If anyone is rejoicing at the arrival of the coronavirus, it’s the Spanish dogs. We humans are on absolute lockdown, allowed out only for strict necessities, and subject to fines, even jail time, for noncompliance. But with a canine on the end of a leash, you can roam freely, so locals are sharing their dogs with neighbors in a daily rotation. Every dog in the city is basking in its newfound popularity and buff physique — although they’re also pretty exhausted, paw-weary, and ready to go on strike unless they get more treats to keep up their strength.
In New York, a foster dog is the latest quarantine accessory, right up there with hand sanitizer and masks. City animal shelters have depleted their entire supply of canines as people realize it will be more fun to shelter in place with a furry friend for comfort and companionship. Dogs are a blessing, but also a responsibility. In Hong Kong, two dogs tested positive for COVID-19, launching a flurry of creative homemade protective gear.
Officials are not recommending protective gear for pets, so don't worry if yours are seen on the street clad only in their birthday suits. Scientists reassure us there are no documented cases of animal-to-human transmission, and it’s possible the virus is now adapted exclusively to our physiology. You can keep cuddling Fido and Fluffy, who are probably thrilled to have you around 24/7. “This morning I saw a neighbor talking to her cat,” a friend emailed me this week. “It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came into my house, told my dog..... we laughed a lot.”
By week whatever-this-is of quarantine, many of us have an entirely new appreciation of frivolity. Most of us went into lockdown with grand thoughts about using the time productively, perhaps perfecting our Spanish, mastering the ukulele, and/or reading the world’s longest novel (which for the record is the thirty-volume Artamène ou le Grand Cyrus by Madeleine de Scudéry published in 1649 – 1654.). When the pandemic hit, I was deep into writing a book about our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour, and at the news we were soon to be housebound I thought, “Great, I can finish the book in no time!” You know how much I’ve written? Not one word.
And that’s OK. Because I’ve finally realized that the universe hasn’t given me a sabbatical for accomplishing projects, it’s thrown me a staggering challenge requiring every scrap of my strength and resourcefulness. Look at the spot we’re in. Our lives have been disrupted on every level. The entire planet has been invaded by a deadly hostile force we can’t see or contain or counteract effectively. Our future is uncertain. We are weighed down with constant unwelcome news. My routine activities include disinfecting all groceries and their packaging, sanitizing my hands and shopping cart, and re-arranging my entrance hall into an ever more efficient decontamination chamber.
Is it any wonder I can’t find time to read a 30-volume novel?
A grief counselor once told me that in the face of profound loss (such as a loved one, a job, a home, or a way of life) our bodies react physically in ways we don’t always expect. We feel tired, eat too little or too much, can’t concentrate, lose sleep, lack creativity, find ourselves losing track of … what was I saying? And because these are bodily reactions, we can’t solve the problem with our intellect or willpower.
“Grief is bigger than us. It’s bigger than our efforts to manage it,” said Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, in a TED presentation on the pandemic. Grief, like life itself, is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved. We must fully experience all the stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance — before it begins to loosen its grip on us. What makes today’s grief unique is that we’re going through it collectively, and everyone on the planet wants to talk about it, all the time.
Like so many people, I spend hours every day connecting with friends on social media, looking at memes, and reading emails like this.
“Just be careful because people are going crazy from being in lockdown. Actually I’ve talked about this with the microwave and toaster while drinking coffee, and we all agreed that things are getting bad. I didn’t mention anything to the washing machine as she puts a different spin on everything ... and certainly not to the fridge as he is acting cold and distant. In the end the iron straightened me out as she said everything will be fine — no situation is too pressing. The vacuum was very unsympathetic ... told me to just suck it up, but the fan was more optimistic and hoped it would all soon blow over! The toilet looked a bit flushed when I asked its opinion and didn’t say anything, but the door knob told me to get a grip. The front door said I was unhinged and so the curtains told me to ... yes, you guessed it ... pull myself together.”
I can’t believe I’m typing these words, but I believe that anonymous author’s curtains have a point. Because in spite of everything, we are somehow managing to pull ourselves together. We’re dealing with our grief, our cabin fever, and the barrage of terrifying headlines. Our homes, street wear, and shopping habits have been revamped to meet antiviral hygiene standards we would have considered impossible even a month ago. We’ve mastered Zoom and various other technology to keep in touch with those we love. Every day we manage to get out of bed and draw on depths of strength, compassion, and resourcefulness we never knew we possessed.
“Resilience is our shared genetic and psychological inheritance,” Elizabeth Gilbert said. “We are each and every one of us — no matter how anxious you feel you are, no matter how riddled by fear you feel — every single one of us is the genetic survivor of hundreds of thousands of years of survivors. Each one of us came from a line of people who made the next correct intuitive move, survived incredibly difficult things, and were able to pass their genes on.” That’s a comfortingly solid collective heritage to have at our backs.
At the end of every day, the weary dogs of Seville gather with their humans on balconies and rooftops all over the city for the nightly applause in honor of the healthcare workers. The valiant efforts of these heroes, and of everyone who supports the effort by staying home, are beginning to turn the tide. The slight flattening of Spain’s curve is offering us all a glimmer of cautious optimism. Each night, the applause and shouting gets a trifle louder and more boisterous, and sometimes the dogs join in the chorus. No doubt they’re howling, “Hey, enough already. Let’s end this thing so I can get some rest!”
Stay strong, stay considerate, and stay home, my friends! How are you surviving the emotional roller coaster of quarantine? What are you doing to lift up your spirits?
4/9/2020 07:00:54 pm
Hey guys... we’re thinking of you both in Sevilla. We picture your street and imagine your journeys for necessities in the year of Covid. But we also know how resilient you both are as you observe the comings and goings and keep with the daily news. From our perspective we see that Spain is feeling the brunt of the pandemic but it varies city to city. But we’re glad your safe and well. We debated between us whether you would actually rather be in San Fran or Sevilla, but that’s for another conversation.
