It all happened too fast, so quickly that we didn’t have time to fully understand. The night before we were sipping beer and eating tapas and waiting for spring to come in the warm evening breeze; the following day we were on the sofa consulting the Netflix schedule for the umpteenth time, without finding an entirely satisfactory choice.
That feeling is like after an unexpected accident, with a supernatural aftertaste. It is as if a divine finger had pushed a gigantic ‘STOP’ button, and our swirling swarm on planet Earth had been suspended; crystallized in a drop of time. One after another, the places where we went to disfrutar de la vida, ‘to enjoy life’, closed their shutters, leaving us confused and lost.
For some it was a trauma to be compelled to cook for themselves. Staying indoors in a city that has unbridled sociability as one of its calling cards is difficult, but Barcelona is still trying to maintain its atmosphere despite the lockdown.
Normally in the evenings the lights of buildings are turned off, with people outside. Lately I discovered that the building opposite my own is actually inhabited.
Yesterday I went out to dispose of the trash and do the occasional shopping we are allowed to do. As I left the door from the balconies above I heard a ripple of applause: for a moment I was moved, it seemed to me that I had become the hero in a dystopian film.
I know they weren’t applauding me, it was just a manifestation of unity in this battle, fought with heavy doses of TV series, bored yawning, punctuated by scared, masked bellboys who bring stuff up to your home. I understood these people: even applauding strangers helps fill the empty minutes.
At least to help us stop missing our previous lives, the weather has decided to remain cold, even if the cold of Barcelona is far from the perennial grey nightmare overhead in Dublin, under which I lived for eight years.
Occupying one’s time is difficult, with the bars all closed there is no possibility of drinking red vermouth with friends. I live in Barceloneta, a neighbourhood that is a peninsula kissed by the sea.
Out on the street, the police remind you to stay at home, speaking calmly into megaphones. Someone brings out their dog to take a piss. The most important road, Carrer de la Maquinista, is empty. The most famous restaurant, ‘La Bombeta’, is closed. The buzz of people’s voices is replaced by the singing of birds, unexpected protagonists in neighborhood life, the vida de barrio that we miss so much.
Flags of Catalonia are still draped from the balconies, moved by a gentle wind. At this time, these people should be my enemies on the football field, as my team, Napoli was set to face Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League round of sixteen, but looking at their worried and tired eyes, so similar to my own, I never felt so close to them. There will be time for confrontation, on the field. Now is the time to be close, very close. If not with our bodies, then in our hearts.
We all wonder when we will be able to walk back to the Paseo Joan de Borbò, stopping at one of the many bars to talk about stuffed bombas; or who is the greater footballer between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi; or to watch that black-eyed chica that turns the cabeza and makes the corazon skip a beat, every time she passes by.
Such a simple thing, like shopping, has become an experience reminiscent of hours spent gaming; at times I feel I am becoming the protagonist of any chapter in the Fallout saga. The neighbourhood is deserted, everything is closed and dark. The only lights on Plaza de la Barceloneta are those emanating from the church of Sant Miquel.
In the supermarket people are afraid even to smile at you. They are not worried about touching you or being too close, they are simply afraid to recognize in you the fragility of the human condition that unites us all. Breathing inside a mask is for me, with my glasses, embarrassing: with each breath the lenses mist up, giving my vision of the surroundings a dreamlike quality.
In the meantime people are dying, the daily bulletins are becoming increasingly distressing; there is a great deal of concern, and prayers, for the situation in Madrid, but more than miracles the patients need respirators and medical personnel. Here in Barcelona, too, cuts to the health budget are being felt.
People have stopped applauding and there is silence around me, so dense and spooky that it is frightening. More than the infection, and what can happen to any of us if we are hospitalized alongside people fighting for their lives.
We are used to fight for our place in the world, but are we prepared to fight for a lifesaving hospital bed? Now we don’t want to think about it. On the sofas where we spend our days we try to feel secure. Less weak.
In the meanwhile, I’m out. I allow myself five minutes to smoke a cigarette sitting on a bench. But my mind is not free. I just cannot relax. My only thought is about how to get home and carefully spread the antibacterial soap between my hands. A little anguish peeps out: what if I caught the virus on this excursion? I already know that for the next two weeks this thought will haunt me.
But I’m not the only one: here we are, stuck between the duty to stay at home and the desire to go out. In the middle of two fires, or, as De Lucia would say, entre dos aguas. But Barcelona no se rinde – ‘Barcelona won’t give up’. It plays the rumba and waits patiently. The day when we will be allowed to leave our thirty-five-square-metre apartments is inching closer.
When I get back home, I close the door behind me. The sofa seems to look at me worriedly: “Where have you been?”, he seems to ask me. Everything is so unreal that I don’t know how to answer.