14. 5. 2020

English Version | A monster in the kitchen

by Nuno Miguel Dias


In times of COVID-19 and confinement, the monster decided to sneak out from under the bed and transfer himself to the kitchen. It's called a refrigerator, it has strong allies in the cookie cabinet and without an exorcism of daily exercise, it’s hard!

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It is known to lovers of the genre and the mere curious, in horror movie classics characters always wake up at 3am. That’s the “beast” time, the devil time, the Beelzebub, the Lucifer, the Satan, the horned (well, for the latter to appear, and if all goes well, there is no specific time). In a more erudite way, it is the time of possession, because even the paranormal has to obey certain times, otherwise it would be organizational chaos and then bureaucracy would come and that’s something we cannot accept anywhere not even in afterlife, although it’s the preference of those with zombie or vampire faces in the guichets of public institutions as if the usual “You have to fill out the form 55E” was the new “I lay you, you damned” and on second thought, it actually is. So, let's go back to 3am dawn, which is now 3:05 am, the possessed got out of bed, walked down the hall, most likely already descended to the basement (a Hollywood horror classic cannot be considered as such if there is no basement scene) and in the meantime, around 3:15 am, at the latest, because the evil spirits have more stuff to take care of, probably laundry or so, enjoying the fact that the flames of hell are good today for drying purposes, they already have some evil perpetrated with refinements of wickedness that always include sharp objects, shiny blades and, of course, blood. Inquired the following morning by two criminal investigators, the killer does not remember what happened. One of the cops thinks he's lying. The other is more condescending. He remembers a similar case in nineteen hundred that, in the meantime, was filed. Or maybe he has a cousin whose mother-in-law had a friend who suffered from the same thing and decides to call a medium or “investigator of the paranormal” to solve this mystery. The unbelieving policeman is against it, but the most credulous responds with: “Just because you can't explain certain things doesn't mean that they don't exist” or any other cliché that will stay forever in the annals of cinema like the “I'll be back” from Terminator or, better yet, “Crime is a disease. I am the cure”, by Cobra, the Strong Arm of the Rock.

The film we are currently experiencing is called Confinement in a State of Emergency - Ariston's Revenge. Or SMEG, if that’s your case. A fridge. A hellish machine created by diabolical scientists which, not only during the night but at any time of the day (many, many hours of the day) whispers at us, giggling at the end of each sentence. “Come to me, you look skinny” or “I have a leftover sandwich I know you’d love” or “That pudding from Boa Doce was really good, wasn't it? Why don't you eat what’s left of it”? That’s when we get up from the sofa, arms draped over our bodies, without our own will but fighting this impulse in an incredibly tenacious way, although you can’t really tell, we walk towards the kitchen like Joana d'Arc for the pyre, but reminiscing Marie Antoinette on the way to the guillotine, because we are sporting a stylish pajama and, finally, we open the door of the appliance of hell. The light that comes from it lights up our expression of pure horror. There are strawberries, liquid yogurts, a square of cheese from The Laughing Cow, even the vegetable soup without potatoes that you just need to quickly reheat. Our eyes, wide with fear, see all this. But our indomitable will makes us raise our hand uncontrollably towards a huge bowl of mango mousse, made the day before to replace last week's chocolate mousse, because we thought “at least it has fruit in it". But since we’re by the fridge already, it still comes, clinging like a magnet, a white chocolate tablet. And nobody asks "but how did it get here?" or “but what kind of people keep white chocolate in the fridge?”.

Meanwhile, the demonic Ariston (or SMEG) has powerful allies. They are locked in the cookie cupboard, waiting for the curse to be fulfilled so that they can carry out the only role they were meant to: enlarge the abdominal perimeter of the host. There’s cookies with and without nuggets, brownies, filled with various creams and huge jellies, but there are also chips to “eat while watching movies”, ham flavor, with herbs and ketchup, depending on the film genre: romantic comedies, thrillers or musicals, respectively. On top of these, our grandmother's cookbooks that we brought in the trousseau (does this word still exist?) and also the cookbooks that we bought according to the passions of the different moments in life, from the trip to India to that one time we had dinner in a great chef restaurant. Possessed, we begin a journey of dishes that we never had the time to prepare before, given the degree of difficulty, from impossible vindaloos and pudding, to raviolis made with dough that we stretch ourselves in our own machine. To this insatiable hunger adds the desire to eat again in a restaurant – remember? When we sat down, asked for the menu, hesitated between jaquinzinhos and pataniscas, tasted a good wine and saved the last drop for after dessert? We want revenge and we assure everyone that, as soon as possible, we will order a big piece of meat with everything and anything, including the ridiculous pickles around the plate (for what reason, really?). And then we remember “but why not do it at home” and that's when we discover the difficulty of having a steak ready, sauce included, on a four-burner stove, at the same time as the fried egg and white rice, without anything cooling down or losing its deliciousness. There are certain things that only satisfy us in a restaurant. Even cod cooked with chickpeas is not, by any means, the same thing. But that doesn't stop us from trying it. And we try again, in search of a satiety that never comes. There, in the background, usually in the Toilet, lies salvation. The scale alone will do no good. It is only awareness that will give rise to the search for redemption. Let us not be discouraged, it always comes, depending on persistence. 

