129 – How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?

Today marks the fourteenth day of almost total curfew in Madrid. So how bad is it? Actually, not that bad at all. Sure, it would have been better if my small flat had a terrace or at least direct sunlight, but you can’t always get what you want. However, I must admit I have never been more grateful that my appalling taste in men kept me single and childless. Imagine going through 3 to 4 months (if not more) of quarantine with someone who gets on your nerves (which after all this time anyone will). Or with someone you don’t really know. Or like. Or you’d rather not be with. Maybe I should use these months to retrain as divorce lawyer (or for extreme cases of separation, criminal defence attorney). Because when this is over, family law is going to be a goldmine. I could help a few people out of their misery (or alternatively, convince a jury that killing an annoying partner after months of forced isolation may be a murder, but certainly not a crime), wrap it up and go travelling again. Sounds like a viable plan to me.

All of you must be now aware of the fact that this situation is not going to last the two-to-four weeks they told you when imposing lockdowns, right? Oh no. Sensible countries that implemented measures in January (with dozens, not thousands of cases) continue being locked down and we’re approaching April. So when the governments say “by Easter” or “several weeks”, they are just trying to prevent panic. But as there is now no more toilet paper left on the planet you could possibly stockpile at home (honestly people, do with your arse the same thing you are supposed to be doing with your hands, wash it), you may as well accept the truth: we are in for months and months of fun.

Statue of a young student, Calle de Pez, Malasaña, Madrid 2020

Serious stuff first. This situation really is going to last for ages. And it is going to be devastating for people working in hospitality, tourism, the self-employed and those who work illegally. And before you start about how illegals should all be locked up, how many of you have domestic help two or three times a week? Or maybe a gardener? And how many of you employ them with a regular contract, pension and healthcare contributions, statutory sick pay and holidays? Yeah, I didn’t think so. I had fantastic (technical) support from my employer and can comfortably work from home. I even prefer it, because I don’t have to listen to all the noise the Spaniards make while talking about how their children perform at school or what they had for dinner on the previous evening, let alone when they get excited about some dramatic work-related situation (or more likely football). I’m lucky. Your PT, your yoga teacher, your hair dresser or the girl who does your nails are not. That is if you get your nails done by someone who actually made that career choice and don’t go to some dodgy salon that enslaves Vietnamese girls fortunate enough to make it alive from a refrigerated lorry. All across Europe (and the US) governments’ general policy for the self-employed in non-essential sectors has so far been “isolate at home, default on your rent and go to food banks if you feel like you must eat”. Often enough, self-employment is not a choice young people make because they want to be masters of their own time and report to no boss (although it was probably sold to them that way), but because job markets everywhere in the West have been heavily deregulated in the name of workforce flexibility, therefore many people can really only pick between 0 hours contracts and freelancing.  If you have people in your life who depend on you professionally, now is the time to help them, if you can afford it.  Your PT will probably do online lessons. I try to do my bit too: While I don’t stick colourful acrylic claws on my fingers even in normal situation and cannot do much about my hair at the moment (I may have a bob and extremely fashionable eyebrows by the time this is over), I continue with language classes (over whatsapp) and I keep paying monthly membership fee in my fencing club, so that the three young tutors don’t stay without income. I am not showing off my virtues (there’d be precious little to show off), but as there is bound to be someone to accuse me of preaching water while drinking wine… That was a figure of speech, obviously, there is no way I am going through this without wine.

Some may see the self-isolation a bit like being on a stag do in Las Vegas: never too early for a drink. And there’s certainly that. If your hobbies range between getting drunk with your mates and posting stories on Instagram every time you take a bath, then yes, I can imagine that standing your own company must be harsh. I’m saying this a bit tongue in cheek, but only half. This situation must be tough on people with nothing in their lives to fill the solitude. I am now going to deliver and incredibly haughty, arrogant and disdainful speech about what a curious individual can do with all the free time on their hands, so consider yourselves warned. Then you can tag me as a Guardian-reading liberal elitist intellectual, I will take all of it as a compliment. Some may benefit from reading the Guardian (or anything else), just to be able to understand the difference between your and you’re.

The toughest part, at least for me, is not being able to go anywhere, except to the shop. In some countries, exercising outdoors alone is still permitted, but not here. So no bike, no running, no walks on the fresh air allowed. I cannot even run up and down the stairs of my building, it would be considered a breach of the curfew. But there are plenty of other options. Most yoga apps offer extended free trials, so as always, your will is the limit. There are more exciting options to exercise, and the fact that no one can watch while giving them a go is definitely an advantage. Many world-famous dancers give free classes on social media. Isabella Boylston (principal dancer of the ABT) streams technical classes three times a week, using her kitchen table as a barre. Roberto Bolle and a group of his friends teach a different class every day. If you, like me, have an unfulfilled childhood dream (and a wrong body) to be a classical ballerina, this is the perfect occasion to feel like one, especially given no one can actually see you. And besides, perving over Roberto Bolle is a great activity even if you don’t participate in the class. Roberto is what God had in mind while creating a man. Unfortunately the default software of the creation is rather disappointing.

As ever, the underfunded and scorned art comes to the rescue when the times are hard. Many libraries now offer free access to their digital content. So if you are one of those people who moan about not having enough time to read, now you do. I briefly entertained the idea of giving War and Peace another go (because in high school I skipped all the tedious battle chapters, so I pretty much only read Peace), but I will consider this only if the quarantine protracts into the second semestre. Now I’m not sure what scares me more: six months of confinement or honouring that vow. Let’s hope it won’t come to that. Every major newspaper had by now published their apocalypse reading list. Which is great, because some people may discover that “I Am Legend” is an amazing book, not just a terrible film with Will Smith. Apparently Albert Camus’ The Plague is breaking all the sales records. I don’t understand, when it comes to plague related literature, why would more people prefer to torture themselves with an existential dread rather than reading, say, The Decameron, which is at least partly funny and people have sex.

Speaking of which…all the yoga in the world cannot possibly calm down the primal urges. The unfortunate unavailability of socialising (or Tinder home delivery) exposes a lot of us to the danger of relapsing to virginity. Although I was at risk even without the virus. Again, creative art (of sorts) has the answer: Pornhub waived their premium membership fees in Italy, Spain and France. Time to get a vpn, guys. Although it looks like the UK may be next in line for free porn. Every cloud…


Stay tunes for more. At the end, I have nothing better to do than to write the blog.




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