Lockdown x 2 (3)

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Sometimes it’s better to give your fortune cookie away.

“Your life will get more and more exciting,” reads the fortune taped to my fridge. I saved it back in November, back when I had high hopes for 2020.

Now, on this second day of April, I can report that my fortune is finally coming true.

Today was the day I moved the jar of preserved lemons from the counter top into the fridge – one of two dates marked in April on my wall calendar: Move lemons to fridge, and, wait for it, Lemons ready.

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My favourite basket finds its true calling.

When life gives you lemons, we say at Carrasqueira 99, preserve them. With a basket full of lemons and no neighbours to safely share them with, I can finally tick item number 11 off my “To Do” list, an item, incidentally, that’s been swimming around my mind for six years.

Ever since that glorious day I spent on the Amalfi Coast in the spring of 2014, where the only limit to what you can do with a lemon is your own imagination, I’ve wanted to try my hand at preserved lemons. I’m only sorry it took a pandemic to get me stuffing salt into their fragrant cavities.

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Stand tall, stand proud, oh vessel of my finest hour.

When I remember to shake my concoction every day and flip it upside down, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. I watch salt and pith and flesh and juice swirl into a brackish cloud, satisfied.

As the sun sets and my bottle of preserved lemons sits safely in the fridge, awaiting the fateful April 24th, the clapping party diehards play a song created to give Spaniards, now finishing their 17th day of lockdown, a boost: Quédate En Casa or Stay Home (in honour of the ubiquitous social media hashtag taking the country by a storm).

People need a boost right now. To date, more than 10,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Spain, more than 110,000 are currently infected.

But even as I grieve for a country that’s going into convulsions, I think of other countries I have known and loved. As I sit here sipping a glass of port, I think of the article in the Guardian that says while some in India sip viognier during lockdown, millions of the country’s poor have been “thrown to the wolves.”

This scenario, I am sure, is playing out over and over again all over the world, and always has been to a certain extent. But for some reason now feels different. Like a game of freeze tag, so much of what we usually ignore stands in stark relief, immobile and trying hard not to blink.

To shake our jars of preserved lemons, to watch seagulls hover in a rose-coloured sky,  might be all we can do right now as we wait to see what will remain after pith and flesh have settled.

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Even the seagulls are confused.

Lockdown x 2 (2)

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When your laundry is just dish towels, tights, and T-shirts.

Today’s the day. I can feel it in my bones. For three days I’ve been composing the perfect list, and today, after a week of being confined inside the perimeter of these stone walls, is Gadis Day.

I comb my hair and apply my dual finish powder foundation and Burt’s Bees “pucker” lip shine. I put on a shirt with buttons. I even clean my sunglasses.

As I pull the front gate closed, I stand still for a moment, half in fear because it’s exactly two o’clock and my neighbours will have something to say if they see me sneaking off during lunch hour, and half in sheer anticipation of what lies ahead.

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The formidable cava section.

Gadis isn’t just a supermarket. From the moment my handsome landlord David pointed out the cheery yellow building to me from atop the hill, I knew we’d become friends.  As soon as I’d taken a nap to recover from my jet lag, I was there, walking through its sliding glass doors that face the pier.

With a cherry-red wheelie cart in tow, I perused its aisles, marvelling at things like the paprika selection – dulce (sweet), agrodulce (bittersweet), picante (spicy) – sold in colourful tins decorated with bosomy women. Speaking of bosoms, a whole row of cheeses called la tetilla (small tit) encased in butter-yellow wax beckoned. Ceramic pots filled with thick, dark-chocolate pudding also beckoned, as did candied chestnuts wrapped in gold.

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The “soft cheese” section.

Women working in the produce section wore white uniforms with green piping and matching caps. They took my produce and weighed it for me, twisting the bags closed with expert precision. Another handsome David worked the check-out aisle, teaching me how to say Graciñas – thank you, in Galician.

I’m not the only one enamoured with Gadis (which I discovered should be all caps GADIS, and deservedly so). Francesco Screti published  an entire 15-page paper in the Journal of Argumentation in Context about the Galician supermarket chain, examining one of their advertising campaigns Vivamos como galegos – Let’s live like Galicians.

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Olive you, GADIS!

