To Romania, during covid

It’s been true for a year and a half now, but I had never felt it as acutely as I did on the flight from Amsterdam to Bucharest: this is a very awkward time to have allergies.

Granted it probably wasn’t pollen, likely some other dust or unfamiliar particulate triggering my sinuses, but something made me sneeze, just once. Okay, twice. About an hour apart. In a two and a half hour flight. Both times, I saw my previously friendly neighbor’s body freeze, then slowly turn away, almost curling into a fetal position to avoid the homicidal maniac he suddenly found sitting beside him. I didn’t blame him one bit.

I’ve never seen the international terminal at SFO this quiet

I’d felt it too, even without sneezes to spark the tension. Just walking the surprisingly crowded terminals at Schiphol had made me want to stand on a chair and shout “Are you people crazy? Don’t you know there’s a pandemic? Go home and shelter in place!” Instead, I would mentally touch base with the vaccination card in my bag like it was a rosary, protecting me from evil.

The number of kids surprised me. Those things ain’t vaccinated! I plan on staying far away from junior people on my trip, and will entirely quarantine for two weeks after I get back, just in case. But on both my flights I had young children just one seat away. I am already feeling irresponsible for leaving my house, so it was kind of shocking to see so many people porting their progeny around the planet.

Another surprise was the number of naked noses. I have grown accustomed to my frustration at Americans who somehow still don’t understand how to wear a mask properly, even after a year and a half of practice (it takes less time to potty train an infant, people!) but I didn’t expect to see so many Europeans with their nostrils exposed. I can’t help but see wearing a mask wrong as similar to wearing one’s trousers wrong, so every time I see someone wearing their mask below their nose I feel an urge to inform them that their face-genitals are hanging out of their face-pants. (Given that it seems to be 98% men who make this mistake, it would be fair to make a shirt saying “Dude, your face penis is showing.” Then I could just point to it whenever I walk past one.)


After all that, I forgot about Bucharest’s bad reputation for thievery and feral dogs. I walked around last night with my camera on my wrist and felt fine. Only one dog followed me, and it skulked away with tail between its legs when I threw some fake German its way. “Achtung! Mine Messerschmitt is verboten!”

In the end, it does feel crazy to be here. To be anywhere but Home. But it also feels incredibly good. The balance between physical caution and caretaking one’s mental health is at the heart of this thing, further weighed against the collective social responsibility of caretaking the larger group. I hope my coming here hasn’t added another cup of sand to the wrong side of the scale, and I can’t know for sure. I always have my mask with me, wear it when I’m around other people or indoors, avoid crowds, and I’ll take another test before I get on a plane again. But maybe I’m being selfish. Some would say yes, and I won’t tell them they’re wrong. But so far, this feels right. It wouldn’t have, a few months ago, and it might not within a few more, but for now, I feel connected again to the world.

I’ve missed that feeling.