Last night before I turned off the mobile phone at midnight 1,000 people had died in Spain as a result of COVID-19. While I lay there waiting for sleep to do its thing, I could feel myself trying to physically distance myself from the virus by thinking of those living closer to the epicentre. In case you are not aware, 60% of Spain’s deaths have taken place in Madrid. For now, at least, the situation in Cantabria is bad with one death recorded as of last night, but could be a lot worse. It’s not clear if we are lagging behind or have flattened the curve. Traditionally quite a remote region, Ryanair and other low cost operators have embraced Cantabria’s proximity to the Basque Country and up until recently we’ve had direct flights all over Europe including three direct flights to Italy. All that has stopped now and as of today, we have a single flight connection – to Madrid.
But I didn’t start this post to write about who flies where. I want to write about what it is like to being in Santander in lockdown. With three children and two dogs. Those of you who know me in person, will know that I now live in the city centre – having moved just last May from what used to be the city perimeter. I’m still getting used to being in the thick of things. Usually weekends are pretty noisy here in what I call the Temple Bar of Santander. On Friday and Saturday nights, we go to sleep with the sound of hundreds of people socialising outside our windows. You get used to it. And it can be funny to be out walking the dogs in the morning and seeing people heading home, a bit worse for wear, from the night out. Reminds me of my own misspent youth. New Year’s Eve is particularly crazy and the Semana Grande in July is wild. But all that has changed. Now we go to sleep in silence. No bars, no nightclubs neon signs flashing up from below, no broken glass as we step outside in the morning. No bottles of beer or rum on our doorstep. It’s empty.
Just like most people living in apartments in the city, we don’t have a garden or a roof terrace, but we do have large windows onto small balconies (standing room only – don’t be thinking sun-loungers and BBQS) that help to break the feeling of cabin-fever. We can open these windows (no tiny tots to worry about now) and let lots of fresh air in. In the square we also have an Italian flag hung by an Italian resident – honouring the situation in her country of birth. I’m getting to know my neighbours a lot better during lockdown – especially at the daily 8pm applause for the health professionals, when get to see their faces and voices, as we listen to a singer living here who serenades us with just one song each night. In the interest of fair reporting, I should add that there are a few neighbours banging pots and pans to complain. Not about the singing. About the handling of the current situation. Being in Santander, which is generally supportive of Madrid, the protestors are complaining about the Spanish monarchy and corruption. Last night I heard about three people banging pots and pans compared to maybe 70 people clapping. (I’m making a stab in the dark, quite literally there!)
But that’s outside the flat. What’s it like to be on lockdown inside? The children have been on lockdown since they came home from school on Friday March 13. Myself and my husband alternate food shopping (three trips since lockdown) and walking the dogs (three times daily). I’ll start with the food-shopping which is turning into an unpleasant experience. Like many people around here, I usually buy food every day or almost every day, heading out with my trusty shopper on wheels. But when we saw what was going on in Lombardy, we decided to do a large shop at the end of last month, which feels like some time last year. Shopping excursions under lockdown are becoming more and more uncomfortable. Not because of what’s on the shelves – which are well-stocked. I think it’s the atmosphere that is becoming unnerving. My husband went last Saturday morning to the local ‘Lupa’ supermarket and said it was fine. I went on Wednesday morning to the ‘Día’ supermarket and it was actually very quiet but yesterday at midday it was very busy and a few shoppers were not understanding the need to keep their distance. I will now attempt to shop once a week and see how we get on. I don’t wear a mask when I go out because I think, for now, I am better off learning not to touch my face and washing my hands when I return.
