Hello. I hope you’re staying safe and keeping well.
It’s been a while since I wrote a blog, but a friend suggested it, and although at first my feeling was no, I didn’t have anything startlingly original to say, a day later I started writing down some musings. Maybe it’s good to keep a record during this crazy time we’re all living through. So here it is, the first week since the announcement in Spain of a ‘state of emergency’.
Friday 13th (…) March
After a blissful day spent in a news-avoiding bubble (inside another bubble that is a cave house in Granada where I am/was going to be living in the very near future), I pop out of it and return home to find Spain is in lockdown. What does it mean? I run to the supermarket with ten minutes to spare, thinking I’d better buy a few essentials. I come back with wine, brie and chocolate.
Saturday 14th March
I begin the day with endless bemused scrolling and reading and worrying. This is really heavy. On top of it all, a huge forest fire is burning about ten miles away, showering my town with ash, and covering the sun and the mountains in smoke. The light is eerie, menacing, and the apocalyptic feeling already in the air is intensified.
So, lockdown life. I think self-isolation will be okay; I write and make art and play music and work from home anyway, so it won’t be much different, I imagine. I’m lucky. But my pretty blasé attitude of a few days ago, that this is all really over the top, is being forcibly changed by facts and scary statistics – and law. And that feels strange.
A zillion messages shoot their way between me and others, as I try to reorganise my schedule into online only. A quick in-and-out shop (a slightly more thought out one this time) at the local supermarket makes me tangibly feel the change in the atmosphere, as people circle each other, wave awkwardly from afar. All the staff are masked. Tension is rife.
Phone calls to family and friends are baffled and confused conversations; we’re unable to process it all. I make light of it to them, the enormity of this pandemic reducing us to nervous laughter, but I feel rising panic. I squash it down with some of the hastily bought wine, and resolve not to start and end the day with endless bemused scrolling and reading and worrying.
Sunday 15th March
I start the day with endless bemused scrolling and reading and worrying. I kick myself, and vow that that’s the last time. But the reality kicks in harder. I’m anxious for relatives, friends with those ‘underlying health problems’ we keep hearing about. My family’s spread out in different countries; I realise I won’t be able to get to any of them, as flights are being cancelled, and borders are about to close. But at least their collective chins are up.
I don’t have a garden or terrace and am starting to feel trapped. Already? But I open the two windows and breathe deeply. Out of one, which has a small balcony, I can lean out and see a strip of sky, a sliver of mountain on either side, and the lilac wisteria flowers opening on the neighbours’ house opposite. Through the bathroom window a pink rose has just revealed itself in another garden. I can do this. It’s really not that bad. I’m going to be calm and creative and compose piano pieces and write stories and finish artwork and minimise my stuff and do yoga and learn new things and start eliminating the interminable items on my to-do list one by one, and everything will be great.
The day passes and I’ve done absolutely nothing. I’m just numb, frozen.
I end the day with… yes, that again. And have terrible virused dreams.
Monday 16th March
I ponder which of my two cats I could dress up as a dog, so that I can go outside for a walk (dog walking is on the short list of allowable reasons to leave the house). My fast thirtyish minute walks every day balance me, and going up and down the living room in my socks and slipping on the rugs isn’t quite cutting it.
I try a salsa workout on YouTube, but give up after three minutes and sixteen seconds, simultaneously laughing at myself and worrying about how out of breath I am.
I restart doing Five Tibetans, a yogic set of movements I was doing daily a while ago, until I wasn’t. The first exercise is spinning on the spot. I’m only doing three repetitions of each movement today, but three spins are enough to nearly topple me onto a cat.
My computer crashes a couple of times, as bewildered as we all are. I talk on Skype and Zoom to students in different countries, from Sri Lanka to Saudi Arabia, all in the same isolating boat. At least we can see people this way. Unless the world wide web implodes.
And, again, I finish the day with the usual flitting from one article to another. I can’t seem to help myself. I suppose this ever-changing story has us all gripped, and it’s hard to stop reading. I switch to a different story to take my mind off it all before sleeping, a Sebastian Faulks novel, but can’t concentrate. My younger cat lies on top of me and falls asleep, and I finally follow her lead.
