Musings from my lockdown in Spain, Will Appleyard.
I’ve been on locked down in Spain since 16th March. I chose to be here. The cabin crew aboard the EasyJet flight out of Gatwick eyed me quizzically at first and then further into the flight, politely probed me about what I was doing on a flight 99% full with Spaniard in a time of global crisis. At this time of course most people just want to go “home”. I felt vaguely like the writer Laurie Lee, returning to Spain in his late youth to find adventure in the form of the Spanish civil war, except I didn’t walk to the Pyrenees in winter, I can’t play the violin and other than the C word, there’s no war here. Oh and you can’t go anywhere except to the shop, but hey, I’ll afford myself some artistic licence in this instance.
Laurie Lee, upon reaching Spain, discovered that war was actually quite a boring affair and amused himself by writing about the characters he met during his time with the Brigadas Internacionales and by drinking a lot of wine. He was often trapped in towns or villages until sent on to another post to join a struggle that never saw him involved with much action at all.
I left England for a Spanish lockdown that prohibits any unnecessary movement outside of one’s own property, a trip to buy food, to the pharmacy or to walk your dog. I don’t have a dog. But what I do have here is a reasonable outside space complete with a typically Andalucian Springtime climate and an indoor space larger than my own in the UK. In addition, thankfully I feel healthy, good food is standard here and it’s cheap too. Spain is the garden of Europe and compared to many people’s current situation, I have very little to grumble about. Oh, and my partner is here too.
My various avenues of freelance work have moved to a lower gear for the time being, but I know that this is temporary and many people, or most of us even, are in the same boat. Writing and anything even remotely, vaguely creative, apart from a few daily dairy entries detailing my strange isolation-based observations, have been oppressed to an extent. I would of course, like the many, rather be out exploring and seeing family, friends and colleagues. But oddly, I’ve quite enjoyed this down time and I’m now exploring new territory - the “great indoors” (and base camp garden).
I have thought a lot recently about some of the other times in my life when I’ve almost unknowingly sought isolation and mentally drew up quite a tally. I think then, I would have considered them to be “remote places”, putting myself into a situation or place, waiting for better conditions or perhaps acclimatising or just being stuck in the van waiting for a few soggy Alpine days to pass. But of course, I had the ability to change my plans if I so desired - nevertheless, I still found myself in times of mental exploration, or if not, deep into a book or with my camera and with moments of boredom thrown in too.
One of my favourite places to be “stuck” in isolation is at sea. The sea is a strange place, a place of contrast because during these times I am surrounded by water as far as the horizon allows, yet able to venture no further than the boat’s proximity – above the water anyway. Diving affords me freedom from the boat and time to explore places that we aren’t designed to be visiting in the first place. Even here, underwater, our time is limited and I am but a brief visitor. I have restrictions underwater too, governed by my equipment, air supply and further limitations brought on by breathing compressed air at depth, absorbing more nitrogen than I should be by the second.
Late last year I embarked on a 900 nautical mile journey through Indonesia’s Banda Sea, exploring dive sites surrounding places with fabulously exotic sounding names such as The Forgotten Islands, The Banda or “Spice” Islands, Manuk Island (aka the island of snakes) and Raja Ampat. When not underwater, I was “confined” to the boat. Diving took up just three hours of the day and during a total of 12 days spent at sea, I stepped onto islands just twice and only briefly.
Early one morning, I flew the drone from the boat to escape and explore further afield - to gain an otherwise unattainable view of our floaty existence from way above. And looking back at the images from the screen, enjoyed the confirmation of our total insignificance in an otherwise blue expanse with only the occasional island on the horizon. I love this feeling and one for me that can also be experienced in the mountains. In a way, they’re one and the same place.
Crossings from one dive site to another would regularly take more than 10 hours, continually heading north, zig zagging between islands and expanses of sea. To begin with, looking out into the vast expanse of blue, the water appeared featureless, especially when windless, which it was for most my time at sea, but staring long enough and dolphins, flying fish and odd pieces of flotsam and jettison began to appear.
The same is true of the garden here, there is plenty to explore in just a small space. Stalks nest locally and I have enjoyed watching them finding thermals, climbing in a circular motion toward cloud base. We have researched some of the insects we’ve noticed going about their business and each evening at 8pm, the community stands outside their properties clapping in appreciation for the country’s medical personnel. And then, once that has finished, a neighbour broadcasts music for 20 minutes from their house and I genuinely look forward to these moments each day - con cerveza, por supuesto.
Rather than looking at photography online, I am now connecting more with friends via social media and I find putting life on hold really to be quite liberating; well, temporarily anyway. The stair case is my mountain for morning exercise and I’m much fitter than I was before I got here. But “with my head roaring with Spain and warmed to idiocy by wine” - to quote Laurie Lee, I am loaded like a spring to get into the wild again and to be out of breath and as soon as we are freed from the C word, I have dreamt of some grand plans that include huge hillside hikes, van trips to the sea and nights spent under a sky blasted with Andalucian stars.
Stay well everyone.
Will Appleyard, Gines, Seville, April 2020. All words and photographs Copyright Will Appleyard.
As I Walked Out One Summer’s Morning – Laurie Lee
A Moment of War – Laurie Lee
Arabia – Levison Wood