Dog-walking is about the same. What was routine and straight-forward is now uncomfortable and unpleasant. Those of you who know our dogs will know they are strong and tug quite a lot. They are rescues are probably lived up the mountains herding sheep so they need the fresh air and get excited when they go out. One of my arms is constantly sore from the pulling and tugging and with my husband working from home, we initially decided to walk the dogs together when possible – as the only requirement in lockdown is one person per dog. We have been very prudent about maintaining the usual walking route and times – all in all about 15 mins three times a day. At the beginning, dog-walkers were very friendly – with an extra special nod as we respected social-distancing when out with the hounds. That’s changing. We all seem a bit more nervous. Yesterday morning I was told by another dog-walker that we (my husband and I) should not be walking the dogs together. Perhaps she didn’t realise that we live together. We didn’t reply as she was probably just trying to be helpful. And last night, my husband took the dogs out and was told by a police officer that he should only be walking the dogs in front of the apartment which is a concrete square. Again, my husband didn’t say anything – he was aware that a ‘guardia civil’ had just died yesterday and everybody in the force was hurting. He came home with the dogs who were wondering what happened. We usually don’t allow them to do their business in the square because the area is usually filled with children playing and people eating and drinking. Not any more. Most dog-walkers are wearing masks and gloves. I even saw a dog wearing some type of special socks this week. I haven’t changed what I wear but I do ensure I don’t touch my face from the moment I leave to the moment I return home. And I’m very careful not to touch the lift buttons and the doors we share with our neighbours in the building. I do a lot of elbow nudging or use the tip of my keys.
Now that you know about the shopping and the dog-walking, you might be wondering how the children are faring. I’m very proud and really impressed by our 10, 12 and 14-year olds. They do miss their friends at school and playing their matches at weekends and I’ve even heard them confess that they miss school itself and can’t wait to go back. It’s a lot easier to be distracted when doing schoolwork at home than at school, they say. They are doing schoolwork from home. Each weekday they download their assignments in the morning and upload their work in the afternoon. And they have had a few online chats and video-conferences with their teachers and classmates. It makes you realise that lockdown would be totally different without technology. We do try to limit the free time they spend online. Usually they have two to three hours in the afternoons if they finish their classwork properly. Phones and online games are switched off at 7pm when we try to do some exercise videos from YouTube and watch a movie after our evening meal. Nobody is complaining or asking to go out. They completely get the reason for the lockdown. And they are tolerating me asking how they are feeling all the time and telling them they have to stay healthy and eat, sleep and exercise. Actually, that might be the best part of this lockdown – being able to eat family meals together. Often, with school, work and sports commitments, we don’t get to eat together at the same time.
Of course, we are very conscious of the families who can’t be together. Those at the frontline. With them in mind, I look outside Spain and find myself baffled at what is going on. Nothing as dangerous as the recently converted – they used to say about ex-smokers and drinkers. It’s true – I find it very hard to understand why Ireland hasn’t gone into lockdown and why the UK took so long to close schools. But I forget that only 10 days ago, I was living a very different life. A day during the Corona Virus is like a year in ‘old money’.
I am concerned for my family here but even more concerned for my family in Ireland. Both my parents are in excellent shape but I’m concerned when they need to leave their homes. I worry that they aren’t careful enough – as I’m sure they worry about me and my brothers. The one thing I’m not worried about is how my family will handle lockdown, when it comes to Ireland. We are great at being on our own. I never thought this was such a positive attribute, but now I do. I just hope it gets to be put in practice sooner rather than later, so less people will have to fight the virus.
As I read back over these lines, I wish I were here on my keyboard writing about something else. We all want our old lives back and I want Santander and Spain to return to the bustling noisy place I fell in love with back in 1992. A few weeks ago, I was listening to the Irish writer Anne Enright on Desert Island Discs explain that she writes to shut the world away. I do think we need some space to try and digest what is happening and I suppose that is what’s happening here. I’m documenting this time, however long or short it is. The numbers will probably be out of date within an hour of publication but I’m not writing this to highlight the numbers.
