Barcelona Blues The COVID-19 Chronicles: How we ended up confined in an apartment in Spain

View from the apartment | 


This is one of a series of first-person accounts of how COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders around Monterey Bay are affecting us all. If you would like to share your thoughts about living under the sheltering sky send your essay to us at

Story and photos by Arlen Grossman

I was listening to a newscast recently and heard the United States and Spain were the countries with the fastest growing cases of coronavirus.

Just our luck: My wife and I are temporarily residing in Barcelona. But our home is in Del Rey Oaks. And to top that off, our son left Oakland to visit his girlfriend in New Orleans, the coronavirus’s newest hot spot.

Here’s how we ended up in Spain. I am a semi-retired teacher, and my wife Nancy Allison had just retired after 30 years as a Spanish teacher and  chair of the Foreign Language department at the Stevenson School in Pebble Beach.

One of Nancy’s dreams was to spend a few months living in Spain. In her college days, she had spent a year studying in Seville and loved it. I agreed to accompany her as I was struggling at home, for the umpteenth time, with another Spanish language class. I figured I could improve my language skills over there, and besides, the whole trip was bound to be an adventure (if we only knew!).

After months of frustration trying to get a visa for an extended stay in Spain at the consulate in San Francisco, we learned of a way to obtain a student visa while in Barcelona.

We flew there, arriving Nov. 25, and a week later rented a three-bedroom apartment (here they say “flat”) within walking distance of Gaudi’s renowned cathedral, the Sagrada Familia.

Our life then consisted of taking language classes (Spanish for me, Catalan for Nancy) during the week, and on weekends, exploring the city and its sights as well as the surrounding areas.

In late December, our two grown children, Jeff and Corinne, and our son’s girlfriend, enjoyed spending two weeks visiting us and exploring the country. Our efforts to get them here were well worth it.

Then, in February, we started to hear about a dangerous virus that had emerged in China. The coronavirus attacked Spain with a vengeance, and on March 14 the government declared a “state of alarm.” For us and Spanish citizens this meant we were on lockdown, only able to leave our home for necessities.

Nancy and I have confined ourselves to our modest apartment, after loading up with necessary food and supplies. We did find some fortunate help. Across the hall from us is a friendly young family of Americans with two little children.

The husband is from Florida (with a heavy Southern accent) and his wife from South Carolina. They volunteered to go shopping for us vulnerable geezers (I am 71, Nancy is 62). That means we don’t have to leave our apartment, other than to take out the trash and the recycling. We are certainly confined, but as safe as anybody can be in this country.

We have been spending the weeks since exploring ways to keep ourselves engaged in constructive and fun activities. Our language school closed, but began to offer online classes with the instructor. Nancy continues her Catalan during the week, but learning in an online class does not appeal to me. Besides, at my age I find myself learning five new words while forgetting three old ones. I prefer to study my own way.

To keep in shape, we follow yoga and exercise videos. And outside our door are five flights of stairs. By walking up and down them, the heart starts pounding very quickly.

For entertainment, we have our laptops and a Netflix account. We also have books, and whenever it is sunny, we sit outside on our tiny balcony to read and enjoy seeing what few activities might be happening in our neighborhood.

There isn’t much interaction with our Barcelona neighbors, except every night at 8 p.m., when Spaniards head to their balconies for a rousing ovation in honor of the health care workers. We clap also, only too happy to share the camaraderie with our fellow “prisoners.”

As I write this, Nancy and I just returned from our first real excursion out of our apartment in three weeks: a quick trip, with gloves and masks, to the corner store for a few groceries.

Sure, we’d like to go home, but we would have to endure the trip as well as a quarantine upon our return to the United States. We feel safe and secure where we are, so we decided to stay, for now, in our beautiful city of Barcelona.

And like everyone else in the world, we hope this pandemic will be over soon.

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