The last time I wrote a blog, our island and country (in addition to much of the world) was teetering on the brink of a lockdown. Will they, won’t they? Is it real, or is it overreaction? Like many people out there, I took it kind of seriously a few days before the isolation period was due to begin – I bought an extra packet of loo roll (just one!), a couple of extra jars of pasta sauce and packets of pasta, plus stocked up on a few weeks’ worth of kitty litter and cat food… just in case. It wasn’t exactly panic buying, and you use all that stuff anyway eventually. That was my way of thinking. That same day, I wrote a blog about spending the last night of potential ‘freedom’ with my friends… but I honestly don’t think I had any idea about the real ramifications about what was to come.
The very next day, Spain – which was the third highest country affected by the Coronavirus at the time – declared a state of emergency and put the entire nation into lockdown, excluding any essential services. I’m sure you’re now all too familiar with what these are, so I don’t need to list them for you. Since then, I’ve been confined to my home with my beloved cats, which anyone who knows me will tell sounds like my dream come true, but it just goes to show you should be careful what you wish for. Because wanting something, and being told you HAVE to do something, are two very different things.. As I type, I’ve been home for 21 days straight, aside from two trips to the store and one visit to the pharmacy. And I read in the local newspaper (online obvs) today that the Spanish government are deliberating on extending our lockdown for another 15 days. Does that bother me? Es lo que hay. It is what it is.
I started writing ‘quarantine diaries’ on the first day, thinking that when we got out of lockdown in two weeks it may be a funny way of reflecting on the experience, after it was over. You know, deep and meaningful thoughts like: ‘will I ever wear a bra again’ or ‘do I need to ration my mascara for FaceTime calls now?’ and ‘what happens when you binge drink a week’s worth of wine in two days?’. After we were told the lockdown would be extended for another 15 days, this gave way to some more existential thoughts that I won’t bore you with (surely we’ve all thought the same by now) and by about Day 17 (which I later found out was only Day 16!), I gave up. The situation no longer felt amusing. It didn’t seem like something appropriate to blog about. Blogs in the time of Corona… as catchy as the headline sounded, it just didn’t feel right make light of the lockdown – no matter how many memes I’d LOLed at on Instagram privately.
Why then, you might be wondering, have I experienced an about face and decided to write a blog today, on (what I think might be) Day 22? Well, I’m glad I pretended you asked. Because after three weeks of reading about doom and gloom, of feeling the stress and strains of the pressure of working on an island that relies purely on tourism, and from riding on an emotional rollercoaster, I realised that writing blogs simply makes me happy. And while I’m certainly not qualified to report on COVID-19 stats, or comment on the current state of political affairs, what I can do is offer some real life, human commentary from Ibiza. And right now, amongst all this sadness, suffering, sickness and stress, there are still things happening on this island that make me happy. I figured, if they make me happy, maybe they’ll make someone else out there too. Perhaps that’s an ethos that stems from my love of the book Pollyanna as a child… As usual, I digress.
The first thing I wanted to write about is what I like to call ‘clappy hour’. You may have seen it on the news or on Instagram already – at 8pm every night, everyone in every town and village on the island comes out onto their balconies, terraces or stands at their front doors to applaud our heroic healthcare workers. At the same time, police cars and ambulances do laps of the local hospitals with their sirens on, and all the boats in the port blast their horns. Someone is even projecting a giant ‘gracias’ light show onto the walls of Dalt Vila. I like to think that this nightly standing ovation also extends to the police, supermarket workers, public transport operators, garbage disposal people and more – to everyone who is contributing to keeping our island functioning. It started during the first week of lockdown, and has become a nightly ritual… even when it was pouring rain a few days ago, everyone in my square still popped their heads (and hands!) outside to keep it going.
What is so beautiful about this experience is that after more than a decade of living in this neighbourhood, I have finally met all of my neighbours. I’m not going to lie – the first night I joined in was a little emotional for me. I felt so shy as everyone was shouting rapid-fire Spanish to one another across the square after the clapping stopped, and I saw that everyone else in our plaza was part of a couple or a family. It seemed I was the only person who was alone (as a human, I mean, my cats are of course the best company). Afterwards, I ran inside and burst into tears, but I wasn’t crying because I felt lonely – far from it. I was crying because it made me feel so connected, and that the kindness of strangers who I had been living in such close proximity too for so many years was almost overwhelming. Each and every person had straight away asked my name, asked if I was doing OK, told me to let them know if I needed anything.
Over the last week, more and more elderly people have started to come out on their terraces, and I realise they must also be living alone. I wonder if they had also felt too shy to come outside in the early days of clappy hour, and I wish I could invite them over for a cup of tea or glass of wine and get to know them better. But instead, we all clap and wave from a safe distance, asking the same questions – are you ok, can we get you anything – along with chit chat about the state of the island, and making funny faces at babies, dogs and cats. I hope when this is over that we can actually connect in person. This week, two of my vecinas have had birthdays, and on both days, when the regular clapping and commotion was over, someone brought their Bluetooth speaker outside and blasted ‘cumpleaños feliz’ (the Spanish version of ‘happy birthday’) over the square and we all sang along (I mumbled the middle bit – it’s different to the English version and I never quite learned the words!). Once again I got totes emosh and cried (in a good way) when I went inside. It was a really moving experience.
It may not be as glamorous as Italians singing opera to one another across their plazas, but to me, clappy hour is a reminder that (most) human beings are inherently good. It also makes me ensure my hair is brushed and I don’t stay in my pyjamas all day (well… most days anyway)! From where we are, in the elevated plaza of the old town, we can hear the echoes of clapping all over Ibiza town and even coming across the port from the Marina – we see and connect with our immediate community, but we all know we are part of something much bigger. It’s a small gesture of gratitude, considering what those on the frontline are going through, but at the same time, it seems to be igniting the face-to-face human connection our society had so desperately been missing.
As I go inside after clappy hour every night, I’m always reminded of a song that Aussie crooner Barry Crocker sang for the legendary 80s TV show that launched the career of my favourite ever pop star (you know who!): Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours. With a little understanding, you can find the perfect blend. Neighbours should be there for one another. That’s when good neighbours become good friends. Maybe one day I’ll get my Bluetooth speaker out there and play that for them too. Who knows – when this is all over, maybe we can even binge watch it together (with Spanish subtitles, of course).
NB: Photos not taken during happy hour because you know, I’m too busy clapping!