Saturday, April 25, 2020

My New Gig: The Corona Chronicles


Over the past twenty years ATHENS INSIDER Magazine has firmly established itself as Greece's premier English-language Lifestyle Magazine of record. It’s sold at 500 kiosks around the country, distributed in 22,000 luxury rooms in 75 hotels across Greece, and in the business lounges of all leading airlines, embassies, and private clubs.  Over the years, including the darkest days of Greece’s financial crisis, Athens Insider has consistently demonstrated the business acumen and cultural good judgment to succeed when so many other publications faltered. 

Hopefully the magazine’s most recent decision shall not blemish that distinguished record.

I'm honored to announce that I’ve been asked to contribute a monthly column on living through pandemic times from the perspective of an American mystery writer who has called Greece home for 35 years.

Here’s my first column, which appeared online on Wednesday—sans the biographical bit about me and my latest novel.

The last century had its “Roaring 20s,” and I suppose someone will label this century’s third decade with a similarly catchy moniker tied to Covid-19. But it’s still too early to say for sure. We’re only four months into the first year of that decade, three months beyond the nascent worldwide acknowledgment of the pandemic, two months into a generally underplayed game of catch-up, and a month into watching infections and deaths skyrocket.

Televised daily public health briefings draw more attention than religious services, athletic events, restaurants, concerts, and festivals combined—though most but the briefings are prohibited.  They’ve also drawn us to new heroes: low-key health care professionals calmly speaking truth to the understandably anxious, and genuinely empathetic elected leaders gifted at rallying their people behind tough non-partisan measures.

I’m currently hunkered down and isolated with my wife on our farm in rural New Jersey, 100 kilometers from New York City, and it’s been that way since early March.  Usually, I’d be back on Mykonos by now, but the virus has changed all that.

We returned to the US for the winter, and by February were used to seeing a spikey golf ball-like graphic in the background whenever Covid-19 featured on the news. But it wasn’t until mid-February that I began paying closer attention to the subject. Serious people now warned of heightened risks to participants in large gatherings, and of particular dangers to folk over sixty.  I had commitments in early March to attend a writers convention in San Diego, and deliver a speech in Arizona to 300 seniors.  

That’s when I remembered a conversation I’d had fifteen years before with a friend in charge of his state’s pandemic response to the H5N1 Avian Flu threat. He said not to worry, because that virus didn’t spread easily among humans. The time to worry would be when a virus came along that did.  

That prompted my asking the obvious question. “What do I do if that happens?”

His response was so simple and straightforward I thought he was joking.

“Get to your farm, lock the gate, don’t leave until it’s passed, and pray.” 

Things being what they are today, I wonder whether that last bit of the good doctor’s advice was to pray for the speedy discovery of a vaccine.

I know the pandemic will pass, and I do my best to stay focused on that thought, rather than on some specific date likely to come, go, and disappoint. I also stopped fixating on breaking news and ever-mounting statistics. They’ll only drive you mad. Instead, I imagine how different life will be in post-coronavirus times.

The biggest change is already underway. Almost overnight much of the world has transformed itself into an enormous remote workplace. The word “Zoom” is now a verb, noun, adjective, adverb and exclamation.

The Manhattan office where I once worked as a lawyer is empty.  Everyone works from home. Even the courts are working remotely—including the US Supreme Court.  How commercial landlords and other businesses dependent on large office-based workforces adapt will be interesting.

Culturally, writers, artists, and creative types everywhere are already approaching their work differently. How could they not?

From a societal perspective, until a vaccine or treatment arrives, how nations differentiate between their immune and not immune populations will be among their greatest challenges. Will one group be permitted to go freely about their lives, while the other shall not, and what of the children quarantined for their own protection? Such dystopian plot lines I pray remain forever fictional. 

For those looking for a silver lining amid the crisis, who would have imagined Greece going digital in a matter of weeks; yet it did. And who would have imagined the fiercely independent and fun-loving Greeks obediently adhering to a government directive ordering them to remain isolated in place; yet they did.

I feel a refreshing sense of common purpose emerging in Greece, a determination to show the world it’s ready to come roaring back once these dark days have past. Greece is uniquely positioned to recover faster than virtually all its EU colleagues, for it’s been confronting and battling austerity for more than a decade. Unlike nations spared that experience, Greeks have learned to absorb the blows, maintain their balance, and keep on fighting. Covid-19 is just another punch to take on the road back to kicking ass.

At least that’s how I see it.  But what do I know. Here I am at sunrise, sitting in my pick-up truck, alongside a rural two-lane state highway at the end of my driveway, protecting my garbage cans from bears until the trash pickup is made. And that’s my excitement for the week. 

I guess that’s what they mean by the new normal.  Stay safe.



  1. Great news about Athens Insider, Jeff! And an excellent kickoff article. Thinking about what the new normal will look like, rather than when it will happen, seems the right strategy to me.
    For example, it's interesting to speculate on whether universities as we know them will survive. (Schools are different - they have their child care and socialising functions as well as education.) Hmm. I feel a blog coming on...

  2. The new normal is evolving in ways we cannot yet imagine. For some it shall end in tears, for others in fortunes amassed off the misfortune of others, for some in a sense of community, for others isolation. My deepest concern is the impact it might have on democratic institutions. The sense of community we're seeing is encouraging, the fringe reactions drawing media encouragement is not. As for colleges, I wait to hear your take on that!

  3. Great start, Jeff. I think this will definitely spread "vote by mail" to many more states. Info about immediate effects on authors is available in this blog (and the upcoming next-week's):
    Worth reading!

    1. Thanks for pointing out that article, EvKa. I can't say say I agree with all of the writer's observations or conclusions, but as an author with three books scheduled for release over a nine-month period--April 2020 through January 2021--I've definitely come around to the conclusion that "Man plans, and God laughs." Que sera sera.