Amid quarantine, “Madrid is my bae.”
For those of us in Spain who’ve spent the last seven weeks cooped up in our houses, we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m not going to lie, it’s not a very bright or beckoning light. The government’s three-phase plan to reopen makes it clear that wild club nights and sunny Mediterranean getaways will not be part of our immediate post-quarantine life. But we finally have the uplifting sense that the worst is behind us and we can all breathe a little easier again.
I’ve had the luck of being confined in Madrid, one of the hottest hot beds of Covid-19 in Europe. And I do mean it when I say that I was lucky to get “stuck” in my favorite city in the world during this historic time. Madrid has always been like a favorite lover to me: dashing, laidback, outgoing and always makes me feel like I can be my favorite self. The love I have for this city is endless, and it’s a home I can always come back to if I want to feel better. Which is also why witnessing the unimaginable transformation of this city by the pandemic was heartbreaking. But I loved Madrid before it was impossible to get decent pad thai here, and I know I’ll continue to love it after Covid-19 and the next coming of the Messiah. Even under government-mandated quarantine, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
When the large-scale coronavirus outbreak descended upon Madrid on the second week of March, there was a palpable sense of terror in the air. The streets were empty long before the Estado de Alarma was declared at the end of the week. Seeing barren streets in Madrid is shocking because anyone that lives in this city is the most extroverted extrovert who wants nothing more than to be attached to a barstool day and night. Judge all you want, but you can bet my ass was at the bar until that Friday, the last day bars were allowed to be open. Social life is the heart, blood and soul of this city. And this is what has made quarantine that much sadder and unbearable for Madrid’s residents.
But it was clear that everyone understood what needed to be done and stayed off the streets. And by that I mean no one was on the street, save for one or two stragglers buying groceries, for the first five weeks. It was a very different picture of quarantine than my friends in California were painting, who were still allowed to go outside to “exercise” and enjoy nature activities. Anyone in Madrid who was caught outside without a valid reason was likely to get a pep-talk from the police and pay a hefty fine. The heavy police presence has definitely been my least favorite part about this experience, although I do appreciate them working overtime to keep everybody safe and I still find a lot of the policía very dreamy. I may or may not have gotten a pep-talk from the cops for walking outside with my roommate during the second week, because I’m the worst.
There’s still a unified sense of solidarity demonstrated by everyone here staying indoors, taking Covid-19 infections seriously and adhering to government restrictions. I’m looking at you, stay-at-home protestors in the USA. We watch the news, stay bored out of our minds and complain mercilessly, but we’re all doing it together. We also open our windows to clap for healthcare workers every night at eight o’clock, which is always the sweetest part of everyone’s day.
The first few weeks of seeing deaths and cases escalating by the thousands were terrifying and disheartening. Every morning when I checked the news, I prayed that the number of cases would peak and the curve would start falling in the opposite direction. Every two-week extension of confinement was a dagger to my heart, of which we’ve had three since March 16th. The desperation that we may never see the light of day again was insurmountable and soul-crushing. But after seven weeks of dread and anxiety, we were finally allowed out for an hour of exercise starting on May 2nd. I walked down my lovely Paseo del Prado which had turned leafy and green and the smell of sweet jasmine at the Real Jardín Botánico sent me high and buzzing (and possibly crying tears of happiness). Walking past Madrid’s beautiful majestic buildings and seeing the sun set over the Prado once more reminded me of the reason I came to Madrid in the first place and what a huge privilege it is to be here. The world is worth waiting for. Even though this pandemic rages on and quarantine fucking sucks, the other side is waiting for us and we’re all going to get there eventually.
Madrid is a little sad with all of its terrazas, bars and cafés being closed. It’s still gorgeous, but very out of character without the buzz of countless fiestas happening at any given moment. Even after the current Estado de Alarma ends on May 11th, it’s a mystery when domestic travel between Spanish provinces will be allowed and everyone knows international travel won’t be permitted until well after summer. This summer is slated to be a tough one, especially for the hospitality industry. But this summer may also be a unique opportunity for madrileños to reclaim their city and enjoy everything it has to offer without the usual hordes of tourists crowding the city center. We’ve all just been through something traumatic together and I’m ready for the healing and camaraderie to start. Also, I can’t wait to go to a shitty bar and have the stiffest drink possible.
No matter what happens here, Madrid is my bae. I’ll always love it for keeping me safe and reminding me that beauty is a short paseo away.