Children of the Quarantine

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When children become a sight for sore eyes.

This morning began like most others, with me wondering if I could hold my pee long enough to keep sleeping for another hour. But, after a mere 20 minutes, my bladder won.

Then it was time to feed the seven stray cats. Much to my annoyance, their inner breakfast clock knows when I’ve slept in and they begin to gather by the door, clawing at the front mat, jumping up to the bedroom window, their shadows skulking behind the curtains.

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Playground by the sea is still off limits.

As I filled their dishes, glancing out the window towards the ocean, something on the beach caught my eye. A child. And then I remembered. Today was the day the children of Spain were finally allowed to go outside.

Instead of beginning my morning chores, which I can often make last well into the afternoon, I got dressed. As someone with a reporter’s instinct burrowed deep within my psyche, I knew this was an important day. When was the last time a country of 46.7 million kept all of its children inside for 43 days?

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If you’re going to buy a baguette, might as well throw in some of these beauties.

I needed a baguette, I decided, and maybe some multi vitamins. I could even squeeze in an ATM stop. I wanted to see the look on just one child’s face after they emerged from quarantine. Instead I saw the look on several children’s faces, and it was all I could do to keep my composure and keep walking.

They kept appearing from the side streets, converging at the boardwalk – riding bicycles and tricycles, gliding along on pedal scooters. Some ran along the beach, stooping down to fill their hands with water. Some kicked a ball back and forth, “Papa!” they yelled. “Papa!”

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Now children can join the dogs on the beach. (see Lockdown #7)

A little girl in a spring dress of mint green and light pink tottered towards her mother. The girl stopped to look at me, brown eyes as glossy as chestnuts. “Hola!” I said with my foreigner’s accent, and she smiled wide, even began to laugh. I laughed with her, feeling lighter than I have in weeks.

Even now, at 5:30, I look out my window and the children are still there – roller-skating in circles on the soccer pitch, climbing on the rocks by the shore. They are life, pure life, resuming exactly where they left off. Gulls wheel overhead, waves crash and recede. And I can’t believe these same children ever used to annoy me.

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This walkway hasn’t seen much action for the past 43 days.

Now they give me hope that we adults, when our time comes, might be able to just pick up our soccer balls and give them a kick, not caring about things like goals. Just to be alive and kicking when all this is done – isn’t that enough?

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After its near-death experience, this new bloom also gives me hope.

P.S. Today was exciting for another reason. The preserved lemons are ready (see “When life gives you lemons”) and I tried them out with some pasta topped with roasted vegetables and feta. More proof that you should never judge a book (they look disgusting) by its cover. Zesty yet mellow. I’m hooked.

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Lemony lusciousness always tastes better with wine.

Behind the shutters

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Can’t go to the beach? Wash the curtains!

When I saw the cloudless sky this morning, I knew it was time. Time to wash the curtains.

After nearly half a century on this planet, this was something I had never done before. This is mostly because I’m not a big fan of curtains, and have a thing for natural light.

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Nothing wrong with a bit of shade, Angie.

Galicians, on the other hand, seem fond of everything associated with blocking out the light, especially shutters. Usually these are of the roll-down kind, raised in increments, if at all, depending on the time of day.

I’m not the only one who has made this observation. An El País article examines this phenomenon, noting, “While the use of shutters in Europe is only anecdotal, here in Spain they are part of popular culture – and almost always kept down.”

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Yes, I did put up the patio umbrella. Mean Kitten (can you see him?) forced me.

My first experience inside a shuttered house was on a day just like today. Mercedes invited me over for coffee and cookies. As she led me from the front door to the kitchen, it took a few minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The mauve-coloured walls didn’t help.

When I asked to see her back yard, Mercedes rolled up the shutters and opened the door. Light flooded in, illuminating her pristine white kitchen. Outside, the warmth of terra- cotta tiles and planters filled with flowers cast their own kind of glow. Sunlight filtered through the branches of a cherry tree. Mercedes smiled, proud of her creation. Then we went back inside, and she closed the shutters.

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Plane trees coming back to life.

While trying to fit into Galician society, I’ve tried doing the shutter thing. I admit there’s a satisfying sound, just like in the movies, when the shutters roll down and hit the stone window ledge with a dramatic thud. Suddenly it feels like anything is possible in your dark cocoon.

