Life on Lockdown: Week 1 of the Barcelona Quarantine
The Saturday before the lockdown, Chinatown was already shuttered.
Morena and I were just looking for some noodles, but the restaurant we wanted to go to was closed until further notice.
So was our second choice, and our third.
So were the manicure places and hairstylists.
It was an eerily quiet scene for a normally-busy Barcelona neighborhood.
Finally, we made our way to Yue Lai, which was open for business.
I asked the manager what was up.
“Los chinos tienen mucho miedo,” he said.
After that, no further comment.
A few days later, El País published an article about business closings in Usera, in Madrid. Turns out, the Chinese are scared of the Spanish government’s weak reaction to…
The Coronavirus, which is here, among us
Except for that, the week went fairly normally.
Morena started a new job, and went to the office for a few days.
I worked from home, as always.
We ordered extra vitamins and water filters on Amazon. We bought as much food as we were able to carry home.
I was actually kind of excited.
But this was, apparently, history, and we were going to live through it. Or at least I assumed we would.
Anyway, I’d never stockpiled food before.
The news kept getting weirder all week long, and the streets kept getting quieter, till Friday evening.
Morena was still at work, and I took a long walk down the beach. Not that I was really excited about walking. I just had the feeling it could be my last chance for a while.
It was worth it. The sunset, the cool air, the waves. The lights of the city turning on, one by one. It was all beautiful.
Also, there was almost no-one out.
I stopped for a beer. The bar was also eerily quiet. Not your usual Friday night in Barcelona.
I went home. And have barely left since.
Welcome to life in lockdown
On Saturday, our sometimes-PM Pedro Sanchez got on TV and gave a long speech. He was declaring a State of Alarm.
Apparently, the Spanish constitution has provisions for a State of Alarm, as well as a State of Emergency.
After Emergency, there’s the State of Siege. I don’t even want to know what that’s about.
Anyway, it was the first time I’d ever seen the PM speak. And I was a bit underwhelmed.
“Heroism”, Sanchez explained, “also consists of washing one’s hands and staying home.”
If that’s the kind of strong leadership we have in this crisis, I’m sorta worried.
Lockdown started a few hours later: bars and restaurants were closed. So were most businesses.
Citizens can only go out to go to work (assuming their company is allowed to stay open) or to buy food or medicine.
In a way, the economic damage is even more terrifying than the virus. How many people in your neighborhood can just stop going to work for a month?
How many businesses can afford to take a 100% decrease in revenue? For how long?
Maybe you live in a nicer neighborhood than I do, and everyone’s fine. Lemme just tell you: here in Barceloneta it could get heavy.
How to be annoying during a lockdown
Till this week, I honestly don’t think I’d stayed indoors for a full day in my life.
The first couple of days were pretty tough.
Going online didn’t help much: the whole internet was flooded with three basic types of annoying:
- People publishing fake or questionable news about how everything is going to suck and we’re all gonna die.
- Other people bragging about how they’ve been washing their hands since before it was cool.
- Other other people, whose main goal in life is just to binge-watch Netflix anyway, and who have finally found themselves being good at something I’m not.
Most of my ambitions, dreams, hobbies and pastimes, as it turn out, involve actually leaving the house.
I couldn’t binge-watch a Netflix series if I had a gun to my head.
This was gonna be hard… with or without the stockpile of protein and booze.
If this is a historic event in the making, it’s about the most boring historic event I can imagine – for those of us sitting at home, at least.
A day in the life of a digital hermit
Digital nomadry is so 2019, I guess.
Now, it’s 2020. Times have changed.
So that Saturday night, I made an overly-ambitious quarantine plan.
Then I failed to do about half of it, starting on Sunday.
That’s okay, though.
My whole philosophy toward planning is this: be ambitious on paper, and then pat yourself on the back as long as you get something important done every day. Move the ball forward, day by day, and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
In other words, don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get through all 12 points of your to-do list.
I’ve eaten good food, and I’ve had a few naps. I’ve read. I’ve played the guitar.
I’ve drawn some comics.
I haven’t completely lost it.
And that’s about as much as I guess I can hope for.
So what’s next for Barcelona? What’s next for the world?
I don’t know.
This could go on for a while.
For now, we’re here at home. Working, eating, sleeping and hoping for the best.
We’ve even started having conversations with our neighbors across the street: people we’ve seen through the windows every day for months, and pretented to ignore.
It took about half a day of lockdown for the Italian guy across the way to shout “hello” when he saw me standing on the balcony. Now we’re like friends… or at least acquaintances.
Together in this bullshit, come what may.
At 8 PM each day, the neighbors all go out to their balconies and clap. For a couple of minutes we applaud the healthcare workers who are on the front lines of this thing.
And when we’re done, another neighbor brings out a speaker and plays this song…
Full disclosure: I don’t like flamenco music at all.
But I now love this one song.
It’s the song of the summer, or at least the spring quarantine:
Barcelona es poderosa, Barcelona tiene poder.
Barcelona is poderosa, Barcelona tiene poder.
I can’t get through the first chorus without tearing up. Afterwards, the neighbors applaud again, wish each other good night, and head back inside for dinner.
They’re doing the clapping all over Spain. It’s quite a thing. I’ve talked to several people, and we all agree: it’s suddenly the high point of our day.
That’s how shitty life has gotten. And it all happened so quickly.
History, folks: it’s just one goddamn thing after another.
Anyway, we’re going to get through this. At least, most of us are.
Life will be good again.
Soon, or sorta soon, we’ll be out in the sun. We’ll have some cañas at the beach. Soon, we’ll take it all for granted again.
And one day, this will be just another boring story we tell our kids, or our grandkids.
In the meantime…
Stay strong, friends.
P.D. Another thing I find slightly amusing about this whole thing is all the people who are sharing their strategies for working from home. Pics of their nice workstations, all that. I’ve now written about a dozen books, 1500 articles, and god knows what else without ever having a dedicated workstation. I’ve never even owned a desk. I’m finishing this one on the sofa, after starting it this morning on the kitchen table. The first several years of my online empire were constructed mostly in bed, in my undies. Worrying about what kind of chair you’re going to use is just procrastination, in my opinion. But you do you. Work hard, have fun. TTYL.