One of the biggest stunners in this whole global catastrophe is how well the Spanish are managing it. Government directives are clear, sensible, and consistent. Here in Seville, a city known for its die-hard scofflaws, there’s wholehearted compliance with the quarantine. And across the nation, every evening people go to their balcony, window, or rooftop to give a three-minute standing ovation for the healthcare workers risking their lives for us all. It’s a time of physical distancing but emotional solidarity.
Seville went into quarantine with astonishing speed. One day people were out drinking and slapping each other on the back in crowded bars, the next, everyone was hunkered down inside their apartment. I don’t know who wrote Spain’s lockdown regulations, but they ought to be nominated for a Pulitzer; the wording didn’t cause outright panic yet was powerful enough to make every man, woman, and child go inside and stay there — two days before the official start of lockdown.
Overnight everyone knew about the only authorized reasons for leaving home and the 100 euro fine for cheating. You were allowed out to walk your dog or to visit the grocery store, pharmacy, tobacco shop, bank, or hairdresser. Yes, that’s right, your hairdresser. The logic was that elderly ladies who can no longer shampoo or manage their own hair would need professional assistance. Sadly (although sensibly) hairdressing salons have now been removed from the list due to being potential virus vectors. Bummer! Yesterday I actually had to trim my own bangs. Quarantine; it’s the little things that get you.
So how are we supposed to keep our mental and spiritual equilibrium while walking a tightrope of anxiety and juggling changes to every aspect of our lives? How can we live with social isolation while experiencing what, for some, may be a bit too much togetherness with our nearest and dearest?
“We have already started to fight,” a Spaniard with three teenagers in the house told Rich in an email on Day 1. “7 hours together is already a long period of time.”
“Yikes! What’s he going to do in the long term?” I said, when Rich read this aloud. “I guess we’re all going to have to work on some strategies.” Mine are a still in progress, but this is what I’ve got so far.
Resist the temptation to binge-watch the news. I know, it’s hard to turn your gaze away from this ongoing global train wreck, but I find if I check in mornings and evenings, I can usually keep up with vital news while avoiding excessive spikes in my anxiety level. And if anything really exciting happens in between, like they come up with a vaccine or aliens arrive from outer space, no doubt I’ll hear about it soon enough.
If you have money in the stock market, avoid making constant calculations of how much you’ve lost. Yes, you need to keep an eye on your finances and make decisions, but starting every conversation with “Want to know how much less we’re worth now than we were at breakfast?” is not going to elevate the mood around the house.
Exercise. Right now my Stairmaster (and by that I mean a small cheap knockoff) is in daily use, with lighthearted action moves keeping me motivated. Rich and I have worked out a rotation schedule for sharing it. Occasionally we climb up to the roof, and even more rarely, one of us ventures out to the market for supplies.
Get some sunlight. Lawrence Palinkas, who conducts research in the Antarctic, says, “When exposed to restricted light and limited environmental stimuli, the brain slows down to conserve energy… You may find people essentially dropping out of conversations. They refer to it as ‘the Antarctic stare.’” To avoid that fate, Rich and I have started taking meals by a sunny window and are exploring slighty more substantive entertainment options.
Discover something new. Rich found an article with links to virtual tours of some of the world’s greatest museums. Unfortunately I am terrible at this kind of navigation. I had the dizzying sensation of lurching past distorted images of great masters and slamming up against a wall, from which I extricated myself with some difficulty, only to do it all again. It was rather like visiting the Musée d’Orsay roaring drunk. Other options we’re looking at include free online university courses, TED Talks, and a night at the opera with the Met. For more, here’s a long list of entertainment and learning options compiled by the NY Times.