Unfortunately, I am just too boring to take full advantage of this.

As a compromise, in the bedroom, and only at night, I pull closed the cream-coloured curtains. As these are not my curtains, as nothing in this house, originally an Airbnb rental, belongs to me, I take my responsibility for their upkeep seriously. This has not been easy while fostering kittens who are attracted, as any kitten worth their salt would be, to the voluminous sway of medium-weight cotton, to the delightful folds encasing hiding spots, to the sheer possibility of climbing to the heavens.

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A lover of curtains.

And so today I washed the curtains I’ve fought so hard to protect, hanging them to dry in the brilliant Galician sunshine.

But once I removed the house’s three sets of curtains – a painstaking task I hope to never repeat again of removing dozens of plastic hooks I suspect had never been removed before – I noticed the windows needed to be cleaned. Once I cleaned the windows, I noticed the couch needed to be vacuumed. Once I vacuumed the couch, I noticed the floor under the couch needed to be mopped. Once I mopped the floor under the couch, I noticed the walls were dirty.

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Another lover of curtains.

On some lockdown days, one chore begets another, and another. Maybe you perform these tasks as though your life depends on them, attacking stains on the wall with such vigour your arm aches. You catch yourself, sponge in hand, heart racing. This is when it’s time to stop and ask – What am I doing?

I struggle at times to answer that question, but does it really matter? Especially now? You can’t go wrong with cleaning, my mother taught me. It’s free. There’s a before and after. Results are tangible.

I look at my results – a pile of white plastic hooks waiting to be re-inserted. What comes down must go up.

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Don’t forget about me! I have such fond memories of your curtains

Happy birthday to me

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Geraniums, always in the mood to party.

I have a confession to make. It’s my birthday. I was going to just keep sitting here, feeling sorry for myself, but then a friend wrote and told me to envision, for 17 seconds, what I’d like to have in life rather than dwell on what I don’t have.

Seventeen seconds is a long time when you have no idea what you’d like in life. Especially when “the future is cancelled,” as another friend said the other day.

I’d like to say I envisioned a birthday party held in my honour, with a cardamom-rose triple-layer cake and champagne and presents wrapped in shimmery paper with organza bows.

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Once upon a time (not that long ago…), an Italian jazz musician made me a cake.

But, even during pre-lockdown times, I’ve never been much for celebrating my birthday. While a festive day for millions around the world who celebrate 4/20 as Weed Day, it was also Adolf Hitler’s birthday, and, 82-years later, the day my birth mother made the difficult decision to leave me in a hospital ward in Ottawa and head west.

Yes, I know, I was then “chosen” by my adoptive parents, who loved me and still love me to this day (even if they’ve forgotten it’s my birthday). I really can’t complain. But, there’s always that little girl inside who comes out once a year to pout. And today’s her day.

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Enough already, Angie. Really.

After 48 years on this earth, I’ve learned some coping mechanisms for the big day. Since I can’t go hide in the forest, or go for a drink with a sympathetic friend, my only option is to buy stuff. But where to buy stuff during a nation-wide lockdown, stuff that’s not from a supermarket shelf?

So, instead of waiting for the Spanish lunch hour of two o’clock for my bi-weekly shopping run, I decided to get dressed and head down the hill before noon for a birthday adventure. Little did I know a whole new world awaited.

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A brand new birthday bloom.

Stores usually closed for lockdown were suddenly open. How did they know it was my birthday? Stationery shops, hardware stores, tienda de chuches (candy shops), a specialty food store.

I read the sign on each door, learning the cold hard truth. These were deemed essential services, and had been open this entire time. Only closed, of course, for lunch.

Hoping for something over-priced and exotic to cure my birthday blues, I wandered into the specialty food store only to discover shelves filled with canned mussels and dusty bottles of Mencia. I considered buying a 50-Euro (or was it 60?) Tupperware set, admiring the rose-coloured nesting bowls. Thankfully, the urge passed.

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You can never go wrong with stationery.

The stationery shop awaited. While mostly school supplies for children, I managed to find items that bridged the generational gap(s) – Post-it Notes, a “colouring therapy” book, a robin-egg blue notepad. At GADIS (because what trip to town would be complete without visiting GADIS?) I finally bought the champagne (technically cava, but doesn’t “champagne” have a much better ring to it?) and box of chocolates gift set I’d been admiring.

