The Dance

Yesterday afternoon it was decided that Madrid will move to Phase 0.5.

A couple of weeks ago, when I used the word inching to describe how we might move toward The New Normality, I had no idea how accurate I was. The needle moves

s l o w l y.

What 0.5 really means is that we’re still in Phase 0, just with benefits: stores under 400m employing the proper distancing can open (and you can go to a wake attended by 10 people). No sidewalk terraces, no gatherings at home. The regulations about exercise are still in place.

I’m ok with caution. The more things open up, the more our cases inch up as well. Early on, someone wrote a piece about COVID19 that was widely circulated called The Hammer and the Dance. I’m not enough of a numbers geek to have really dug into it, but I like the imagery of its title, which refers to how to deal with the virus: smash it with a hammer first, then dance delicately around it. Right now, here in Madrid, we’re dancing.

This morning I suggested to M that maybe we could rent bikes tomorrow. Bikes and running are exercise, which means you can do either of them for the entire 4 hour exercise window in the morning — as long as you stay in your municipality. Taking a walk, on the other hand, isn’t exercise, it’s just taking a walk. You can take a walk for an hour, but only within a km to home.

Wait, I said after I made my suggestion about the bikes. We can walk together but we have to exercise apart. This could mean only 30 feet apart, I guess, and pretending, if we have to, that we’ve never seen each other before, but parameters and subterfuge kind of take the joy out of things.

We seem to have about three topics of conversation these days: the daily count of COVID19 cases; politics, genus American or Spanish; and what exactly we can do, and when.

M can take a walk with P between 6-10 a.m. but on Saturday P doesn’t get up until 9:30, so M will take a walk with K. M or K are supposed to go to the grocery store alone, between 9 and 9, although they shouldn’t do it between 9- 10 am, because that’s set aside for the elderly. 10- 11 is the elderly’s time to walk, so they will glare at you if you go out then. And so on…

The Dance.

I’ve kept this diary a little over two months now. Confession: over those two months, also I’ve kept a few things from it. Like the fact that on the second day of the State of Alarm, M had a slight fever and thus was isolated in the bedroom for a week, with me leaving food at the door for him and talking to him via cellphone. (We didn’t want our parents to know about this, but on about day 6, my mom noticed and asked How’s M? You talk about you and the girls doing things but what’s he doing? )

Also during those early days, there was a lot of anxious expat chatter about going or staying. We weren’t going anywhere — this is home now. But people we knew who were planning to leave by summer had to jump or not jump. Rumors flew. Flights got cancelled. It felt a little like Saigon in the days before its airlift. Friends we’d made, a family with two college kids whose colleges had just shut down in the states, who were planning to leave in summer anyway, decided they needed to get while the getting was good. They left me the key to their apartment, so people could pick things up when the lockdown loosened, in a street-side hand-off worthy of The Third Man.

Yesterday, I slipped over to their apartment to leave the key for the leasing company. Someday, somehow, that apartment might rent again. On he walk home, I spotted a little boy across the wide avenue, five or six, proudly carrying a tissue-wrapped bouquet of three roses, sweetheart red, rosy pink, a splash of yellow. his dad trailing behind him. A once-common sight, now rare: somewhere, in the direction I was headed, a florist must be open.

Open, as in you stand in the door and tell them what you want while a queue waiting 2 meters apart gathers behind you.  I bought an armful of tulips and peonies without thought to the cost.  A little spring for the house since we had no spring, I told the salesclerk.  Yes! she agreed enthusiastically from behind her mask. We missed it. A  mother and little boy stopped statue still on the sidewalk in front of the display. The little boy was in ecstasies.  

— Mama! Look! Beautiful flowers, Mama!   Are they open? Are we getting some?  Mama, THEY ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. Are they really open? They’re beautiful.

You didn’t have to be able to speak great Spanish to understand the wonder in his voice, the joy, at this, the commonplace, the world’s most exuberant magic trick.

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