a group of like-minded people.
The house routine as a whole has changed more. Both our cook and cleaning lady are being paid to stay at home and be safe. I can’t cook to save my life, even after more than five years living by myself, so that falls to my Mom. We are eating fewer raw vegetables and more cooked vegetables. I like our cook’s food, but I’m more than satisfied with my Mom’s cooking.
I have a daily internal debate if I should be the one that goes out for groceries, but we have decided that my Mom should do it. First, she would need to go out to do the drugstore runs (I can’t get their discounts, for instance); second, she has a few years more of self-preservation than I do; third, as we all share the same space, it’s hard to imagine that one of us would get infected but not the others; fourth, unlike me, her mental health requires her to go out every once in a while. It is a gamble, and every day I pray that we are not making the wrong choice. Thankfully, my Dad is as content as I am to just stay in.
I have been asked often if I’m not getting crazy without leaving the house. My answer can only be “not really.” I’m one of the lucky ones, as my personal routine is largely unchanged. I’m one of the lucky ones, as I’m able to go through this near those that are dearest to me (except my sister, but we talk or face time half a dozen times a day, at the very least). I’m one of the lucky ones, as so far only one friend of mine, a doctor, has been infected and has already fully recovered. I’m one of the lucky ones, as my personal finances are not greatly affected, so much so we can offer what little help we can to some people dear to us. There is, of course, the underlying fear of what horrible things may happen; “what if” is simply terrifying. Compared to some, that’s nothing at all.