And now, it’s eight o’clock. Four more hours and I can say good-bye to Lockdown Birthday 2020. Thank you for celebrating with me, dear reader. When I uncork the champagne, it will be you I toast.

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Care for a sip? How about some dark sublime?

UPDATE: Since I posted this last night, readers have responded from all over the world wishing me a Happy Birthday. My neighbours Débora and Miguel (and our friend Ana by WhatsApp) serenaded me in my garden. They also gave me the perfect lockdown friend to keep me company, one that doesn’t meow for food or pee on my bed.

Thank you, everyone. You’ve warmed the very cockles of my heart.

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My new friend who is nameless for the time being. Ideas?

The rain in Spain

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Saturday night in Bueu. The fun never stops.

Saturday night. The sixth Saturday night of Spain’s lockdown. But, don’t worry, we’re keeping busy over here.

Débora has started watching snail documentaries. Her interest was piqued by the army of snails who invade our hillside community every night, especially after a good rain. Débora tells me they aren’t just attracted by the dry food we leave out for the cats – they’re attracted to each other.

Every night they latch on to each other in a mad, orgiastic, lovemaking frenzy. This solves the mystery of the slimy cat bowls I retrieve in the morning, so slippery I struggle not to drop them.

How I wish I were a snail right now. And how I wish I had a sewing kit. Two things I never thought I’d say six weeks ago.

You see, I’ve become obsessed with the idea of making cat toys from my favourite sweater I washed on hot by mistake.

Obsessions come in all forms during lockdown, I’m learning, and it’s probably best not to judge them.

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How many snails were conceived because of these clouds?

Not only did I shrink my sweater, I mixed whites and colours, turning it from pink champagne to the perfect shade of mouse grey. Destiny.

All my adult life I’ve had one of those emergency sewing kits knocking about, the one with that mysterious medallion-shaped piece of foil, wisps of multi-coloured thread, and faerie-sized scissors. This kit has travelled with me, unused, all over the world. Until Spain.

This time the kit just didn’t make the cut – all part of my attempt to let go.

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Breakfast at 12:15? Blame the kitten.

But now that I finally have time to take up sewing and make cute little shrunken-wool mouse toys for my foster kitten, how I long for needle and thread. Unfortunately, such things aren’t sold at GADIS.

Luckily, the kitten (whose adopted family plans to call Black but I’m just calling her “Kitten”) understands. She’s delighted to play with any object she finds on her path – hair tie, Kleenex box, reading glasses, electrical cord.

It’s almost as if she knows she could have met a much worse fate than being stuck here during lockdown with certified crazy cat lady who kisses her head dozens of times a day, saying, “I love you to bits and pieces,” and other, more embarrassing, terms of endearment.

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Kitten on a mission.

Instead, Kitten could have been thrown in a dumpster, sealed up in a box, buried alive, fed rat poison or ground-up glass – all fates met by other kittens of this nation, and, I’m sure, many other nations.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Gandhi, though not everyone agrees he ever said such a thing.

Despite her species’ misfortunes, Kitten seems to forgive us. She drapes her warm little body across my neck, and purrs. She looks at me with celadon-coloured eyes, telling me it’s okay, go ahead and kiss my head again. She lets me bury my nose in her soft fur, inhaling that one-of-a-kind kitten smell so hard to define – corn husk? Sun-baked earth?

More importantly, now that waking up has become less and less appealing, she inspires me every morning to see the world with fresh eyes. She runs at full tilt up and down the hallway as though there’s somewhere worth going to, even worth getting dressed for.

She pounces, jumps, and swats with such vigour – such unadulterated zest for this world – you forget her less-than-15-centimetre high stature. You admire this potent little package of a being, and her disregard for lockdowns and the affairs of humans. I am Kitten, she says, Hear me roar.

And a new day dawns

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When you’re just a simple kind of girl in a lockdown world.

Just 24 hours ago, I was wearing a black sundress and sunglasses, watching frozen blueberries bob in a glass of cold white wine. I sat in a patch of grass between the lavender bush and the lemon tree, alternately admiring the buzzing bees and the perfect yellow orbs ablaze in the late afternoon light.

