It was Monday, November 2nd, 2020 in the early afternoon. Erwin, a Viennese-born passionate waiter who had lost his job due to the pandemic, sat in his small flat in Vienna´s 18th district Währing* and strung toilet paper rolls in the colours white, pink and yellow onto an old clothesline. He used three big packages for this, nothing to be taken for granted given his tight budget. However, he simply had to participate in the event that Margerita had invited him to via the internet. First because Margerita was a very special person. And second because this event seemed like just the right thing for him who already felt terribly lonely at home, "Dress up, come to Türkenschanzpark and let´s enjoy the community one more time in the evening before coming together is difficult once again."
Erwin had a sip from his beer can, his third or fourth already, and tied the clothesline onto a belt loop of his trousers. He viewed his work sceptically. "I hope people still remember that in March the toilet paper racks were empty. If not I will make a fool of myself. Well, so what. I couldn't care less."
Vera had read Margerita´s posting on Saturday evening. From then on over the weekend, she worked with great zeal on a big headdress in the form of a coronavirus. On her kitchen table, she shaped a huge chunk of plasticine until late into the night. She enjoyed the shaping, painting and modelling, it took her mind off the worries she had about her parents. To top it all off she attached small lamps on the inside that shone through slits and holes. She was very happy with her piece of art.
Two hours before the parade started at 5 pm, Vera sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of red wine. Hardly did she sit still when her thoughts rushed to her parents again who lived together in a nursing home in Upper Austria. Her mother she didn´t worry about but her father… she had to be prepared that from one day to the next, his time to leave this life might come. That wouldn´t change – however many corona art pieces she created. Vera´s eyes filled with tears but then she pulled herself together, had a sip of red wine and looked out of the window. "It will do me good to get out and mix with people", she thought, "it´s all a little much right now."
Djamal was a surgeon who had fled the war in Syria. Meanwhile he had found a new home in Vienna close to Schubertpark in the 18th district Währing. What luck it was to be able to sit on the sofa in your living room and be safe like on that Monday afternoon was difficult to convey to people who experienced neither war nor flight. His wife and kids were safe as well. He had every reason to be grateful. The event that Margerita, who he didn´t know personally, had invited him to seemed like a good opportunity to share his gratitude. In addition, the children really enjoyed going to Türkenschanzpark because of the many bodies of water and ducks.
"We wanted to come up with something for the parade in Türkenschanzpark", he said to Alex and Larissa as they rushed past him. "What are we going to do there? Hello! Come over here! Can you think of something?" Alex, the older of the two, stopped, thought about it briefly and then called out, jumping excitedly on the spot, "A song, a song, a song!" - "A song", Djamal said appreciatively, "a very nice idea, Alex, that´s great." - "And you?" Djamal asked the smaller sister who listened with big eyes but made no effort to answer. "Don´t know", Larissa said, ran into the children's room and beat her colourful children's drum. Alex sat down next to her at the e-piano, picked up Larissa´s rhythm in his play and started to sing. "Corooona, Corooona, stay at hooome ya! Corooona, Corooona, stay at hooome ya!" Djamal stood in the doorway of the children's room and shook his head in disbelief. "What a great song", he said and clapped his hands.
Simon, a British artist, who in his years in Vienna had moved away from fashion and towards performance, found the year 2020 nothing but ridiculous. The national farce around the Brexit had hardly calmed down when the curtain of the global spectacle called "corona" lifted. In this drama, too, the obstinacy of the British government caused astonishment, if not a shake of the head and rejection. With Ischgl**, Austria made an internationally renowned contribution. Also the disputes around the colouring of the corona traffic light system, the mixing of politics and health, gave deep insights into the condition of the society. Exciting times for the arts.
Was it a tragedy or was it a comedy? The longer the pandemic lasted, the less there was a clear answer to this question. Simon was still unsure whom to believe and who would better be mistrusted. Now, at the beginning of November, what had only been talked about in spring seemed to become reality – the overrun healthcare system, not enough intensive care beds, and too few staff. A new ominous term appeared – triage***. What had happened over the summer? For the first time Simon started to worry about himself – that he, too, could be affected. He was a heavy smoker, had always enjoyed life to the fullest and had gone over the top countless times. Would he withstand a severe course? And what if there was indeed no intensive care bed available for him, should he ever need one? He saw himself lying in a hospital room, with an oxygen mask on his face, motionless and kept alive only by a machine. His satirical spirit had flown away, sitting outside the window, sad and worried about his host, and not making a peep.