Tuesday 17th March
I want music to soothe me, to lift me up, to make me forget. I put on my usual go-to music when I need calming – Chopin nocturnes – but they feel suddenly desolate. I flick around, through old favourites and random findings, but nothing is right. In the end, silence works best for me today. And it really is quiet here, these days. Not that it’s the noisiest place in the world, exactly, but for a small town it’s usually surprisingly vociferous. The rumble of traffic has mostly subsided, there are hardly any voices calling out, no kids pouring out of school at two o’clock. The birds are singing, though, and bulbous black bees are busying themselves on the wisteria. The peacefulness lulls me into some kind of fake happiness, until a helicopter flies low overhead, and I stumble across another statistic, a police or ambulance siren sounds in the town, and the clock chimes seem to go on for longer than usual, and the world and its worries descend upon me, louder than ever before.
It’s nothing, obviously, compared to the worldwide hideousness caused by the C word (and many, many other maladies, wars, famines and global outrages of one form or another), but isn’t it a strange sensation not to be able to have plans? The ones I already had: booked family visits and holidays, gigs, moving house to the city and all the steps that was going to entail, an art exhibition, friends coming to stay, are all ‘postponed until further notice’. But new plans can’t be made to replace them. There are just no plans. While we don’t know how long this is going to go on for (two weeks lockdown in Spain could easily spin out into months) we can only be ‘in the moment’, that overused phrase that usually makes my teeth slightly grind, but that is now proving to be the only sane way to go.
Wednesday 18th March
Humans. This morning I’m feeling depressed by them. Or at least a few of the more verbal ones. I know, I know, I’m scrolling and reading again, even when I promised myself I wouldn’t, but I’m hideously drawn in and frankly unnerved by some of the comments on social media. The judgement, the vitriol, the accusations. I understand that people are frightened; this is unchartered territory, and we all just want to be safe. But there’s a particular impatient and acidic tone, an unforgiving stance, a blame culture that encourages reporting anyone they see walking down the street (without knowing the reason for it) to the police, that is chilling me.
And then I get sent a few videos of giant toilet rolls, or Italian grannies and their advice, or people singing and playing from balconies in city apartments, and I see neighbours reaching out to help others, and read about all those who are putting themselves at risk to try and stop this thing, and notice the other comments on social media that try to calm and aid and inform and spread happiness and balance the more negative ones, and humans become properly human again; flawed, but also beautiful, compassionate and funny.
Thursday 19th March
I need supplies, and realise I’m nervous about going outside for the first time since Saturday. I’ve been fed snippets of local action by friends, and have read threads that weave their way through the murky territory of what’s allowed and what’s not. Half of me is imagining being accosted, questioned and fined by police at every corner, the other is imagining some kind of zombie movie where I’m the only person (probably played by Will Smith) walking around the disease-riddled streets. I’m pleasantly surprised; although half of the customers in the supermarket are masked, there’s an atmosphere of calm, food (and toilet rolls) on the shelves, and not a panic buy in sight. I speak to a couple of people I know vaguely, but at the required distance. They both say that they’re happy to be here, out of all the places we could be in the world. I thank the girl on the till for being there for us; on those wages, it’s above and beyond.
I’m happy to get home, back into the cage. Which is weird. But I didn’t like the way being outside made me feel: guilty, scurrying, watched. Is it bizarre that I’m so relieved to return to my lair, or has that been my feeling all along, whenever and wherever I’ve had my home? We construct our nests to protect ourselves from the outside world, make safe, comfortable spaces where we are queen or king; being ordered to be here rather than elsewhere is in fact not the worst thing.
I’m trying to be positive. And the feeling is heightened when I find one of my neighbours has put five lemons from their garden on my doorstep, just when I’d run out. And when another neighbour who needs help after hurting her back asks me to take her dog for a walk, which I gleefully do, breathing in the fresh outside air and sights and sounds and smells as if I had never experienced them before. And when I call a friend I rarely talk to, even though we’re very close, and we promise to chat more often. And when I see footage of the newly-clear fish-filled water in the canals in Venice, or deer and wild boar roaming Japanese or Italian streets, or the ducks splashing about in the Trevi fountain in Rome.
We can do this. And something good might come out of it all.
Sending virtual hugs to you, stay safe, and if you’re lucky enough to be in the UK or anywhere else where you’re still allowed to go out for a walk, do it! Do it lots. It’s incredible what you realise you didn’t appreciate enough.