Irishwoman in Vancouver: ‘I still go to the office but the city is surreal and lonely’

Covid-19: An ‘inescapable sense of sadness’ in the picturesque Canadian city

Fiona Cooney: ‘The Vancouver I fell in love with looks a little different these days’

Fiona Cooney: ‘The Vancouver I fell in love with looks a little different these days’

 

I left Dublin and moved to Vancouver in Canada three years ago. After a brief period of adjustment I began to fall in love with this city. Whether I’m cycling the seawall, or spending my lunch hour down at Waterfront – the views are simply stunning.

I’ll never forget the first time I took a stroll through Gastown. I felt like I had stepped onto the set of a 1950s movie. The old-style lamp posts pay homage to a classic, more romantic era. I still get giddy when I look up and see the mountains in all their glory. It amazes me that you can be privy to such a picturesque view when you’re living in a big city.

But the Vancouver I fell in love with looks a little different these days. The once crowded streets are now deserted. There’s an eerie, almost apocalyptic atmosphere. The coronavirus pandemic has essentially shut down the city.

The historic steam clock in Gastown, Vancouver. Photograph: iStock
The historic steam clock in Gastown, Vancouver. Photograph: iStock

I work for a small, boutique-style law firm. We’ve been deemed an essential service, allowing us to stay open. Our company isn’t set up for remote access, therefore I’ve been going into the office every day as normal. It’s a strange feeling. In a lot of ways it’s been business as usual. Lockdown has affected certain aspects of my life, but my work routine has remained intact. I’m grateful for that. I have a lot of respect and empathy for those who have had to work from home over the last eight weeks.

Navigating the city during lockdown is a very surreal experience. At first it was unsettling, and rather lonely. I felt like I was a character in a doomsday movie, walking the streets in a daze, looking for any other survivors. The novelty of the situation eventually wore off. I soon became accustomed to the lack of human traffic. Partially filled buses and trains became the new norm.

I have to admit that at times it’s been nice to feel like I have the city to myself. There are no queues, the lift at work goes directly to and from my floor now and come 5pm, I no longer have to flee the office in a panic to avoid rush hour. Everything has slowed down. But all perks aside, there is an inescapable sense of sadness downtown. Every “closed for business” sign represents a person, or a family, who are now minus an income and livelihood.

I was born in Co Tipperary and grew up in the scenic suburbs of Western Australia. It was the ideal backdrop for a carefree and adventure-filled childhood. As much as I appreciate a simple life, I consider myself a city slicker at heart. I moved to Dublin in my early 20s. To this day I consider it one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I loved the fast paced nature of city life. The diverse culture and alluring nightlife also add to the appeal.

Three years ago I decided it was time to shake things up again as I’d lived in Dublin for quite some time. I had become restless, and longed to feel like a fish out of water. Vancouver proved to be the perfect antidote.

But since the pandemic, I’ve become used to the quietness of the city and I wonder what it will be like to share this city with people again. The pandemic has changed the way I interact with strangers. I’ve definitely grown wearier. I find myself becoming anxious when two or more people are walking towards me. I tend to view them as possible infectors instead of fellow humans. I know it will take time for this to change.

Life post Covid-19 is going to involve a certain amount of adjustment for all of us. Only time will tell what the new normal will look like. I hope we forge ahead with a renewed sense of perspective and gratitude. I’ve come to realise that an eye catching skyline is not the only thing that contributes to the beauty of a city. The real heart and soul of any city lies in the people who occupy it.

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