Simon remembered the posting of a certain Margerita, which he had noticed this morning. It was going to be a parade with costumes. "I will go there as the death with a black cloak and a scythe. That´s going to be awesome. Macabre. And honest. I will improvise. I'll use my broom for the scythe."
Zsuzsanna was a nurse and had been commuting between her home country Hungary and Austria for many years. She enjoyed doing this work and had always coped very well with the responsibility and the burden that come with the job. In this particular year, however, she felt that the demands on her were overwhelming and going beyond her limits. The entry restrictions, the corona tests, the back and forth of the frequently changing regulations and opinions of experts as well as the mask wearing were wearing her down. What weighed most heavily on her, however, was the constant concern that, even with all the hygienic thoroughness, she might be responsible for a serious illness or even the death of a person in her care. This couldn´t happen. And if it indeed happened and it was proven that she made a mistake, what would that mean for her future? Would she be able to pursue her career?
Mrs. Hazanovic who she had been caring for the last several months had fallen asleep in the late afternoon watching TV. Zsuzsanna had sat with her and had gotten so lost in the pictures, voices and faces that she completely forgot to tell her that she still wanted to go for a walk today. One of those disturbing dropouts. The day was so wonderfully mild, maybe it was the last really warm day this year.
Now Zsuzsanna was standing at the ironing board, looking out of the window and seeing that the sunlight already started to slowly tint in the evening. If she still wanted to go out, she had to do it now, right away. She unplugged the iron, wrote a note, walked quietly through the living room and put it on the side table so that Mrs. Hazanovic had to see it when she woke up. Zsuzsanna got dressed, hurried downstairs, and outside. She took the path to the nearby Türkenschanzpark. There she wanted to go to the big plane trees where under their mighty crowns she livened up, even became really light and cheerful.
When Zsuzsanna entered the Türkenschanzpark she was greeted by a young woman who was wearing a long chain of lights with small white lanterns around her neck. In her hands she was holding a board on which was written in colourful letters "Margerita´s parade". "Are you coming to the parade?" the young woman asked Zsuzsanna with shining eyes. "No", Zsuzsanna answered and turned to the board with interest. "Margerita, is that you?" - "Yes exactly, I am Margerita." - "And what´s that, a parade?" - "A walk together with lots of people. Soon people with masks and costumes will hopefully show up. And then we are going to walk through the park together." Margerita grinned broadly and Zsuzsanna nodded sympathetically and smiled. "Have lots of fun", she said and turned to leave.
"Why don't you join us," Margerita said, "come on! Today we want to set an example together, for love of life and community in these difficult times." Zsuzsanna stopped, turned to Margerita, then looked into the depths of the park where behind the hill was the place with the big plane trees, turned again to Margerita and said, "You are very kind. And today is a very special evening. I will come with you." Margerita jumped in the air and blew Zsuzsanna a kiss. "You are the first and you are a sweetheart."
Then Erwin came around the corner, stopped, looked around for the clothesline with toilet paper rolls which he dragged behind him on his waistband, and then continued on his way in a jovial manner. "Hello!" Margerita greeted him, "Erwin! Great that you have come!" Erwin had a sip from his beer can and greeted by bowing deeply before the two women. "Margerita calls and I am there. By the way – if somebody needs to go to the toilet, I have enough toilet paper." Erwin turned around, lifted the line and presented it with a cheeky expression on his face. "I still got hold of some for us." - "I think this is a great idea. For this reason alone it was worthwhile to organise the whole thing." Erwin looked around. "But there are not yet many of us here." Zsuzsanna looked at Margerita who shrugged her shoulders in a relaxed manner. "It will be fine, don´t worry." - "We shall see!" Zsuzsanna said and looked mischievously at Erwin and Margerita.
