Scenes From a Balcony During Quarantine

Girona, Catalunya

Friday 20 March, 2020

Exciting times! After having been cooped up for a week now, the feeling of uncertainty is broken. Not because anyone knows what’s going on, but because two police officers have appeared in the street below. The school alarm went off for about ten minutes and neighbors appear on their balconies. This is our amusement now. Anything that happens in the dead streets is a welcome break in the monotony.

The male officer checks the fence while the female presses the buzzer to see if anyone is inside.

There’s a cleaner who comes out with a black bin liner and a brush.

‘Is everything ok in there?’ the guy asks her in Spanish.

‘Yeah, sure, I just forgot the code,’ she replies.

And that’s it. That’s what brought us rushing out onto our balconies. Almost everyone else goes back inside but I stay out and watch the officers zoom off on their motorbikes, thinking they must be rather sweaty underneath their heavy uniforms.

I bet there’s a dead body in that black bag.


Sunday 29 March, 2020

My small domain is nevertheless a kingdom. I know it inch by inch, from its lightly sun-stained brown tiles to its slowly rusting white railings. Tiny pieces of pebbledash are starting to unstick from the low wall I use to rest my feet on. I share it with the washing at the moment, hanging out to dry. Underpants and t-shirts make the occasional lazy flick in a sudden gust of wind.

The trees also quiver slightly and a blue-tit flits from twig to twig, bursts of energy, and curious head-tilts. The foliage hasn’t grown thick enough to hide it. Now it sits still, bobbing with the branch. It shits.

The shit lands on the windshield of a black Toyota speckled with dirt. Seen from above, I think the cars look like giant tortoises without legs.

I look up again. Watch people on balconies far from mine. One guy is doing yoga in shorts and a headband. Another is pacing up and down. Maybe he’s angry. Maybe he’s exercising. Maybe he just doesn’t know what the hell else to do.

The woman below me is reading. I can see her legs poking out, toenails painted a weird shade of green.


Saturday 4 April, 2020

I’m annoyed. And there’s nowhere I can storm off to except the balcony.

It’s dark and chilly, even though during the day it was warm. I could switch on the light but that means going inside again. I’m using the light coming through the glass door.

I’ve missed the virtual pub quiz that was happening tonight because Toni was making his typical Colombian buñuelos and there was an oil explosion in the kitchen. And so we had to spend several hours cleaning up oil from the floor, the cupboards, the extractor fan, the fridge, the chopping board – the oil’s never coming out of that – the bottle of wine, even the ceiling. There was even an oil-fall dripping down the oven creating a great, slippery pool.

I’m grateful no one was hurt and neither of us had to go to the hospital, especially these days. But I’m still mad. Nobody wants to clean on a Saturday night. Saturday nights are for gin.


Sunday 5 April, 2020

At least today I have time to paint. And because it’s oil, I’m trying to get it to dry faster in the sun. It’s a skull on top of some cheesecake. I got the idea from watching one of Eddie Izzard’s old stand-up shows when he talks about religion. A little odd, maybe, but I like quirky.

I’ve been painting and drawing a little with the lockdown. It’s been nice not having to rush off to classes with only half an hour to eat lunch. Silver linings. One of the sketches was a Hockney style portrait; the National Portrait Gallery set up a challenge while quarantine is going on. There are lots of these things available now, which I think is amazing for bump-starting people’s creativity.

I also started writing more regularly again and even got some very positive responses from a mini-story posted on Instagram. I’ll have to try to keep this up.

Hmm. There’s a man next door on the balcony playing pachanga music. Loudly. What’s the balcony etiquette here?


Friday 1 May, 2020

I’ve been taking part in another Instagram art challenge for the past few weeks. It’s been giving me something else to look forward to every day if I feel like it. Depending on the topic. Some are simple (a banana or a lemon), some are cute (a dormouse), and others deceptively difficult (like the planet Saturn. It’s a sphere so it shouldn’t be that hard, right? Wrong. I couldn’t get it right. So I sketched Goya’s Saturn eating his child.).

It helps by giving me a structure to the days, even if it’s only half an hour of messing about with watercolours or oil pastels.

Strictly speaking, not all of these belong in the Balcony Diaries, but a handful at least have been painted outside, with me making a nest of cushions on the speckled tiles.


Thursday 14 May, 2020

This week has seen two more dramas out on the street: one was a poor girl crying in her mask as she lost control of her dog, which had slipped the leash, and the other was a guy who must have been running and tripped on the curb.

It’s been pretty quiet recently, so two in a week has been an excess of occurrences. And both have open endings. I have no idea if the girl managed to get her fluffy, skittish dog back (thank goodness traffic has been reduced pretty dramatically) and no idea if the man was as injured as people thought he was. An ambulance was called, as the guy – despite being fit and young – was lying in such a way as to suggest a potential back injury. He was face down sort of planking between two curbs and a car. He sounded fine but of course, passersby told him not to move, just in case. Moments later, wailing in the air heralded the arrival of the ambulance. Less than ten minutes is fast. I head in before they load him into the vehicle. I really hope he’s okay. I wonder if the hospitals are going to see a lot more sports-related injuries.


