The plan was to make paella.
After our Jan. 25 wedding, my husband and I boarded an international flight, bound for a honeymoon in Spain and Italy. It was my first time in both countries, and my husband’s first time in Europe. On what would become our favorite trip together, we literally twirled through the streets in wonder. Looking back, it feels like an unimaginable dream that could never have happened if we’d planned it for even a month later.
We watched a flamenco show. Rode in a gondola. Toured basilicas.
And we took a cooking class. With our Spanish instructor and two other travelers, we made sangria, tomato bread, Catalan cream and paella. We chopped vegetables and minced garlic to make a sofrito for the rice. We learned how to place the mussels in the pan so they’d open facing up. And then we all sat and ate together, like a makeshift multinational family, sharing stories about our different countries.
We bought a paella pan from a Barcelona shop. We’d cook paella for our families, we decided, when we landed back in the United States. It was the least we could do to thank them for all they did for our wedding.
But then the first of our several flights back home got delayed 8 hours. We were supposed to have a long layover in South Florida, where our families live, but we spent those hours sitting in the Barcelona airport instead. Forget a paella dinner, we wouldn’t even have time to properly pack up all the random wedding decor that was strewn across my parents’ house.
We were disappointed, but we promised to book flights to see our families again in March or April. It was still early February, and we never imagined the world would slowly shut down in the coming weeks.
That paella dinner now feels like a ghost. I’ve thought about it a lot, especially when interviewing Chow Yum Phat’s Vu Le for our cover story.
“The way we’ve tailored our food at the restaurant, it’s more like a community, kind of like Spanish-style eating, where you’re sharing your food with each other. And now, with the pandemic, it brings that back because you have to stay home and eat with your family,” he told me. “It brings back what eating was all about, because you’re not rushing or stuffing your face before going back to work. … That’s a good thing.”
Le is right. I’m grateful to be quarantined with my husband, to get to slow down and cook with him each day, even if our regular trips to get groceries at Matherne’s and Trader Joe’s feel like living in a science fiction movie these days.
Still, I’m unsure what’s stranger: Not knowing when we’ll be able to board a flight again to see our out-of-state families—or the knowledge that even if they were living down the street, we probably wouldn’t be able to see them, anyway.
In the past month, I’ve gotten more texts from friends than ever that have read, “Well, my world has completely turned upside down the past few days.” Friends who lost grandparents to the coronavirus. Friends whose parents were sick in the hospital. Friends who’d tested positive themselves. A friend whose husband went to the ER because he was sure he’d had it.
It’s bizarre that despite spending my days confined at home, physically doing so little, everyday life has felt like such an emotional roller coaster.
I’ve learned plenty of little things during the stay-at-home order. 1. I can get my makeup routine down to 5 minutes. 2. My grandma, who never learned to use computers, had it in her all along: She now knows how to make video calls on her tablet! 3. While it’s maybe not ideal, it is possible to write, edit and proof a print magazine completely remotely and digitally.
Recently, a friend posed a question on her Instagram: What’s the first thing you’ll all do when the quarantine is over? A few days later, she shared: The No. 1 answer was everyone wanting to hug their parents. To love them harder than ever. Don’t forget that, she wrote, when all of this is over.
And even now, when the whole world’s plan is that there are no plans anymore—my plan is still to get to see my parents, hug them, and make them that paella. Someday, somehow.
And hopefully soon.