Every night before 8 it starts. The noise penetrates my bedroom window. The sound of a thousand hoof beats or maybe the beginnings of a wild street party born of defiance. But by now, I recognize the call and I join automatically, almost as if I don’t have a choice.
All across Spain at 8 o’clock, residents from big cities and tiny pueblos are coming to their balconies. They hang from their windows and perch atop rooftops. We unite for a simple and common goal: to give a round of applause for the healthcare workers, police, grocery store employees, pharmacists, and everyone else working tirelessly to keep some semblance of life and order amidst a national quarantine.
I tell myself it’ll get old. Soon I won’t want to do it anymore. But still, I join. Whether it’s for the idea of contributing to this small gesture of support or the need to be connected to all of these strangers around me, I join.
Looking out from my balcony I see the clean lines of apartments, stacked neatly floor by floor into the night sky. The shadows of the neighbors I’ll never know stand stoicly at their railings. Some clapping and whistling, some banging pots and pans.
And then just like that, it dies down and our work for the day is done. I shut the sliding glass door, shuffle down the hall, and climb back into bed.
My life has been defined by lines recently. “Respect the green line,” reads a sign on a plexiglass barrier recently added to the counter at my local pharmacy. At my feet, green tape clearly marks where I stand and where the no-zone lies.
The avoidance of, drawing of, and acceptance of lines have now become a second presence in this apartment. I have a lot of time to think, and time is linear too.
I took the dog out this morning per usual. Again, the park was empty. Again, I noticed my physical and emotional reaction to seeing people walking quickly by, clutching their bulging grocery bags tight. From the plaza, I looked down the street to the massive queue snaking back from the front doors of the Mercadona.
I felt tense, anxious. Even though I know I have enough food in the house for the immediate future, I had an almost frantic need to get to the grocery store. It’s all going to be gone if I don’t.
But I kept my head, collected the dog after a brief moment of freedom for the both of us, and headed home. Once inside, I felt calmer but I decided to try to make a run later. Maybe by the afternoon, the hysteria will have died down.
So around 1 pm, I gathered my bags. Coming down the street I breathed a sigh of relief. People exiting the store, but no lines. Walking in the door, I was immediately stopped by a masked store security guard. You have to use the other door, he said. This is only an exit. Fair enough, I thought. Rounding the corner, I saw it: a line of at least 75 people extending down the block. I cursed loudly in English and turned on my heel to leave.
I refuse to wait in any such line. Not only for the sake of public health but for the fact that this isn’t (yet) the Great Depression. Do I believe that some of those people legitimately want for certain items? Yes. But do I ultimately think that these absurdities that never existed before are a product of panic buying and resource hoarding? Absolutely. The greed and selfishness disgust me on such a deep level. My anger management abilities are hanging by a thread these days.
Walking back toward the house, I decided to go out on a limb and stop in at the Russian grocery store a few blocks from me. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of supply but I went in with not much hope. I was beyond pleasantly surprised.
I’ve never used that store for more than a few bottles of Baltika #8 beer here and there, the occasional tub of Russian kimchi, and cheese curd ice cream bars. They don’t have much in the way of fresh food or bread but it’s a specialty store. The majority of the products are Russian or Polish.
But I found toilet paper, almond milk, and Q-tips along with frozen dumplings, pickles, sauerkraut, eggplant sauce, and pierogies. I didn’t panic buy. I bought enough for the next week and threw in a bottle of Baltika and an ice cream bar for old time’s sake. And I did it all without a single line.
When I got home I was happy to have my ace in the hole shop and contented with the knowledge that I had what I needed. I told myself that while I thought I was entitled to easily buy and consume a fresh baguette with some jamón serrano, this is a time for sacrifices. I’m blessed to say that my biggest inconvenience right now is my lack of access to my favorite grocery store and the comfort food they stock inside. All things considered, I’m doing pretty well.
It’s going to get harder for everyone for a little while. It’s important to draw a line through the middle of your comfort zone and realize that you’re going to have to tighten up a bit for the foreseeable future. As far as I know, I’ll still be receiving my paycheck. I’m able to rest comfortably knowing that my bills will be paid and there will be (Russian) food on the table. Loads of others aren’t that lucky.
These are weird, unprecedented, history-in-the-making times. I’m seeing the humanity that exists but also the ugliness. For now, I’m trying to keep my days productive but not putting too much pressure on myself either. When we come out the other side of this, I hope we can all learn a thing or two about respect. Not just for others, but ourselves as well.