What you see in the picture above is my usual breakfast, from before lockdown. I used to go to a coffee shop called Flying Bean, close to the Belen subway station in Valencia, just across the street from the Chinese barrio. I would normally take a double espresso, as coffee there is very good. The owners are hardcore coffee lovers and they serve the entire fancy spectrum of brews: espresso, filtered, V60, cold brew and so on. I tried quite a few of these, but eventually settled with the espresso. I’m a simple man, I like simple things.
I would also ask for a tostada, most of the time with aguacate y tomate. Usually I was the first one there, so they had no one else to serve. We would chat for a while, Spanish style, and sometimes they would ask me to try out various tostada combinations. They even tempted me with a caponata once and it was very good – one of the two camarreros is Italian. In exchange, I brought them, a few days later, a jar of zacusca.
After a few weeks of many tostada combinations, I settled with a specific one. Nothing spectacular or unexpected (aguacate y tomate is kind of a staple combination for tostadas, at least here, in Valencia). But just because it was my combination, they agreed to call it “tostada Dragos”. Sometimes, when I was meeting with other digital nomads there, I was recommending them to try my tostada. Almost all thought I was joking, until they were actually ordering it at the bar.
Yeah, those were really good times.
Yesterday I wrote my daily blog post from Flying Bean’s terrace. It was the first time I could work in a coffee shop terrace, after 77 days.
This morning I went there again to have my morning coffee. They didn’t open fully yet, as the current de-escalation stage only allows for the terraces to function, and nothing inside. Starting tomorrow, Valencia will enter stage 2, which means they will be able to receive people inside, but only at 30% capacity.
I wore a mask all the way until there and everybody at all the tables outside was wearing one. The 2 camarreros were also wearing gloves. After I ordered my double espresso, I remembered about my tostada.
— Are you still making tostada “Dragos”? I asked.
— Yes, of course, as always, the owner answered me.
— Then I would very much want one, please.
What I got is in the picture of this post. It looks (and it tasted) exactly the same as before. But, except that, and the streets and the tables, nothing was exactly the same as before. We were talking to each other through masks and our social media feeds were filled with apocalyptic news about the pandemic (when they weren’t filled with apocalyptic news about social unrest, or economic failure). No more beach pictures from Bali, or endless controversies about which side you should put your toilet paper roll: facing the wall, or facing opposite the wall. Suddenly, those silly and superficial memes were the epitome of a good, enjoyable life.
I know that from tomorrow another small change will bring us all closer to “normality”: we will be able to take a seat inside the coffee shop and have our desayunos at our regular tables. Only 30% capacity, but still. And, if nothing goes wrong, in another week we will be traveling again, at least inside Spain.
The Dream That Wasn’t A Dream
As more and more small things from before lockdown are reinstated, I have the distinct feeling of getting up in the morning after a long, terrible and extremely realistic nightmare. The kind that you wake up from it a few times in a row, only to realize you’re still in a dream, inside a dream, inside another dream, Inception-like. A 77 days long nightmare, which is still lingering around, as I toss myself from one side to another, desperately trying to unglue myself from the bed.
Every time you wake up from a nightmare, at least 3 things happen.
First, there is an incredible sense of relief. That scary thing is gone. Over. You’re surrounded by your familiar setup and you stomach is not cringing anymore.
Second, you feel extremely tired. It’s like, without even realizing it, you fought all this aggressive, upside-down reality, resisted, crawled, ran and now you can finally rest.
And third, as you slowly insert yourself into your daily routine, you somehow still carry deep down, buried under your every day chores and tasks and hopes and little joys or disappointments, the fear for the next nightmare. It’s like it’s never really, really, really gone. Just hiding.
And, in a twisted, almost incomprehensible way, this very fear makes your new normality, freshly re-discovered, reloaded like a new level of the same game, a gazillion more times more enjoyable.
That tostada was now, after 77 days of lockdown, a thousand times tastier, specifically because I knew I could lose it the next second.