I didn’t realize orgies were back in fashion until I read about the one Spanish police raided on New Year’s Eve. More than 50 participants were arrested in a suburb of Barcelona — not because anybody cared about their sexual hijinks, but because they’d violated Covid restrictions limiting indoor gatherings to ten people. A neighbor raised the alarm when a couple knocked on his door by mistake and announced they were there to join the love-in. Oops!
It’s not easy for any of us to cope with the stress of a world lurching from one catastrophe to another. However, blowing off steam in a sex orgy doesn’t seem like a very practical solution to me. For a start, was anybody checking at the door to make sure everyone was vaxxed and tested? And imagine the awkwardness of having to explain to the contact tracers that you caught Covid (and heaven knows what else) during a night of debauchery with multiple party animals whose names you may not know. But it got me thinking about what — besides random sex partners — we can embrace to feel better in these exasperating times.
I don’t know what it says about my character, but I find it very cheering to observe others coping with situations far more ghastly than mine. I recently watched The Darkest Hour, in which Winston Churchill becomes prime minister in May of 1940 while Germany was taking Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. Talk about lurching from one catastrophe to another! No wonder he said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Sometimes the most heroic thing we can do is just to get up every morning and put one foot in front of the other.
Another strategy — and I learned this one from Rich’s happiness course — is expressing gratitude. And despite everything, we have much to be thankful for, beginning with the fact that the Nazi army isn’t poised to attack us by land, sea, and air. A NY Times article suggested taking a gratitude photo every day, posting it on social media or sharing it with a friend. Rich and I liked the idea and set up a Word document where we take turns adding photos of feel-good moments and things we love.
How does this help? According to the article, “When we make an effort to notice our surroundings or show appreciation for the people, places or things that make us happy, it’s called ‘savoring.’ Scientists know that savoring exercises can lead to meaningful gains in overall happiness and well-being.” The article suggested daily photos, but we prefer to keep it loose, adding shots a few times a week, when something inspires one of us.
And speaking of savoring, all the how-I’m-learning-to-love-dystopia articles advocate eating well. Rich and I aren't going out much, so I’m devoting an extraordinary amount of time to cooking three meals a day, trying to find the optimal balance between yummy and reasonably healthy. Rich can’t get enough of my Chicken with Apricot-Onion Sauce, my Baked Risotto (SO much easier than the usual method with all that stirring), and my Maple Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies (perfect for gluten-free friends, when we have a more active social life). A little culinary bliss goes a long way toward brightening the doomsday gloom.
Luckily I’m not a big meat eater or I might find myself embroiled in Spain’s most sizzling controversy. Last July, Consumer Affairs Minister Alberto Garzón observed, quite rightly, “Eating too much meat is bad for our health and for the planet.” As you can imagine, the meat industry exploded with outrage. Spain is the world’s fifth largest meat exporter, its citizens are the EU’s biggest meat eaters, and jamón (ham) is revered as the national dish. This was blasphemy!
Then in late December, as things were finally simmering down, Garzón decided to throw a little gasoline on the fire. After defending traditional grazing methods, he added, “What isn’t at all sustainable is these so-called mega-farms. They find a village in a depopulated bit of Spain and put in 4,000, or 5,000 or 10,000 head of cattle. They pollute the soil, they pollute the water, and then they export this poor-quality meat from these ill-treated animals.”
In the ensuing uproar, former-lawyer-turned-shepherd María del Camino Limia posted a Facebook video calling Garzón “an ignoramus” and “a puppet at the service of eco-terrorist movements.” Naturally her video has gone viral, inflaming the controversy still further.
All this fuss has been a tremendous boon to newscasters who are desperately seeking something to talk about besides the worrying Covid statistics. The chart below shows the number of cases at the crest of the second, third, and fifth waves (the fourth was barely a blip) and then what’s happening now — which, as Rich pointed out, “isn’t a wave it’s a tsunami.”
As you can imagine, my email inbox is stuffed with requests for on-the-ground insights, mainly from those planning visits to Seville in the next two months. They all want to know if it’s safe. But what is safe these days? If we know anything about Covid it’s that we don’t know anything about Covid.
So here’s what I’m telling everybody.
At the moment, Seville feels close to normal. Yes, masks must be worn in public and Covid IDs are required at bars and restaurants, but we have no restrictions or curfews. Everything’s open. The weather is gorgeous, mostly sunny with highs in the mid-sixties. The holiday throngs have departed, the kids are back in school, and the city is breathing a collective sigh of relief.
But underneath it all, we’re bracing for news of an even higher spike following the non-stop togetherness of the holiday season. Rumors of possible upcoming restrictions abound. On Friday, when I attempted to buy tickets to a February concert as a gift, a staff member told me they they’re only selling tickets for January events. “After that,” he said with a resigned shrug, “we have to wait and see.”
Nobody knows what the next few months will be like anywhere. Italy, where hospitals are crammed to bursting, is now mandating vaccines for residents 50+. Here in Andalucía, more than 90% of residents over age 11 have been vaxxed, health workers are rapidly inoculating the younger kids, and so far our hospitals are handling the case load well.
One of the biggest worries for many potential visitors is what happens if they contract Covid while they're here. In an effort to allay these concerns, Andalucía is offering international travelers free Covid-19 insurance covering doctor and hospital bills, medicines, hotel accommodations during recovery, and more. Be sure to read the fine print carefully; for instance, you must stay in licensed commercial lodgings, repatriation is covered only within Europe, the package is an add-on to your own trip insurance, and there's a 100€ deductible.
After sharing all this with friends, relatives, readers, and total strangers who write me, I explain that there's no clearcut answer to the question of whether they should visit Spain right now. They have to study the facts, weigh alternatives, and decide for themselves.
“Yes, but do you think should I come or stay home?” some persist. "Just tell me already."
“I can't say,” I reply. “Gun to my head what advice can I offer? Write this down. If you’re coming here to hold an orgy, be sure you give all your guests the correct address in advance.”
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I'm an American travel writer living in Seville, Spain and my home state of California. I travel the world seeking eccentric people, quirky places, and wacky food so I can have the fun of writing about them here.
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