The Nightly Clap


Last week, as our lockdown slid in slow motion from unofficial to official, I found I was depending more and more on What’s App, or wasap as it’s known here in Spain.  Particularly on three rough groups:  one  formed to share COVID-19 info in English that the girls now refer to as CoronaMoms; small group of friends who live within a couple of blocks of us,  and then, all lumped together, those friends, whether on the other side of Madrid or on the other side of the ocean,  who — bless them! — have been getting in touch individually.

Saturday morning, I got the above message, which translates roughly to

Homage to the health care workers. At 10 tonight we will go to our windows, terraces, and balconies and applaud them.  Please pass it on.

Saturday’s Clap, our first, was a welcome outlet for the stress we’ve been feeling over the past days and weeks.  Not everybody knew it was taking place, turnout wasn’t overwhelming, but it was enough.  As we stood on our terrace squinting out over the rooftops of Madrid, with the sound of clapping reverberating down the canyons of the streets, our hearts eased a little.  We’re all in this together, I thought, even though I wasn’t sure exactly what this is.

Yesterday, Sunday, was a long day.  It’s pretty easy to fall into a kind of fugue state when you can’t leave your house at all.  In normal times, Spain is better dressed than the US, and I refrain from leaving the house in yoga pants. Now, why bother?  I’ve been wearing t-shirts with holes in them, and yesterday I didn’t remember to brush my hair until mid-afternoon.    I had a list of Sunday-type tasks to accomplish but very little will to get down to them. Inertia took hold. I spent most of the afternoon lying on the sofa reading, and then spent two hours deleting unnecessary, duplicate, or just plain awful photos from my phone, something I’d told myself I’d do for years. The girls skyped and stared at their phones. Mark napped and made a list of things to order from the grocery store.

Throughout the afternoon, the guy who lives in the apartment to the right of ours was playing lovely Spanish-style guitar.  The sound slipped from his open window and  crept through our propped-open terrace door.  Every so often, we’d go out to the terrace and peer up and down the street.  A man on a higher rooftop a couple of blocks away skipped rope for what seemed like hours.  The guy across the street came out onto his balcony periodically to smoke a cigarette.  People sat in their windows to talk on their phones.  Occasionally someone walked down on the sidewalk with their dog.  (I envy them, those dog owners, with their officially sanctioned ability to take walks!)

I was cooking dinner when The Nightly Clap got underway and the girls called me outside.  This time, just about every apartment on our block participated.  The male half of the couple across the street and down a floor disappeared and then returned with a metal bowl and a wooden spoon that he began to bang like a drum. A cold front was blowing in, and it had started to rain.

We stood out in the drizzle and clapped, and clapped, and clapped some more.