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.
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.”
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 millions 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.