4/10/2020 04:11:41 pm
Patrick & Mags, I love your optimism and share your hope that suffering through this disaster together will enable us to emerge as better human beings less addicted to excess. Even though we've had few shortages, I view all resources as incredibly precious these days. And I feel closer than ever to my neighbors. People I've never even nodded to on the street are now smiling and waving at me during the 8 pm standing ovation for healthcare workers. Other than that daily feel-good moment, you'd hardly recognize the ghost town Sevilla has become. And on top of everything else, there's no takeout here. Rich and I cook three meals a day, seven days a week — can you imagine? No cafés, no restaurants, no UberEats. I feel like a throwback to an earlier time. Congrats to civilized Amsterdam that takeout is still on the menu, and I'm delighted to hear Monks is helping the good citizens of your city sustain themselves during these difficult times. Best of luck to both of you in these crazy times.
I still have clients with manuscripts needing edits, my own books to write, and the sundry tasks of running my own business to deal with. I didn't have time to bake my own bread before this, and I certainly don't have time (or energy) now! While I'm still carrying on, I'm...exhausted. I struggle to focus, and everything takes twice as long as usual.
4/10/2020 04:25:51 pm
You're so right, Shéa, this thing is like a rollercoaster, one that seems always to be dropping downwards with a sickening lurch, and there's no way to get off. But it's also true that people are being incredibly kind and compassionate with one another. I was just reading about a sixteen-year-old who is flying medical supplies into remote rural communities. Now that's someone who is stepping up and helping out! For most of us, it's more a matter of trying to ease the burdens of those in our orbit with small acts of kindness and generosity. Here's hoping the unity we feel during this shared ordeal will carry forward into the post-pandemic future we forge for ourselves.
I always thought if I even had a full week off at home I would get SO MUCH done!
4/10/2020 04:36:22 pm
You do not have to feel guilty, Kristina! Nobody I know has followed through on all their optimistic plans, especially when it comes to closet cleaning. Just keeping yourself and your household functioning at the most basic level requires a ton of energy these days. Cooking, cleaning, gardening, and walking are not only more essential tasks, they give you time for reflection and healing, which is what we all really need to be doing now. Your office, blog, and closets will all be there if and when it's the right time to tackle them. For now, you're accomplishing the far more vital task of tending to yourself. Keep up the good work.
4/9/2020 08:32:37 pm
Congratulations for getting this writing done! I haven't done a bit of research or writing on my blog for two weeks. It didn't help that we had to deal with an overnight hospital stay and surgical procedure for my husband and recovery. And he still has several medical appts to come.
4/10/2020 04:41:49 pm
Sounds like you've got more than enough on your plate without any research or writing, Vera. A hospital stay and surgery are always daunting events and never more so than they are right now. I hope your husband's recovery goes as quickly and smoothly as possible. Ordinarily I'd add something like, "so you can both get back to normal life" but that certainly isn't something any of us have within our grasp these days. So I'll just wish you both good luck and good health in the days ahead.
4/9/2020 10:50:37 pm
Thank you, Karen, for the barrel full of laughs. I've been typing my fingers to the bone--personal memoir for children and grandchildren--and am enjoying living in the 1950s and 1960s when polio was becoming a thing of the past and I was having a helluva good time. Writing takes you away like Calgon used to. Whether it be a novel, a blog or journaling, I can't recommend it highly enough. Feeling suspiciously calm here in Michigan. AND thank you to the others for your remarks--enjoyed those too!
4/10/2020 04:47:11 pm
So glad to hear you enjoyed the post, Nancy. Sounds like you've found a wonderful project that lets you escape to another time, one where we'd just conquered the terrifying plague of polio and were busy remaking the world. I do love writing, and while the posts I'm currently writing for this blog don't take my mind off the pandemic, they help me process what's happening, look at it through the lens of humor, and connect with my readers about what they are experiencing. I agree, the reader comments are wonderful — heartfelt and insightful. Thanks for being part of that.
4/12/2020 02:52:08 am
Thanks, Nancy, had not thought of that Calgon commercial in years, used to be one of my favorites!
4/10/2020 09:52:55 am
Wonderful as always. During this craziness, I thank you for your humor and insights. Keep finding time to write!
4/10/2020 04:49:26 pm
Thank you, Lois. I'm so glad you enjoy the posts. I love writing them and I certainly never have to worry about running out of material. And I'm so grateful that readers like you take the time to give me feedback and share insights and thoughts. Yes, I certainly plan to keep on writing!
4/12/2020 01:50:44 am
Just got back from grocery shopping for those Easter goodies and am now enjoying a gin & tonic on my back patio where I love to watch my birdies & hummers. Infinitely more fun than trying to sanitize all my boxes and bags.
4/12/2020 02:49:13 am
PS: Joyeauses Pacques à tous !
4/13/2020 07:57:47 am
Faye, I like your priorities. Yes indeed, a gin and tonic on the patio — and all life's simple pleasures — are more important now than ever. Felices Pascuas, my friend!
Francis X. McCann
4/18/2020 07:47:33 pm
As always Karen, you write so well: always informative, with that well developed sense of humor and insight; I can hear the inflection of your voice in your posts, and hear your laugh.
4/20/2020 03:38:37 pm
Frank, as always I appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comments. The state of the nation's jails is a sorry mess, and they are a very poor substitute for mental health care. Those who care for the inmates, especially those who find a way to show compassion, are doing heroic work under nearly impossible conditions. Thanks for raising awareness of their contribution.
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Winner of the 2023 Firebird Book Award for Travel
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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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