25 Mar 2020

58. Lockdown in El Pinar

The main street of El Pinar during Covid 19 lockdown. Not a soul to be seen. Normally there would be people
everywhere, maybe a double-parked van selling produce (we have no local police) and dogs sniffing ...
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the population of Spain, including El Hierro, has been in compulsory ‘confinement’ for ten days now. This means we have to stay at home and not congregate with people other than those who live with us, not even the nextdoor neighbour. We can go out (unaccompanied) only if it is absolutely necessary. In an appearance on national television, our Prime Minister (who likes to be referred to as President) explained to us what this means: we can go out to buy the bread, to the hairdresser (this possibility was dropped soon after), to the chemist’s or the supermarket, to take the dog for a walk etc. All bars and restaurants, cinemas, bingos, clubs, discotheques, associations and most shops not selling food are closed. So are beaches, parks and any venue or activity that congregates people (or smacks of fun, pleasure or sin). I know, this is the only way we can curb the expansion of Covid 19. What is surprising, though, is that the entire population of Spain, normally so gregarious, unruly and fun-loving, has accepted the restrictions with not so much as a whimper.

El Pinar is no exception. The road where I live was once known as ‘Cholesterol Walk’. A misnomer today. Gone are the sweaty runners, the groups of argumentative old ladies, figure-conscious young ones and dogwalkers. So are the discotheques-on-wheels that whizzed along on the occasional evening. Being on the edge of the village, at times we heard the siren of an ambulance on the main road or the reversing horn of heavy machinery somewhere far away, or, more agreeably, the cries of children in the playground of the village school. But not now. Just the voices of ravens, seagulls, mating kestrels, distant cockerels and tied-up dogs. The village high-street is deserted at all hours. And so is the village square.

On the island we are isolated more than confined. We are lucky in that we have a garden and vines to keep us outdoors much of the time. Likewise, most of the people that live right in the villages have gardens and plots nearby and, I suppose, can go and dig their potatoes despite the rather exaggerated stories we hear of fines and over-zealous policemen. I think the state of sanitary alarm has had little effect on employment here. Our largest single employer is the Cabildo, i.e. the island’s governing and administrative body, and our fledgling tourist industry is hardly out of the nest. Our agriculture and its derivatives  –  subtropical fruit, wine and cheese – must go on. So, we islanders have nothing to envy of the family of four confined to a small urban flat on one of the larger islands or the mainland. In many ways, but for TV and the internet, for us the pandemic has just temporarily wiped out the last forty or fifty noisy years.

On Saturday, I went to the supermarket, duly attired in mask and nitrile gloves.  Most of the other shoppers were, too, but I noticed that several men of around fifty or sixty, whom I did not recognize as being locals, were brazenly flouting the advice of our health authorities. They were, I suppose, what we call ‘Summer Islanders’, projecting the idea that they are a little above us, and the pandemic. Let’s hope they are!

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