No caiga el muro poster

Dispatch from a Spanish Lock-Down Episode 4 by John Miskelly

Mar 30, 2020

Thanks to Spanish artist Felix Rodriguez Fernandez aka Mr Zé for the above illustration. More of this series and other pieces can be found at

Day 11: Am I ill? How ill? Is there even such a thing as a real quarantine?

Spain: 56,118 cases
Asturias: 841 cases

What constitutes a persistent cough
I’ll say this plainly to get the gasps of audience alarm out of the way quickly: I have a cough. I understand if you need to sit down or stick your head out the window at this point to gather yourselves.

It’s a dry cough, to the extent that I know what that’s even supposed to feel like. Is it “persistent”? I don’t know. I mean I know the meaning of the word “persistent” but I don’t know it’s meaning in relation to a cough. I would say it’s more “insistent,” maybe “needy.” I have a needy cough.

The human psyche never respected statistics
So far I don’t have any other symptoms and I don’t know what order or at what stage each one is supposed to come at. Is the fever supposed to come before the cough? Should I have lost my sense of smell or taste yet? Am I one of the ones who’s under forty but ends up hospitalized anyway, who’s photo—on a hospital bed, oxygen mask on, eyes like a Victorian urchin child—ends up in a finger-wagging tweet by a moralizing hack designed to shock the young out of their supposed callous egomania? Statistically this is unlikely, but then when has the human psyche ever really respected statistics?

If I could somehow know it was Coronavirus in whatever severity, it might mean I could at least then appreciate the relief that comes from just knowing where I stand. I would be relieved of at least the waiting and the wondering. The truth is though that without widespread testing the likes of which is credited with saving South Korea the weeks and months of unfolding fuckdom Western Europe and the U.S. is facing, chances are I’ll never know. According to this morning’s El País the massive batch of quick tests Spain bought from China don’t actually work. This country cannot catch a single paltry break recently. Now China’s saying Spain bought them from an unlicensed seller. Huh? Like out of some sketchy-looking dude’s trunk in the car park of a Wendy’s? The few tests Spain does have are rightly reserved for the elderly and health workers. So we continue to scratch our heads and mentally backtrack fourteen days, ticking off encounters and events we attended with more than ten people and take into account the five-day average time that people begin to show symptoms and wonder how rapidly symptoms progress once they begin. It’s like unravelling that film Inception if Inception was actually as clever as people said it was. Anyway for obvious reasons I’m working on the assumption that I do have it in me. Which at least gives me another way to fill the empty hours of my day: disinfecting everything I touch. My housemates and I share two rooms—the kitchen and the bathroom—and it’s my duty as a considerate non-callous asshole to make sure I don’t leave traces of invisible lurgy dotted about the house. To this end I now carry a spray bottle of disinfectant and cloth around the flat with me, spraying down every item and surface and light switch and door handle and cooker knob and toilet flush and washing machine controls I encounter whenever I might use it. Privately they’re probably cursing me. I don’t blame them. They themselves were five days away from their own two-week finish line and the peace of mind that that would bring.

Or, I should say, they would have been: one’s taken a job at a supermarket. I can’t blame her; she’s been unemployed for several weeks and had told our landlady that, despite a rent reprieve of fifty percent for the three of us for April, she’d have to move out. So she’s taken what outside of the health sector is currently one of the most dangerous jobs in the country—customer facing, handling money, interacting with people. Not that she seems concerned. When she arrives back after her first shift I press upon her the need to wash her hands, to shower, take off her shoes, ditch the clothes she’s worked in. She gives me a “joder, cálmate abuelo” look. To her I’m probably another finger-wagging bore moralizing at her about millennials not caring about the aged such as my thirty-four-year-old self. In the last twenty minutes she’s arrived back from her second day and I haven’t heard a tap run yet. So effectively every day my fourteen days resets itself.

An uninterrupted quarantine probably doesn't exist
The truth is of course that outside of a small percentage of the population in any given country an uninterrupted quarantine probably won’t exist. Without a secure income and rent relief people will feel the need to work, thus putting themselves and those they go home to at some level of risk. For the precariously housed, the precariously employed and the precarious of health there’ll be no (or should I say even less) real peace of mind, not for a long time.

ice rink in Madrid is a morgue
Meanwhile, outside of my front door Spain cracks on. Medical retirees and fast-tracked med students have already been recruited back into the workforce. All private hospitals have been requisitioned. Public and private space has been converted into makeshift hospital wards. A giant ice-rink in a Madrid shopping centre has been converted into a morgue—a fucking morgue. And what of it after all this? Will Madrileñas ever be able to skate there again free of unease and the thought of what it was and what was contained there? How will any of these places return to normal?

Back in Xixón a student of mine with a degree in radiology but no actual professional experience in the field (she’s training to be a flight assistant) has been called up to work. I send her an encouraging message. She replies; “Thanks for the support. If you could see…, it’s all saturated, it’s chaotic, I hope it ends soon!” As I write, the Feria de Maestra—a kind of exhibition centre on the edge of town—is being converted into a makeshift hospital for less serious cases of COVID-19, thus freeing up space in the main hospital for the more seriously ill. In terms of size and population Asturias has a below national average infection rate. I can’t imagine the carnage unfolding in hospitals in Madrid and Barcelona.

But there is a light on the horizon; articles are beginning to appear tentatively suggesting a flattening of the curve, a passing of the peak. Asturias has seen a reduction on the daily jump in infections and deaths, as have other comunidades. Plus my new acoustic guitar just arrived. Time to take my mind off things with a few Lemonheads renditions. After I disinfect the fucker, I mean.

¡Solidaridad para Siempre!


John Miskelly lives in Gijón/Xixón, Asturias. He is thirty-four years old and hasn’t coughed for a good twenty minutes.