Toward the beginning of April, nearly three weeks into the State of Alarm, the friend I typically run with called with the news that the Spanish government would soon loosen its strictures and allow children into parks and runners and cyclists out on the street. How soon? I asked. Possibly starting in two weeks. Although the news didn’t make me run faster that morning on my solitary regime of endless laps up and down the lane in front of my house, it did make me think I could keep going until free to run on the street again with my friend.
The lane is public and technically off limits during the confinement, but no one lives on it except my son and me. The only other house, 200 meters away, is empty, though cows graze in the fields beside it and often the owner comes to work there, moving livestock from one field to another or digging into one of the huge, plastic-wrapped bales of hay stored there. I run early, before the farmer and before the mailman on his scooter, and I see no one. The only real possibility would be the police, just checking to make sure nobody was breaking the rules. Saltarse las normas is the Spanish phrase, literally jumping the rules, and the image I have of someone sailing over a hurdle, someone dressed like me, in running shorts, makes my exercise seem almost like a game. After two laps, though, it is only drudgery. From behind my gate, the dogs watch me go by, again and again.
With the garden and big yard, I have a lot of opportunity to work in the fresh air, but I have no neighbors, and except for my weekly trip to the grocery store, I never see anyone besides my son. I can’t even see the highway beyond the lane, and the few passing cars I hear are almost indistinguishable from the distant surf. Who’d ever predict the tumble and roll of the ocean to be a poor substitute for the thrum of traffic?
Apartment dwellers in the city have a rougher time than I getting outdoor activity, but with the countrywide custom of turning away from the TV and setting down a drink to go to a balcony or window at 8 p.m. and clap, they have more human sightings than we have here in the country. Neighbors walk to the store rather than drive, and if you are a dog owner in the city, you’re allowed to take it out to do its business. During the first days, when people were still getting used to the restrictions, one resourceful man here in Gijón snapped a leash on a stuffed animal and took it out in his arms as his excuse for a stroll. He was soon stopped and sent home, but I wondered who would do such a thing? Someone desperate might. Someone lonely. Back home, would he set the toy dog up on a stool at the table or tuck it into bed at night, just to not feel so alone? I could see it—see how you’d go from using to caring for someone or something, and I wonder if a similar transformation could happen in the world at large. I can imagine it: “It’s just us here, eight billion of us, against the unknown, so let’s keep each other safe!” From their balconies the neighbors raise their glasses. “I’ll drink to that!
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