Before the virus: Looking back on some last ‘normal’ moments

The coronavirus scare has done something to time. The days, weeks, and now the months, have blurred and stretched as talk of reopening the world has taken over for millions waiting and wondering at home.

There are few of life’s usual rhythms. And like so many cataclysms before this one, memories are settling in of the old times, for better or worse.

What was normal then and isn’t now? Here’s what a few people around the world had to say about their last “normal” moment before the pandemic took hold:

NEW YORK

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“We kinda just held a going-away party. … We had a `Cheers’ moment. We basically just drank whatever was on the shelf. It was like, we may never see this place open ever again. We just had fun and danced. People kept showing up that I hadn’t seen in years. … We knew we were going to see hard times after that night.”

— Rafael Familia, a barback now living in his aunt’s spare room. He remembered the night of March 16, when the bar where he was working was told to shut down suddenly. He recalls: “It was one of the most bizarre things ever. There was no point in being angry.”

PARIS

“There were tears, there was joy, there was music. Some people spoke, others could not bring themselves to speak. There was sharing. There was warmth. The things I miss, all the things we don’t have now.”

— Paris undertaker Franck Vesseur, recalling the last funeral he oversaw before lockdowns began. It was in February at Père Lachaise, the famous, celebrity-studded French cemetery. Now, “we have nothing,” he said. “Just bodies being evacuated.”

NEW ZEALAND

“I was lost, almost. I’d been training so long. All of sudden my year’s goal, my all-time goal, had to be put away.”

— Nicole van der Kaay, an Olympic hopeful for triathlon, describing her feeling when she had to rush home to New Zealand and then learned of the Games’ postponement shortly after her own last normal moment, a March 14 World Cup triathlon at Australia’s Mooloolaba Beach. In the time since, her father built her a makeshift pool in their deer shed and she’s been practicing while strapped in with a belt and bungee cord — she wants to be ready.

NEW ORLEANS

“We had a lovely time. Everything was normal, until it wasn’t. With the gift of hindsight, we know that our parade this year spread COVID. I wish that we had been alerted that COVID was here.”

— Devin De Wulf, a New Orleans transplant and stay-at-home dad who founded the Mardi Gras Krewe of Red Beans in 2008. On Feb. 24 — Fat Monday, the day before Mardi Gras — De Wulf’s krewe danced in the streets in their bean suits, children in tow, as a crowd of 15,000 cheered them on. It was a good day for the Krewe of Red Beans — the last one for a while. Within days after Mardi Gras celebrations ended, the virus was already beginning to sweep through.

RENTON, WASHINGTON

“We went to the Seattle Aquarium, with lots of other people, and enjoyed that. That’s something that she loves to do. We went out to dinner at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants and shared communally, family style. … All of those things take on a different feel now. It feels like a different life.”

— Andrew Fouche, pastor of a small Baptist church just outside Seattle, one of the first areas hit by COVID-19. He was remembering the 10th-birthday celebration for his daughter, Sophia, shortly before everything shut down.

JORDAN

“There were many things to do before the corona. But now, nothing.”

— Mariana Makramalla of Madaba, Jordan, who usually works in her family’s mosaics workshop. Typically, Madaba attracts tourists who also visit nearby Mount Nebo, where the Bible says Moses was granted a view of the Promised Land. But Jordan closed its borders in mid-March, just before peak tourist season, as it tried to halt the the virus. During the closure, Makramalla, 24, and her 27-year-old brother Majed, visit the two-room workshop from time to time to tidy up. But she feels a bit aimless these days; she misses the structure of her time spent in the workshop.

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AP journalists John Leicester in France, Karin Laub in Jordan and Nick Perry in New Zealand contributed. Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie and you can hear more from the people in this story here.

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