Leaning against the stone wall, my scythe awaited. Earlier it had been delivered by neighbours Kiku and Emma (who also took the opportunity to pick a bag of lemons). Mercedes must have given them word that my garden was looking unruly. As part of her now daily balcony visit, she’d recently noted this with an all-encompassing wave of her hand.

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Hey, is that an ocean I see?

In early March, Mercedes taught me how to use the aforementioned scythe, an object I’d only associated with the Grim Reaper up until that point. With an expert flick of the wrist, she’d cleared the patch of yellow wood sorrel, forget-me-nots, and nettles I’d been admiring. “Slow and steady,” I think she said, moving on to the mint.

When a woman like Mercedes is holding a long-handled scythe, it’s best not to stop her and say how much you actually enjoy what some people think of as beautiful wildflowers and herbs, not weeds.

“Now, you try,” she said, and I hunched down, hacking away at a somewhat less precious clump of grass. She surveyed the bruised yet still erect blades. “You have to practice,” she said.

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Never trust the pretty clouds.

Afterwards she taught me how to sharpen the curved blade – something I am certain I will never attempt lest I inadvertently lop off my head – and instructed me to store the scythe, at all times, in the garage.

When the next day I set to work, she stood on the balcony observing her pupil. Eventually, when I forgot she was there, I began to feel the rhythm of the swing. The freshly-sharpened blade began to slice through grass like a hot knife through butter.

When Mercedes saw my freshly shorn, or should I say scythed, lawn, she smiled one of her very rare smiles. “Much better,” she said. I felt as proud as on the report-card days of my youth, when all I needed was a neat row of A’s and maybe an A+ to show my mom and feel that all was right with the world.

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Yes, it rains a lot in Galicia – but look at our apron!

But now all is not right with the world. Now, I have the heater on, trying to dry out my soaking wet socks and shoes from what was supposed to be a pleasant excursion to GADIS. I just checked the lettuce in the garden for hail damage and pulled sopping towels from the line.

Now the scythe is stored in the garage, indefinitely. They say this weather, like the lockdown, will last “for the foreseeable future.”  This could be, dare I say, well into May…

As weather patterns shift, I worry for my hard-earned equilibrium. How sensitive I’ve become to the elements in my little microcosm of a world behind these stone walls. How much simpler it is, for some reason, when the sun is shining, and the scythe is scything.

But, thankfully, there is always John Steinbeck to remind me that the best things in life don’t always come dappled in sunlight:

“I’ve lived in a good climate, and it bores the hell out of me,” he wrote in his 1962 travelogue Travels with Charley. “I like weather rather than climate.”

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“Time to snuggle up in your Aran sweater,” says Black. “Sorry about the unravelled bits.”

Black and Blue

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It’s not enough to be crucified once in Bueu.

“Every day I have less and less to say, or think, or do,” a friend from Canada writes.

Another friend sends a list of “Plague Season” quotes published in today’s New York Times: 

“May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?” a fan asks James Joyce. “No, it did lots of other things, too,” he replies.

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Black looking for some Easter trouble.

And as I write this, yet another friend, a new friend, looks up at me and meows her own lament. Her name is Black, even though she’s grey (Black is the New Grey?). The Spanish family slated to adopt her this week has always wanted a cat named Black. They already have a dog named Blue.

To explain why this is an odd pet name combo is beyond my language skills.

It’s been exactly four weeks since Spain was locked up inside and I went for a walk that lasted more than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, The Last Walk was nothing to write home about. It was cold and rainy. Débora and I wanted to walk in the forest. Miguel led us into the town of Beluso. He bought toothpaste at the pharmacy. It was all over in an hour.

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One of five abandoned kittens Débora is looking after, feeding by bottle.

If only I’d known then what I know now. I would have told them to go on ahead, and stood beside the old castle up on top of the hill, breathing in the scent of the eucalyptus forest. Instead of drinking vermouth on ice and eating mushroom and leek risotto, I would have stayed out until darkness fell. Maybe I would have even slept there, in the roots of that giant magnolia beside the chapel.

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Imagine that, the Easter Bunny found Carrasqueira 99.

But it’s hard to wax poetic while Black is meowing for attention. Now she plays with a ball of crumpled up paper. Now she eats her kitty litter.

