When I moved to Barcelona last autumn, I pictured long wine-filled evenings in squares and trips to the beach. I didn’t imagine weeks spent inside my flat isolating from a global viral pandemic.
On Sunday 15 March, the Spanish government announced a two-week lockdown to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus. The public were ordered to stay at home unless they needed essential food or medicine. Schools, universities, restaurants, bars and public spaces were all to be closed.
The Spanish are a very sociable bunch, and an enviable climate means much of life is spent outdoors. All year round in my neighbourhood, bars keep their doors swung open and people sit outside at restaurants. Every morning and afternoon, like clockwork, a crowd of children and their families gather at the school gates to gossip, eat pastries and play games.
But when I ventured out last Monday, the first official day of lockdown, the city looked like a very different place. There’s something very odd about seeing a bright blue sky and a completely empty city beach but it was the ghost-like streets that were even weirder. A few people were out running errands but the majority were wearing masks and gloves. At the big supermarket, I was met with a security guard monitoring the queue with a ‘one in, one out’ policy you’re more used to seeing at some exclusive nightclub. I passed a pharmacy where medicine was handed to customers through a small hole in a screen.
“The first week was really difficult. The situation escalated very fast and as all upcoming plans fell through...”
The first week was really difficult. The situation escalated very fast and as all upcoming plans fell through – including a visit from my parents and an upcoming holiday to Colombia – I struggled to look forward to a completely clear diary. I read the news obsessively in an attempt to understand what the hell was going on and when on earth it would end. The thought of staying in my flat for the foreseeable felt incredibly claustrophobic. And while drinking wine in my pyjamas was fun at first, the novelty of Christmas in March quickly wore off.
As the first week came to a close, the government extended the lockdown for a further two weeks and tightened the rules – including asking citizens to carry a slip of paper or digital form detailing why they weren’t at home. It felt like things had just got even more serious but I kept reminding myself that the stricter the measures, the sooner the situation would get better. Police presence was visibly upped, and only one person should now only leave the house at once – something a friendly policeman told my housemate and I as we made our way to the supermarket on a joint trip. Dogs, however, must have felt like they struck gold. Going for a walk is only allowed if you have a canine companion – and photos of exhausted dogs and adverts pimping out pets circulated widely on social media. One man was even caught walking a goat.
However, by week two, things got – whisper it – a little easier. Unfortunately, when everything was in chaos, I found the boring things like routine and exercise made the most difference. I set my alarm for 8am each weekday morning, do a HIIT or yoga video before work and try and take a proper hour-long lunch break. I’m a big advocate of the loungewear life but when you might not get dressed for months, I’ve found it’s worth switching into normal clothes for at least some part of each day. Evenings we began to fill with virtual plans: a phone call with family, a Houseparty catch-up with friends, a pub quiz over Zoom. I’ve never been so in touch with my wider circle since moving abroad - a much-needed silver lining to this whole debacle.
“Slowly but surely, I stopped thinking so much about the parallel reality of what I should have been doing...”
Other things that have kept me sane include trying to separate the weekend from the week (we save films and take-away for Fridays and Saturdays) and finding new things to look forward to (a wine and cheese night or a new book). While the Internet may suggest this is the perfect time to start your novel, Etsy side hustle or online masters, I realised fast there’s no point putting pressure on yourself to use this extended time ‘productivity’. Life is still pretty busy even if you’re at home all day and coping with the current overwhelming situation is enough before adding an extra challenge into the mix.
Slowly but surely, I stopped thinking so much about the parallel reality of what I should have been doing if it weren’t for this dreaded virus. Sure, I miss my old life but I’m also weirdly getting quite used to this one. People talk about a ‘new normal’ and it’s true, somehow you manage to adjust.
And, when all else fails, I look forward to 8pm when the whole street comes out onto their balconies and claps in solidarity with emergency workers. As days go on there’s been people dancing, singing, blasting the music and tooting their car horns.
A reminder that when this is all over, what a party there will be.
Elizabeth Bennett is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. She writes about culture, health, beauty, women, travel and sustainability.
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