Eating and drinking my way through life and learning all the while

Living in a confined city during COVID-19 isn’t as bad as you’d think

The City of Madrid has been confined over Christmas with residents not able to leave or enter without good reason. This city perimeter confinement has now been lifted – although in certain areas movement is restricted to one’s neighbourhood. But you know what, living in a confined city during COVID-19 isn’t as bad as you’d think.

When I was on the road last year, I was told that each city/country has now shown their hand in terms of how they are going to deal with COVID-19 and whilst the course of this virus is anything but predictable it is fairly easy to predict how different governments are going to react to any future spikes.

Madrid is the city I moved to in June 2020 and promptly left 4 weeks later for a family emergency, and then felt unable to return to as the city’s second wave started in the summer. When I was first looking at returning the cases in my barrio were 666 per 100,000 and climbed as high as 2,000 per 100,000 residents. Pretty terrifying.

New restrictions were brought in in Madrid, a night curfew introduced 12am-6am, reduced hours at hospitality venues – certain high risk areas confined, but the city fought to stay operational in spite of the chaos.

The city perimeter has been confirmed several times since then, and over the Christmas holidays it was not possible to leave or enter the city, but as for what life is like inside these city walls, historic snowstorm aside, it’s fairly normal.

Not Stockholm normal, which is so normal it actually freaked me out a bit, it was super strange to see no mask wearing in public and little in the way of social distancing.

When I left Madrid in July, I can honestly say I felt safe, precautions were being taken, things opened up but carefully, lots of thought had gone into how to operate in socially distanced, sanitised fashion, adherence to wearing masks was super high. I was shocked then approaching a lift as I checked into a London hotel when I was looked at as mad as I declined to enter the small lift with three other strangers not wearing a mask and while waiting outside the corner shop until it emptied before going in, as again no one was distancing or wearing a mask.

But life in this confined city of Madrid has found a new sort of equilibrium. Cocktail bars and restaurants are open, albeit at reduced capacity and hours, although you can no longer sit at the bar like you could in July, only at tables.

Wearing a mask is mandatory when entering shops and bars and when walking around, even outside – which I thought odd at first, but I quickly got used to it.

OFFICES / COWORKING SPACES

Offices are open but communal areas closed, sadly that means my beautiful terrace at my office, a key selling point is no longer accessible in the way it was in June – I miss watching sunset, it grounds me. There are now no kitchen facilities rather than the limited ones available in June. There is still a restriction of only one person per lift as in the summer. But I have an office I can go to, which is useful for me from a productivity POV and I’ve invested in coffee facilities etc to make myself a bit more self-sufficient when I close my office doors.

THE ARTS, LIVE MUSIC AND CULTURAL VENUES

Galleries, museums, even theatres are open – and are really quite nice to visit with reduced capacities and no queues.

Over the holidays I’ve been to the Reina Sofia gallery, there is now timed access to the room housing the famed Guernica, a painting I love admiring even more without the crowds. I went to see Don Giovanni at the Teatro Real over New Year’s, I didn’t so much enjoy the show – my feminist chip on my shoulder ruined it for me a bit – but did enjoy the freedom of being able to go to the theatre.

Bars aside, what make life worth living for me is culture. The arts has been another industry decimated by COVID-19, I watched with sadness this report about how 2020 has devastated the UK arts scene.

The live music scene seems to be picking up again here in Madrid, there were 86 gigs in 10 venues just over the Christmas period promoted by the Comunidad de Madrid. This programme was part of 2 million euro regional government campaign to support the live music sector that’s been hit super hard by the COVID-19 crisis.

We took full advantage and saw a whole range of live music from blues, rock, jazz, to flamenco. The favourite venues I’ve discovered over the holiday period include Café Berlin, Tempo Audiophile bar, and Hangar 48.

Not every venue can open with the new capacity restrictions, which favour mid-sized or larger venues. It’s hard to make the numbers work for a venue that would only normally only hold 50 people. That being said, we also went to a micro theatre, a super cute concept that launched in 2009 where there are an array of 15 minute shows for to up to 15 people. It’s now operating with more like 6-8 people but with the screens up and audience tiny it’s kinda perfect for these crazy COVID times.

If Madrid wants to emerge from this crisis as a music capital it is going the right way about it and seems to be providing more support to cultural institutions than many other capital cities. I’ve long said what’s going to get people back into cities after COVID isn’t a Pret sandwich it is culture – the shows, exhibitions and performances you can’t get in the ‘burbs.

