Eileen from Spain: “Another Extension to Lockdown”

This weekend the Spanish government extended the lockdown to 11th May.

Even though the numbers of infected and dead have reduced (399 today) there are still too many for safety.

The official figure of confirmed coronavirus cases in all Spain is over 200,000, this includes everyone who has tested positive. However there is another set of data which gives us an idea of the dimension of the pandemic in the country that is the number of possible cases.

The Spanish regions who are tracking this data estimate over 400,000 possible cases. 73% of them are in the Madrid and Catalonia regions.

Luckily all the residents of our resort have up to now kept free from the virus. We are rural, we have been very strict with social distancing and have controlled entry into the resort with our own security guards.

We are bored but stoic, need a hairdresser and want desperately to go for a long walk.

This lockdown has made us more patient and our wishes simpler.

We realise that restrictions will be lifted slowly when the lockdown is ended as the risk of infection will still be significant. We are in unchartered territory!

from John F. in Tadcaster, UK: the pandemic economy in Madrid.

The pandemic economy. Gigi was a surprising name for an Iberian ham cutter –a nattily suited Romanian, and definitely a man – who was renting out my garage parking spot. But then his Oklahoman colleague at the ham cutting business was surprising too. Glen had moved from a marketing role at a blue-chip American bank to being the office manager for Emilio García Ortigosa, a colourful Spanish personality show with an appropriate acronym, EGO, which he used as his company name. Glen saw no contradiction in being a practising Jew and the purveyor of cured Iberian ham, professionally cut, served and presented, with considerable ceremony and explanations, by trained ham cutters. Happily, this was an irony we could joke about together, the first of many.

The company provided a package deal, so to speak, for restaurants and high-end hotels around Madrid and beyond. Gigi was the star cutter and trained the junior ham cutters. This is a business model that would be difficult to explain succinctly outside Spain, where ham-cutting is a respected trade, combining artistry, performance, understanding of a high-quality artisan product and long hours putting up with the public. Pretty much the gastronomic equivalent of bull-fighting.  EGO’s ham cutting business was doing perfectly well, until eating out, a staple of Spanish life, became one of Covid 19’s first casualties. All restaurants were required to close under the State of Alarm imposed in the middle of March.

A little more than a month before, Gigi, Glen and I had been out together to celebrate our new rental arrangement. A bout of flu somewhere in China in no way impinged on the important business at hand: we were virtual strangers, united by the flimsiest of bonds, but this was more than enough for three adoptive residents to enjoy Madrid, a true party city. We had a splendid evening at a smart hotel bar, gobbling down EGO’s excellent ham as it was sliced, with actorly flourish, by one of Gigi’s protégés.

With the closure of Madrid’s night life, EGO’s business went into hibernation with no forecast as to when the revenue stream would start up again. What to do with the master cutter’s snazzy motor? Leaving it on the street in Madrid’s Latin quarter was not a sensible option. The neighbourhood is popular with anarchists, and the nearby square still houses the headquarters of the obstreperous CNT trade union, still remembered from the Civil War and the focal point for anti-fascist rallies on key political anniversaries. That is not to say that Gigi’s large black BMW would be any safer elsewhere, but he was a proud and protective owner. This was our dilemma; the owner of the BMW had no cash, but the owner of the parking space needed to make a return on her investment, too.

Some currencies, however, can acquire liquidity. Which is how I ended up lurking on the third and lowest floor of an underground carpark waiting for a Romanian ham cutter. 30 vacuum-packed envelopes of Iberian ham changed hands, and the rent for this month was sorted. Next month might be a good one for sheep’s cheese.

Guest blogger: Henrietta in Madrid

from Eileen in Murcia, Spain: the Economic Consequences

April 9. Thoughts on Economic consequences of Covid-19 on this region.

South Eastern Spain’s economy is very reliant on tourism and agriculture. Therefore, this corona crisis is devastating for a lot for local people. As of the 13th of March when the lockdown was enforced 1000’s of people were immediately dismissed without any financial assistance. To make things worse, the employment laws make it very difficult to dismiss a permanent member of staff therefore most workers in the hospitality, tourism etc are on short term contracts giving them very few rights. In addition, many contacts state they are to work much fewer hours than is expected.

My friend Jose had a contract working in a restaurant which stated 3 hours a day. In reality, he was expected to work 12 hours. In normal times he would be paid for the time worked, though I know of others getting paid only the hours stated in the contract. Today Jose’s employer came to pay him the wages he owed to him before the lockdown. He gave Jose the money equivalent to the 3 hours a day stated in the contract and ignored his normal 12-hour shift. Jose had to accept what he is given and feels helpless to be able to rectify the situation!

There are many like Jose here and I think this area will be very hurt economically by this lockdown.

Agriculture on the other hand is roaring. The fields have been blessed with the wettest spring in years. Couple with the mild weather you can literally see the salad and vegetables growing. Daily men, mainly Moroccan immigrants, are working in the fields morning, noon and night. Most of these fields are leased by large English farming companies supplying British supermarkets. The produce is picked, packaged and labelled on the fields.

from Eileen P. in Murcia, Spain: No Semana Santo this year

April 9, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the most important holiday in Spain. Despite Spain becoming more and more secular they still maintain their religious traditions. Most of Spain closes down for the week and all cities organise processions every night. The most famous processions are in Cartagena, Seville, Malaga and Salamanca. Brotherhoods are formed to prepare all year for the occasion.

