Off Balance

The world is made up of opposites. We have to have bad days to appreciate the good ones. It’s not without having seen the light that we can understand the concept of darkness.

Since Spain went into lockdown, we’ve seen a fair share of good. Our community in Altea immediately connected via WhatsApp to connect with each other via funny videos, jokes and messages. We’ve entertained each other with our writing, we’ve serenaded each other with our music. We’ve reached out when one of us is feeling down, when one of us was missing an important trip and another couldn’t make it back in time to see her son who was visiting from Australia. Together, we’ve tried to help those who are struggling and have pooled more than 1,000 euros for Red Cross shopping and to feed the homeless.

We’ve also seen examples of massive efforts, undertaken by a few. For the past couple of weeks, Constantin and Tanya, the owners of Mana, a restaurant along the seafront, have donated their skills and their time to cook for 50 families who have nothing and who will not be receiving any government assistance. At such a difficult time, when restaurateurs are facing such an uncertain future and scrambling to figure out how to ensure their own survival, it’s amazing to see such a selfless act of giving.

Good has come in the form of being able to stay better connected to my college friends who now have a lot more time on their hands. Living on different continents and in different States has made keeping in touch tricky over the years, especially as some of us have started our own businesses, others have had demanding careers requiring extensive travel and yet others have started families. But, almost since the beginning of lockdown, eight of us – who once shared a 12 bedroom house in college – meet via Zoom. We’ve never been so cut off from each other, yet we’ve never been better at keeping in touch.  To see their faces and hear their updates once a week is a boost of comfort, a dose of safety to get me through another week of uncertainty.

Unfortunately, with the good comes the bad, and we’ve seen how burglars have targeted the vacant houses in Altea’s Old Town. Knowing that the owners aren’t at home, they’ve broken windows to gain access, climbed in through bedroom windows to steal, and helped themselves to our neighbors’ and our friends’  personal belongings. Just down the street from us, a woman with her two teenage sons broke into a house with plans to squat. When neighbors spotted the family and the cops came, the woman refused to leave. She finally did, days later, but she took what wasn’t hers and left the house a mess.

As unsettling as it is that houses are getting broken into, equally unsettling is the fact that there’s a good chance that no one would have even noticed – if it hadn’t been for David. Heading to AlteArte one day on one of his daily visits to make sure everything was OK with the building, he noticed the broken window of a house just a few doors down. I quickly searched through my email, found the contact information of the English owner and sent him an email to let him know. Returning home from AlteArte later than usual a few days later, David spotted the lights on in the house just next door to the first. “Is it possible you might have left the lights on,” I quickly texted the person who lived there but was in quarantine elsewhere. No, he hadn’t. Someone had broken in. They had stepped on the flower pots, climbed the iron bars to reach the second level and broken the bedroom window. We called the cops, they dusted for fingerprints, and then left without further word. David was left with the task of boarding up the broken windows of both houses so that the thieves couldn’t reenter – or, in the very least, to show them that even though the houses are vacant, they’re far from forgotten.

But what would have happened if David hadn’t been observant? Who would have noticed the broken windows in a sleepy town under lockdown? Where were the police? Why weren’t they protecting the Old Town, especially since no one else could?

The cops have been plenty busy, as evidenced by the number of fines. Since the lockdown went into effect on March 14th, Spain has issued more than 800,000 fines, second only to France in all of Europe. They have been patrolling the highways, catching drivers trying to flee to their vacation homes and slapping them with 1,500 euro fines. They’ve been in the supermarkets, checking the IDs of the customers to make sure that they’re local. And they’ve been answering calls, like the one they got from our friends’ neighbor. The neighbor had quickly called when she saw my friend’s 13 year old daughter cartwheeling back to her house through the private garden after having dumped the trash. It was just a few days before the restrictions were relaxed, and children and teenagers weren’t yet allowed outside. By this point, they had not been allowed to leave the house once in more than six weeks. The incident ended in a 1,000 euro fine to the parents.

The cops have been working. In fact, they’ve been out in full force. It’s just that their attention has been elsewhere. They’ve been so distracted by cartwheeling teenagers that they’ve failed to notice the burglars stealthily climbing in and out of broken windows just behind their backs.

We’ve heard of some neighbors baking cakes and bringing them over to their neighbors. We’ve heard of others that call the cops at the slightest sight of wrongdoing. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to all if these hyper-vigilant neighbors redirected their attention to their vacant neighbors’ homes?

