My name is Marta and I live in lockdown in Madrid with my husband and our three children aged 14, 17 and 19.
From 2012 to 2014 we lived in North Kensington, London. As the Coronavirus transforms everyday reality in these two cities, I send a contemporaneous account of life in Madrid…
This is the twelfth day we have been locked down, although it is the eighth without leaving home for anything (only one of us goes out to the closest food store every two to three days). A feeling and experience at first so unreal has become a natural routine in our lives. Everything has happened so fast that our mentality has been changing practically from one day to the next, from absolute nonchalance to becoming aware of the risk and it being real and very close to us. From lack of concern we moved to an awareness of our own community responsibility not to spread the virus, then the knowledge of cases nearby and the subsequent alarm when starting to hear that acquaintances or their relatives were dying or in critical condition.
To illustrate this evolution, I will go through the last days through memory:
Sunday, March 8th: With my daughters, my sisters and their children I attend the Women’s March. It is full of people. We proudly tell ourselves that we will not be intimidated by fear of the virus. We do not want the march to fade after the unprecedented success of the event last year in Spain. The celebration is like a bustling holiday.
Monday, March 9th: I speak to my father (a retired doctor who lives on the Mediterranean coast) on the phone and he asks me to take precautions and try to avoid unnecessary trips from home. I tell him that we are not a risk group, and he replies that it is a community emergency, so it is time to think about the community and not in personal terms. His comment makes me think and I begin to consider limiting our outings. That afternoon I go to a department store and when I’m in line to pay I hear a couple saying that tomorrow will be the last day of class because the government has decreed the closure of schools and universities from Wednesday in Madrid for two weeks.
Wednesday, March 11th: with the closing of the schools, teleworking is promoted at companies. Some after-school clubs and sports competitions are maintained. Some university students and entire families travel to their places of origin or to the beach as if a national vacation had been declared. Most people have not yet become aware. I ask my daughter not to go to her rugby training. She fears her coach will see it as a lack of commitment. Even though I am aware, I still leave the house for an hour a day to walk in the park. I do a mental calculation of the number of people who may need intensive care for the virus. Experts say the virus will affect 60% of the population. Only 10% of that 60% will need intensive care at the hospital, that is, around three million Spaniards. Spain has around 5000 Intensive care beds. I am aware of how important it is to prevent the rapid spread of viruses to prevent the collapse of the healthcare system and the death of many patients.
Thursday, March 12th: I feel a desire to go into myself, to withdraw from the outside, from the media noise and from collective anxiety. People around are recording videos, holding online gatherings, sending thousands of messages to WhatsApp groups. Meanwhile, I just want to be with myself, and with my family. I have enjoyed these first days spending 24 hours with my children and husband. I feel a nice connection and unity. In the morning I think that I like my family and I celebrate that my children are living the confinement with such naturalness and responsibility. That afternoon sparks arise between them. I realise that the closure is not going to be so easy or that romantic.
Friday, March 13th: My market research contracts are cancelled. I run out of projects. I anticipate that it will be a couple of months without work or income. I decide to focus on writing a book that until now was only in my mind as a vague project. I look for the bibliography and start reading.
Saturday, March 14th: The government closes public parks and prohibits non-essential outdoor trips. We spend the day reading or listening to news or experts about the coronavirus. It is like a drug. We cannot stop watching, reading and sharing news. We receive the first calls and messages from friends in London and the USA. We start hearing the first news about homes for the elderly where the virus has spread, killing several people.
Sunday, March 15th: A week ago we were looking at Italy feeling worried for them, but with the distance and complacency of those who feel safe and believe that this will not really affect us. Our perception is now completely transformed. From our window I see the military stopping people and asking them for their identity cards, their address and their reasons to be in the street. Some get fined.
Monday, March 16th: After some days of confinement we already have our own ‘rituals’. At 7:30pm, my brothers and sisters, their children, my parents and my household meet in a videocall and try to cheer up my parents, who are alone. We all talk at the same time; we do not listen to each other, but at least we are together. The call lasts till 8,15pm approx. At 8pm, we all go to our balconies or windows, together with the rest of Spain to applaud the national health system and all its staff who are working so hard for all of us. We like to do the clapping together, even if we are far away from each other (one of my sisters lives in the US). It is a very warm and exciting moment. A boost of energy and hope. Every day at 8pm, I feel like crying with joy.
Tuesday, March 17th: We cook a lot from scratch and try new recipes. We are enjoying eating together. We also watch some TV series together. We begin to hear about the first cases of Coronavirus nearby. There are students and teachers infected in the girls’ secondary schools and at my son’s and husband’s university. Every day we hear of some Spanish politicians or celebrities who have contracted the virus.
Wednesday, March 18th: A close family member has symptoms. She calls the allocated emergency Coronavirus phone number and is told that they will not test her unless the fever is very high. The health services are overwhelmed.
Thursday, March 19th: My father, 83 years old, asks us not to take him to hospital if he gets the virus. He says that in the face of a shortage of resources, doctors will prioritise saving a young life, so he will be safer at home. We keep hearing about tragic job losses and company closures. The economic crisis, they say, is unprecedented and incalculable.
Friday, March 20th: I participate in an initiative to write letters to prisoners, who are now suffering double confinement (visits are not allowed, and they cannot interact among themselves either). There is a similar initiative to write to Coronavirus patients isolated in hospitals. The initiative is a success. The week has been full of small occupations despite not leaving home. My reading for my book has not always been productive. Today for the first time I experienced tedium. I am starting to know about people close to us who are in serious condition (friends’ parents, an acquaintance who is my age…) or who have died (a chancellor of my husband’s university, the former president of Real Madrid football club, a well-known journalist, a friend’s mother…)
Saturday, March 21st: The virus is no longer something alien or intangible. For the first time we feel fear and we see that “people like us” are also affected. The President announces that the worst is yet to come and that we have not yet reached the peak. There are some ‘spontaneous’ protests from some balconies questioning the government’s management of the crisis. The protests generate rejection in me. I feel like this is a time to be united. I do not want noise that does not serve to unite us.
Sunday, March 22nd: Today I feel it is hard for me to focus. I practice meditation. I feel I need some fresh air, although I keep calm. The government has just announced that confinement is extended for two more weeks. No one is surprised. We know it will be long and we are prepared for it.
As I finish typing this for my friends back in England, I note that 1753 people have already died in Spain.