Today, for another hour and 18 minutes, is Easter. How fitting that I just finished reading Resurrection. This was not my plan, just a sad coincidence. It has taken more than a month to read a single book. Not that I haven’t tried. How many hours have I spent on the couch or in bed, reading glasses on, book at the ready, and just stared into space?

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As depressing as it looks.

I was just about to quote something profound from Resurrection, but, again, Black interrupts. I think she’s trying to tell me something. Maybe to pour myself another glass of wine and sign off?

Wise, Black. Wise.

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Sorry, we need to ration these, Angie.

P.S. Today I was informed my mother is not 80, as I mentioned in a previous post. She is only 78. Of course, my mother was too nice to correct me. Thank you, Aunt Mary (“Would you want people to say you’re 50?” she asked. A very good point).

Just keep moving

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Flying the white kite of surrender.

I have a confession to make. Every night at the eight o’clock clapping party, I shed a few tears. Who knows why I become so emotional. Maybe it’s because this town, tucked away on the Atlantic coast more than 600 kilometres away from Madrid and the epicentre of the virus, still bothers to clap after 25 days of lockdown.

Or maybe it’s because my neighbour directly below, the man we call Mr. Perfect Garden, who, in pre-lockdown days, barely cracked a smile despite his extraordinary cabbages, has just started emerging from his shed at the appointed hour to bang a pot.

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Two days of clouds and rain and Bueu is still clapping.

But what gets me every time is the family in the apartment building on the street below – the little girl and her parents. They never miss a night, sometimes waving balloons, sometimes white streamers. When the girl started yelling, “Gracias! Gracias!” the other night, waving frantically at the passing police cars and ambulance, her mother’s arm around her shoulders, I had to go inside and get a tissue.

Psychologists around the world are now warning of things like this – heightened emotions caused by “lockdown mental health” issues, with some organizations going so far as to call this current state of affairs “the world’s biggest psychological experiment.”

To mitigate the effects of lockdown mind (Exercise! Exercise! they advise), I’ve been experimenting with a 20-year old workout video whose soundtrack has been compared to “a porn shoot at a K-Mart” and its production quality to something created on a Commodore 64.

Nevertheless, Tony of Beachbody Power 90, and his workout companions Lisa and Paul, have officially joined the stray cats as my closest lockdown buddies. Every other day, we stretch and jump and punch together.

Tony cares, saying things like, “How are we doing at home? How are we doing? Hang in there!” He always seems to know how to cheer me up, advising me to “Just keep moving. It’s better to move a little than stop altogether”; or, my favourite, “Now, hey look, this is hard, hopping up and down like a bunny rabbit. Do what you can do.”

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The summer berries of the past.

What can I do but love Tony and Paul in their baggy black gym shorts, and Lisa in her red and white sports-bra-and-tiny-shorts combo? Every workout I notice something new in the 42-minute Level 1-2 Cardio Abs video – which, by the way, is yet another symptom of lockdown mind: Hypersensitivity to detail.

I note the crosses made from black electrical tape for the step sequences and bunny hops. I note the soft glow of the yellow and blue pools of light on the wall. Tony’s nuggets of wisdom seep into me effortlessly, like a sponge soaking up water. Now I can predict exactly what he’s going to say, and we can recite together: “You thought you could get off easy. You thought you could skip side kicks. But, no. Sorry.”

Not only do I feel refreshed and enlightened after one of Tony’s workouts, and deserving of a glass of wine, they remind me of happier days, days when it was summer and I lived in a big city beside a popular park.

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There’s nothing quite like a Canadian lake. Sorry, rest of the world.

That’s where I first got to know Tony on the hardwood floor of a living room on Christie Street. That’s when I was still with my husband, and happy, and we all bent and jumped and side-kicked together. It was the summer of heat waves and watching baseball games at Christie Pits and eating ice cream cones and going on picnics by the lake.

For months I’ve avoided my Power 90 friends for precisely this reason. Who wants to be reminded of happiness when you’re miserable? But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, and Tony’s words have never felt so right.

“If you get really exhausted, if you’re just starting out, pick up your remote and push pause,” he says during the twist-hand-to-knee section. “And that’s okay, cause guess what?” he asks, looking me straight in the eye as he touches left knee to right elbow. “We’ll be there when you come back. I guarantee you.”

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The illicit camellias. Thank you, Débora.

Who are your people?

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When it’s just you and Tolstoy for lunch.

