Quieter than Ever in Castelo Branco, Portugal
Quieter than Ever in Castelo Branco, Portugal

The village where I live is a quiet place at most times, being in an area of rural depopulation and having very few young families, so to begin with it was as if nothing had changed. At this time of year a few people walk round the village in the afternoon, and these I missed. But the farmers drove their tractors past my house with the same regularity as before, visited their gardens, fed their chickens and drove their sheep out to the fields. Away from the main road this is almost the whole of the traffic. The 2 mobile shops have stopped visiting, but these were only weekly visits. One or two visitors arrived here in the first days of lockdown but they were family members, not second-home-owners, and there are very few reports of non-compliance with the restrictions.

The only evidence of the crisis is at the small village shop where customers now wait outside, 2 metres apart, and enter one at a time. There is a dispenser of hand sanitiser on the counter as you enter, but no-one is wearing a face mask. (There are non to be found, here or in the city. Disposable gloves and hand sanitiser have disappeared too, but nothing else is in short supply.) I have started to wear a scarf over my face as my hayfever is starting, but I am the only one who does. Even the postman and the wholesalers who deliver to the shop do not use any face covering yet.

However, the village streets were sprayed for the first time last week, and public service workers – bus drivers and refuse collectors – are now wearing masks.

The village shops are open – they all sell food and essentials – but all the village cafes are closed. No-one is walking outside the village for exercise; I no longer walk to a neighbouring village to spend the afternoon in an empty cafe with book or laptop. It is 4 weeks since I went into the city, as my Portuguese language class is suspended and I am foregoing my weekly Lidl shop in order to maintain self-isolation. In Castelo Branco (city), everything is closed (I am told) except for food shops and essentials.

The Portuguese language class is now on WhatsApp and an experimental all-day Zoom link is being trialled for all LI members; I actually meet (online) or message more people in a normal day than I did before lockdown. Social media is awash with yoga classes and exercise routines. There is a pharmacy in a neighbouring village, and a cashpoint, so I have an excuse to walk there occasionally, but no need to travel further.

The new flyscreens for my first floor windows are almost complete, the garden is tidy and the studio is cleaned and ready and I never seem to be without an occupation.

And I have my Tsundoku; – the Japanese term for a ‘reading pile’, or the habit of always having more books to read; not to mention a Kindle. We are resigned to a lockdown of many more weeks yet, and isolation here could become just a little more isolated than normal.

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