Choose your entertainment thoughtfully. It’s important to stay sharp, but you don’t want to get even more edgy. Personally I’m avoiding Outbreak, Contagion, and Pandemic like, well, the plague. Instead, I’m diving into thrillers and mysteries, such as Vera and Line of Duty, that don’t happen to involve a virus taking over the earth. To end the evening on a lighter note, we sit back and enjoy the comic genius of Dawn French as The Vicar of Dibley. These are all Amazon titles, as the connection with Netflix is currently overwhelmed around here, causing interruptions. We’re hoping that gets sorted out soon.
Find a daily structure that works for you. My sister has created a full daily schedule, to which she hopes to add learning to paint and make bread, plus a film-study program on Martin Scorsese. Her recently retired husband, on the other hand, is reveling in utterly unstructured time. You’ll want to discuss preferences with your quarantine companion(s), if only to sort out how to share the Stairmaster and organize movies and meals.
Make great food. For once, you have plenty of time to spend in the kitchen, and the Internet is loaded with fabulous recipes. For a start, check out some of the comfort food recipes on this site. I'm trying not to stress-binge on carbs, so I'm looking at somewhat healthier options, like the One Pan Greek Lemon Chicken and Rice that Rich and I made for lunch today.
Be kind to yourself. You’re living in unprecedented and stressful circumstances, so cut yourself plenty of slack. For instance, if you are determined to spend your lockdown coming to grips with great literature, don’t freak out if you flounder over Tolstoy’s dense prose or the existential angst of Franz Kafka. Maybe start with a list chosen by readers, rather than academics, such as BookBub’s Best Classic Novels of All Time or Book Riot’s Must-Read Strange and Unusual Novels. Or stick with the thrillers or romance novels or whatever it is that you usually love. You have enough on your plate without putting pressure on yourself to buckle down to a new project you don't actually enjoy.
Take care of each other. Talk with your companion(s) to find out how they are feeling and coping. And check in online with family, friends, and colleagues. One of the greatest frustrations of this kind of situation is feeling helpless. You’re not. Sharing supportive, encouraging words will give comfort to others, and may allow you and those you care about to tap into unexpected reserves of strength, grace, humor, and resilience.
Never forget we’re all in this together. I just heard that in California, motorists are starting to give a thumb’s up to medical workers and first responders they pass on the road. It’s not a standing ovation, but it’s a feel-good moment you may want to get in on, and a small way to start showing appreciation to the heroes in your community.
That’s my list. What are you doing to keep yourself (relatively) sane, sharp, and free of the Antarctic stare? I’ll be posting a lot more about food, entertainment, online learning, and other survival strategies, so if you’ve found anything useful, or come across funny videos, photos, or memes, send them my way.
3/19/2020 06:53:03 pm
I wish the US was taking this as seriously as the Spanish are. You are right. Things shut down basically on Saturday. We've been out twice to Mercadona. Participate every night at 2000. Not looking forward to return trip home next week. I feel safe here!
3/20/2020 10:44:39 am
I wish you all the best of luck with your return home, Kay. Travel is getting complicated with many cancelled flights, but my (carefully sanitized) fingers are crossed that your journey goes smoothly. Let me know how you find the mood there, what people are thinking and doing, and how you are finding ways to stay sane and healthy during these trying times.
3/19/2020 06:55:37 pm
Thanks for the update! Glad to hear that you are doing well. Please keep them coming.
3/20/2020 10:45:48 am
Thanks for the encouragement, Janet. I will certainly keep on posting. One of the benefits of living in wild times is that I never need to worry about running out of things to write about!
3/19/2020 07:01:01 pm
Thank you thank you. We left Seville after five week vacation (left 1 week early) 3/6 for home in Montana. (I have elderly parents.) Because of you I went to a book group of English speaking ex-pats which I enjoyed immensely. The light on the cathedral brought back memories. We also have pulled out board games and renegotiated card game rules... Again thank you. Be well.
3/20/2020 10:50:01 am
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Julia, and for your kind words about the post. I'm glad if I helped connect you with the expat book group. Over the years I've fbeen lucky enough to participate in several book groups , and they are a wonderful way to connect, learn, laugh, and discover new authors. One silver lining to the lockdown: looks like we'll all have time to catch up on our reading!
