A postcard from Spain, where the Marines have arrived to enforce our draconian lockdown
20th March 2020
The Marines rolled into town on Friday to ‘support’ the police and the Guardia Civil. Admittedly they arrived in olive green pick-up trucks, not Humvees or 4-tonners, and were only kitted out with 9mm pistols strapped to their thighs, not full assault rifles, but those who questioned my last postcard from Andalusia, where I spoke of “martial law in all but name”, should be under no illusion about the Spanish style of lockdown.
As I predicted, last week the government extended our fortnight of house-arrest to a full month, and this week they instituted even harsher measures, putting the economy into “hibernation” in the government’s terrifying phrasing.
The Spanish press have given a running commentary on the various ineptitudes of the government, Spain’s first coalition since the Civil War. After a second indecisive election in 2019 – the fourth in as many years – the social democrats and the far-left populists managed to scrape together a narrow majority. Their weakness, in so many senses of the word, only adds to the growing feeling of unrest – not just fear but also anger – one sees across the media, both social and traditional.
As for the measures they have taken, they are egalitarian in a bad way: too light in Madrid, Catalonia, the Basque Country and the two Castiles, but counter-productively heavy-handed in Andalusia, which has one third the number of confirmed infections per capita, and less than a fifth the number of deaths per capita, compared to the country at large. Perhaps the warm weather, which has been pretty constant down here since early February, will save us all in the end.
On the local level, people circumnavigate the aisles of the supermarket like Pac-Man in the old arcade game, trying to collect their food but going into reverse at the sight of another person. Supplies hold up, but with a unit of armed military outside the door who would dare buy more than their fair share?
We will survive, what will the world be like afterwards? Not only did all the clients of my fiancée Klarina’s horse businesses Polo Andalusia and Riding Andalusia cancel, but half my own annual income, earned as a tour guide at the annual bull-running feria in Pamplona, has evaporated. A million drunken tourists rubbing shoulders under a July sun was just not going to be feasible, although my American employers Running Of The Bulls, Inc. may move their 2020 operation to the much smaller taurine feria in the nearby town of Tafalla a month after.
Either way, I’ve decided it’s time to get back into shape, despite legal restrictions. I managed to create a clear circuit around our two-bedroom apartment and have worked my way up from 5km last Tuesday to 12.5km today. That works out at around 500 laps. Klarina and her dog Kela began by staring at me as I passed in bewilderment, followed by boredom, and finally outright annoyance.
Some challenge the view both here and at home – usually reflecting their own politically leftward leanings – that neither economics nor liberty should enter into our considerations at this time. However, the death toll from poverty, both personal and national, is measurable. And poverty kills the old just as disproportionally, and probably more numerously, than this often mild illness. Extended periods without social proximity and exercise will kill as well.
Which is not to say this writer does not take the virus seriously. I study the papers, both scientific and journalistic, closely, drawing on my own university studies of microbiology and statistics.
On a less cerebral plane, I worry for my elderly parents and friends, some of those friends being in the trenches on this right now. From the young(ish) doctor who shared zoology lectures with me as an undergraduate who now works tirelessly in New York, to the senior doctor who has moved department to help deal with the intensive care patients being shipped into her hospital from neighbouring parts of Spain which are now overflowing (even though her and her family are no longer in the lowest risk groups in terms of age or health.)
Their courage and goodness are awe-inspiring, and have made Klarina and I think about what we can do to help in our own little way.
One of the lesser-known consequences of the 2008 economic crisis in Spain was that people could no longer afford to feed and care for their animals. Thousands of fit young horses, donkeys and mules were sent to slaughter, the lorries queuing at the abattoir door.
With our own dearth of clients for our breeding herd of 12 horses, we had already begun to search for pasture to turn them out on, and now realise we could look after a greater number of animals if we rent a larger space – four times as many in fact.
So we have set up a Just Giving page with a view to founding a temporary charity, Equine Orphans of Coronavirus in Andalusia, EOCA, to look after them until the weather and the economy turn a corner. All contributions will go exclusively on those animals and their care, and once the climate has improved, they will be rehomed or the animals and any residual funds given to another, more established and permanent charity, all of which are currently close to capacity.
In a part of Spain where, when the summer comes, the earth scorches and the rivers run dry, it is at least something to look forward to with a sense of hope. There is precious little of this now. As I write this I am watching my neighbour, usually a bartender, walk across the desolate town square. However, today this is not his day job: he is also the undertaker and we have just had our first fatality from the disease. The afternoon sun seems somehow threatening on the barren paving stones.