This afternoon, when the sliding glass doors swish open, I feel like I’m coming home. I put on the plastic gloves. My list quivers in my hands. Where to start first? The dish soap? The onions? As usual, I’m distracted by the cava section, the white asparagus section. I wonder how much I can carry home – can I manage the box set of limoncello and mini shell-shaped pasta?

When I see my produce lady friend I want to hug her. She smiles, the first human smile I’ve seen in a week. She helps me open the produce bags (a difficult task, in case you haven’t noticed, while wearing plastic gloves) and prints off perfect little stickers. I do another round of the aisles, even though I’m not supposed to, noticing a new black truffle mayonnaise, blueberry Tostaditas, a soft drink from Brazil called Guaraná Antarctica.

When it’s time to go I stand at the threshold, weighed down, yet lighter, and walk back out into the sunshine.

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Am I not enough for you, Angie?

Lockdown x 2

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When last month feels like last year.

So, here we are. Day Two of Round Two of Spain’s nation-wide lockdown. No less than five people have written (including, I might add, a couple of complete strangers) asking me to continue writing. My apologies to those of you who were relieved when they read the last words of Lockdown #14.

Exactly one month ago I was in Lisbon (see photo above), in awe of a city that’s essentially a work of art. Now I’m about to share photos of toilet paper art recently created by the students from Bueu’s Atlantic Coast Playgroup.

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How things change, and how they change so quickly.

“There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen,” said Vladimir Lenin during other, perhaps more eventful times (but did they have toilet paper art?).

I hope these images will inspire you as they have inspired me. Who needs Lisbon, really, when we all possess the capacity for such greatness in our very own bathrooms?

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Finally, a way to use my $8.00 duster-head replacements.

P.S. Thank you to Patrick from Atlantic Coast for letting me share these images.

Lockdown #14

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When it’s been plane tree versus plane tree for two weeks.

Take back what I said about Bueu getting tired. Someone has rigged up a sound system, which is still blaring one hour and 19 minutes after the 8 o’clock clapping party.  Earlier they used it to play a town-wide game of Bingo. To accompany the jacked-up speakers, the ambulance and police cars did two rounds of the streets tonight, sirens blaring, enticing people I’ve yet to see at their windows clapping with gusto.

Maybe I’m the only one who’s tired.

Today was supposed to be the last day of Spain’s lockdown. Instead, another two weeks looms, with even stricter measures to be enforced. I’m hoping Bueu will be spared what’s become known as the “balcony vigilantes” enforcing these rules, people who hurl insults, sometimes even launch spitballs, at passersby they believe to be breaking shelter-at-home orders.

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A flower for those who may need one.

My bakery excursion during the first few days of the lockdown could now elicit a “Hey, you! Go back to your fucking house! You’re going to make someone sick, you retard!” – the exact words, according to El País, yelled at Cristina, a lab technician from Galicia on her way home from work.

When I started writing this blog, Spain had 9,191 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 309 dead. Today, 78,797 are infected and 6,528 have died. Perhaps such figures explain the spitballs. As psychologist Laura García García (that’s not a typo) puts it: “This fear that society is experiencing in such a difficult scenario is expressing itself in a toxic way.”

Some of us choose to express ourselves in other ways, like by baking cupcakes. Chocolate with cream-cheese icing and confetti sprinkles. I ate one, then two – and then I thought –who really cares? and ate two more.

It was one of those days, another one of those days, that felt vague and timeless, when we question our place in the universe and wonder, finally, why the stove clock’s time seems different than the mobile phone’s time. Why does one say 2:30 and the other one 3:30?

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Sugar – your best defence against toxic balcony vigilantes.

Could it be that day, that change-the-clock day? What day is it, actually? What month? Where am I? Who am I? Can I eat another cupcake?

Yes, answers the universe. Eat as many as you please.

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Seven, Angie? Really?

P.S. That’s a wrap for the Lockdown series. I promised myself I’d write every day for the two-week lockdown, and I did it. But not without a little help from my friends (thank you, Miguel) and this desk he made and delivered the day I started writing this blog. Coincidence?

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It’s all about the desk (especially when you didn’t have one before).

P.S.S. Thank you for reading.

Lockdown #13

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All is quiet on the western front.

It’s 11:07 p.m. Now it’s 11:09. Sometimes there just isn’t anything left to say. 11:12. But I promised myself I would write something every day of this lockdown. If I don’t, my mother will worry. 11:15.

