Waiting(La Espera)

The traditional Semana Santa processions couldn’t happen last week for the second year in a row, so Madrid came up with new rituals. Since the pasos, the elaborate floats that depict the Passion of Christ, weren’t allowed to come to the people through their usual parades, the people made their way to the pasos, on view inside the churches.

Since moving here, I’ve heard over and over again that this is no longer a churchgoing country, that a third of the population considers itself atheist, agnostic, or non-believer (the figure is 26% in the U.S., a little less) On Good Friday, we’d planned a walk from church to church to see some of the pasos, mainly because the City had published a detailed map and signage (including QR codes).* As it turned out, the churches with the best, most extravagant pasos all had huge crowds waiting in line out front. If Spain is a non-churchgoing country now, I can’t imagine what things must have been like in, say, 1953.

In the few churches we made it into, the holy water basins were all empty, and the bottles of hand sanitizer at the door were all full. Elderly viewers sat in pews to contemplate the depictions of Christ carrying his cross; the younger ones snapped quick photos with their phones and moved on.

This might be Covid, Year II, in a nutshell: almost the same, but not quite.

For months, the mask regulation here had been that masks were required outdoors whenever people couldn’t keep 1.5 meters apart. At some point last week, all that changed. Masks are now required outside no matter what. On the beach? people wanted to know. At the swimming pool? No one was happy.

An amendment was announced this morning: sunbathing maskless is ok. Of course, most province borders are closed to inter-Spain travel, so the only beachgoers are arriving from other countries in the EU. “French tourists,” the Madrileños sniff.

The Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, hasn’t been approved by the EU yet, but last week sources revealed that the Community of Madrid’s government apparently met with middlemen to discuss its purchase, because all avenues must be explored “in the face of the ineffectiveness of the Government.”

All week, I predicted the swifts, our harbingers of true Spring, would return to Madrid from Southern Africa by Easter Sunday. I didn’t have any scientific backing for this prediction — I just thought it would be nice.

But for now, the mornings are still a bit chilly. We haven’t quite reached that pivotal moment when the weather in the early mornings goes from having a little bite to it to staying downright balmy.

Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, Nigeria, Cameroon, Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Algeria, Morocco — these are the countries the swifts cross on their way here. They left Kenya around the 3rd of February.

Madrid is waiting.

*We also planned this route because most things besides restaurants and churches were closed.