I’m writing to highlight that this state of lockdown we are experiencing in Spain is as a result of something I learned a long time ago – the interconnectedness of all things – which is both magical and terrifying. We need to acknowledge this and act collectively over the coming days and weeks. Staying at home is not a sacrifice. It is an act of respect to those who can’t. [Since last night, the death toll has risen from 1,000 people to 1,350 in Spain. In Cantabria it was risen from one death to four.] Please stay safe and stay in touch. I’d love to hear how you are spending your time, wherever you are. I’ll leave you with a photo of one of Santander’s squares which is so quiet under lockdown. I look forward to documenting the days (and the nights) when the plaza is pounding with people again. There’s a whale of a party to be had here and I’m planning on being here in the thick of it when the time comes. In the meantime, here is the scene for the 8pm applause…
Pam, Thanks for your posting on events in Spain – it’s fascinating, alarming and sorrowful. Alaska is not yet there, but perhaps if we’ve taken a lesson from Italy and Spain, our lock down is early enough, and thorough enough that our ‘Curve’ is less deadly. I hope you and your family the best of health…both physical and mental during these trying times and look forward to your future posts hopefully relaying more happy times. Cheers – Darren
Thanks for commenting Darren – it’s great to hear from you. I do hope everybody in Alaska is paying attention to what’s happened in Italy and what’s happening in Spain. I can see measures are already being taken. As you know, it’s takes a few weeks for any impact to be made, so action is needed sooner rather than later. Stay safe and well and looking forward to being in touch again when everything is back to normal. I’ll pass on your best to my Dad!
Indeed, Hello and my best regards to Tony. We look forward to getting back to Spain when things are ‘normal’. We’ll see what the new ‘normal’ looks like then. Be well, cheers!
Loved reading this Pam! Sending a big hug to the five of you and your two fluffy kids too! When this is all over, a dinner is on the cards. Ánimo-Caroline x
Thanks Caroline – hugs back to you and the family including the all important four-legged ones! They give the kids a lot of comfort and reassurance these days – don’t they? A dinner is definitely on the cards when this is all over. We’ve so much to catch up on! Mucho animo – PamX
Hi Pamela ,
It was lovly to read your article . We are living through strange time . I am also from Ireland and like you traveled/ worked in a lot of places till I settled down in Amsterdam . I have also fallen in love with north spain and since I am self employed I can take quite a lot of time off. The last few years I have spent a lot of time in Santander and have a wee apartment on the Calle rio de pilla . Seeing your photo of the square just reminded me of the noise and now the silence . My partner is half spainish and I am learning spainish ( slowly). We were ment to go next week . My partner works for an NGO that had a meeting in Madrid . Of course all is cancelled .Just saying thank you for your lovly articles and hope you and your famaily stay safe .
Rhona Mc Arthur
Hi Rhona, I love how this blog connects people with connections to Santander. You must know all about the noise with your apartment here. It’s quieter in recent years but that street used to be wedged with people outside the bars at weekends. You’ve brought back great memories of the fun I’ve had along there through the years. Hope we get to meet up in person here sometime. In the meantime, stay safe in the lovely Amsterdam and keep up the Spanish : )
Hola Pamela , many thanks for the update from Santander. We first fell in love with Santander five years ago and have visited each Sept. since. Already booked flights for next Sept. and hopefull that normality will have been restored by then – we also had been looking forward to visiting Bilbao for the first time next month but obviously that is a non runner. The weather today in Co. Clare is lovely ( after weeks of almost incessant rain) so maybe time to head to Kilkee to walk the beach before a possible full lockdown here in Ireland.Please keep the updates going – take care.
mas sinceros saludos,
Hi Martin, I’m sure by September everything will be back to normal. Pity the Bilbao trip isn’t going to happen but maybe you can tag on in September too. Great the weather has been pleasant in Clare. We’ve had a lovely day here with the sunshine streaming in the windows. All the best for the weeks ahead, Pamela
Great post, Pam! I hope you and your family are OK. I especially loved the sentence “Staying at home is not a sacrifice. It is an act of respect to those who can’t.” I wish everyone was that respectful…
Children, at least Julia and some of her friends – I’ve been speaking with their parents- seem to be doing fine – fingers crossed it stays the same during the next weeks! (Bless them, they are proving much more flexible than us adults). Julia spends all morning doing her schoolwork and reading, which she loves, while Fernando and I work from home.
Then after lunch, I can do some activities with her and she seems to be enjoying it. She is quite “mañosa” with mum (not sure if “clingy” is the right word here), I guess she’s enjoying time at home with us, but on the other hand she knows about the gravity of the situation and she senses everyone is concerned.
