Coronavirus Diary: Barcelona, Spain - Culinary Backstreets | Culinary Backstreets
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Do I have a fever? Am I coughing more than normal? My paranoia about potential coronavirus symptoms seems to be quite widespread, judging by my family and friends. After more than one week confined inside the walls of our homes in Spain, our moods have run the whole gamut from joking and laughing in chats and on social media about toilet paper or funny protection outfits to a more intimate anguish and uncertainty.

Questions keep swirling in my head: How are we going to survive this tremendous health crisis? How are we going to come back from this economic standstill? What is going to happen to all our beloved bars, bodegas, restaurants and all the other small and family businesses that will be closed for so long? How is this storm going to change us?

At home, I have selected four bottles of wine to pass the quarantine, Galician wines, albariño (a white) from Rías Baixas O.D. (Designation of Origin) and Ribeiro O.D., which we drank on our recent trip to Galicia – we fit it in right under the wire, before the whole world shut its doors to stop the spread of Covid-19. I open one to share (virtually) with some friends on Skype.

Everybody has their own tools to ride out the coronavirus storm. Mine are writing, meditation, wine (with some specific limits in place, otherwise the first two activities would never get done) and the municipal market. Because visiting a municipal market is more than going to a store or a supermarket to buy the things I need – it’s a healing journey to the heart of the neighborhood, which is still beating even when all the rest of the city is paralyzed (apart from hospitals, the frontlines in the war against Covid-19).

La Boquería is my local market, the heart of my neighborhood. Las Ramblas are eerily empty on this sunny early spring day, but La Boquería, as all the other municipal markets in Barcelona, is partially open. The market was about to celebrate its 180th anniversary; obviously, the party was pushed back to October. The procedure is the same in all the markets: A cleaning team disinfects the space every day, and only a small number of clients can enter at a time. Once inside, they must maintain a certain distance from one another and pay with either a card or their phone, and it’s forbidden to touch any products. The markets also facilitate a delivery service for people who need it.

“Of course, yes, tell everybody we are here and open, they can come to La Boquería, you must tell them,” says one of the fishmongers at Palmira, a fish stall. They are chatty and happy to see clients around. While I can’t see their smiles behind their masks, I can feel the compassion and kindness in their words and eyes. Like everybody else, they’re just looking to survive this. “Julia Otero – the famous Spanish radio journalist – is also our client, and she was here yesterday and she will spread the word too. The markets are open, and the fish is fresh, look. Come everybody!” she adds when I ask them, after buying my fresh mackerel and hake, if I can take a photo. All of Palmira’s employees come together enthusiastically for my picture, a gesture that would be unthinkable on a regular day of work in the usually crowded market, which is also one of Barcelona’s busiest tourist spots.

When I return home, my fish and vegetables feel like a kind of treasure. Especially because so many Spanish fishermen aren’t working at the moment – with all the restaurants closed, the price of fish took a nosedive. Plus, the demands of the job are such that the crew would have to be in constant physical contact. They’re currently ask for economic support, some kind of subsidy from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), to help them get through this crisis. On the other hand, agricultural laborers and farmers must keep working because nature doesn’t stop, and they have to guarantee the food supply. But some of them, especially from the inner Spanish provinces like Badajoz, Cáceres, Jaen, Córdoba and Ciudad Real, are using their tractors to disinfect their villages with water and bleach. Priorities have shifted.

In the meantime, we can follow chefs on social media to stay close and feel stronger. The culinary journalist Mikel Iturriaga, who writes for the El Comidista section of El País, prepared a “confined potato omelet” last week in a live broadcast from his home. The recipe was a version of the dish that unites us in this complicated country, but with the addition of “confited” piquillo peppers, a play on the word “confined.”

The chef Sergi de Meiá is one of several offering cooking videos from their kitchens on social media. Carles Pérez de Rozas, the chef-owner of Berbena, sent an amazing message apologizing for not sharing elaborate tutorials or cooking from home and instead sharing his feelings and fears with all his clients. He received an outpouring of support.

It is 8 p.m. People are clapping out their windows, and I can hear all kind of horns and some instruments, too. In some neighborhoods, locals also sing and dance on the balconies. It is our daily tribute to the healthcare workers, the ones on the frontlines. The Spanish “emotional vaccine” (as El País called it) is a song called “Resisteré” (“I Will Resist”), which was popularized by Dúo Dinámico in 1988 – the healthcare workers, from nurses to hospital cooks, are singing it during these days to inject a bit of energy into their exhausted bodies. We depend on them. They are the heroes of this big war against a tiny virus.

It is going to be a long month – I will definitely need more wine. And I will continue to soften the blow of confinement by visiting my neighborhood market in quick but cheerful bursts, soaking up as much sun as I can on my short walk along the empty Ramblas. Of course, this too shall pass, and we will be back soon to celebrate our beloved bars, bodegas and restaurants – we miss you guys!

For more information and to inquire about deliveries, here are the telephone numbers for the main municipal markets:

Mercat de La Boquería: 933 04 02 70
Mercat de Sant Antoni: 934 26 35 21
Mercat de Santa Caterina: 933 19 57 40
Mercat de la Concepció: 675 69 36 16
Mercat de la Llibertat: 933 68 79 46
Mercat de L’Abacería Central: 932 13 62 86
Mercat del Ninot: 933 23 49 09 / 934 53 03 60
Mercat de Sants: 932 69 44 72
Mercat del Clot: 932 65 90 90
Mercat de Sant Andreu: 933 45 11 48

Editor’s note: With the coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis rapidly and profoundly impacting many of the cities we work in, we’ve asked some of our correspondents to file dispatches detailing how they and the places they live in are coping with this new reality. Our eighth report is from Barcelona; Spain recently became the second worst-hit country by Covid-19.

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