When the Covid-19 epidemic started to spread In Spain, I started my self-isolation on March 11th. I chose to stay at home and not mingle with people in public places (even if that meant I wasn’t working from coffee shops anymore) because I didn’t want to be an infection vector.
The “estado de alarma” was officially enforced on March 14th. That makes more than 6 weeks of confinement. During this time, I only got out of the house for groceries shopping, once a week (there was just one week in which I gout out twice, second time for some emergency shopping, to a small store near by). After some of these errands, I wrote a small status on social media, trying to describe whatever I saw and felt.
What follows is just a bare, almost unedited record of these strange encounters. I leave this here for the sole reason of looking back to it in a year or two.
Today I got out for the first time, since the beginning of self-isolation, 7 days ago, for a small shopping session.
For half of the way to the store, I was pretty much the only person on the street. Before entering the supermarket, I was given disinfectant gel. Not more than 20 people or so at the same time inside the store.
Could easily start a meditation retreat there, that’s how silent was everything. Every once in a while, a PA about paying by card and avoiding direct contact was breaking the silence.
All shelves full. About 10% of the people wearing masks & gloves.
Could feel the anxiety, especially from seniors, but other than that, business as usual.
Second time I’m getting out since I’m in self-isolation (and 11 days in official quarantine), for the same reason: groceries.
– streets seemed even eerier than first time, hardly anyone
– grocery shop didn’t have a queue, and inside it was almost empty, probably 8-10 customers in total
– all shelves full (except on the toilet paper area, where they were half full)
– 95% of the people were wearing masks
– cashier was relaxed and we had a short chat (he was wearing a mask too and told me payment is card only)
– every once in a while, a PA in Valencian was aired, about not spending too much time in the store and prioritize the elderly. This felt very dystopian.
Thoughts on my way back:
– this is the wet dream of a centralized economy fan: it’s becoming incredibly easy to plan and adjust the supply chain close to perfection (“centralized economy fan” is an euphemism for “communism nostalgic”)
– there is a palpable feeling of fear and rejection, that replaced completely the warm, talkative approach I was used to in Spain. People are hurting for real and I don’t know for how long they can go like this without serious slippage
– I have a clear hunch – can’t explain it, it’s just a hunch – that very soon something will snap: either we’ll find a cure good enough that we can lift the quarantine completely, or something really bleak will emerge
Today I got out of the house for the 5th time since the beginning of the quarantine in Spain (about 34 days ago). The reason was grocery shopping (as with the previous 4 times).
Here’s what was different this time:
– the city felt like a huge prison, with invisible guards. You could sense the pressure to stay confined of those who were not on the streets. And the very, very few beings that were in the grocery shop (didn’t see anyone on my way there, during my 10 minutes walk) were behaving like they just escaped 5 minutes ago, looking strangely guilty for being outside.
– pretty much everybody was wearing masks. The very few who didn’t had a strange air, like they were from a different cast (in the Indian term of the cast, a different social level, who can’t afford / don’t care about masks, more like a group of outlaws).
– the only light vibe was coming from the cashiers. They were having the same type of lighthearted chat they were having before, only this time they had to yell a bit louder, through their masks. But this glimpse of normality lasted only 2-3 minutes.
Looking in every direction, the streets were empty, like Valencia was suddenly left by all its inhabitants, trying to escape an impending natural catastrophe, like a huge flood, or a volcanic eruption.
Or a plague.
Went out briefly today for an emergency shopping at a smaller supermarket close to where I live. Just 3 people in line. A man already paying, a lady in front of me starting to put her items on the counter, both wearing masks. The cashier was also wearing a mask.
The lady asked something and both the cashier and the other man, who was almost getting out now, started to laugh. Didn’t hear what the lady asked, but I smiled too.
Then the lady turned back to me and said the saddest thing I heard during this entire crazy lockdown:
– Ahora sonreímos pero no se puede ver. Nuestras sonrisas están detrás de las máscaras. No se puede saber si alguien está sonriendo más.
The masks stole our smiles. We may be smiling, but nobody can’t tell anymore.
Got out for the 6th time since the beginning of the quarantine, for my weekly grocery shopping.
It was very different this time, and it was mostly good stuff.
For starters, I saw people on the streets, on my way to the grocery store. Not many, but I think I counted at least 10 (which is way more than zero, as it was previous times). The most interesting was a couple, wearing masks, but at the same time looking cautiously for a bench where they could smoke a cigarette.
Second, inside the supermarket the atmosphere wasn’t supercharged anymore, it was almost business as usual, except for the very small number of customers, and for the fact that they were wearing masks (not all, but 95% yes).
And third, the expression on people’s faces was (for the first time since the quarantine started, 6 weeks ago) not about anxiety, or tension. It was a strange, puzzled gaze, very much like the one you see on boxer’s faces when they are counted by the referee after a knock-down, the moment they just got up and look around, trying to tell everybody: “I’m ok, I’m ok, can we get back to what we’re doing before?”.
At the moment of writing, we know for sure that the “estado de alarma” will be prolonged until at least May 9th. If there will be anything of significance happening until then, I’ll write about it.
Until then, let’s try and make the best of this, with what we have.