When I think about Day 13, not much comes to mind (obviously). Then I realize I actually accomplished at least two items on my 20-plus-item “To Do” list (which grows more and more bizarre by the day).

I finally read the washing machine manual, for example – every single word – discovering the meaning of all those mysterious symbols. I celebrated with a three hour and 12 minute cotton-eco wash. I also opened my Easy Spanish Step-By-Step book, learning that amable doesn’t mean amiable and emocionante doesn’t mean emotional.

Also, for the first time, I saw Underwear Man. I’d heard rumours about him from my neighbours. As I sat down for lunch outside, there he was, a rather large fellow with a very white belly wearing tiny black briefs. He strutted back and forth on the rooftop terrace to my right, talking on his phone.

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A gift from Bitchy Neighbour, who is now Not-So-Bitchy Neighbour.

There’s a feeling of tiredness hanging over Bueu. Even the waves seemed lackadaisical today, crashing with more of a whimper than a bang. The cats didn’t want to play. When I weeded the patch of garden around the orange tree, just below Mercedes’ house, she didn’t even raise her blinds. In the past, she would have looked out the moment she heard a dandelion being tugged, offering her wheelbarrow to collect the piles of weeds, offering her advice about other areas in need of attention.

The last time I saw Mercedes, which was yesterday, she was wearing a mask and gloves and was in a hurry to get back inside after a trip to the supermarket.

The only child I’ve seen in the past 13 days has been peering out from behind a window.

And now it’s 11:44. And I am tired, too. The only thing I have left to offer you is a poem by Mary Oliver.

The Fish 

The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
and died
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.

Lockdown #12

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Today’s mood.

I’m not going to lie. Today – despite the sunshine and the scent of orange blossoms lacing the air – was tough. And increasingly surreal.

“The gates of Gorky Park are firmly closed,” said the BBC correspondent from Russia this morning, setting the tone.

Armani makes single-use medical overalls for healthcare workers. Condoms run out as Malaysian factories close down. Ukrainian monks shift from beer-brewing to hand sanitizer. India locks down 1.3 billion people, forcing millions to walk hundreds of kilometres on foot, beating rickshaw drivers with batons.

And here amid the green hills of Galicia, I pull weeds from a stone wall. At first I try to save the mint and the tiny daisies, but it’s easier if I don’t discriminate, ripping out everything at once.

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Sorry, tiny daisies, sometimes life just sucks.

For some reason, this reminds me of something – of a time, just eight weeks ago, when I was lying on a parquet floor in Toronto curled up in a ball, sobbing. The world-wide war against coronavirus was not yet being waged, but I was waging my own battle. The depression, triggered by the end of a marriage and a deep sense of betrayal (both romantically and existentially), left me gasping for air.

But now I am here, plucking a baby fern from its crevice. A woman we’ve taken to calling “Bitchy Neighbour” looks on from the safety of her terrace. I shift my attention to the weed-choked pear tree, shaking dirt from mounds of slender-leaved grass. Bitchy neighbour begins to speak. At first I think she is about to compliment me for all my hard work, instead she says, “It’s time for lunch.”

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The ever-so-fragrant orange blossom – you can see why they deserved to become a Strawberry Shortcake doll.

For those who have been to Spain before, you will know all about lunch time. Choosing a time to eat based on personal preference, or even simple hunger, is not an option. Lunch is at 2 o’clock, maybe 2:30. Some of the more rebellious types have been known to eat as late as half past three.

When the neighbours catch me doing things like hanging the laundry, heading to the beach, or going to the supermercado at the sacred hour, they never fail to remind me, “It’s lunch time.”

So, today, I listen. I join them, alone, in my garden. I get out the green-and-white checkered tablecloth and a linen napkin edged with lace. I even pour myself a glass of Albariño.

As I spear a steamed artichoke doused in fresh lemon juice and survey the scene below, the tears I’ve kept at bay for almost two weeks begin. In the apartment where the family congregates every evening for the clapping party, they have hung balloons from their window, and taped a drawing of a rainbow to the glass. I know these are meant as messages of support, to say we are in this together, to say you are not alone. But as million of Spaniards sit down to eat, I look at the two empty chairs on either side of me.

The balloons hang like a necklace down the side of the peach-coloured building. I watch them, rising and falling in the breeze, and eat.

P.S. The sirens were back in full force at tonight’s Friday night clapping party.

