Letter from America…and a diary from Rome

Michael McCuish, who is in lockdown in New York City.

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Ex-pats from Oban and Mull are staying connected to home through the written word.

This week The Oban Times heard from Michael McCuish in New York and Emma Gordon in Rome who are using letters and a diary to record their lockdown experiences during this extraordinary time while thousands of miles away from home and family.

Michael McCuish, who is currently in lockdown in America.

Former Oban High School pupil Michael, 33, is a freelancer who has been working in the Big Apple for the past three months promoting Scotland and whisky.

Michael is the son of Oban councillor Roddy McCuish and has been sending daily news to his dad and mum Marian who also have an older son Campbell, 39, working as a head chef in Sweden and a daughter Jennifer, 37, who still lives in Oban.

Michael wrote: ‘It was only weeks ago I was jumping between crowded Manhattan bars, accentuating a slightly stronger than necessary Oban accent and limited knowledge of whisky to get a few free drinks from crowds of transient and enthusiastic New York drinkers.

‘Everything changed over night, or at least that is how it felt. New Yorkers are used to being pushed up against each other, feeding off the energy of the city and the people around them. Quickly, there became separation – a desire to be arms-length from everyone around you. That is easier said than done on a tiny island with millions of ambitious and driven occupants around you.

‘People tried to keep normal business for as long as possible, but the lockdown was inevitable. Bars, restaurants and all non-essential areas closed. The city that never sleeps is going into a hiatus. Not stopping, but slowing down.

‘If Oban is the sprawling metropolis that represents New York in this scenario, I have safely travelled to the slightly less concentrated Dunbeg, which is New Jersey. The big city is still in sight, but I am leading a quieter life amongst a smaller group of people.

‘Quarantine has consisted of teaching Americans a few important cultural touchpoints: how to ceilidh – the Americans from the south liked that, although they were terrible; the music of Oban rapper K9 Kev and Skippinish; the battle for Oban fish shop supremacy  – I had to explain no one died; that ‘how ya’ on the street isn’t necessary a question and how the Station Square pretty much looks exactly like Times Square.

‘Clients and colleagues have been kindly sending me care packages. A bottle of Oban whisky was greatly appreciated, although it lasted too short a time. One slightly misguided colleague did send me Canadian Rye, thinking it was Scottish, which turned out to be rather tasty.

‘One of the main challenges has been hearing a Scottish bagpiper, marching around the streets of where I am staying. People lean out the windows, cheering, shouting ‘Those Irish, they alway raise your spirits’. That is probably the only time I raised my voice.

‘People here have been great and I have been in touch with people from home, often and regularly. Early this week was a nine person, slightly drunken pub quiz over Zoom. I lost the quiz, but may have successfully drunk the most whisky out of anyone. One round was dedicated to Oban and our time at school.

‘That is the wonderful thing about being from a community like Oban, especially in a time of crisis, you may temporarily leave the town, but the town never really leaves you.’

Emma Gordon from Mull is currently in lockdown in Rome, having moved to Italy nine years ago.

The Oban Times also heard from Emma Gordon who has been living in Italy for nine years and was working as a singer and tour guide in Rome before the coronavirus crisis .

Emma, originally from Tobermory and who lived on Kerrera for a while, is now sharing the diary she has been keeping since lockdown started in the Eternal City.

Her mum Ann MacEachen works at Oban Chocolate Shop.

Emma, 33, who is now entering her fourth week of lockdown, said: ‘I have been keeping a daily journal, outlining the personal struggles I have been going through during quarantine in the hope it serves as a record of these extraordinary times and as an insight for those now finding themselves in the position that Italy was.’

On day 22 of her diary she wrote: ‘So, tension is rising. But it’s hardly surprising, given we have been cooped up for weeks on end and might not even be halfway there yet. For every worrying headline, though, there is a heartwarming one worth celebrating: care packages of food being left on benches or in squares, where those in need can go to help themselves; shoppers ‘paying it forward’ for those who may not be able to afford their groceries; healthcare workers being treated to free pizza deliveries; even fashion moguls Giorgio Armani and Valentino trying their hand at philanthropy by producing single-use, protective clothing and face masks for medics, while the AC Roma football team is delivering free ‘goody bags’ to elderly fans.’

To read Emma’s diary go to emmaanngordon.substack.com