By Sunday night, just like that, an entire week of lockdown has flown by. By "flown", I mean "dragged out interminably". The Spanish government is really going to have to reconsider the "no going out unless it for food shopping, pharmacy or dog-walking purposes" rule because the people of Spain are likely to go insane in a short while, deprived of sunlight and endorphins. They will emerge from this crisis with depleted muscle tone, having been deprived of much of their cardiovascular activity, while parents cooped up in tiny flats with clamouring small children (whom they are supposed to homeschool alongside actually doing their jobs) will turn into raging alcoholics.
Speaking of depleted muscle tone, I'm not making a great deal of progress with Yoga with Adrienne. I've signed up to her 30-day programme that's supposed to improve my flexibility and muscle tone and am currently stuck on Day 2, which involves a lot of planking. Clearly, my upper body strength is not what it once were, because the exercises go something like this:
It's probably just as well that the weather is foggy, cold and rainy, because if we were experiencing a typical Andalusian spring (sunny, warm, abloom with flowers), I'd be tempted to run up into the hills like Maria in The Sound of Music, lockdown be damned!
I hear from other expats that some of them have had run-ins with the local police who've been very keen, telling people off for walking their dogs further than 150m from their homes, and when I dally en route to taking my garbage to the skip near Coviran supermarket, I don't see a soul but I'm wary of suspicious faces peering out of partly-shuttered windows. What if someone reports me to the police for loitering by the tiled fountain on the Plaza del Carmen? Oh god, I'm already preemptively suspecting locals of betrayal, a la 1930s Soviet Union. The paranoia is setting in. The cheese is well and truly slipping off the cracker.
My walk to the garbage skip on Sunday was creepier than usual. The streets were completely silent; no movement anywhere, an ominous, leaden sky, darkened windows...I felt as if I were the sole survivor of some apocalypse.
Garbage runs aside, my world has been reduced to my two-bedroom flat and the dead-end street on which the house stands. There are exactly 97 paces from my front door to the corner. I know this because I've speedwalked there and back 40 times in sheer desperation for some cardiovascular exercise in the fresh air. The whole world used to be my playground. I travelled as far and wide as this...
...but right now, I'd happily settle for a long ramble in the Sierra de Almijara above the village.
Though I'm lacking in adequate physical exercise, I'm keeping surprisingly busy. There are still cats to count and admire...
...I'm also making sure to practise my scales on the keyboard and can already pick out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with my right hand. It must be torture for my upstairs neighbours who spend several hours daily providing a soundtrack to my endless days with their moody sonatas that reverberate through my ceiling.
I have also taken to cooking my way through Ottolenghi's Simple with a vengeance.
Apart from the satisfaction that one gets from breaking down one's meal into its most basic components and cooking as much as possible from scratch, I find that intense concentration on the slicing and the stirring has a meditative quality to it, and I'm able, for a time, to put aside the uncertainty, the worries, the anger and the existential fear that the pandemic is bringing.
There is much to be angry about. I watch with disbelief and a certain amount of horror that so little is being done to 'flatten the curve' as the British government only now decides that maybe it should have sourced ventilators and protective gear for NHS staff months ago rather than just now, as Trump sidelines medical expert Dr Fauci and touts an unproven 'cure' to the pandemic, after which an American couple eat fish tank cleaner and one of them dies, as Trump fails to understand the gravity of the situation, looks for people to blame because he's incapable of truly shouldering the weight of his job and his duties, as the trajectory of cases in the United States skyrockets and the public is bombarded with lies. Trump wants to open up the economy again by Easter and doesn't seem to get that an economy cannot function while 4% of the population get so sick they die. But there is nothing I can do about it.
Things are changing so rapidly. Just over a week ago, I was having coffee by the sea with my friend Mike in the brilliant sunshine while the cafes in Torre del Mar heaved with customers. It seems like a lifetime ago. Now much of my interaction with friends consists of virtual coffee mornings over Skype and FaceTime. Ironically enough, I find myself socialising more now than I would have done on average, pre-plague, attending a pub quiz night with friends in the UK via Zoom, video-calling my friends Meg and Paul, getting invited to a writers' party via Zoom the coming weekend. Honestly, with the current rate of engagements, I may find myself having to turn some down in the long run, citing 'prior digital commitments'. But as for my non-digital interactions, they are limited to a fearful dash to the little supermarket, conducted at blitzkrieg speed, trying to maintain my distance from the handful of other shoppers and wondering if I've managed to pick up Covid-19 regardless. That, and stopping to talk to Dusty the cat who lives above the pharmacy.
A largely solitary life aside, one of the worst things about this crisis is a gnawing sense of impotence. Spain has experienced its sharpest rise in cases today, with healthcare workers falling sick and the ice rink in Madrid turned into a makeshift morgue. Yet my respiratory issues render me both highly vulnerable (I'm one of the people who needs 'cocooning', along with the over-70s) and exceptionally useless, preventing me from being a volunteer of some sort, meaning that all I can do is sit tight and hope for the best. I did manage to be slightly useful to my local community this week. During a bout of spring cleaning, I came across a handful of particulate respirator masks of the kind that I've been wearing on planes and public transport ever since my near-fatal bout of pneumonia in 2017.
Via a local social media page, I've been put in touch with a local medic who's taken them off my hands, since the Spanish medical staff are struggling with a lack of protective equipment just like their colleagues in the UK and US.
Britain is on lockdown now. Sort of. Kind of. Only key workers are allowed to go to work, or so it seemed until 10 Downing Street has changed its online advice to "don't go to work unless you feel you have to". Confusion abounds and non-essential businesses are insisting that their workers come into work. I await to see what this week brings with some trepidation.