March 15, 2020: Lockdown Life
One of my editors emailed me and told me that he was reaching out to a few writers to write 100 words on how Covid-19 was affecting them - travel plans, daily life, etc. To be perfectly honest, my life in Cómpeta hasn't been affected that much...yet. I'm an introvert who enjoys company in small doses and I do most of my socialising in the UK, where my family and the majority of my friends live. Here I tend to practise 'social distancing' as a matter of course, either staying in my flat to write, or heading up into the mountains on solitary walks. The corner shops are fully stocked and people are not panic-buying. The evenings are still and serene and silent, the sunsets are still wonderful, and bats flit past my balcony at night when I come out to look at the stars.
And yet elsewhere in the country things are changing. Some university friends of mine who also live in Spain have set up a WhatsApp group so that we can check up on one another daily, and they tell me stories of massive queues to the supermarkets in Madrid and Malaga first thing in the morning, of people piling their shopping carts high with toilet roll and tinned food, of palpable tension as shoppers watch each other like hawks.
Of all the panic-buying, it's the compulsive acquisition of loo roll that I find fairly inexplicable. I follow Natalia Antonova, the editor of Bellingcat (investigative journalism website), on Twitter and one of her funniest posts recently has been this:
"NATALIA THERE'S GOING TO BE THESE THINGS CALLED SHORTAGES AND LONG LINES LET'S ALL RUN TO TRADER JOE'S TOGETHER IN A BIG, STAMPEDING HORDE WHERE WE CAN SNEEZE ON EACH OTHER AS WE DUEL FOR BREAD"
Me, *lights cigarette*: "Do you know where I'm originally from?"
As a fellow former Soviet kid, I currently share her sanguine attitude (and also feel that for someone like myself, a germ laboratory like a large, crowded supermarket is the last place I should be). I inform Natalia that my mother and I have already had a discussion about whether British/Spanish plumbing can cope with an influx of tabloid newspapers the way Soviet plumbing coped with pages of Komsomolskaya Pravda that occasionally moonlighted as emergency loo roll in the 1980s.
There are positive things, too. In my village, a group of volunteers has been set up to deliver groceries, collect prescriptions and walk dogs for the elderly/those too frightened to leave the house. In Madrid and Malage, people come to their windows at a set time in the evenings to applaud healthcare workers heading in to work, inspired by the music flash mobs in Italy, where whole neighbourhoods find themselves on balconies in the evenings, joining their voices in song. When those who survive the pandemic look back on this, I wonder what they will remember the most - the panicked selfishness or the altruism?
I wonder what the rest of my colleagues are doing. My friend Celeste, instead of visiting me, had to hop on the first plane out of Marseille when Trump announced the arbitrary travel ban on flights from mainland Europe. Find myself thinking that the 100-word dispatches that some of my colleagues and I have been asked to write can be turned into something much bigger. Years ago, during the tsunami in Southeast Asia, Lonely Planet did a great job of keeping travellers informed of what was happening. We can do the same again, only on a much bigger scale, and apart from posting up-to-date reports of what's happening in our specific regions, we can also share stories of uplifting things that locals are doing to keep each other's spirits up. Before long, I float that idea on the writers' forum and dozens of my colleagues write in to express enthusiasm and share stories from as far and wide as Ballarat, Berlin, Beirut, Washington, D.C., and Nicaragua. Perhaps we can do something useful for humanity during this hugely stressful time.