 

Lockdown #11

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Last night’s sunset – a mix of darkness and light.

The honeymoon is over. Today I took the day off from being off. That meant guilt-free doing nothing instead of guilt-laden trying to do something. I did things like eat two cream-filled donuts, pulled out nettles with my bare hands, and bought a box of duster replacement heads for more than eight dollars. None of this made me feel any better.

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was starring in a version of Groundhog Day, the groundhog replaced by a virus shaped like a spiky-ball dog toy, and the golf course replaced by the entire world. My daily routine – the Earl Grey, the BBC World Service, the sweeping of the tiled floor – all of it sickened me.

The mood started last night when, just before the anticipated hour of 8 o’clock, I poured myself a glass of wine and went outside for the clapping party. The clock struck eight. Nothing.

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Coronavirus particle or dog toy?

The thing about a clapping party is someone has to start clapping. That someone could have been me, and I tried, half-heartedly. But it wasn’t the same without the Bueu anthem playing and the ambulance sirens and the wolf whistles and the people yelling things I can’t understand in Spanish. A family who’d congregated in one of the windows of the apartment building below closed their blinds and left.

After ten days of lockdown and making headlines for surpassing China to become the second worst-hit country in the world with 3,434 dead from Covid-19 and 47, 610 infected, I could understand why the mood might be sombre. More than 700 people died yesterday.

The mood becomes even more sombre when you become curious about how many people usually die per day of other causes in Spain. The country has one of the lowest mortality rates in the European Union – about 9% per 100,000. But that’s still more than 1,100 people dying, at the best of times, every single day.

When you feel it’s time to sit and ponder mortality.

Now that we are counting our coronavirus dead every minute of the day, watching numbers rise and fall like the stock exchange, the statistics of our mortality can’t be ignored. Sealed away in our homes, we wait, the ticker tape ticking.

Last night I waited until about 8:05 for the clapping party then decided to go inside. But just as I closed the door, the anthem started. I should have more faith, I thought. These are a people who have survived wars and a decades-long dictatorship. Plus, they really like to make noise.

People started dancing on their balconies to Resistiré –  a song I’ve since learned means “I will endure” (thanks, Débora).

Resistiré stayed with me, for better or for worse, all day today. Yes, the honeymoon is over and we’re stuck with one another. As my hands stung from the nettles, the chorus played over and over in my head.

P.S. For those of you interested in the English lyrics to Resistiré (complete with images of the cosmos), here you go:

Lockdown #10

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Cats – what more is there to say?

Warning, if you don’t like cats, stop reading now.

Some of you have been asking about the cats in these blog posts. Well, actually, one of you asked. But that’s enough to give me an excuse to dedicate this post to my feline friends.

This morning the neighbour across from me, an elderly gentleman who usually sports a straw fedora but has been appearing bare-headed lately, was pacing back and forth on his balcony (and, I think, spying on me a little), and caught me talking to the cats. I think it was Mean Kitten I was talking to, and telling him what a little devil he was. Or maybe it was Molly, who was chasing a toy mouse at the time, eliciting much praise about her extraordinary prowess.

Yes, embarrassing. Or not.

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The scene of so many hours of fun.

After months of feeling self-conscious in this neighbourhood perched on the hill and striving to be a good neighbour and self-appointed representative of Canada, I don’t care what people think anymore. How liberating to say this, and, more importantly, to feel it.

Lockdown has changed everything. This small property has become my kingdom. Within the borders of these stone walls, Lockdown Angie, not Complex-Ridden Angie, writes the rules.

And the rules say that talking to cats, my sole companions for the past ten days and for the next several weeks (at least), is perfectly acceptable, healthy, and encouraged. As is playing with cats – dragging home-made toys (fashioned from burgundy Christmas ribbon and scrunchies) up and down the concrete path leading from garden gate to front door, exclaiming, “Get it, Stanley. Jump! Jump!” or “That’s a good girl, Molly. Run! Run!”

In times of crisis, we do what we need to do to survive.

Some of you may wonder why there are so many cats hanging about Carrasqueira 99 (that’s my address), or at least the person who asked me about the cats may wonder.

To make a long story short, my neighbour Débora (of Débora and Miguel from Lockdown #8) runs Asociación Protectora de Gatos Minchiños Moaña – a cat rescue organization. Since we first met and she found out what a fully-fledged Cat Person I am, she’s allowed me to help. I’ve fostered numerous kittens and cared for some of the adult stray cats after they’ve been spayed or neutered.

