12 July 2020 – Sunday – #103

A taste of social life in Barcelona after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Yesterday Ana prepared a BBQ feast at Casa Solar. The night before, on Friday, we went shopping for hamburger meat, chicken wings, avocados, watermelon, and other summer treats. Ana knows the Gracia markets like that back of her hand. She showed me her favorite butchers, produce stands, and Mexican supply stores. These are things that are hard to learn during confinement.

Another thing that’s hard to learn during a lockdown is local restaurants. There are many and the locals are a perfect shortcut to finding the best. After shopping, Ana took me to Entrepanes Díaz for a late meal. I say “late,” but it was only 9pm. As the sun was setting, the place was starting to fill up, nearly everyone sitting outside.

Sorry my food porn is mid-stride, but you get the idea.

Tapas and vermut at Entrepanes Díaz, 10 July 2020.

The mashed potato and beef tail dish at the top left is a Spanish version of shepherd’s pie spiced with a picante sauce. The ubiquitous roasted peppers and pan tomate should be familiar to Spanish diners. The little oval shells are what remains of tallarinas, a sort of micro-shellfish, in a green olive oil sauce. The crunchy micro-shrimp from down the coast are eaten whole. Not in the photo is a fish similar to a sardine, but smaller. Later came the perfect chocolate dessert a la mode. Since you asked, all this (with two drinks each) came out to a little over US$40 a head.

The hardest part about the BBQ itself was the guest list. I’m trying to limit social events at Casa Solar to ten. Covid-19 is a numbers game and the best way to avoid a scandalous news story about hosting a superspreading event is to limit headcount. Infections are going to happen. Spain has 73 active outbreaks right now and recorded 241 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday.

We’re not out of the woods. Normally, I’d do an email blast to friends and anyone could come to the BBQ. Coordinating with Ana, we were adding one guest at a time until we got to eight confirmed and a few “maybe’s.” We ended up at eleven. So far, it hasn’t turned into a scandalous superspreader event, or even a scandalous event, for that matter.

Then comes the awkwardness of greetings. I’m all in on the elbow bump, but some guests go for the traditional kiss on each cheek. I’m learning to extend my elbow quickly and grin before a guest gets close. Usually the elbow bump suffices for the traditional peck. Once people are inside, masks come off. There’s good cross-ventilation at Casa Solar and the terrace seems safe with a gentle breeze carrying away any possible viral load in a whirl of hot charcoal smoke.

Although I’ve witnessed parties at neighbors’ terraces across the street, I wasn’t quite sure about Spanish BBQ protocol. It turns out these events extend the entire afternoon. I learned from guests more than I’ll ever remember about BBQ timing of various Latin cultures, except that for Argentinians it seems that the drinking and cooking is the main event and, after a few hours, the eating is practically an afterthought. An afternoon of partying was fine by me after the last few months’ lack of social life.

The festivities didn’t stop after the BBQ. I walked with Laura, Jacob, and Joan Miguel to an outdoor concert, my first live concert since March.

Cruïlla XXS outside Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, 11 July 2020.

Like all performing arts organizations, Cruïlla is figuring out how to navigate a post-lockdown environment. The ensemble played a medley of pop hits meant to draw a large audience. No wind players to spread virus onstage. A few of the string players wore masks. As you can see in the photo, the audience was well distanced. There were 400 tickets available. My unofficial count was about 200 sold. I’m not a huge fan of pop music concerts, but it still was transformative to sit outside and enjoy a live concert after so many months without live performances. The only reminder of Covid-19 was wearing a mask. Catalonia requires masks now in public spaces. No one here is protesting.

Other arts organizations are coming to life, too. There are a number of museums I hope to visit soon. MACBA, Barcelona’s contemporary art museum, is trying live performance to draw an inside crowd.

The worst part of living in Barcelona right now is reading Covid-19 news from the US. Sure, Spain has its problems. We’ll know by the end of this month whether Spanish public health authorities can control the inevitable Covid-19 outbreaks. There were rumors at the BBQ of more lockdowns this fall.

The US, on the other hand, seems stuck in a summer rash of uncontrolled Covid-19 outbreaks. Remember the wishful thinking that Covid-19 was seasonal, like the flu? It seems that air conditioning may be the way that not only southerners beat the hot weather, but also Covid-19 does as well.

