Two Islands

The pandemic eases in Berlin, where it never really got going anyway, and suddenly I feel better. No longer terrified that every tingle in my body signals the onset of a path towards death, I walk around carefree: to Persian restaurants where I eat creamy slices of aubergine, to an outdoor party where a furloughed pole dancer describes shelving to me in great anatomical detail, to lakes and to the apartments of close friends. I do not go back to the office.

On an evening cycle through the forest in the southeast we pass between ancient pines and there’s a sudden rustling; a pack of wild boar, around 20, spill across the path. We stop to watch them. The largest goes first and then the rest follow in single file, each progressively smaller, the effect like the disassembling of a Russian doll. They barely seem to register our presence. The whole thing feels like a miracle, the sense of which is compounded by a subsequent encounter with a baby deer a few kilometers along the same path. A few weeks later a wildschwein will steal a naked man's laptop at a Berlin park, and the image of him chasing after it will spread around the world.

Soon after I go to the Baltic coast with friends. The cycle paths are covered in slugs. We try to avoid them at first, and I feel a little disgusted, but one day we sit in the forest for hours and the slugs become very beautiful. We feed them berries, which they seem to enjoy. We hike down from the great coastal cliffs, which remind me of England and are in fact composed of the same chalk deposit as the cliffs in Dover, and sit on a stony beach as a light rain falls. Rocks have been arranged into sculptures, and I think of them as somehow totemic. I'm reminded of months earlier, at the height of lockdown, when I reached the credits scene of Death Stranding. I was trapped on the beach (a literal beach but also the game's version of the afterlife) and spent hours running around before I found the exact spot I needed to be in for the game to continue. On the beach we remark at how our first responses to real-world experiences, even the most intense or beautiful, have become comparisons with their virtual representations. 
Our Airbnb has a sauna in the back garden, inside an old boat. We spend a lot of time in the sauna, usually after dinner, and one night the stars are out and the planets are too, and we lie naked on our backs on the grass, our bodies steaming, our sweat mixing with dew and condensation, and gaze upwards. Mars is a deep red. It’s difficult to distinguish between stars and a satellites.

I go to Mallorca a few days after I get back. My friends have been staying in a monastery in the mountains, and I’m sad we’ve chosen to stay somewhere different upon my arrival: I want to ask a monk some questions. But where we do stay, in a small town in the foothills of the mountains, is beautiful too, and we find huge green olives that are so delicious I actually find myself tearing up. Mallorca is like Los Angeles and I feel like I’m in Grand Theft Auto V as we follow our GPS to meet a climbing guide at the base of a huge statue of Christ on the cross overlooking the Mediterranean. We climb on limestone rocks above the sea and plunge down into the clear water when we fall. Our guide tells us that he used to be into ‘holing’ (potholing or caving), which is really what it sounds like: he and his friends would lower themselves into tiny holes in the earth that go down hundreds of meters. Sometimes he would be terrified they wouldn’t be able to get back up after becoming trapped in one of the chutes, which consist of openings so small that he had to exhale deeply in order to get further down or return to the surface world.

We cycle a lot up huge hills in the heat and swim in the sea in the evenings. The Spanish police strictly enforce the wearing of masks (I wear mine at the beach a few times). The island is more beautiful than I could ever have prepared for, a playground of mountains, sea, and desert all within close proximity. I start to read Kant’s Prolegomena and stop half way to read Camila Russo’s history of Ethereum, The Infinite Machine, which is good but overdetailed. Saturn and Jupiter appear next to one another in the night sky and I stare at them with such intensity that I almost walk into traffic.

When I get back to Berlin I scramble to get a COVID-19 test and the fear returns. Cases are going up again, and although I suspect this is because more tests are being carried out it still feels very bad. I sit inside in the heat, watching life go on outside, and wait for my test results. My Corona-Warn app tells me I’ve been in contact with someone with coronavirus but not in close enough proximity to worry, and this person becomes a fixation in my mind, a phantom presence, and it occurs to me that one could use the Corona-Warn app like a video game, run round the city to see how many infected people the app registers. 

I get my test results back. I don’t have the coronavirus. I watch Barcelona lose 8-2 to Bayern Münich in the Champions League. Afterwards I sit on my balcony reading Ariana Reines poems out loud to myself in my underwear. The sky is a deep blue. Tomorrow I can see my friends again.