Life on lockdown in Barcelona
In Spain locals are singing with their neighbours, weed dealers are creating “virtual dispensaries” on Instagram, crime has dropped by a staggering 70 per cent and local wildlife roams the streets. Writer Tim Smith shares his observations.
Spain is hot on the heels of Italy for the title of biggest COVID-19 basket case, and here in Barcelona the plazas and the ramblas have fallen silent, as week four of quarantine begins.
With one of Europe’s strictest lockdown policies, people here are watching with indignant righteousness, as Brits complain that they may only visit their local park once a day (the horror). While we guess that your quarantine will actually lead to people going outside more, the Spanish government has decreed that we must exercise inside our homes.
Floorboards up and down the country are groaning under the incessant thumps of burpees and star jumps, as we all learn to connect with our inner Richard Simmons. Dog owners have become the envy of the nation, as walking our four-legged friends is one of the only remaining excuses to leave the house.
Spaniards do at least have some reasons to be cheerful. As Ivanka Trump was quick to highlight on Twitter, local police in Mallorca have been filmed serenading their citizens with traditional guitar playing and folk music to raise spirits. What Ivanka missed were the videos of police police brutality, as state lockdown is enforced by police crackdown.
The police’s heavy handed approach is at least keeping people at home – which is bad news for the world-famous pickpockets of Barcelona, with crime falling by 70 per cent compared to the same period last year. And while empty streets might be hampering petit criminals, the local wildlife is taking advantage. Wild boar are descending on the Catalan capital as their human neighbours vanish inside, and Madrid residents are spotting peacocks in the centre of town.
As humanity surrenders the streets to the animal kingdom, a new, balcony-borne society is emerging. Neighbours are blasting out music and dancing together, playing bat and ball across the road and making new acquaintances.
“How are you doing?” I shouted to one man on the next door roof terrace.
“Very bad!” He yelled back, laughing. He’s a construction worker who, like so many others, has no idea when he will next be able to make an income to support his family. Memories of the last financial crash are raw here – Spain was one of the worst-affect European nations after 2008 – and many fear that prolonged economic woe lies ahead.
Everyone is having to adapt. Here in Catalonia, where cannabis use is decriminalised, stoners across the region panicked as the official weed dispensaries shut their doors. But with traditional supply lines cut off, opportunistic “virtual dispensaries” are appearing on Instagram, promising delivery on-demand.
They’re just one of those hoping to capitalise on the new “boredom economy” that is making gamers, Netflix bingers and couch potatoes of us all.
One silver lining to all of Europe being trapped indoors is the opportunity to reconnect with friends back home in the UK. While they might live hundreds of miles away, they might as well be local now. This novelty wears off as you realise that they have been gripped by a terminal addiction to emoji-based quizzes – an affliction that might eventually prove to be as societally damaging as the virus itself.
Spain is still a couple of weeks ahead of the UK in the spread of the coronavirus. And while you may already be choking on the claustrophobia of quarantine, a quick Google search of the state of Spanish morgues should be enough to make you stay put.