It must be due to the aforementioned reasons that we have seen runners and joggers with an abnormal abdominal perimeter. Abnormal for runners and joggers, of course. There are two hypotheses: a) no sportsmen could escape the voracity that social isolation has brought; b) there’s people seizing the “permission” to leave home to practice sports and carry out what they have never done in their lives before. It is not very difficult to distinguish them. They are easy to spot. In any case, it is commendable that there is an awareness concerning one of the many harmful effects of this confinement. Even if you stay at home, it is very convenient to move as much as possible. Even if we can’t really see any results, the body feels it. And we are free to indulge in one or two excesses. That we shouldn’t. Under no circumstances. According to the General Directorate of Health, a balanced diet in isolation, even if working from home, consists of consuming vegetable soup for lunch and dinner and, daily, three pieces of fruit and two liters of water (or eight glasses). It should be time to re-value legumes like beans and grains, in addition to peas and broad beans (they’re bio and you don’t need to eat them canned, how lucky). Snacks with too much sugar, salt and low nutritional value are forbidden and that is, precisely what we are eager to eat.

In addition to body health preservation, these are times to look after our mental health. One that suffers, as is known, continued aggressions since we are indoors only to go out a few times. Many of us are jobless. Or had reduced hours and salaries reflecting it in the worst way. Some are working from home. Lucky ones, some will say. Blasphemy, will say people who have to share something which is now their office with one or two annoying children that become more and more insane as the confinement goes on. Jumps, pirouettes, yelling, running around, fights, disputes, pillow fights, toys spin, children's channels screaming all day on the TV, disorder, the purest chaos in its epitome, anything but an environment that promotes the least chance for productive work. And all this before (virtual) classes have started. With the beginning of virtual school, when we didn't think that things could get worse, fate preaches the lowest and most humiliating infamy. Conference calls need to be postponed according to the kids’ schedules, stop our work to try a thousand usernames in the apps that are available provided by the Ministry of Education, control the class email so we can be sure that the kids are not trying to make a fool of us, check that the tasks are all done, provide help in solving mathematical problems as strange to us as teacher who once taught us arithmetic. A thought that we never believed was possible comes to our mind: “I miss going to work”, which includes the public transport route or, even worse, a traffic jam of at least an hour locked inside a car, Nilton repeating the same joke for fifteen days as the only company. On a rainy day. But everything is better than "this".

We seek help. This time, the General Directorate of Health did not think of us. The most generalist websites give us options that are anything but options, in articles that certainly were written by someone who not only does not have children but does not want to have them anytime soon. "Get someone who can stay with them." What do you mean? Yes, just like that: "Seek the help of a neighbor or close family, like their grandmother." But then, isn't that precisely what we should avoid, from the beginning, contact with the elderly? “Create your workspace” What do you mean? There is only a living room. The living room is where the TV is. And TV means children! Am i supposed to create a fence around it? “Create a routine for yourself and your children.” Right. The greatest experts when it comes to breaking routines, which are our children, will now accept it, out of free will, just because I am working at home, as if, from one moment to the next, they would stop demanding all the attention that they won’t understand if they don't get, since it's one thing to have your parents working in the office, it's another to have them here, in front of you, but ignoring you (or at least trying). “Monitor the time you spend in front of the monitors.” Dear friends, monitors are our salvation! Without them, we are doomed! "Be focused and avoid distractions." C’mon, seriously?

This must be a joke. That’s when communion time arrives, peace rests on the household with the aromas coming from the pans (or it should, but actually there is a flood of questions: “What is dinner, mom?” And “It smells so good mom, is that the food I like a lot, mom?" or worse: "Peas? I don't like peas" and "I'm not going to eat any of that, I want cereal instead"). Afterwards, the whole clan sat at the table, the cute little kids engage in an epic food fight, with fries thrown vigorously, after an exchange of pennants on Nancy Lacinhos Coloridos. Parents, on the other hand, disagree because one of them disallows the other. Or because one is too permissive. Or because one is too harsh. For no reason really. And the whole atmosphere that should be one of agreement, harmony, synchrony and convergence makes everything even heavier. We dream about the time when we could finish a plate of lagartinhos at a restaurant table, or even a couple of steaks with mushrooms with some junk red wine. We don't really know how was it possible that everything could change for the worse in such a short time. And what’s worse, we don’t know when everything will return to normal. Certainty, just one: relative normality is not enough. All of this will soon have to be an ill-fated memory. But what if it’s not the case?