Saturday 23 May, 2020

Today we had a lovely surprise! Since Girona entered phase one of un-lockdown, people have been able to cautiously meet up in small groups, no more than ten people. We haven’t yet; we’re still getting used to the idea of it.

However, just as we’d finished making some scrumptious Colombian empanadas, our friend Pau called me to say that he, his brother, and another mutual friend were downstairs on the street and they had a gift for us. I darted out onto the balcony, hung up the phone, and we chatted as Romeo and Juliet must have done, minus the masks hanging from their fingers.

“Oh, it’s so nice to see you!” were the cries of delight from all parties. And it really was, even though I was squinting because of the bright sunshine.

Toni was tin-foiling up some empanadas to take downstairs while I was asking the trio questions about their day and what they were doing.

“It’s my brother’s birthday,” Pau shouted up.

“Oh, happy birthday! We’re sending you something too; Toni’s going down now,” I said.

‘”Thank you! By the way, you look like Rapunzel with your plait,” he said.

My hair has grown a fair bit – not going to the hairdresser’s in a month will do that.

“If only it was longer, but even then I’m pretty sure you’d be breaking the rules if you climbed up,” I said.

It felt wonderful to be joking around, almost like normal. Even from above, I can see Pau’s hair has grown too; it’s a tangle of dark curls springing upwards and outwards.

Toni stayed on the street with them for about ten minutes, exchanging empanadas for nespres – incidentally, I didn’t know the English word but apparently they’re called medlar fruits – respecting all the regulations, even though it’s hard not to hug people you love.

Then they had to go do the shopping, so with many a wave and exaggerated thrown kisses we said goodbye with the promise of meeting up soon. I hope we can. I miss people and their kindness and jokes. But I’m grateful we were able to have even that fleeting interaction.


Monday 1 June, 2020

We’re now in phase two of de-lockdown! (What is the term in English?) Not that it matters because we’re not going out today – we’ve just had an epic thunder and lightning storm, complete with apocalyptic rainfall. I was even worried we may have the balcony flooded but fortunately, it’s stopped just short of the door.

What I really wanted to write about was the wonderful, intimate dinner party we had at a friend’s house last night.

There are five of us: Toni, me, another couple Josh and Elaine, and John. We haven’t seen each other for literally three months (not counting Skype or Zoom) so it’s a special occasion. I even decide to dress up and wear some mascara – I haven’t worn makeup in months either! I’m a little concerned I’ll jab my eye with the wand so I’m very careful when I apply it. I pick out some cute blue and red dangly earrings which I regret later when putting on the mask. But they go so well with my woven top I don’t want to change them.

I’ve made a strawberry cheesecake and medlar and mint slices. I have no idea what Josh and Elaine are making but whatever it is I bet it’ll be delicious. There’s something about tasting another person’s cooking after only eating your own for three months.

When Toni and I arrive, it’s almost as perfect as I imagined: the only thing missing is the hugging and kissing I so badly crave. Having climbed the poky staircase with its kitsch green and yellow tiles up three flights, we are greeted with a shower of verbal warmth. Elaine plays fridge Tetris for my cheesecake and we take a few beers to the balcony, their amazing balcony that overlooks the river, the Eiffel bridge, and Girona cathedral. I almost cry, I’m so happy to see it.  We have dips and snacks and conversations about computer games and series and our perception of how Covid-19 will change or has changed, the fabric of social bonding. We’re all animated and despite each wanting to talk, I think it’s amazing how we still recognize the roles of social engagement and turn-taking. I wonder if some people simply talk and talk out of sheer desperation and loneliness.

We go inside for the main meal of chicken curry, as the balcony is too small for all us to eat with large plates, but we are soon back outside. Night has fallen and the cathedral is still illuminated by the focus light. Seagulls glide and flap, circling the spire, from light to shadow to light again.

Talking about music turns us all into phone DJs for a while and we reminisce about the 90s, the music we grew up with: Spice Girls, New Radicals, Missy Elliot, Len, Greenday… then someone puts on Tenacious D and it turns into a sing-along. Three out of the five croons along to Fuck Her Gently and Tribute. I’m transported back to university ten, even twelve, years ago and I think how quickly time has been devoured. But I don’t feel old. I feel rejuvenated. I bask in the glowing tendrils of friendship, invisible but tangible all the same.

by Abigail Jones

Having shelved the writing dream for a good few years, I've decided to get back on it and this is my first real foray into the professional writing wilderness.

I'm currently based in Girona, Catalunya, teaching English to pay the bills. Fortunately, it's not all present simple and phrasal verbs; I got to design my own course so I can share my passion for literature by haphazardly flinging Austen, du Maurier and Zusak around the classroom to Catalan students.

When I'm not reading or scribbling, I love watching old films, painting the weird and wonderful conjurings of my brain, testing out various cheesecake recipes, and being competitive at games evenings.

My goal is to nurture this passion for writing, put it out into world, and hopefully connect with readers enough for them to say: "That's exactly how I feel."

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