One issue for the US is partisanship. Dr. Fauci calls out partisanship explicitly as a deterrent to the US Covid-19 response. The Covid-19 response probably seems to Fauci like a replay of Reagan’s response to HIV / AIDS.

Masks are one example of unnecessary partisanship. Trump and his supporters decided masks should be a partisan rather than a public health issue. Then Trump wore one.

The question is why Trump waited to wear a mask in public until 157,000 Americans died. The thing that got Trump to wear a mask wasn’t the death toll or the public health recommendations. He finally wore a mask a few days after Goldman Sachs predicted mask usage would give a trillion dollar uplift to the US GDP. Masks were partisan until they were economic.

Another issue with the US response to Covid-19 is the incompetence of the Trump administration. Besides the obvious problem of lobbying states to re-open early rather than follow CDC re-opening guidelines, Trump still is promoting hydroxychloroquine while missing obvious treatment opportunities like blood plasma.

[Dr. Michael] Joyner, of the Mayo Clinic, said there are probably 10 million to 20 million people in the U.S. carrying coronavirus antibodies — and the number keeps climbing. If just 2% of them were to donate a standard 800 milliliters of plasma on three separate occasions, their plasma alone could generate millions of IG shots for high-risk Americans.

Los Angeles Times, “A plasma shot could prevent coronavirus. But feds and makers won’t act, scientists say,” 10 July 2020.

The US is also woefully behind in Covid-19 testing even as Trump orders less testing. A South Korean case study for tracking down Covid-19 exposures after a weekend Covid-19 flare up shows why.

The 58k Covid-19 tests South Korea encouraged in order to track down all possible exposures during one bar event represents 1/10th of the current daily Covid-19 testing capacity of the US. In other words, the US could track down exposures for 10 bar incidents in the entire country each day and run out of testing capacity.

Why increase testing capacity to enable testing and tracking? Even though it takes a lot of tests to “see” a small outbreak, it’s a lot harder to slow things down after an outbreak is easy to see.

If you don’t trust me that the US Covid-19 response is a complete failure, look at the numbers. Three million infected and 157,000 dead. These numbers are far worse than EU, even though the US had more time to prepare for Covid-19 and more resources to apply.

Here’s a chilling failure analysis written as though the NTSC were analyzing a wreckage of a doomed flight.

The United States still possesses the strongest economy in the world, its military is by far the most powerful, its culture is diverse, and, confronted with the vicissitudes of history, the country has proved resilient. But a veteran of the intelligence world emphasized that the coronavirus era has revealed a sobering reality. “Our system has a single point of failure: an irrational president.” At least in an airplane cockpit, the first officer can grab the controls from a captain who is steering the aircraft toward doom.

The Atlantic, “The 3 Weeks That Changed Everything,” 29 June 2020.

The US failure affects me even though I’m in relatively safe Spain. When I moved to Barcelona, I expected lots of visits from friends and family. My Barcelona friends told me that, unlike other cities I’ve lived in, when friends say they will come to Barcelona, they show up. Brad and I even set up a nice guest room. Unfortunately, the US Covid-19 response is so disastrous that a US passport has become nearly worthless.

Medium, “American Passports Are Worthless Now,” 9 July 2020.

It’s also nearly impossible for me to travel to the US. If my mother were to become seriously ill, assuming I could find a flight, I then would have to quarantine for 14 days before I could see her. If she were sick enough for me to fly, I’m not sure whether I could make it in time. It bothers me that this situation is preventable. My situation is minor compared to others.

A few of the odd medical and science tidbits this week.

To finish off this week’s post, I’m bringing you two dystopian remixes of the promotional video for this weekend’s opening of Walt Disney World in Florida. The first is the Walt Disney World opening as an A24 trailer

The second is the Walt Disney World opening to the Ligeti Requiem.

Which do you like better?

As an encore, here is a Twitter thread of videos from the re-opening of Walt Disney World.

Seems to confirm the Harvard study that high-income people care more about their safety than pumping cash into the economy.


I’ve started tweeting about Covid-19 daily. I’ll continue blogging weekly for now until I see what kind of progress I make with other writing projects and my Spanish language skills. Please sign up for email notifications if you want to know when I post here.

Thanks for following along!

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