Quarantine Log: Day 38. I say 38 because it was that many days ago when Adam and I turned around en route to the Algiers airport and ditched our trip to Valencia. Cancelling a trip made shit real, but we still went in to the office for a few more days after that. But we’ve been working from home for a month now, leaving the house very little, and only seeing our colleagues from a distance when we run into them on the embassy grounds.
The most exciting thing that has happened recently was one of the stray cats that lurks around our house left an offering our doorstep: Bird wings, two feet, and a beak. They were picked clean and laid out like a creepy naturalist work of art. Clearly this cat wants to live inside and I’m considering it after such a thoughtful present. I’d have preferred a bottle of Compari because that’s the one thing missing from our otherwise well-stocked bar and now how are we supposed to have negronis and boulvardiers?
Most people in Algiers are wearing face masks on the streets (even in their cars), and most shops and schools and everything else are shuttered. But our hilltop neighborhood is still fairly busy with cats, men who gather at the base of stairwells to chat in groups, old ladies who talk to their neighbors from windows above the rug or fleece blanket they’re shaking out.
But I’ve thought thought of a bright spot and it’s all the delightfully low-tech quarantine stuff on the Internet. It can feel like, in normal times, all of the online content we consume — from shows to Instagram posts — is so well-produced and high quality that in order to put your brand, your photos, or yourself out there, all of it has be be perfection. I’m guilty of this. I hardly even post photos on Instagram these days because the lighting, the framing, the perfection of everything else on my home decor-, food-, and travel-focused feed, well, how can I compete? And how in the world can I compete with jammies, frizzy air-dried hair, and not leaving my house?
For instance, I recently made a video for Facebook for my new embassy job. I had Adam film it. In order for him to remember his off-the-camera lines, you should see the notecard/necklace like contraption I rigged up and how I made him block it all out before we started to film, as it was just one long shot. Not to mention the time I spent on my hair and makeup, although I enjoyed that because it has been a minute since I’ve worn a bra, let alone styled my hair and put on a full face of makeup. After filming, it took me hours in iMovie to edit the thing, and I never did figure out how to make it so the camera wasn’t directly below my buttcheeks as I marched up the stairs. So, yeah, I want the things I post online to look as good and professional as possible.
But here’s something quarantine has taught me: Content is the most important thing. Or, in old person speak: You can’t judge a book by its cover. Musicians, actors, cooks/chefs who have an online presence had a choice: Stop sharing what they produce online for a while, or keep on sharing but maybe settle for a rather low production value. And I’m so glad they did keep producing, because some of these low-tech videos are really warming my heart, and are just plain good, even without professional hair, makeup, and editing.
Like Saturday Night Live’s shot-from-home episode last week. Tom Hanks hosted, delivering a laugh-trackless monologue from his kitchen (which is surprisingly less lavish that you’d expect from Tom and Rita). Other cast members submitted their shot-from-home sketches. My favorite was Kate McKinnon doing a home workout as frail but feisty Ruth Bader Ginsberg, lifting Q-tips and boxing tea bags. McKinnon had glasses and a collar on and performed the skit in front of poster board. She did not spend hours in the chair of a professional makeup artist to transform into an 80-year-old woman, and the skit was very, very funny. In fact, Adam and I watched the entire SNL episode from beginning to end, and I can’t recall the last time we’ve done that.
I’ve also really loving the chef/author/blogger David Lebovitz‘s daily French cocktail Instagram live videos. (He’s an American pastry chef who’s lived in France for years and has written several books and cookbooks, including Drinking French). He’s just learning the medium and his videos are very low tech and rather long considering he’s just making one cocktail in each video. If someone was directing, they’d be like “Keep it snappy!” and if someone was editing, they’d cut out all the parts where we can see up his nostrils as he checks for incoming comments on Instagram. But I’m enjoying the heck out of the meandering and kind of dorky videos.
I’ve been making his rosemary gimlet for happy hour for the past week. It’s bright and herbal and putting to good use a teensy fraction of our copious rosemary bushes in our yard. (Herbal aside: I told my DC friends about this cocktail the other day, post Zoom workout and I was like “I forget, are there rosemary bushes in DC? Like in the streets and parks?” They looked at me like I was crazy and confirmed I’m out of touch with DC after eight years away. It’s just that rosemary bushes are all over here – in the street medians, in people’s yards – as they were in Jerusalem and Rabat.
I’ve also been enjoying the Instagram videos being put out by Chef José Andres, that national treasure. He cooks over his own (massive, enviable) stove with his three teenage daughters and always mentions the current crises and who to whom he’s dedicating the dish. Yesterday he made a pasta with eggplant and chickpeas and chided his daughters for lowering his flame when he wasn’t looking, said “Look at that smell!!!” and belted along to the opera playing the background. You don’t always get this kind of personality and family dynamics on a professionally-produced show and I’m thankful for it.
Don’t even get me started on all the videos in which each singer does his or her part at home, but since I’m started, I especially liked the London West End production of “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Misérables.
And what about the Scottish sports announcer who can’t cover sports as they’re all cancelled and is instead providing sportslike commentary to the every day actions of his two dogs?
And personally, I’ve really appreciated yoga teachers who had no prior experience doing video classes embracing it and going online. (Been enjoying classes from DC’s Flow Yoga Center). I know there are thousands of workout videos already online, with nicer production value and sound editing, but I find myself wanting to have a shared real-time experience with others who are sheltered at home. I’ve also been enjoying a weekly Zoom call with my DC girlfriends to do old Jillian Michaels workout DVDs – just like we used to do together a decade ago in my DC apartment. Only difference is there are many more kids running around and crying than there were back in the day.
Anyways, a good reminder that we shouldn’t let a lack of bells and whistles prevent us from doing things or even creating things. Something doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful, enjoyable, and what we need right now.
Stay safe and sane,