Inching toward Normality (Version 2.0)

This marks the last week of Spain’s State of Alarm, which began exactly 3 months ago. Next Monday, each autonomous region will resume making the decisions taken over by the national government back in March and we’ll enter, at long last, The New Normality. We’ll be able to travel freely again; the borders will be re-opened. Masks will still be mandatory.

People joke that right now Spain consists of two areas on the map, one shaded light green, the other dark. In the light green area, you can do whatever you want. In the dark green area, you can do whatever you want, too. People also point out, cynically, that it’s interesting that the State of Alarm will end right at the beginning of tourist season.

In the meantime, the drill of mask and hand-washing is second nature, as is pulling on the plastic gloves supplied by the grocery store whenever we go shopping. When the grocery store runs out of gloves, they supply plastic bags for us to wear over our hands — another piece of evidence this is a strange new world, as if we needed any.

Yesterday, we saw a guy wearing a homemade mask with the Rolling Stones lips logo on it. The day before that, we saw a guy wearing his duck-billed N95 mask on the top of his head like a birthday hat. The day before that, the newspaper had a story headlined “don’t wear your mask on your elbow; your elbow can’t breathe!”

The inner courtyard of our building is once again filled with the homely smell of frying cod and potatoes. (No one can fry potatoes like the Spanish. Our American french fries pale in comparision.)

Last night M and I went to our first post-lockdown gathering for drinks at someone’s place. It was small, consisting only of 4 couples. We took off our shoes at the door when we arrived and slathered our hands with sanitizer. We stood at least 3 feet apart and talked … mostly about the lockdown, almost as if we were debriefing. When we got home, I realized I didn’t sit down the whole time. The cheese tray remained mostly untouched.

Someone in each of the couples had been isolated from the rest of the family at some point during lockdown. One had a fever for 14 days but tested negative. One (M) only had fever for 2 days but later tested positive for antibodies. One had the elevated antibodies that indicate a current infection but a subsequent swab test indicated no COVID at all. People knew other people who tested positive for the virus but negative for the antibodies, and vice versa.

¿Quién sabe? Who knows? What will be, will be. Some of us stood out on the tiny balcony at sunset. The Guadarrama mountains lay, long and low and purple, in a tiny patch of horizon between Madrid’s trees and buildings, a bulwark as we inch forward, into the unknown.