But it’s not just the police or the nosy neighbors who have been looking the wrong way. As a nation, we’ve been distracted and have altogether lost sight of what constitutes well-being. We fervidly check our forehead for signs of a fever, get anxious about body aches, cower from a cough. Yet we overlook the fact that, after more than six weeks in confinement, someone might be physically safe, but, mentally, he or she could be downright losing it. Last Thursday, the owner of a bar in Seville was found dead in his bar. Unable to cope with the situation, he decided it would be easier to take his own life. Shortly before that, a friend of ours was picked up by the police and taken to the hospital. He was on a cocktail of drugs, pacing the streets naked while claiming that he was Hitler and threatening to kill everyone. The police’s remedy for mental sickness? Yep, a fine. This lockdown comes with a big price tag. Obviously, someone’s got to pay it.

Good can’t exist without the bad. Opposites are always at play. However, during these unprecedented times and in this twilight zonish situation, the balance between good and bad seems off. The definition of what constitutes bad behavior seems too black and white. But that’s not all that’s off kilter.

Ever since the pandemic, child and domestic abuse cases have been on the rise worldwide. It turns out that, for many, the very people who are supposed to love them and protect them are, in fact, their aggressors. For these people, the lockdown is even more deadly than the virus itself. I read the data, I hear about the latest victim on the news and I wonder,  “When did we lose the ability to love?”

In the US, Trump suggested that washing out our insides with bleach could protect us from the virus. Days later, patients were being admitted to the hospital… after having drank bleach. I shake my head in disbelief. When did people stop thinking for themselves?

Yesterday, the Spanish government announced that squatters could register themselves in their occupied house of choice, meaning if that mother and her two teenager sons had just held out a little longer in their occupied house down the street, they could have tapped in to many of the benefits being offered by the Covid virus situation, including a monthly income. Hours later, we hear about how the same government is in talks to reduce senior citizens’ pension plans. How come those who work hard and play by the rules are the very ones who pay the price? Oh right. Someone has to pay the price.

It will take a while for the world to re-find its balance, for the yin and yang to be re-established. But now, at least, we see the children once more in the streets and we can hear their voices and laughter in the air. They are gentle reminders that all is not lost, that there will be a future. They are our light to help make sense of the darkness. The future is there in front of our eyes, playing with a ball, riding a bike. I just hope that these small children don’t have too large a burden to carry, nor too big of a price to pay.


5 responses to “Off Balance

  1. Coral Wilson

    Your reflections are eye-opening, sometimes shocking – both for the good and the bad that has been brewing in Spain. This is the behind the scenes look that is often missed in broad news coverage. Thank you for being there to witness, reflect and share your insight with us. Indeed in the Twilight Zone world, a whole lot does not make sense!

  2. Another bombshell of a bog Sara – it is inspiring and sad. Sorry to hear about all the robberies taking place but in view of the economy it is unfortunately understandable. But it is inspiring to know that our home away from home is still intact and that you and David are well.

    Keep up the good writing!

  3. Sara – yet again, a poignant curation of an experience that’s strangely difficult to articulate. I love your writing, and adore you my friend. Please stay safe and sane, we will all find a way to come out on the other side intact. I too hope that we can all lean on the side that’s letting light in through the cracks – to the bits of sunshine still seeping in.

  4. Yes, so many good things and people, but also very perplexing and unfair policies being rolled out here in Spain. My neighbor is one of the known burglars, and has a warrant out for what I understand to be the Spanish equivalent of failure to appear, but he regular yells for his mother nearly every time he comes up our street, and is regularly is out roaming the streets of Altea, and walking his new dog. The police clearly know where he is staying. I so appreciate all the efforts to help others like AlteArte (Sara and David) and Mana (Constantine and Tanya), and so many more. And thankful for all the friends who have kept in touch and supported each other, and also for restaurants that are doing take-out or delivering food like AlteArte to rescue us from home-cooking.

  5. Wow…this is quite a post Sara! It so highlights the differences between our cultures…I have heard that the lock down is much more strictly enforced than here in the U.S….but a fine for doing a cartwheel…seriously?? Holy smokes. I know here in little ole Maine things have gotten contentious at times over the last few weeks, especially when face mask-wearing folks go after folks for not wearing masks, or they go after those seen driving vehicles with out of state license plates (Maine has a high percentage of out of state homeowners, many of whom fled out of NY and MA when the lock down was going into effect). As of this week I stopped watching the news…there is a fine line between being informed and being misinformed. Anyway…my heart goes out to those who are most affected by this COVID 19 situation…small businesses, restaurants, pubs, etc…challenging times to be sure. I’m thinking of you guys, and hoping you survive the storm…your survival is so integral to what makes your neighborhood the community it is. Hoping the silver lining here is that you and David are getting a much deserved break! You (and your loyal patrons) will appreciate Alte Arte all the more when you are back up and running…stay well!

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