Spain had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world to combat against the coronavirus. After the worst of it had passed, the government instituted a deescalation period of various phases. It seemed hasty, but for a country that never really recovered from the 2008 financial crisis and depends on summer tourism, it was clear regions were looking to return to normal, even if we qualified with it the adjective ‘new’. Now it’s back.
Within the containment zone, people are still free to move around without extraordinary restrictions, but without a good cause, no one enters or leaves A Mariña. Around 70,000 people live in the 14 concellos, municipalities there with undoubtedly many more vacationing for summer.
We knew a second wave would come sooner or later. I haven’t read anything about patient zero for this outbreak. We knew the first in March came from Madrid, which isn’t surprising. Talking with friends and acquaintances here, some of us had wished for summer of Spanish residents remaining in there autonomous communities. These regions are big enough to allow city-dwellers to escape to the countryside (sorry to La Rioja, and the North African enclaves), promote local tourism closer to home, and reduce the points of contact and potential travel of the virus.
This would have angered a lot of people, definitely some of the 80,000 madrigallegos who live and work in the capital, and eagerly await the summer months when they can relax at their beach house or return to their home villages. Not to mention the sons and daughters Galician emigrants who left for Basqueland and Catalonia while they were rapidly industrializing and Galicia was still practically a pre-capitalist society.
But as the husband of a family friend said, “It’s one summer.” We’ll see what the rest of the months brings.
Instead of jumping on Twitter in the early mornings and inevitably seeing distressing reports of impunity and inequality, I’ve been reading La Voz de Galicia. It’s local news that relates more to my day-to-day, I practice reading Spanish and Galician, and there’s a plethora of human interest pieces that are pretty interesting. I pick out a few to read while I eat some breakfast to prepare for the day’s fasting. This pleasant article caught my attention today:
“Zahara de la Sierra, from medieval fortress to sanitary fortress”
The town of 1,500, a quarter of which over the age of 65, has not registered a single case of coronavirus. Considering that at the time of writing, Spain is the country with the second highest number of total cases and the fourth highest number of coronavirus-related fatalities, this is astonishing and awesome.
Zahara is a pueblo blanco, one of the whitewashed towns in the southern community of Andalusia with narrow streets and clustered houses. This one is perched on a mountain, with an old Moorish fort overlooking the town. I haven’t been there myself but I’ve been to other pueblos blancos like Grazalema and Ronda.
So how did Zahara de la Sierra manage to stay free from coronavirus, even as nearby towns and villages registered cases and fatalities?
First, they sprang into action the day after the state of alarm was announced and blocked off four of the five roads leading into the town. They sprayed every entering vehicle with water and bleach. The markets set up a delivery service. The women’s association cooked and delivered food to the footsteps of their elderly neighbors. They cleaned the streets a few times a week. They stayed in touch on Facebook. They outfitted music and lights onto cars to entertain children from the balconies. And they used the town’s contingency fund to help family-run businesses and autónomos, freelancers, stay afloat during the lockdown. They also turned away tourists, even though the pueblos blancos are very popular with international tourists and depend on the tourism sector.
This level of neighborhood support and seriousness to health should be envied everywhere.
The three intertwined and colliding global crises of COVID-19, climate change, and capitalism overwhelm us with so many challenges it’s almost impossible to think straight. But soon, for those not in precarity, not on the frontlines of a war against an invisible enemy everywhere in the public sphere, we must shine a light on this chaos, and ourselves at home, to see that the moment presents us with sink-or-swim opportunities for all of us. To hold this tension within ourselves will be very difficult, but it’s our only way. A better world and system is possible. Here are some of the things I’ve been reading and listening to.
We’re Not Going Back to Normal: “We all want things to go back to normal quickly. But what most of us have probably not yet realized—yet will soon—is that things won’t go back to normal after a few weeks, or even a few months. Some things never will.”
The Only Treatment for Coronavirus Is Solidarity: “The new coronavirus makes vivid the logic of a world that combines a material reality of intense interdependence with moral and political systems that leave people to look out for themselves. Because we are linked — at work, on the bus and subway, at school, at the grocery store, with the Fresh Direct delivery system — we are contagious, and vulnerable. Because we are morally isolated, told to look out for ourselves and our own, we are becoming survivalists house by house, apartment by apartment, stocking enough that’s canned and frozen, grabbing enough cold meds and disinfectant, to cut ties and go out on our own.”
After the Quarantine, the Flood: “In what ways are we numerous, enumerated, counted, uncounted, dividuated, enmassed, and divided? In what ways have we chosen to live this way, and in what ways is it chosen for us In whose interests are lives thus organized; which powers does this serve? And what, indeed, is the meaning of our modes of numerosity? I apply these questions again now, from a warm apartment, with ample food and the ability to support myself materially as I type. In this moment, we have been asked to mitigate being numerous together. Solidarity in the pandemic, for those in my position, is situated in not making things worse; this we can choose.”
Come On, You Live in a Society: “American politicians long ago shifted the burden of safeguarding the public from the government to individuals. Call it personal responsibility, call it deficit reduction, call it whatever you want; the consequences are the same no matter which label we use. The absence of any seriously developed health-care infrastructure abandons people to muddle through on their own. The absence of major labor protections forces people to work sick and will financially ruin anyone whose employers don’t offer paid leave. The preeminent message coming out of D.C. — and this is not a new trend; it is far older than the Trump presidency — tells people that they’re ultimately responsible for themselves. We are conditioned to think of ourselves as individual consumers first and as interconnected members of society second. Movements that hold the opposite view tend to be ruthlessly broken down and suppressed at worst, or at best, dismissed as the fantastical longings of childish adults.
The national government took steps to restrict all nonessential movement. Patricia and I are a few days ahead, staying in our village since Friday, only interacting with friends and family through our phones and our elderly neighbors from a safe distance.
We both work from home but it’s still mentally and spiritually taxing to realize self-isolation will probably be for many weeks. Obviously there was never a choice, but yesterday countless hashtags and videos popped up of people treating this as a vacation or others going to meet friends at the bar for one last night together. Excuse while I remove my palm from my face.
The future is very uncertain. But we have to continue on in different ways. Our governments will fail us to protect markets. Loss of life at a higher rate is practically inevitable. We must rely on each other for support and we must learn from this after we make it through.
I’m taking the self-isolation to actually get serious about a few things. I’ve often said this and then I get lazy or too caught up in some other thing, but now it’s not optional. There is time and no social activities to distract myself.
Write as much as possible. That includes trying to post something here and actually write my West African Islamo-fantasy project.
Read Marx’s Capital with the help of a friend’s husband’s project MARXdown, the Penguin Classics Ben Fowkes translation, and David Harvey’s lectures.
Continue helping build a network of DSA members who live abroad to leverage our internationalist socialist perspectives for progress and solidarity back home.
If you’re interested in hearing Brace and Liz from TrueAnon talk about what’s coming, I really recommend this episode. Liz made the point of being there for people, in her case, on Twitter, as a way of coping with it herself and that is so important right now.
So if you’re reading this, reach out if you want. Even if we’ve never met. Thanks for reading.