Warning: Don’t start divorce proceedings before a pandemic locks down most of the world. Oh, and maybe think twice about going to what will become one of the hardest-hit countries and getting stuck there, alone, quarantined in a stone house on a hill.

While the rest of the world starts posting couple photos of dressing up like famous paintings, enjoying floor picnics, and engaging in board game tournaments, you will realize you’ve been wearing your panties both inside-out and backwards for the past 24-hours and no one has noticed.

Then, it will hit you. Somewhere in this locked-down world your former husband is probably noticing everything there is to notice about the panties of his new girlfriend. They are probably red, his favourite panty colour, and lacy.

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How yesterday began.

If there was ever a time to hold on to the ones we love, this is it.  This is the time to gather with our people by the hearth. But what if your hearth has been snuffed out? What if the ones you usually love send WhatsApp messages asking if you know the whereabouts of your marriage certificate so they can proceed with the divorce paperwork?

Some, like this particular stone-house-on-the-hill dweller, might have a little cry and then indulge in some GADIS therapy. In pre-lockdown times, a Milka caramel bar and roll of rainbow Mentos may have done the trick, but things have changed.

Who are my people?

No sooner have I asked this question, while weighed down by shopping bags on Rúa de Montero Ríos, than it begins to answer itself. I hear voices calling my name. “Hello! Up here!” they call, in English, and I look up. It’s my friend Loli and her four children, students from Atlantic Coast Playgroup, waving from their terrace.

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Can I be your people? asks Mean Kitten.

“Do you need an umbrella?” Loli asks, “It’s going to rain.” She asks if I want a face mask. If I need a shopping trolley for my groceries. If I want her to drive my groceries home. No, I say, Don’t worry.

Wait, she says. Wait.

As I make my way up the hill pulling my new trolley, a hand-made face mask printed with colourful owls tucked inside, I think about the other people. My people.

Some are on an island archipelago walking up and down a beach. Some are in an Irish cottage playing Bach on the cello. Some are on a street filled with cherry blossoms doing a juice fast. Some are beside a river drinking Manhattans at five o’clock.

Sometimes your people live far away, down roads like this.

Some are in the suburb where I grew up bringing my parents groceries and pansies.

And then some are even closer, usually just two houses up the hill, but now a world away.

But sometimes, like the other day, two-metre-wide contact happens. Miguel dropped off my Amazon package because, for some reason, no delivery driver can ever find Carrasqueira 99.

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Sometimes your people live in a place where the marvellous sumac grows.

And there, nestled among the copper frying pan and French Exit, was The Nun.

Everybody needs a nun in their life. Especially one made out of wax. This particular nun has travelled from the guest room of Miguel’s parents’ house in Zaragoza, where I spent Christmas with them, across the breadth of Spain.

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Coronavirus nun.

At first horrified that Miguel’s mother would think I stole the nun from my room, which, I might add, I did not (Miguel did), now I rejoice in this little game we play.

You never know when or where the nun will appear. You might find her under your covers, or buried in a basket of freshly-picked kiwis. She might be lodged in a terra-cotta planter, or standing calmly reading her bible in the pots-and-pans cupboard.

It might be days, or even weeks, but the nun never disappoints. Just when you think you’re alone, she’s there, with crimson lips and yellow rosary beads, never expecting anything but a laugh.

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Amazon nun.

Better 6 feet apart than 6 feet under

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When lockdown lasts long enough to grow a head of lettuce.

Last night, as Highway to Hell blared on the neighbour’s sound system, and, on the far side of Bueu, a group of motorcyclists revved and revved without going anywhere, I felt the mood of Lockdown Week 4 shift to a slightly darker place.

And when I awoke to find a dead lizard on the doorstep and storm clouds brewing in the distance, I hibernated inside. Stanley meowed, asking if he could come too.

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“What, that’s it?” Stanley after another exciting play session.

For the past five hours, I’ve been avoiding this sense of foreboding by procrastinating. I’ve fed the cats, done two loads of laundry, swept, made the bed, eaten breakfast, written some emails, read a poem, played with Stanley, tried to sign up for online grocery shopping, fed the cats again, ate a bowl of lentil soup. Some may call this “life” but when you’re a stay-at-home writer, the blank page never allows you to fully enjoy such a thing.

