(CNN) — Ever tried taking a photo in front of the Trevi fountain in Rome? Up until very recently it was a Herculean feat, requiring patience, timing and guesswork as to where the next spot might open. There were selfie brawls as well as fines and barriers imposed to control the unruly, ill-behaved masses.
Now you could take that photo with no obstructions, not one other human in the frame, no problem. But as Italy is on coronavirus lockdown, you might get fined -- or even arrested.
Many streets, train stations, mass transit systems and restaurants are now eerily empty.
Deserted airports and under-capacity airplanes are the new normal, from Beijing to beyond. Like the virus itself, these uncanny scenes are spreading west to tourist attractions, museums, churches and landmarks. And the few pedestrians and tourists still wandering are usually wearing masks.
You can scarcely avoid seeing images of the emptiness -- the cleared streets and squares of St. Petersburg, the missing throngs outside the temples of Kyoto, the abandoned restaurants in most Chinatowns, some of which have had to close.
The Grand Canal of Venice -- once bustling with gondolas, the sounds of song and accordions, sleek Riva boats and passenger-filled water buses -- is now so quiet and desolate, it's hard to recall what the crowds were like just a few months ago.
This astonishing moment when the world hit pause on normal life will never be forgotten by those who lived through it. While some parts of the world are getting back online, the images that remain will populate the historical record, reminding citizens of the world how vulnerable we are and how important it is to take care not only of ourselves but of one another.