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Attracted perhaps by the lemon tree, the view of the sea, the cream-coloured flagstones (or maybe the wet food I serve on individual plates twice a day) the stray cats of Carrasqueira have claimed this kingdom as their own.

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Débora, cat hero of Bueu and beyond.

While these are not the kind of cats to come inside and snuggle up on your lap, some allow me to pet their heads. One even allows a belly stroke.

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Mean Kitten (who, it turns out, is just misunderstood)

And I am grateful for this contact, however brief, with other beings. Perhaps too grateful. Stella now recoils slightly when I reach for her as she naps on the stone window ledge, calling her “Princess Buttercup.” As she rolls onto her back, letting me rub her soft white belly, other princess names spring forth, from whence I do not know.

Every time she lets me pet her, I’m infused with a warm, fuzzy feeling. I even smile, something one rarely does, in case you haven’t noticed, when alone.

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Stella, aka Princess Buttercup, hoping I’ll leave her in peace.

Lockdown #9

 

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Prayer flags starting to look as tattered as my mind.

I was supposed to work today. But like millions across Spain and around the world, I’ve been laid off indefinitely. Even though my job teaching English at Atlantic Coast Playgroup was just part-time, it formed part of a web of jobs cobbled together to survive as a freelance writer, and the hours were enough to pay my rent.

No one has hard feelings. The staff, who hail from New Zealand, Venezuela, Galicia and the U.S., understand. How can a small business owner such as our boss Patrick (real name Patricius, from the Netherlands) continue to pay our salaries, taxes, social insurance, and rent when students’ parents have already started to cancel? When his annual money-maker, a week-long summer camp, will be cancelled?

While Patrick is trying to move classes online, providing lockdown-style activities such as sprouting avocado pits, making your own play dough, and Zumba workouts, it’s just not enough.

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Once upon a time (last week) I used to make a newspaper with the kids at Atlantic Coast Playgroup.

My calendar, filled in during more optimistic times, has been made redundant too. Now I am rather pleased that I made the mistake of ordering that botanical art wall calendar from Amazon España with squares barely big enough to write in. Now I can enjoy rather than curse this month’s large watercolour of Prunus persica. 

But I will miss my work colleagues. We were fond of going out for drinks together at Leña Verde, or to O Farol for pizza. They’ve seen me cry, try to salsa dance, sing songs with lyrics such as “Floppy chases a rabbit on a rainy day.”

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Someone else will be swimming in Slocan Lake after a hot day’s work as a reporter.

Other potential jobs that had been offered to me in Canada, reporter jobs with a program called the Local Journalism Initiative, no longer exist. Who wants someone who has been living in Spain to move to their rural town with limited medical facilities right now?

It’s only because of a separation agreement settlement that I’m able to sit here calmly on a sunny afternoon and drink a bottle of Mort Subite – Sudden Death. Not usually a beer fan, I’d bought these for prospective guests. Since none will be coming in the foreseeable future, I’ve cracked one open. To be honest, I’m on my second now because I’ve discovered Mort Subite tastes more like cherries than beer – and who doesn’t like cherries?

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The sweet yet bitter taste of Sudden Death.

The government officially announced Spain’s lockdown will last until April 12th, possibly longer. When I flip the calendar to April next week, my new reality will be staring back at me. Blank squares. Blank days. Day after day after day.

But it’s better not to think that way. Even though I’m angry at my former husband for falling in love with another woman and ___________________ (I promised not to write about him anymore, so I’ll stop there), he did teach me a lot about Buddhism. He taught me about the nature of suffering (especially when I last saw him in Toronto), impermanence (ditto), and how the only reality is the present moment (difficult when you’re prone to obsess about the time you fell in love with an Italian jazz musician in India and got married).

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Decisions, decisions. Home of the place where I nailed a friend’s sign to a post: “If you’re looking for a sign, this is it.”

While it has become cliché to talk about “the moment” – and especially about living in it – if I weren’t doing that right now I think I’d be joining Mercedes’ Husband #2 (see Lockdown #8).

Quite simply, it’s a relief to have nothing on the calendar but the moment, or, as Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, “keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality.” It’s a relief to stop worrying about what to do with my future as a nearly 50-year-old, unemployed, childless divorcee with limited funds.