3/19/2020 08:08:06 pm
I have adopted the standing ovation nightly on my front porch in Memphis. Haven't had any followers yet but I do get a lot of likes on Facebook. Here's last night https://www.facebook.com/shares/view?id=10221969512530933&overlay=1¬if_id=1584585330628389¬if_t=story_reshare
3/20/2020 05:11:05 pm
Catherine, your FB video is brilliant! You are brilliant! I love watching you on your porch, spreading the good word and standing up for the true heroes who are risking their lives for us all. May all of Memphis, and all of America, join in.
3/19/2020 08:09:53 pm
So glad to hear how you guys are doing. I've thought of you often, since you are under more stringent rules than we are. We are doing well and being cared for by friends a bit, too. Think this will be our "new normal" for awhile now. Thanks for the suggestions of things to do at home.
3/20/2020 05:15:10 pm
You're so right, Phyllis, this appears to be the (shocking) new normal. The rules in Spain are stringent, but cases of the virus in Seville seem to be slowing, so I'm crossing my (well-washed) fingers that everything we're doing is working, or at least helping. Glad to hear your friends are involved. Seems like one of the best things any of us can do is to reach out to people we know, check in, and reassure each other we're not in this alone.
3/19/2020 08:24:14 pm
Bill has been on self quarantine since January 1 due to his IPF. So he is very good at entertaining himself. I’m on day 2 and trying to decide if I should go to my wine group tonight.
3/20/2020 05:22:21 pm
Bill is the expert on self-quarantine, so he's the one to ask about your wine group, Ginny. Can you stay six feet apart while imbibing and catching up? If so, it may be safe enough. These days Rich and I are not going to anything in person except the necessary markets, etc. We've started arranging virtual coffees with people in this city, where we gather mid-morning, cup in hand, to chat via Facetime. Tomorrow night we've arranged our first virtual dinner on Skype, an evening with good friends where, each couple in their own apartment, we'll have cocktails, then dinner, then dancing. Not sure we'll actually get them to dance, but we're giving it a try. Here in Spain, the quarantine is taken very seriously, but nobody wants to lose touch!
3/19/2020 08:51:13 pm
Since I do genealogy, I have no problem entertaining myself!! There is no end to the research I can do, as long as my computer and the wifi and the Internet connection holds out.
3/20/2020 05:24:47 pm
I'm with you, Vera, I have writing projects galore, plus painting and other pastimes, to say nothing about all the books I want to read. As you say, I'm definitely hoping my electronics and the Internet stay functional throughout the pandemic.
3/20/2020 02:22:41 am
We live in a small development of 23 townhomes in Arlington, VA. Every night at 7pm we meet in the circle, cocktails in hand, and catch up on our day. Of course we maintain a 6' distance from each other.
3/20/2020 05:29:22 pm
Sounds like a good, safe way to maintain community, Teri. One of my sisters is doing much the same thing in her California development. Here in Spain, that just isn't possible in the cities, due to regulations about staying indoors except for essential shopping. But I suspect a lot of people in the suburbs and country are arranging such gatherings. It's really important to maintain human connection in whatever ways we can safely manage.
3/20/2020 02:31:50 am
Reading this post is fabulous. Loved the picture from your office, so beautiful. I am in the healthcare industry so still at work everyday, but in the evening we have coffee, watch beautiful travel shows and thankfully participating in my Zumba class via Facebook live. Life is uncertain but good. Missing our family in Australia who we were supposed to be seeing at the end of this month. Stay safe and keep writing, we live your blog.
3/20/2020 05:33:28 pm
Sheryl, my heartfelt thanks to you and all in the healthcare industry who are working on the front lines to keep us safe. I'll think of you tonight at 8 as Rich and I applaud the world's healthcare heroes. Sounds like you've done a great job of balancing your life, despite the crazy challenges of our times. And don't worry, I'll keep posting. There's so much going on, I will never run out of material, that's for sure!
