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.
3/26/2020 05:06:44 pm
And at Mercadona they have the tape down to line up to get in. Then you sanitize your hands, put on gloves, wipe down your cart and in you go. My hands were so sweaty yesterday after shopping. But am glad we can go out! It's a welcome 3 block walk!
3/27/2020 11:00:11 am
Yes, just walking three blocks in the fresh air is something to celebrate these days, Kay. It's impressive how seriously they're sanitizing us these days. I just got back from MAS and even though I was wearing my own microfiber gloves (we're saving the last latex ones for an emergency) they put those loose plastic produce gloves over mine. And then they sprayed the plastic gloves with hand sanitizer. A true belt-and-suspenders attitude — and rightly so!
3/26/2020 05:46:52 pm
Hi Karen, As avid travelers ( well not so much these days, my husband and I enjoy your blog very much. I am so touched by the daily applause given to the healthcare workers in Spain and elsewhere. Our daughter an ER physician here in Phoenix, and thus on the frontlines. My husband and I spend our isolated days trying to scare up masks and face shields for her and her colleagues. Keep up the lovely applause!
3/27/2020 11:05:17 am
You and your husband have taken on a daunting task, Barbara. As you no doubt know, protective gear is tough to come by these days. What a great service you two are doing! I will remember you tonight when I applaud in gratitude for all the healthcare workers and those who provide support for them. And let's hope someday life returns to normal and we can all think about traveling for fun again. That would be something to celebrate.
3/26/2020 06:22:01 pm
What a delight your column is! I’m a avid traveler, grounded in my home in Houston with husband and dog. Thank you for the time you put into your beautiful work. Stay safe and God bless,
3/26/2020 06:37:32 pm
..and another Houstonian here, enjoying your blog after reading the book. Waiting for this mess to be over so we can make our first visit to Spain (in a large part, thanks to you). Thanks for keeping the spirits up!
3/27/2020 11:21:38 am
What a lovely thought, Sasha, focusing on the idea that one day all this will be over and we can resume our travels. My (well-sanitized) fingers are crossed you get to Spain soon and fall in love with it the way I did. Right now a three-block walk to the grocery store feels like an epic adventure. But even with all the worrying news in this country, I am glad to be here in Seville. It's still my favorite city in all the world.
3/27/2020 11:12:00 am
Linda, thanks so much for your kind words. I love writing this blog because it keeps me grounded in the fact that we are all in this together. I wish you, your husband, and your dog all the very best luck in these uncertain times.
You know I printed off that cookie recipe straight away! LOL. I've been baking up a storm. Baking comforts me...as does eating what I bake! Which, unfortunate, is not always a good thing. So it's great to have healthier, but still yummy, things to bake!
3/27/2020 11:33:23 am
Enjoy those cookies, Shéa! I'm baking a batch today. Love 'em. And I think it's brilliant to have one person's image in mind, the one you do NOT want to infect — directly or via those six degrees of separation. Betty White and RBG would rank high on that list for me. The world would be a lesser place without them. Thanks for sharing that insight and please stay in touch.
3/26/2020 07:45:35 pm
3/27/2020 11:42:58 am
Cats have a wonderful way of reminding us what really matters in this world: friends and good food. And living in the present moment. No doubt they are absolutely delighted to have you home to keep them company.
3/26/2020 11:46:10 pm
Hi Karen and Rich,
3/27/2020 05:11:58 pm
Hi Jodee! Of course I remember you and Rick. We had a fun tapeo around Seville together. I'm shocked to hear I didn't reply to an email you sent. I reply to all my emails — or at least, I thought I did. I do apologize if I somehow accidentally deleted the one you sent, or it wound up in my spam file for some reason. My apologies to you and Rick! I'll certainly be back in touch when we return to CA. And in the meantime, take good care of yourselves! It must be very worrying to have your son so far away in these uncertain times. Here's hoping all goes well for you and all your family.
3/27/2020 06:18:21 pm
So good to hear from u again, Karen, as I listen to news of Spain.
4/6/2020 08:50:09 am
Faye, you mention masks, and after all the wobbly answers to how effective they are, the Spanish government had declared that it is mandatory to wear them on the streets, starting today. I actually think it's a good idea; anything to inhibit the spread of this virus. Since it spread here earlier, it's been easier to get our heads around the magnitude of the problem, and how big the response needs to be. Semana Santa (Holy Week), a cultural icon and huge economic factor, was cancelled weeks ago. I'm hoping the US is getting a clearer picture now of what the stakes are and why it's worth cancelling everything. One benefit is the enormous outpouring of creativity, especially memes and songs. I will never lack for things to write about, or funny stuff to highlight the blog posts!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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