Barcelona’s New Normal – August 2021 Edition
Things are mostly back to normal here in Barcelona.
After a few weeks when it seemed like everyone we knew had the Delta variant, or had been in contact with someone who had the Delta variant, it looks like the wave is going down again.
A full 60% of people in Spain are now vaccinated.
Some people are still wearing masks out on the streets. Most aren’t.
The terrazas are full of people sitting around having cañas and patatas bravas in the afternoons, and the bus station up the street produces a steady stream of half-dressed youngsters dragging suitcases or lugging heavy packs.
In other words, tourism is back. There are tour groups around the cathedral – few, but there are. The other day I even saw a Segway tour of Germans zipping by.
This weekend, everyone’s talking about the heat wave. Temperatures are in the 40s in much of Spain, but here in Barcelona, on the coast, it doesn’t get too hot.
The rest of Catalonia has prohibited camping and hiking until Monday, in order to avoid forest fires. Here in the city, going to Collserola park is officially “discouraged”, but theoretically still legal.
But “closing the forests” is just the latest in a long string of prohibitions we all seem to be getting used to. After the lockdowns and the restaurant closings and the non-essential businesses and the government-imposed schedule for exercising outdoors…
After the curfews and the no curfews and the back to curfews and the police breaking up any group of people in the street and the parks being closed on days with moderate to high wind… well, we’re all sorta apathetic about it.
Largely senseless and constantly-changing prohibitions are just a part of life now. Human beings are infinitely adaptable, and here we are – adapting.
The beach is packed with people on Saturday afternoon, and a bit of a mess when I come back early Sunday morning. Empty bottles and trash everywhere. Random drunks sleeping on the sand, a few people who are continuing the party. The sea, waveless under a hot cloudy sky.
There aren’t many others out this early. A few dog-walkers, a few joggers, a few old people.
Except for the masks, you might not know anything had changed. Then again: the businesses that aren’t opening. The homeless sleeping on dirty mattresses or flattened boxes. Are there more than there were in the beforetimes? It’s probable, but I have no way of knowing.
All the economic statistics are looking good, anyway. Unemployment is falling, as long as you don’t count the people still on furlough – which the government doesn’t.
Then again, they’ve been fudging unemployment statistics forever, too. This isn’t my first crisis here in Spain. The patterns repeat.
Leaving the beach and walking up through Barceloneta, I think about how spent years of my life refusing to use the word “normal” without quotes.
I hated the whole concept of normal… It just sounded like a synonym for mediocre: another bludgeon that the average used on those who dared to be themselves.
But after 18 months of pandemic, I have a new appreciation for normal life: a walk in the sun, an open café, sitting for an hour in the park and reading a book.
All those things were illegal for a time last year. It’s strange to even contemplate, now. Taking a walk was illegal. Benches had police tape to prevent people sitting on them.
Look, it’s not that I took those things for granted before. I didn’t. I grew up in the middle of nowhere, my “neighborhood” had none of the amenities of civilized society. Walking out the door to buy bread or get a cup of coffee was something aspirational I saw people doing on sitcoms.
It’s one of the reasons I moved to Europe: I wanted real city life, not a dirt road in the exurbs.
So, while I don’t love everything about Barcelona, I’m glad it’s finally going back to normal.
Without quotes this time.
P.S. As part of my research for this article, I googled “How to be normal” and found that there are actually long articles about it. Now I’m wondering what kind of person reads those articles. Is it you? Hit me up, right here in the comments…
P.P.S. If you liked this, and there’s little reason to assume you did, you might also like my article on the meaning of life. Have fun!