Then Simon appeared, wrapped in a large, black blanket and with a broom in his hand, to which he had attached butter knives and forks with adhesive tape. A group of young people who inspected each other's pointed caps that were decorated with self-made corona balls followed him. "Hello! Welcome!" Margerita called out to them, "you are in the right place!" Simon turned his black made-up face towards Erwin, Zsuzsanna and Margerita, opened his eyes widely and said in a deep, creepy voice, "I'll come and get you, I'll come and get you. Corona goes around, my dearest best friend. I'm gonna get you all." - "Get lost", Erwin said and hinted to kick Simon´s behind who accepted the interlude, turned to Erwin and growled at him. "You, too, are welcome, Grim Reaper", Margerita said majestically and playfully reached out her hand to him. Simon took out a yellow cardboard box that had "Corona" written on it from the inside of his cloak. "Want a pinch of my favourite powder?" - "Off you go!" Margerita ordered and directed him into the distance with her arm stretched out. "Yes, that´s what I´m saying", Erwin joked, "shoo shoo, get lost."
More newcomers came through the entrance gate of the Türkenschanzpark, adorned with blinking devil horns, nubbly massage balls, a spiny pufferfish and many other accessories that made imaginative references to the pandemic. Larissa and Alex arrived, sang their "Corooona, Corooona, stay at hooome ya", drumming along to their song. They stopped in front of Erwin and looked at the clothesline attached to his trousers with both interest and irritation. Djamal and his wife Alia, both their faces framed by fluffy white Christmas beards, came and asked Erwin how his disguise was to be understood. Margerita approached them. "I´m glad that you were able to come and even brought your children. The song is a hit!" Alia and Djamal bumped elbows with Margerita. "Thanks a lot for this great idea. Alex and Larissa made up the song themselves!" - "A ´Wienerlied´ (a traditional Viennese song) needs to be made of it", Erwin said. Zsuzsanna looked at the two children with a warm expression.
The space behind the entrance gate was slowly getting tight, so people dispersed and started lining up on the side of the paths leading into the interior of the park. It had already become dark. The lights of the costumes started to shine bright, conversations filled the air, and more children circled the scattered assembly, running between the adults or pulling impatiently on their sleeves.
Murmuring, laughter and applause went through the crowd as Vera came around the corner with her magnificent, illuminated papier-mâché coronavirus on her head. Margerita clapped her hands enthusiastically and yelled. "The corona queen has arrived. What an honour!" Vera lifted her arms and spun around so she could be seen from all sides. Simon stood beside her and waved his scythe threateningly over their heads. He reaped boos, whistles, laughter and occasional applause.
Margerita stepped into the middle of the meeting, formed a funnel around her mouth and shouted, "Once again, a warm welcome! My name is Margerita. I am overjoyed that you all have come! My message has obviously reached you. Today we want to fully enjoy the community, have fun and be cheerful. We are not alone, even if it sometimes feels that way. There are many of us and we are going through this time together. So let us walk together and enjoy this wonderful warm November evening! And please keep your distance!"
The parade slowly started to move. People asked, "Where are we going?" - "To the big plane trees," Zsuzsanna said and giggled, surprised at her exuberance. Margerita looked at her with smiling eyes. "Do you feel it?" Margerita asked quietly. "Yes, I feel it", said Zsuzsanna, "I feel it."
* Währing (Vienna´s 18th district) - A prosperous residential area in one of the greenest areas of Vienna. The western hills at the edge of the Wienerwald (lit. Vienna Woods) are a popular picnic and hiking area. The extensive Türkenschanzpark is one of the surrounding parks with ponds, playgrounds and the Paulinenwarte observation tower. There are idyllic places like Pötzleinsdorf and areas with a more urban atmosphere like the densely populated eastern part of the district.
** Ischgl - An Austrian ski resort in Tyrol and one of the most visited alpine ski areas, where up to several thousand skiers are skiing every day during the season, is considered by many sources to be the main centre for the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infection in Europe.
*** Triage (from the French verb "trier": separate, sort, shift or select) - A medical procedure used in emergency medicine that allows doctors to classify patients according to the degree of injury and prognosis.