No one can take away from us the sun and hope

Our grandmothers and grandfathers went to war to save their country, we are only asked to stay at home, say people in Madrid

Gloomy afternoon, grey sky, it smells of fresh rain and the streets are empty and quiet. Who could imagine this for Madrid - the capital of a state famous around the world for its sun, lively conversations in the open and its freedom-loving people. But now for over a week the inhabitants of the cosmopolitan city are confined to their homes, hoping that soon all this will be but a sad memory.

On 13 March, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez declared a state of emergency. It happens for the second time in the democratic history of Spain, after in December 2010 the state closed its airspace for over a month owing to a strike of air traffic controllers. Some 10 years later the reason is the coronavirus pandemic. Until recently, this word was unknown to us, the inhabitants of Madrid. We felt compassion for the people of remote China but when the news came about the snowballing cases of the disease in nearby Italy, the virus became the main topic of conversations - in offices and gyms, during Friday night dinners with friends or at family gatherings.

On the day when the first case in the city was announced, 27 February, fears started to surface. All of a sudden, protective masks and disinfectants disappeared from the pharmacies, although people went on living like before. Cafes and restaurants were full to the brim, people didn't wash their hands incessantly and didn't look askance at someone coughing near them. As time went by the cases of infection were growing, but it was happening slowly, until on 8 March all seemed to be spiralling out of control. A day later, on 9 March, the decision was taken to shut down all educational institutions in the city and its vicinities. It came as a shock for parents. Who will take care of their children when they are at work? However, they haven't been worrying for long because most of the companies have introduced remote working for their staffers. Of course, there are sectors where this was not possible, like construction or the food industry. Supermarkets remain open and even keep their hours almost unchanged. The difference from before is that in the evening the shelves are empty but in the morning, as if by magic, they are restocked and we don't even understand when and how it happens.

More than a week has elapsed since Madrid and Spain are under state of emergency. The measures are strict - people are allowed to be outdoors for three reasons only - to do shopping, and this may be done by one of the family members only, to walk a dog or go to a pharmacy. Those who go to work must have a document issued by an employer company which serves as their mobility certificate. If they travel by car they must be alone. Most of the people strictly respect the imposed measures but at the same time over 30,000 violators have been fined so far. A very frequent Instagram post today is the indignation over the fact that there are more people who break the rules than those infected, and remarks saying that we can win this battle only if we are united and disciplined or, as everyone say: “Our grandmothers and grandfathers went to war to save the country and we are only asked to stay at home.”

Despite the strict measures, the number of infected is growing. On the one hand, it scares the people, but on the other, it makes them even more united and strong. There's not an evening when people don't go out on the balconies to applaud doctors, nurses and hospital attendants. The heroes who are working with their last bit of strength but do not complain, on the contrary - they are thankful to those around them for the opportunity to save human lives. Another reason for admiration is the fact that nowadays there are no private and state-run hospitals - all are united in their effort to save the nation. And for several days now, the hotels in the city provide rooms and beds for the treatment of mild cases of infection.

On 22 March it was announced that the state of emergency will be extended at least until 11 April. The pandemic has already necessitated cancellation of several events important for the Spanish culture: the Fallas celebration in Valencia - only for the second time since the Civil War, as well as the famous Semana Santa (the Easter holidays) in Seville. The Spaniards feel sad but not angry nor furious, they simply want all this to come to an end soon and in the best possible way for everyone. And to make it come true they are prepared to stay indoors as long as needed.

Time will come again when all Madrilenians, by birth or in heart, will again fill the restaurants and cafes, will hurry down the streets and talk with their neighbours in their local supermarket. They will be the same, albeit changed. Because if Covid-19 has taught us anything at all, it is to cherish the little things - a cup of coffee at the terrace of some bar, a walk in Retiro Park or the valuable moments spent together with our dear ones, without phones and social networks dividing us. And the sun will come back, the Spanish sun, so famous around the globe. Because no one can take it away from us.


Plamena Genova was born in Sofia and is 30 years old. She has a Bachelor's degree in Architectural Technology and Construction Management from VIA University College in Horsens, Denmark, and Universitat Politecnica de Valencia, Spain. She also has a Master's of Urban Studies from Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”. Her story about the current situation in the capital of Spain is written especially for EUROPOST.

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