As I write (does this count? maybe), three billion people are largely confined to their homes. I read an opinion piece in the New York Times about the 1947 classic The Plague to lift the spirits. The writer sums up the philosophy of Albert Camus with these sunny words: “Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable ‘underlying condition.'”

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Mastering the fine art of procrastination.

While my mother doesn’t pretend to be Camus, or to have heard of him, lately she’s been offering daily coronavirus gems of Plague-like breadth: videos, photos, inspirational quotes, jokes.

Usually I push delete without opening these gems (sorry, Mom, I’m heartless), but today I opened each one, well, the ones that I could open (my 78-year-old mother is usually more tech savvy than me, but forwarding a forward that’s already been forwarded is quite the feat).

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Lockdown, always better in the sun.

And so, as grey clouds hover over the green hills of Galicia, I offer you a curated version of this joke list (apologies if  you’ve already been the recipient of one of its forwards) called Reflections:

  • Half of us are going to come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks. The other half will come out with a drinking problem.
  • Still haven’t decided where to go for Easter —– The Living Room or The Bedroom
  • Home-schooling is going well. Two students suspended for fighting and one teacher fired for drinking on the job.
  • I don’t think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks we’d go from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone
  • This morning I saw a neighbor talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came into my house, told my dog….. we laughed a lot.
  • Quarantine Day 5: Went to this restaurant called THE KITCHEN. You have to gather all the ingredients and make your own meal. I have no clue how this place is still in business.
  • Classified Ad: Single man with toilet paper seeks woman with hand sanitizer for good clean fun.
  • Better 6 feet apart than 6 feet under….

P.S. Breaking news. The Nun is back. Decorative candle or omen? Stay tuned to find out.

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The infamous nun of Zaragoza.

Same, same but different

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When you’re not having a rainbow and unicorns kind of day.

It’s amazing how many things can go wrong when you don’t even leave your house.

Stanley pukes all over your cream-coloured rug. Molly pees in the middle of your freshly-washed white cotton duvet cover (soaking through to the duvet itself, of course). A large pimple appears smack dab in the middle of your neck. Your clothes rack falls over in the wind, right on top of an ants’ nest. You bite into a butter-smeared slice of crusty white bread (healthy whole-grain, be damned!) only to discover that the S/Sal on the label is Spanish for “salt free.”

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“Who, me?” says Molly.

And, finally, after a three-week hiatus, Mercedes returns to “the balcony” (see Lockdown #8).

I can feel something is off when I’m playing with the cats, running up and down the concrete path with abandon, fur-ball scrunchie cat toy in tow. I’m wearing my favourite lockdown outfit: the three-quarter length tights purchased from Oshawa General Hospital patterned with a mysterious design –  Carnations? Parameciums? Windmills? – accompanied by fleece-lined reading socks stuffed into faux-Crocs, and topped by a hoodie/Aran-sweater combo.

This is my no-one-will-ever-see-me-who-cares outfit, but never let down your guard when you have Mercedes living above you.

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While I’d been feeling safe since the lockdown began, this feeling, apparently, is over.

“We need fresh air,” Mercedes says while gripping the fence. She points to Husband #3, who, I should add, is called Andrés.

“You are playing with the cats,” she says, stating the obvious. She turns to Andrés and says, “She is playing with the cats.” I think this is one of her techniques to teach me Spanish, and I have to say, it kind of works.

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“You are shopping,” she says when she sees me at GADIS, repeating the phrase, as always, to Andrés. “You are walking,” she says when she sees me walking to GADIS. “You are cleaning the garden,” she says, which I now know means that I’m weeding.

Yes, there are good lockdown days and there are bad lockdown days, but I can always count on Mercedes to keep me on my toes.

I can also always count on the view from my yard.

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Every day the view is slightly different, and it’s the one thing I never grow tired of here. Sometimes a moon is rising, sometimes a storm is brewing. The colours change hues, the water changes shape.

“Same, same but different,” was a saying I learned in India when shopping for just about anything. It was a way for vendors to entice me to pay more for items that may have looked the same, but were, according to them, of much higher quality. It was also a philosophy for life.

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As we enter the fourth week of lockdown in Spain, and the government announces we could have another three to go, a lot more same, same is on the way.

Let’s hope Mercedes and the view will keep doing their thing.

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