3/20/2020 05:17:27 am
Good post, Karen. I don’t know about anyone else but right now the UFO taking me to a non-caronavirus planet sounds tempting! Just sayin’.
3/20/2020 05:37:45 pm
We do have a lot to be thankful for, Faye, including having so many projects available that are much more entertaining than cleaning out our closets. My sister-in-law is here in Seville in an Airbnb, possibly for the duration, and that's seriously challenging. She can't really putter around with home improvement projects, gardening, or even walking beyond simple shopping. Luckily she's a great online researcher and is keeping busy finding very funny memes for my next post. A win win for us both. Stay safe, my friend, and keep in touch!
Faye - do you have an Audible subscription? I find that all these chores around the house become a 100 times more pleasurable with a good book to listen to. It is one of the greatest joys of my life to be able to do chores while listening to books. I believe you can get a 30-day free subscription from Amazon to try it out.
3/23/2020 02:55:22 am
Thanks, Sine! I have actually thought of giving audible a try so maybe I will! A friend in our classics book club only listens to audible or will watch movies...never actually reads a book! My problem is that I get easily distracted and generally do better looking down to read, thereby letting everything else go by the wayside. What I do do when doing “stuff” around home and yard , however, is pray, one of my favorite things.
3/20/2020 03:58:45 pm
Great post, Karen. We'll be trying that recipe soon! Maybe the standing ovation as well.
3/20/2020 05:39:19 pm
Thanks, Jo! Enjoy the Greek Chicken; we had it for lunch and then couldn't resist having the leftovers for dinner. One thing about this quarantine, we are really eating well! Stay safe, my friend, and let me know how things are in your part of the world.
3/20/2020 08:42:26 pm
Karen, You are a beacon of light! Thank you for the post.
3/21/2020 07:05:19 pm
I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Christy! Writing this blog is my way of staying connected with the larger world. Thanks for your kind comments.
3/21/2020 09:41:46 pm
I so enjoyed reading your article of encouragement. I glad to know that you both are well. 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. Please continue to share. Ann
3/22/2020 10:29:57 am
Ann, you are a healthcare hero! I'll be thinking of you as I gather with all of Seville each night to applaud the medical and service people who are on the front lines. I'm glad you enjoyed the article and yes, I will certainly post more!
3/21/2020 10:43:17 pm
hi karen, thanks for the update. love it all. would it be okay to copy and paste into my FB. your comment about what you guys are doing over there to support the healthcare workers? i think this is fabulous and we should be doing the same over here to show our gratitude for them. the nightly ovation seems to be like a midnight mass, a prayer, a high praise, a sign of the cross to them. i've been listening to the radio on how here at home, we're dealing with staying in shelter. oh, some of the things people are complaining about. hmmm. you guys take care of yourself, keep writing, letting us know how we can learn from sevilla through you. besitos. vida.
3/22/2020 10:33:18 am
Vida, you are more than welcome to use this on your FB page. I agree, the whole world should applaud for the healthcare workers every night. I just learned they're starting to do it in California, too. Wonderful to know the idea is spreading. Thanks for your words of encouragement; I will certainly be writing more soon.
You never fail to make me laugh. "Aliens arriving from outer space..." And OMG, even better: "Personally I’m avoiding Outbreak, Contagion, and Pandemic like, well, the plague.". Hahaha!
3/23/2020 08:32:49 am
Sine, I loved your new article and just posted it on my FB page. It so wonderfully captures the sheer lunacy of the experience; who knew going to the supermarket would become such an epic journey requiring our deepest reserves of courage and humor?
3/23/2020 04:53:53 pm
I now have seen several blue prints for them. Mine was very easy, instructions on Facebook "the turban project": https://www.facebook.com/turbanproject/. But they are not fancy, just double layer cotton.
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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