IEverything seems so easy. The invitation came from my old friend Michael Fraser-Milne to give a lecture at the whiskey event, DramFest, which is held every two years in Christchurch, New Zealand.
I immediately answered yes. This will be a good reason to meet with friends and see how the Kiwi whiskey industry develops. March is also a great time to visit the country, because it is the end of summer, most tourists leave and the sky is clear – and still cold and gray in Scotland where I live. For the first time in a long time, my family was also free to come with me. I will do weekend work, then we will take a three-week vacation exploring the country. Vacation for life. Tickets were booked last fall and the days were counted until we left.
Then COVID-19 emerged from the shadows and seemed to chase me around the world. I was out of China before appearing and leaving Seattle right before the first outbreak there. Its presence grows in the back of everyone’s mind, but maybe a few months ago we all felt impermeable. Moreover, there are no cases in New Zealand. There is a window. We will leave, but if things start to deteriorate we will stop the journey.
Four days in Melbourne are scheduled to break part of a long journey. I will give several whiskey classes and hold a screening of my documentary, Amber light, about Scotch’s relationship with Scottish culture. Then go to Christchurch for DramFest, for me the warmest whiskey event in the world. There, between classes and talks, I competed to try as many Kiwi whispers as possible – watching bottles from Cardrona, Thomson, and Lammermoor. All of this is whiskey that is sweet, elegant, and extraordinarily balanced, suitable for the future.
After the performance, I returned to the house where I was placed, poured the drama, and exhaled. Vacationing finally. The next day I went to the seaside town of Akaroa with my wife and daughter. The phone has been pinged during the trip but messages can wait, the trip is very spectacular.
After we arrived and unpacked I saw my cellphone. The message was from the Australian Health Authority. “Someone at the screening Amber light has been diagnosed with Covid-19. You must be isolated for 14 days. ”
I think back to film. How friends from Melbourne’s best bars appear. Hugs, back slaps, clanking glasses. Contract. Everything is now isolated, losing money. Then the realization that I was on a plane, then at an event with several thousand people. More handshakes and hugs. What did I do? Ruined business. My family … I will endanger them, destroy their vacation. Then paranoia. Does my throat hurt, do I get hot, do I have a tight chest?
We were allowed to move to a friend’s farm where I could isolate myself in an outdoor hut. A wave of the corona is heading towards us, but we can’t leave until the isolation is over. There is no choice but to wait. Fortunately, none of us at the screening experienced any symptoms and fortunately my family didn’t either. Nearly two weeks, it’s time to cut our losses and return to England. Then the day before we flew to Melbourne to catch a flight home, Australia closed its border. If we leave, we will be isolated for 14 days there.
The airlines don’t answer their calls. The British Embassy in New Zealand has been closed. So we called a travel agent in the UK and booked the first flight from Auckland via Hong Kong. But once we arrived in Auckland, Hong Kong closed its borders. The day after, New Zealand will impose a hard lock.
Family meeting. We decided to return to Christchurch while we still could, because at least we had friends there – and had an international airport, which would be useful when things finally returned to normal.
We rented a house from a friend of a friend, who was our ninth in the past two weeks. And now we sit and wait. There are currently no flights from Christchurch. The one from Auckland is delayed or canceled in a short time. Qatar Airways charges more than £ 18,000 for seats. The British government does not seem to be worried. At least the situation has ended anxiety about whether to run fast to another plane that will not go.
We have set locking mode. Movies, Skype and Zoom. My daughter, who was in a gap year before university, had started taking online ballet classes.
We are the lucky ones. Millions are worse.
We are 11 hours ahead of England and even more in the United States, but, unfortunately, I know more about the future than when I returned to Scotland. The question is, can I work? I bluntly said, “I’m used to this. I work alone,” but this is different. The idea of yawning as priorities shift and insomnia occur.
With business stopped, liquor launches gone, events canceled, no gossip to choose from and comment on, what to do? What does the drink writer write when there is no bar open? Move to Instagram directly? Enlarge the taste buds? Can they pay the bill?
I am not complaining. As writers we are spoiled. People sent us booze, invited us to various shows and shows, and flew us around the world. We can be deceived by our own interests, because people really don’t need this. We are fluff.
I’m not a bartender who sees a reduction in savings, or a bar owner who sees a business on the verge. I am a drink writer with a room full of liquor. Sure, I’m 11,000 miles away from heaven, but I’m safe.
But this is also the life that I have made. That’s what paid the installation bill. Writing is what I do. Speaking is what I do too. My life for 30 odd years has traveled the world doing both for thirsty viewers. Now all future projects are all on ice. The diary is empty. I’m not looking for sympathy. I feel lucky.
The distillery will switch back from making hand sanitizers becoming alcohol once again, but will communication change again too, or should it be done remotely for our health and environmental health?
But how do you know what happens unless you travel? It has been a model for decades. Yes, you can get samples, but there is something about being in a distillery, smells, sounds, conversation flow on glasses, and more important is drinks afterwards, and building relationships and friendship.
I think of my recent chat with the whiskey makers here and how the minutes of looking at their eyes and hearing their voices tell me more than the liquid in the glass. This liquor world is a personal relationship. This is a community-based global industry where human contact is valued. Will that change? Whether it should be?
What will happen to Scotch, an export-based industry? And to Scotland, the country whose most important industry is tourism?
Maybe it’s time to change the writing model. To get away from scores and competitions and write by memorizing and seeing broader questions that force this virus to consider: sustainability, climate crisis, language, being local in the global world, rereading the past, telling stories, connecting with people. ..
Being here has helped. The way in which lockdown has been accepted is the opposite of what appears to be happening in Britain. Maybe the people here are accustomed to earthquakes and more easily enter disaster mode, maybe they are more law-abiding, maybe they see the problem clearly, or can lie deeper.
In Britain, the government preaches, “stay home, protect the NHS,” which is ironic considering that it comes from people who have done their best to dismantle our country’s safety net. Meanwhile in New Zealand, we were told to be “friendly.”
“Kia kaha“(Be strong) say people when they part; look after each other and look for one another, knowing we are together in this matter. It brings tears to my eyes.
It also made me think deeper about how we are all connected and the strange paradox that we are now closer than ever before, but also further apart. We waved to our parents and friends from our room, joked, then clicked and returned to our doubts. We need drinks, but don’t dare to drink too much.
Look at the Quarantini and let it stand.
Will we emerge from this type? Continue to support the poor and needy? Pay more attention to our community? Will China pay attention to how many lives are saved by the lockdown and the subsequent reduction in air pollution? Will we consider how isolation for a month allows nature to breathe? This is the glimmer of hope we need.
I saw the dram tonight. I will solve it. I might have another.
Be a safe person. Be kind.