Processions can last 3 hours and huge edifices are carried through the streets with bands and 100´s of penitents walking in between them. The penitents wear robes coloured in accordance to their brotherhood, purple, brown, black, white, green, with large Ku Klux Clan type headgear disguising their faces. The edifices can weigh up to 1400 kilos with 140 men carrying it on their shoulders with generators often trailing to provide the necessary lighting.

Each night has a theme according to the Easter story, Good Friday being the most solemn, with no bands only a sombre drum playing. Crowds line the procession route with restaurants renting tables and chairs and the City Hall lining the later part of the route with seats which can be rented, as it goes well on into the night.

Easter Sunday is the pinnacle of the week with a joyous theme parading during the day.

Eileen D. from Murcia, Spain. March 2020.

26 March. Our first death on our resort. As yet we do not know if it was due to COVID-19 . The authorities are here testing as I write. The victim thought he was ill due to a recurring lung problem. He was seen at our local supermarket 48 hours ago after visiting the doctor. No one is going to move from their house. Frightening times!

25 March. Lockdown Extended. Our lock down period has been officially extended for another week. The numbers dying and infected rise every day. I know that older people are very vulnerable but in Spain I keep hearing of relatives of friends who are fighting for their lives in their 20 ‘s and 30’s.

On a positive side the unusually wet weather has been a boom to the agriculture here in the South East of Spain. All around me are fields of produce for English supermarkets. Large English farming companies lease the land and to cultivate them. On the fields the produce is picked and labelled to be transported by lorry immediately to Britain. At present there is great activity trying to keep up with the demand.

Talking to my friends also in lockdown it seems all we want to do is to go for a long walk. We really will appreciate our freedom when it returns.

24 March. Lock Down. In Spain we have been locked down and under a state of emergency for over a week. The numbers infected daily rises and so do deaths. We have over 33,000 infected cases at present. The authorities have extended our lock down for another 15 days. I live on a golf resort and the hotel , golf course and all sporting facilities are close until mid-June.

Looking at Italy, as Spain seems to be following their pattern, I think we might be here for much longer than we think. Maybe our lives will never be the same again!!

Stairs have been my salvation. I tried to find a suitable Pilates class on YouTube but all the teachers were young and supple and did things I could only dream of. Luckily my normal Pilates teacher who is use to people my age 60 plus, will set up a Facebook group and continue putting us through our paces. I have never used technology in this way but I am glad I am being forced to get up to date.

Indoor jobs that have been on the back burner are now coming to the fore. Hundreds of photos have been discarded, old files, diaries and stuff are thrown out. Do I need all these clothes? I have wardrobes of nothing to wear. I trying to be ruthless but it is not easy.

23 March. Today I am going to leave the house to go shopping. I never thought it could be so exciting. Preparations are needed. I do not have a mask as there are none for sale so I improvise with a scarf. Decked in a cap, scarf and disposable gloves I am ready to go. The roads are deserted and the atmosphere is eerie. As it is early in the day the supermarket is reasonably stocked and it is easy to keep your distance from other shoppers.

On my journey I heard a heart-warming story on the English radio in Spain: A lady went at opening time to her local supermarket in a Spanish village who had difficulties keeping the shelves stocked. Before the shopped opened at 9 am all the staff stood outside the shop and sang “I shall survive” by Tina Turner. They had worked hard to clean and stock the store for the day. On visiting the butcher there was a bottle of hand gel outside the shop on the pavement for customers to use and only 2 people were allowed in the shop at any one time. In the shop there was a line a meter from the counter to keep customers apart. We all felt comfortable with these measures. Stocked up I think I might make a Christmas cake to cheer us up.

22 March. How life can change in a week. We had been in locked down now in Spain for a week. Our area in South East Spain had no cases of people being infected 10 days ago. However, Madrid is a hothouse with thousands of cases. Many people in Madrid have holiday homes here as in the summer the temperatures sore in the city of Madrid. Many Madrid inhabitants decided to take refuge in their holiday homes on the coast. Now we have over 200 cases but no deaths. However, in the whole of Spain we have 20 000 cases and 1000 deaths. Everyday the number of cases seem to multiply.

We had been in locked down now in Spain for a week. Our area in South East Spain had no cases of people being infected 10 days ago. However, Madrid is a hothouse with thousands of cases. Many people in Madrid have holiday homes here as in the summer the temperatures sore in the city of Madrid. Many Madrid inhabitants decided to take refuge in their holiday homes on the coast. Now we have over 200 cases but no deaths. However, in the whole of Spain we have 20 000 cases and 1000 deaths. Everyday the number of cases seem to multiply.

Life in lockdown is very strange. If you see someone you stand 2 meters away. Police are everywhere ensuring we all adhere to the restrictions. Only one person per car and you are only allowed to go to the pharmacy or foodstore. You need to keep receipts of your purchases for proof if stopped. It is quite surreal. Very few cars on the roads , no people walking in villages , it is a bit like a ghost town in a movie.