I hope the situation changes soon, although I’m not sure they’ll be able to come back to school this school year…
Keep safe!! xx
Thanks Laura – great to hear you and the family are doing well. It’s true the children are so much more flexible than adults. I wonder how they will remember this time. I hope Julia isn’t missing her friends too much. I’ve been imagining that they might be back to school sometime in late May or early June but maybe you are right and they won’t return at all this year. How is the four-legged Cara doing? All my best and stay safe XXXX
Hi Pamela, pat here in Cork thinking of you. We’re not really properly in lock down here.. I think we need to take it more seriously too. Thousands of people walking and cycling today Sunday because the weather was lovely. Hopefully, we can tap up the response without rushing more lives.
Un abrazo fuerte
Hi Pat – thanks for getting in touch. It does seem a little unusual from where I’m sitting. I understand it’s hard not to want to enjoy the great outdoors when there are no restrictions on leaving home, but unlike here in Spain, so many people in Ireland and the UK do have gardens that offer plenty fresh air and space for exercise. Like I said in the post, we are so far into this now, we look outside Spain and struggle to comprehend – but each of us here in Spain probably made a poor call or two before lockdown was actually introduced. And I’m sure I’m still doing something everyday that impacts on somebody else without even knowing about it. Thanks for commenting – all my best and stay safe, un abrazo muy fuerte, Pamela
Dear Pam, what a moving account of how things are for you. Thank you for sharing.
In Australia our politicians are not coordinating efforts and so there are many mixed messages.
In Victoria where we are school are closed as from tomorrow. We’re aware that it’s important
not to socialise and to keep our distance as much as possible. We’re so lucky to be living in our own home with a garden, so don’t feel restricted. Our children are taking it seriously and we’ve been told no visits until this is all over. I feel terribly sorry for all those losing their jobs. Huge lines of people have been unable to register for support due to not enough people to attend to their needs. So far Australia hasn’t had many deaths, only seven, but of course what lies ahead is unknown. Crazy times and certainly the media is full of it. It’s good to hear you’re coping with the lockdown. Stay safe and hopefully your area won’t be devastated like Madrid. I do hope Catriona is safe too in Ireland. Love to you all, Barbara
Thanks for getting in touch, Barbara. Yes, the photos of Bondi beach were shown on BBC News over the weekend and it was like looking at another planet. I’m glad Victoria is taking measures and it’s great you can physically distance yourselves with the outdoor space to spread out into. We’re waiting for another two weeks of lockdown to be officially announced here in Spain which brings us into the middle of April. Hopefully that will reduce the pressure on the front line services and the government might be able to relax the level of lockdown at that point. Mum is doing really well, enjoying her own garden when the weather permits and sticking to the social-distancing policy in operation in Ireland. I’ll pass on your regards! All our best and stay safe – PamXX
Hi Pam, lovely to read the news from up the road and a great piece. Sending hugs from Asturias
Thanks Mary – hope all is well with you guys! Just watching the BBC news about the UK lockdown. Ireland won’t be far behind I’d reckon…
I just found your blog today, and this is the first post I read. As you know, Ireland had tougher restrictions imposed last Tuesday and tougher again yesterday, Friday 27th March. I believe that the situations in Spain and Italy gave our leaders the impetus to introduce the stricter shutdown. I am very glad of the restrictions. I sincerely hope that the restrictions will help flatten the curve and help the health services cope with the numbers presenting.
It is very interesting to read about your experiences in Spain during Lockdown. As you say, a day under Corina is like a year in old money. Things have changed in ways we would never have thought possible.
Regards from a sunny but chilly Limerick
Thanks for stopping by my blog and commenting here also. I’m too am delighted Ireland has decided to restrict movement further. Numbers keeping increasing here but should start to flatten as we have been under lockdown for 2 weeks now. I hope the extended limitations in Ireland will mean you don’t have to experience what’s happening here right now.
All my best – stay safe and thanks again for reading my post.