Right now, the few tourists left in Seville are scrambling to get flights out, often paying insane ticket prices for roundabout routes involving multiple stops and layovers. On Monday, Spain goes into lockdown, with everyone confined to their homes except for short runs to the grocery store or pharmacy. Seville being a city of total scofflaws, I’ll be interested to see how much creativity goes into complying with the new regulations.
People are forking over thousands for flights to the US and Canada. In Paris, when New York Times reporter Mike McIntire heard the US borders were about to close, he paid $5000 for a pair of economy seats. Seconds later he learned the ban didn’t apply to American citizens — and seconds after that, he discovered that those pricy seats were impossible to cancel. To cheer him up, somebody told him another passenger had paid $20,000 for economy tickets (almost certainly an urban legend).
“Fortified with that tale of someone else’s woe,” Mike wrote, “we boarded the flight to New York, joining other frazzled Americans, wiping down seat armrests with sanitizer and wondering if being home would really be any safer than staying away.”
A very good question!
Rich and I were scheduled to leave for California March 25 and considered leaving weeks ago, ahead of the pandemic, but instead we decided to remain here in Seville.
I’m literally betting my life that I’m safer in Spain than in the US. And boy, am I going to feel like an idiot if I lose that bet.
I’m know right now I’m safer avoiding such hot coronavirus breeding grounds as international airports, long-distance planes, and cruise ships. But hey, this virus is loose in the world, and the only way to avoid it completely would be to hide out alone in the woods with a year’s supply of food, megapacks of toilet paper, and a shotgun. And frankly, that way lies madness.
For those of us trying to hold onto some semblance of sanity, our best bet is to take sensible precautions — starting, of course, with hand washing.
Now, I wouldn’t describe myself as germ phobic, but I have a very healthy respect for hygiene and tend to wash my hands rather a lot at the best of times. So I was somewhat aghast to discover how skimpy my ablutions have been up to now, utterly failing to hit the twenty-second mark dictated by health experts. Yes, of course, I’ve tried humming the “Happy Birthday” song twice. That got old fast, so I tried singing other songs. Sadly the only ones that seem to pop into my head are hideous earworms like Bye, Bye Miss American Pie and that bizarre one about leaving a cake out in the rain, Macarthur Park. Aughhhh! Stop! Bring back the birthday song!
But then I discovered this highly appropriate tune, which hits the twenty second mark somewhere around the line, “in my brain.”
As an alternative, you might try one of these Beatles hits, adapted for our trying times.
Or do it Texas-style.
As for hand sanitizer, I’ve used up or shared with friends nearly all the store-bought, off-brand varieties I’ve been able to scrounge up and am now starting to make my own. There are many formulas out there, but most are pretty similar, and you can’t really go wrong with the simplest: two parts alcohol (91% to 99%) which kills germs as it evaporates, and one part something to make it gentler on your skin, usually aloe vera gel. Mix it in a bowl, funnel it into bottles, and you’re good to go. Here’s an easy-to-follow video:
And just to clarify, we’re talking about rubbing alcohol. Tweets about using vodka prompted Tito’s to issue warnings that even their vodka, which is 40% alcohol, doesn’t meet the standard required for medically effective hand sanitizer. To which one public spirited citizen replied, “Please increase the alcohol content of your Vodka to help combat coronavirus, thank you.”
Beer is even less useful as a hand sanitizer, but it is offering plenty of opportunities for a little innocent fun at the expense of a major brand that is now ruing the day it chose its name.
The World Health Organization advises against using alcohol as a way of dealing with our emotional upsets during the crisis. Seriously? I’m placing that recommendation in the optional category. In fact, I’m pulling out all the stops in an effort to keep my mental equilibrium. I’m checking in with family and friends, limiting the time I watch news reports of the crisis, doing yoga, watching lighthearted TV shows, reading entertaining books, and eating well. I have fond memories of being snowed in during Boston’s blizzard of 1978, spending long, cozy days writing letters (by hand!) and baking pies and cookies. I’m doing much the same now. I was up early this morning making granola and am planning a batch of banana bread soon, making an extra loaf for an 85-year-old friend who is no longer able to bake.
“There’s always a little bit of heaven in every disaster area,” remarked activist clown Wavy Gravy during the chaos of Woodstock.
As usual, Wavy was right. Now that we’re all living in the scary new normal of a global pandemic and nation-wide lockdown, it’s up to each one of us to find a way to be that little bit of heaven for those around us. We’ve all seen the footage of screaming women assaulting each other over the last package of toilet paper, which Is a sad commentary on what happens when people are desperate and afraid. But such demented moments don’t have to define our new normal; instead we can seek ways to show kindness and human decency. In the days ahead, we’ll all have opportunities to help each other weather the storm by lending a helping hand, passing along a funny story, or sharing some of the supplies from our own cupboards with those in more urgent need.
Like all of you, I am doing my best not to worry. I trust the Spanish health system to provide everyone with equal access to tests and any vaccines that are developed. My pantry has enough food for weeks. We just started a long-running British detective series and spend our evenings discussing clues and trying to guess whodunit. And I’ve bought a canvas so I can start painting again. Silver linings.
"When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change,” wrote Brazilian author Paulo Coelho. “At such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny." Ready or not, we have arrived at the hour testing our collective courage. Let’s work together to rise to the occasion.
Good luck out there my friends! Let me know how you are holding up and what you are finding to sustain you through these challenging days.
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
This blog contains the best pandemic survival tips I've found, along with ideas, recipes, and a few lighthearted observations to help us all get through these dark days.
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