LIKE Sleeping Beauty, Madrid is emerging from its induced coma after eight long weeks of lockdown during which dogs and their owners ruled the streets.
Now, they are outnumbered by people, both young and old, who have been holed up in their flats so long, the concept of exercise is being embraced with the enthusiasm of gym bunnies – 20.3% of Madrid’s apartments are interior with no view of the street.
“It’s really livened up,” says Claire Maloney, an English teacher who lives in densely-populated Vallecas.
“I’ve never seen the streets this full but it’s good in a way because now it’s not just people with their dogs messing outside my house. So many people are walking down the street to … I don’t know where.”
No longer is the balcony the place to be at 8pm.
The hour now marks the moment residents can pour onto the city’s pavements – parks are closed in case large groups congregate there in a more dispersed, if less controllable fashion.
“It’s a bit crazy,” says acupuncturist, Luis Perez, who lives near Atocha train station.
“As there’s hardly any cars, people are walking on the road – strangely not facing the traffic so they have to keep looking over their shoulder to check if anything is coming.
“Also, when they bump into friends on the street, they stand so far apart, they take up the whole pavement.”
If you can overlook the dystopian overtones of Phase 0, there is a lot to be said for it.
Not only is spring in the air and a feeling of things coming back to life, but the lack of noise, traffic and pollution appear to be having a positive impact on the public’s mood.
“What you notice most is how much more relaxed everyone is, and friendlier too,” adds Perez.
“If this crisis has done anything, it has killed our need to rush. Madrilenos are not used to going out to walk like this. Our perception of time has changed.”
There are many more bikes, and those in cars are driving unusually slowly, as if they too have been infected by the general deceleration.
“Perhaps with the social distancing and the bikes, Spaniards will end up living more like northern Europeans,” says journalist Mike McGovern.
“These things might stick. Maybe the reason British people keep their distance from one another comes from the Great Plague and the Black Death.”