Americans in European Lock-Down — More Thoughts on the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is the second in a series of thoughts from lock-down while we’re in Spain.

Today we received an email letter from president of Stanford University about Stanford’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I assume this letter went out to all students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents of current students, and god knows who else all. In June of 1999 I ghost-wrote such a letter for then Stanford President John Hennessy. That letter was about Stanford’s Y2K preparedness. When I wrote that letter, the basic message was, “We’re in good shape. And even if things go sideways, we don’t expect anyone to die.” That’s definitely not the case with this letter!

The news from Italy is horrific. We are hopeful Spain got its act together more effectively than Italy, but I doubt it. I suspect Spain’s infection/death rate is just a few weeks behind Italy. We are grateful that we opted for a small resort town rather than a large city like Barcelona or Valencia. In addition to being small, it’s also still off-season so the apartment complexes (which are likely mostly vacation homes) seem to be empty. Our complex, for example, only has 9 cars parked in the 36 assigned parking spots.

New Observations from Lock-Down

  • Joy and I are emotionally and psychologically fine. After four years of nearly constant travel, we’re used to being on our own and living minimally. Even so, we really appreciate the FaceTime or WhatsApp calls we’ve had with friends and family back in the US. It’s nice for us to see and talk to other people.
  • Last night we did an online puzzle with friends Tom and Lynn back in the Bay Area. Lynn refers to these as “The Hunker Games.” We connected via Zoom (an online meeting application) so we could see each other and chat the whole time we worked. To start your own shared puzzle, which you can then share, visit
  • We are more likely to kill the dog than each other. He can be a real dick when he’s cooped up too much.
  • We drove down to the beach (about three blocks from the grocery store) so we could run Brighton back and forth before going shopping. 5 minutes of this wears him out in a way that walks don’t. Being a whippet, he just needs to run periodically.
  • Being on the beach was eerie. We were the only living things on the beach. Even the gulls seem to be hunkered down.
  • As we neared the grocery store we could see that police had set up another roadblock to question people. Our route to the beach & grocery store took us along side streets that coincidentally avoided the police block. We decided to return home via those back streets.
  • Out of habit, Joy reached down to pet the dog of woman waiting her turn to enter the butcher. The woman scolded Joy quite loudly, and in retrospect, it was a mistake on Joy’s part. Who knows where Joy’s hand has been.
  • The grocery store has a sign at the registrar asking shoppers to use credit cards instead of cash. (Cash is an extremely efficient way to pass on germs. If you’ve not read it, check out The White Plague by Frank Herbert.) In Europe, everyone (except Americans) just waves their credit cards near the card reader. Fortunately, our high-end credit card has that feature, though it doesn’t always work. If it doesn’t work, because it’s an American card, I have to sign the receipt.
  • I’ve stopped using shopping carts or baskets. I just put things into my re-usable bag and carry that around while I shop.
  • Joy mentioned that she feels incredible social pressure to wear a mask when out. Even if masks were available, we wouldn’t buy them as they are so desperately needed by health care folks.
Online shared puzzle
Nearly complete 600 piece online puzzle – Bonus: find the 3 participants’ mini hands

Other Observations

  • When you step out of the shower and discover your towel has slipped off its hook and landed in the bidet, your dirty t-shirt makes a fine towel.
  • Our water heater matches our kitchen appliances. It, too, was made by the Easy Bake Oven people. As a Californian with lots of experience living through droughts, I naturally take short showers. Even a California shower is right on the edge of running out of hot water.

Putting Our Situation in Context

It feels like we’re living a made-for-tv disaster movie. If only we had Morgan Freeman (Deep Impact), Bill Pullman (Independence Day), or Danny Glover (2012) for US President. Actually, if we literally had Morgan Freeman, the actor, as president, I suspect we’d be doing better.

As I thought about how life compares to one of those movies, I wondered what roles Joy and I are filling. We’ve made it past the initial set of people who die right away to set context for how grave the situation is. These people get credits billing like, “lady with shopping cart.” Then there is the long middle section with lots of people succumbing either to the ongoing disaster or to fellow asshole survivors (looking at you, young people out partying). I am hopeful we are reaching that middle section now. Joy and I are working hard to survive past that section of the film. But it would also suck to be in the role of “the people you’re rooting for ’cause they’re good-hearted, but you’re shocked and disappointed when, just before the disaster is over, they don’t make it.” We do have last names, so maybe we’re the plucky sidekicks. (If you don’t get that movie reference, shame on you.)

Hang in there everyone — just not with each other.

5 thoughts on “Americans in European Lock-Down — More Thoughts on the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. My fingers are crossed for you guys – even though I couldn’t find the hands in the jigsaw puzzle’s picture.

    About here: lots of neighbors offering help via I actually used a neighbor to go shopping for juices for me yesterday (I don’t drink coffee or tea and only water is borrrrring!) We used my front porch as the place of exchange and they reminded me to use gloves when i bring in the groceries.


  2. Hi Tony and Joy. We are semi locked down here in Madison. Lois working from home. The cat says “what’s the big deal! I’ve been quarantined since we moved to Wisconsin.” Anyway stay safe. Don’t wear a red shirt (Star Trek ref). Best Aaron and Lois.


  3. This is a wonderful time to catch up on all the projects that never seem as important in the moment compared to going out to a movie or hiking with a group of friends. Unfortunately most projects require a trip to the hardware store to pick up gopher bombs, wood screws, lamp hardware, mauve paint, etc. So maybe I’ll learn photoshop or hack into the KGB archives and find Jason Bourne.


    1. I vote for hacking the KGB. Easier than learning PhotoShop. When I was actively using it, I think I was only using about 8% of the functionality. Ah, projects. Because we’re in an AirBnB, we don’t have projects like, “sort through old clothes” or organize the tupperware.


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