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News From Catalonia

by Elizabeth Bryson

In our break-out rooms, I am often asked where I am, so I thought I would write something about life here in Spain.

Firstly, I should explain where I live. We are in Catalonia, in northeast Spain. We are about 90 miles south of Barcelona, just outside El Perello, a small town/large village of a similar size to Amble. Our house is on a hillside and has a fantastic view of the sea, and of the delta of the Ebro river, the longest river in Spain. The area is very rural, producing honey, oil, almonds, carobs, and rice. There is an inshore fishing industry which includes farmed bass and bream, as well as the mussel beds on the delta. It is very dependent on the tourist industry, but there are no high-rise hotels or large resorts, such as you would find on the Costa del Sol, for example.

River Ebro from Miravet Castle

This is an area of contrasts, with craggy mountains and dead flat rice paddies, rolling vine-covered hills and semi-arid olive plantations, wild pine forests and bustling little villages. There is also a motorway and main-line railway only 10 minutes from our house, and within an hour’s drive, 2 major towns with important Roman remains, a major chemical industry, and no less than 2 nuclear power plants. On our doorstep there is a vast “parc eolic “ (wind farm) sprawling across the hills behind the village.

Harvesting rice in the Ebro delta

At the moment, we are at the tail end of winter, with spring almost-but-not-quite breaking out all over. The almond trees are in blossom, grass is growing, and the waste ground on the edge of the village is full of field marigolds and Bermuda buttercups. We have had heather, rosemary and gorse in flower right through the winter, and soon there will be wild jonquils, pimpernels, grape hyacinths and lots more joining in the spring riot. This is a big fruit-growing area, and by March there are vast expanses of peach, plum and cherry orchards in full blossom along the course of the Ebro.

In June, the hot weather arrives; all the flowers die off, the grass shrivels, and nature goes dormant until the autumn brings lower temperatures and a little rain. Many ex-pats flee the country in July and August, when the thermometer is mostly stuck in the 30s, and 40 plus is not unknown. Having a pool and at least some air-conditioning becomes almost essential.

I have been asked several times whether we have a stricter lockdown than the UK, but to be honest, I don’t know. It certainly differs in some ways. Spain is divided into 17 regions, or autonomous communities, which have responsibility for managing the detail of the response to the Covid crisis within their area.

Catalonia was initially one of the worst-affected regions, but now has a relatively low infection rate. Since January, we have had a quite strict lockdown, or confinement, as they call it. We have not been allowed to move beyond the borders of our village or municipality, except for essential travel - for example, hospital visits - and there has been a curfew from 10pm till 6am. People can meet their friends out of doors for walks, but a mask must be worn at all times - as soon as you leave your front door. Up to 6 people from 2 households are allowed to meet indoors.

Bars, restaurants and cafes are open for 2 hours at breakfast time, and for 2 and a half hours for lunch. There are limits on the numbers of customers, and there is nothing open in the evening except for take-away food. Church services have restarted, with 30 per cent occupancy, but gyms and other indoor sports activities have been shut.

This week we have had a slight easing of the rules; bars etc can stay open a little longer in the afternoon, we can travel within our own “comarca” (similar in size to the districts within Northumberland), and my husband’s badminton group has been able to restart! But large shops and shopping malls are still closed, and on Saturdays only essential shops (mainly food shops and chemists) are open. (Spain is shut on Sunday anyway.)

Unfortunately Spain, like most of the EU, is short of vaccines against Covid, and so far only the residents of old people’s homes and their carers have been vaccinated. We don’t think we will be offered the vaccine for at least the next 2 months.

These are 2 photos I took 3 weeks ago, when Catalonia had a snow storm. The first shows the hillside next to our house; the other was taken the same day, only 4 miles away on the other side of the hills which are behind the village.



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