Of Social Distancing, Flattening the Curve, and Other New Concepts

This time last year, when we were so busy packing up the house and getting  our visas, I sometimes tossed and turned at night worrying about plenty of things  —  but  it never occurred to me to worry about living in a city where the schools had closed because of a brand-new virus.

The moral of this, of course, is don’t bother to worry — what usually comes to pass  is never something you spent time worrying about.

Today is Day 1 of the two-week closure of schools mandated by the Community of Madrid because of the coronavirus. This morning I drank my morning coffee while scrolling through a group chat of school parents whose question du jour was:  what exactly are we supposed to be doing — or not doing?  Is taking your kids to parks okay?  Restaurants? Should people’s maids come to work?  (I hate to reveal that maids sometimes get discussed on parent chats here, but they do).

There’s the real world, and then there’s the online world. En la calle, in the street, people walk their dogs, talk with their neighbors, and drink beer at the sidewalk cafes, the same as they did before we heard of coronavirus.   The elderly people are still making their very slow, very dignified strolls through the neighborhood.  Not many people wear masks, but yesterday, when I went out for coffee with someone, I noticed both of us opened the door to the cafe using our sleeves instead of our hands.  The girls, unprompted, wash their hands whenever we walk into the house.  Spring has come, the sky is blue, the almond trees are in flower, and one of the sidewalk-cafe sitters today was drinking a tinto de verano, warm weather’s celebratory concoction of wine and Sprite.

But in the online world, the count climbs, and I have added El Pais to my daily news rotation.  According to the online world, between the time I woke up and right now the theatres, libraries, and museums either closed or limited the amount of people there at any one time. There are rumors… oh, there are rumors.

My first observation:  when you live in a country where you seldom understand exactly what’s going on, you especially don’t understand what’s going on when things aren’t completely … normal.

Just as there are two worlds, real and online, in my limited sample, there seem to be two philosophical schools of thought about our current state of affairs: over-attention that leads to anxiety and  blithe disregard.  Though the girls’ school is closed, and Mark is supposed to telework, my Spanish school hasn’t yet cancelled classes. (Though it did send me an email asking if I’d prefer to take my classes in Malaga, in the south of Spain). I’d already planned to take this week off, so I haven’t been to class for a while, but we’ll see what next week brings.

The girls’ “online learning” doesn’t start until tomorrow, and they got today off to get used to the new normal.  We went for a long walk and then stopped in a restaurant for a snack.  There were only two other tables occupied, and I chose one 2 meters away from the closest one. A little girl about seven sat at it by herself, entertaining herself with an open laptop.  As soon as we sat down, she spilled her glass of water all over it and the table.  When she leapt up and ran across the restaurant crying, I realized her dad was the boss who had greeted us as we walked in.

— I’m sorry about your computer, I said when he came to take our order.  It’s very sad.

— Yes, he agreed.  No school no daycare no… he shrugged.

Es una locura,* I ventured.

Una locura, he agreed.

It seemed as good a way as any to sum things up, today, in Madrid, in the early spring, in our new normal, when absolutely nobody knows exactly what’s going on.



  1. You can’t find hand sanitizer here. We had a tornado on the 3d that caused serious damage & killed three people, but that’s something people are used to. The hand sanitizer, though……Anyway, stay safe.

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