Back in Tucson, Arizona, neighbors and family friends greet my parents with questions about how I’m doing “across the pond in Madrid.” “It’s really bad over there, right? Is she okay? Is she coming back to Tucson?” they ask as their eyebrows raise, foreheads wrinkle, lips purse in a half-frown--bracing themselves for bad news. My parents are a bit annoyed at the implication that being in Spain during COVID-19 is much more dangerous than being in the U.S.. Thus, they have pieced together a positive, generic response: “Zoë’s doing fine. She’s got a stationary bike on her terrace and has been drawing a lot.” They paint a peaceful, healthy picture that leaves the person inquiring satisfied enough to withhold their stockpile of further questions.
We’ve always been a family with a full-on agenda. When I’m back in Tucson, Arizona, Saturday mornings mean a big breakfast and a group discussion about weekend activities--my mom tries to cram in a bunch of events, my dad competes to change her ideas for his, and I work to cut down the quantity of plans in general. My Spanish Literature professor in college once said that Americans fill their future agendas in an attempt to mentally ensure they’ll make it to that place at that future time and participate in said itinerary event--a subconscious technique used to avoid thinking about death. I guess in my family, we especially don’t want to delve into the topic of death on the weekends. During this current period of isolation, structuring our days and organizing social video meetings seems like the only way to stay afloat. So I’ve taken my mother’s approach and jammed my quarantine days with little projects and self-care exercises that I coordinate on a daily to-do list. It’s important to mention that I’m a lucky girl when it comes to my quarantine set-up: I live with a dog and my boyfriend, Oscar, in an apartment with a private terrace.
Every morning, I find myself purifying my world: our 70 square meter apartment in Carabanchel, a working-class neighborhood in the South of Madrid, “on the other side of the river,” as they say. While Oscar takes our dog, Rumba, down to the park for a quick pis, I busily begin to tidy up the house. My pre-coffee ritual involves dishes, dusting, sanitizing, and a more challenging chore, like connecting lost pairs of socks and throwing away holey ones. It’s when everything is in its place and every surface has been scrubbed that I can sit down with my coffee and begin my day. Between writing, editing, and emails, mornings fly by. Oscar and I stay separately involved with our own artsy endeavors and reconnect at lunch time.
Right before lunch, however, I escape up to our spacious, sunny terrace filled with succulents, cacti, and even a baby olive tree. I feel blessed. I hop on my stationary bike and spin while listening to podcasts to keep my mind engaged. I need to be absorbed by activities, I’ve learned, or else I begin to slip into a spiral of dark hypotheticals. I supplement my spin with endurance workouts on the Nike Training App and cool down with yoga and meditation. As I pedal, jump, squat, stretch, and breathe, our white dog migrates from a sunny corner to a sunnier corner--collapsing onto the warm tile and taking in the sun until she pants profusely and goes for a drink. When my body finally feels heavy and my mind light, I spend time watering each plant and noticing every micro-transformation that has occurred overnight: a new fucsia jasmine bud, a slightly taller aloe stalk, three sunburnt mint leaves. I oscillate between my dad’s--a landscape designer, botanist, and desert aficionado--philosophy, “if it doesn’t survive on the water nature provides, it doesn’t belong” and flooding the pots daily. Our rosemary was a victim of the latter.
Shower, fuel, nap, and an open afternoon for creative projects or simply reading for hours on end. Thus far over the past three weeks in quarantine, I’ve used this time slot to make four cakes, countless Crockpot meals, five ink drawings, one watercolor, to write one poem, and to read three fat books. My approach to the quarantine centers around the idea of savoring: filling up my days with pleasant activities that I can completely immerse myself in without worrying about what comes next. “Be in the moment,” a phrase I once reacted to by rolling my eyes seems more relevant than ever. What lies beyond this moment remains unknown--an anxiety ridden reality amplified by the physical distance, the Atlantic Ocean and a good deal of the continental U.S., that lies between me and my family.
In some ways, everyone is connecting with their family in the same ways my parents and I have since I moved to Madrid over 6 years ago--as if we had been unintentionally training for a quarantine. We’ve got all the apps, Marco Polo, Whatsapp, Facetime, Zoom, and we use them daily. In some ways, we haven’t been this connected since I lived at home in high school. At once, however, this constant connection can convert itself into a reminder of where we are in the world and our inability to actually be close. Our virtual exchanges stay light and natural, but occasionally, like a chilly breeze suddenly gracing your face, we recall why we’re gravitating towards each other: our lives must sustain this physical separation indefinitely and our only option for closeness comes in the form of an iphone.
Oscar and I’s only bright moment of non-electronic human connection starts at 8pm when all of our neighbors slip onto their balconies or peer out of their windows to applaud--a communal way of honoring all the people who work in hospitals, grocery stores, and pharmacies. We’ve unintentionally added onto this two minute applause a five minute chit-chat session with the neighbors across the street. We don’t delve into any particularly interesting topic and usually the conversation is the same each day: we make sure everyone is doing alright and then emphasize that each day we go through, we’re closer to the end of this dark time. Hasta mañana, hasta luego, buenas noches, we say before ducking back into our cozy, sanitized worlds.