BARS & RESTAURANTS

Bars and restaurants can open although have to close much earlier than usual, and must stop serving at 11pm. This is not so early from a UK point of view but is so very early for spots that usually close at 3-5am in Madrid, but venues are adapting and getting creative to draw people in earlier.

My go to cocktail bars in town are 1862 Dry Bar, Savas, Del Diego and Baton Rouge, but over the holidays I have discovered a couple of new favourites Santamaria La Cocteleria de al Lado – actually the closest bar to my pad and Entre Santos Cocktail Bar & Food – which I discovered only after they’d catered for a gin pairing masterclass at Dry Bar – their food is incredible, and drinks too as it turns out!

The fact that so many venues in Madrid have been able to reopen and haven’t had the stop and start chaos which is killing UK hospitality means more of these places will hopefully see their way to the other side of this COVID carnage. No doubt the reduced hours and capacity is hard on profits but it gives them a fighting chance to stay in business.

I was pleased to read this article which said that the Madrid govt had NO plans to close hospitality during the December spike as there was no evidence spread was coming from these venues, in fact 80% of infections were coming from homes. I only wish the UK government followed the science in this way rather than using restrictions on hospitality as its ‘go to’ move. Today’s news out of the UK suggests it will be May before many bars open again in London, how they’ll survive without a lot more support I don’t know!

HAIRDRESSERS, BEAUTICIANS

Since I’ve been back I’ve got my nails done, had a facial and I am about to book in for laser hair removal and a cut and colour – once I remember the vocab needed to get what I need done. None of these treatments are possible in London right now.

GYM

Gyms are open! I signed up to a gym in December. You have to wear a mask throughout your workout – which is a little harder during cardio training than resistance training – but given how bloody cold it is, it seems to be a small price to pay to keep fit during the winter month. I’m very much a fair weather runner, heat I can deal with but not cold.

There is a LOT of heavily enforced sanitising pre-post gym equipment usage, which should have been standard back in the old days to be fair – and some machines situated too close together are currently out of use to allow for social distancing.

Gym classes like Pilates, yoga, body pump are operating but at much reduced class capacities.

I remember seeing the protests from these gym operators in Liverpool during the tier 3 lockdowns, and they argued hard that gyms were not the problem and should be part of the solution. At the time less than 2% of cases were thought to be coming from gyms, keeping fit is only going to help people’s chances if they do get COVID-19 and it is a key part of protecting people’s mental health and well-being in a period of isolation and high stress. They eventually won that battle to stay open but now like everything else in the UK have been forced to close once more.

THE SWEET SPOT

I’m not saying Madrid has done everything right, there are certainly calls for criticism in many quarters and I can’t say I totally understand why certain places have been without electricity for so long in Cañada Real.

But I’m certainly counting my blessings that I’m based in Madrid right now – while their outbreaks have been shockingly high at times making them the European epicentre of the pandemic twice over, they seem to have found a way to get the numbers down without shutting the entire city down even if they have had to confine it fairly frequently.

I’ve been frustrated by the polarised debate that you are either pro-lockdown and protecting life or an evil capitalist bastard that wants to open everything up with no restrictions or protections for workers, Madrid to me shows there is a middle way.

Some of the recent cities I’ve visited are taking a far more restrictive approach, Mexico City – with its alcohol bans over Christmas, New York – indoor and now outdoor dining banned, UK – schools shut and a devastating national lockdown.

Madrid by comparison feels like a sweet spot, schools are open as are bars, restaurants, shops, gyms and cultural spaces.

It’s feels like one of the last places where it’s still legal to have a drink at a bar indoors at 10pm, and so I don’t think there is anywhere I’d rather be to ride out this last bleak winter. So, life in a confined city, really isn’t that bad at all.

The stats in Madrid are likely to rise in January given the Christmas festivities, and my husband is expecting further restrictions to follow the inevitable increase in cases. I have a feeling though that Madrid has shown its hand and will fight to keep as much of the city open as possible – while confining certain problem areas, and the city as needed – to keep a handle on rising case rates.

I could be wrong, but if they didn’t shut the entire city at 2,000 cases per 100,000 I think it’s safe to say they aren’t going to when the rates are circa 450/100,0000. While the strategy in Madrid has been argued about incessantly, they did somehow manage to get cases down to 200/100,000 in November. Rightly or wrongly, it would have to get a whole lot worse for Madrid to agree to full lockdown and the home confinement measures seen in the Spring.

I guess we’ll only be able to see the full impact of different approaches long after this is all over, but it will be interesting to compare the stats from June onwards in Madrid with Barcelona (much heavier restrictions) and London, New York, Mexico City, Paris etc and see how different major cities have faired overall and the cost of these differing approaches.

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