Perhaps this lockdown is just a get-out-of-jail-free card for my tattered mind. At this moment, only the sweet yet bitter sips of Mort Subite exist. Sheets flap on the clothesline. Cats sleep in the shade. A seagull caws, flying towards the open sea.

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Well, I was sleeping in the shade until you came over here with your camera.

Lockdown #8

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Sometimes you just feel like a stranger in a strange land.

A word to the wise – try to learn the language of the country you’re living in before they declare a state of emergency and go into lockdown.

Last week I taped notes to the gates of two of my elderly neighbours. With the help of Google translate, I offered to pick up whatever they might need at the supermercado. Just give me a call, I wrote, or at least I hope I wrote that, signing off “Your Canadian Neighbour” in English.

Yesterday during the siesta I received my first call. It was Mercedes, my neighbour with a husband in desperate need of a liver transplant. Mercedes’ first husband had died in a motorcycle accident, her second in a mental institution. It was crucial she didn’t lose Husband #3 to a virus.

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My casa has also been my neighbour’s casa, it turns out. If only the thick stone walls could talk instead of cause mold problems.

I’d learned about the other husbands late last summer when Mercedes (which means Our Lady of Mercy, incidentally) invited me and my neighbours from Madrid (Débora and Miguel) over for octopus empanadas and cans of Diet Coke. Actually, I’d learned all this after we left, when Miguel translated.

Too busy wondering if I should tell Mercedes I was a vegetarian, my take on the conversation had been completely different. Basically, I’d understood Mercedes also loved going to the beach just a 15 minute walk from town – Praia de Porto Maior – not that Husband #1 had met his Maker there.

I’d also failed to understand that Husband #2 first struggled with his mental illness in the same house where I currently live. When first married, my little stone house with the lemon tree had been their house, and the site of the unravelling of a mind. The one saying so many English speakers know – Mi casa es su casa – had never rung so true.

This might explain Mercedes’ attachment to this place, how she stands (or used to stand, in the good ol’ pre-lockdown days) at the top of the property looking down as though it’s her balcony. “You need to pull the weeds,” she’ll say and point and gesture to be sure I understand, or, “It’s time to pick the pears,” or, “Close your door, the cats are sneaking in.”

But she has also arrived at my doorstep with freshly caught fish, flour, and a hand-written recipe (again, should I confess I’m a vegetarian?), asking, “Do you have olive oil?” (uncertain if a Canadian would possess such a thing). She’s told me countless times not to worry about my horrible Spanish – poco a poco, she’ll say, little by little, offering to bring me on her daily strolls along the path to Beluso with Husband #3 to practice. She’s called my neighbours when she thinks my absences to Canada have been too long, asking, “Is Angela okay? When is she coming home?”

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The view from Merecedes’s “balcony” (aka the road above my house).

So when I picked up the phone yesterday and heard her voice, I was ready to do anything I could to help Mercedes, but I couldn’t understand what she wanted. She asked me how I was, how my father was (she knows he has Alzheimer’s), and would I be going to the supermercado soon? If so, could I pick up some – and here things got fuzzy – Lettuce? Water? Bread? She repeated the words again and again. I wrote them down phonetically, thinking to translate them later. No problem, Mercedes, I said. Please take care, and take care of Husband #3, and be well, I wanted to say, but couldn’t.

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My father at his favourite dim-sum joint in Toronto.

While I can follow the news in the English version of El País to keep up-to-date with the latest coronavirus reports and count on a handful of sympathetic English-speaking friends for Bueu updates, I can’t be the kind of person I’d most like to be in this crisis –  the neighbour you can chat with across the fence because you’re feeling lonely, the neighbour you can call for help.

I can’t be the neighbour who will go to the deli counter at Eroski for you and order 400 grams of sliced turkey breast and be able to answer the simple question of  “Which kind?” when the deli clerk points to an entire section of pechuga de pavo.

“I don’t know,” I struggled to say this afternoon, suddenly feeling the full weight of not being able to communicate, of being a stranger in a strange land, of being infected with the uncertainty of a world turned upside down.

The deli clerk must have understood the look in my eye. She chose for me. “People like,” she said, in English, a smile reaching the eyes above her mask. She unwrapped a large round of processed turkey breast, and began to slice.

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“Don’t worry, Angie,” says Molly the stray cat. “We understand you.”