Now that a run to the store has become an act of death-defying bravery, I made sure to send my grocery warrior out into the streets yesterday in full protective gear. Rich was swathed from head to foot in pestilence-baffling layers and wore our precious, next-to-last pair of latex gloves — washed VERY thoroughly after my food shopping expedition last week, the tiny rip in the thumb meticulously mended with duct tape.
Here in Europe, we are taking this virus very, very seriously. You may have seen footage of the Italian mayors, who are using ever more colorful language to convince their headstrong constituents to honor the quarantine — or else! It never gets old. Here’s one from the Guardian staff, who carefully cleaned up the translations to avoid offending sensitive readers, while maintaining the I’m-coming-for-you-with-a-flamethrower attitude.
My favorite scenes are the ones where the mayors personally chastise scofflaws, because something like this happened to me the day before lockdown became official here in Seville. Rich and I were headed out for one last, long walk, but first we met up briefly with my brother Mike and his wife, Deb, to make sure they had everything they needed and wish them luck. We were standing a careful six feet apart in Plaza de la Alfalfa when an older Spanish man walked up to us.
“You shouldn’t be out here," he said. "It’s dangerous. Get off the streets. Get off the streets now! Go back indoors and stay there! You aren’t safe here!” He couldn’t have sounded more urgent if flesh-eating zombies were coming over the city walls.
Gadzooks! Suddenly being out and about didn’t seem like fun anymore. In fact, it felt foolish and irresponsible. Rich and I went directly home and have basically been there ever since.
But that doesn’t mean we aren’t leading a full and interesting life. Our calendar is jammed with virtual morning coffees, virtual happy hours, virtual dinners, and other online fun. Talking on Zoom seems to minimize awkward pauses and jerkiness (in the technology, that is, not the conversation), but we also use FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype. I haven’t even had time to explore Delish’s new How to Throw A Virtual Dinner Party page, or Netflix Party, which lets you and remote friends watch the same movie or TV show and enjoy a live chat throughout it. To be honest, I’m not entirely convinced I want to be distracted during peak moments by my pals typing, “Hey, isn’t that the guy we saw in … in … no wait, it’ll come to me. You know, the one with the thing. The one about the guy with the thing.”
And now there’s Festiv(ir)us. One of Deb’s in-laws is a fan of Seinfeld and the holiday created by George Costanza’s father: “Festivus for the rest of us,” featuring an aluminum pole and feats of strength. Deb’s family is gathering soon for an updated version they’re calling Festiv(ir)us, a festival for those in quarantine. I love this idea and have enlisted a congenial California couple to give it a go tonight. You pick a theme — NOT one associated with the pandemic! — and come up with costumes, decorations, and activities.
“We’re in,” my friend Kathryn replied to the invitation. “But some consideration please that we are in Tucson with limited wardrobe options and closed stores!”
I confess that I’d overlooked the fact that she and Pete were out of town when the pandemic hit. But they are legendary for their creativity, so I have no doubt they will come up with something. I can’t wait to see what.
As you can imagine, I’m cooking a lot these days, mostly comfort foods such as granola, One-Pot Creamy Smoked Salmon Pasta with Spinach, Greek Gyro Skillet, and Skinny Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (which are much yummier than they sound!). Luckily I discovered a recipe for the modestly named World’s Best No-Yeast Irish Soda Bread; it’s quick and easy to make, has the flavor and texture of “real” bread, and eliminates hazardous expeditions to the store when all you need is a loaf of bread. For a real change of pace, Stefania — a talented cook from Parma I met on our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour — is offering private online Italian cooking courses. Buon appetito!
My days are astonishingly full, but I always stop at 8:00 o’clock to applaud the heroic healthcare community, including all the service and support people. My friend Ann wrote in a comment on last week post, “I work at a nursing home locally and transport three residents to dialysis six days a week. I do everything I can to keep them and myself safe during this difficult time.” Ann, and countless others like her, are risking their lives on the front lines every day, and God only knows where we’d be without them.
You’ll be glad to hear communal nightly clapping is beginning to catch on, cropping up in Atlanta, Georgia; San Anselmo and Mill Valley, California; Vancouver, Canada; and elsewhere. And some brave souls are going it alone. Catherine wrote me that reading my blog about Spain applauding healthcare workers inspired her to launch a one-woman nightly ovation on her front porch in Memphis.
In Seville, the clapping grows louder each night as more neighbors join in; occasionally I hear snatches of music. My brother Mike, who is taking delivery of a new guitar today, says he plans to join in. “As soon as the clapping stops, I’ll pull a chair out into the street in front of our apartment building and play.” I only wish I lived close enough to hear him.
How much longer will the quarantine be in effect? Weeks, possibly months. And I have come to terms with that.
Yes, I long for the day when I can walk in the sunshine. Go out with friends. Shop without head-to-toe protective gear. Visit my home state of California (where I was scheduled to fly today). Wash my hands without singing Zip-a-De-Do Dah for twenty seconds. But much as I want all those things, the cost is simply too high; I can’t justify risking human lives for a more pleasurable daily routine. Anne Frank spent 761 days in a secret annex, with little to eat, constant fear of discovery, and (horrors!) no Internet. I think we can step up to the challenge of spending too much time on the couch scrolling through Netflix trying to find something we haven’t seen yet.
Staying home isn’t easy. It creates a profoundly disturbing disruption in our lives, in many cases daunting economic hardship, and often an excess of togetherness that gets on everyone's nerves.
But if you’ve ever wondered whether you had it in you to be a hero, to do something to help save the human race, now’s your chance to find out. Staying home for weeks or months takes grit and fortitude, but most of all, it requires clarity of purpose. When you consider that the first life you save could be your mom’s, your kid’s, or your own — or mine for that matter! — it becomes a lot easier to do the right thing.
Good luck, my friends. Let me know how you’re doing, whether there’s anyone clapping in your area, and what you’re finding to help you stay (reasonably) sane in these crazy circumstances.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain and my home state of California.
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