Beer, tapas, friends: smiles as bars open in some of Spain

Daniel BOSQUE
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Keen to catch up after two months in lockdown, people ventured out to enjoy the sun at a Tarragona restaurant

Basking in the sun, an icy cold beer in hand, two friends are catching up at a bar terrace in Tarragona, savouring a simple but much-missed pleasure axed during eight weeks of lockdown.

"It's very emotional, almost as if we were opening for the first time," smiles Raffa Olivier who has just set up tables outside his ice-cream parlour in this northeastern Spanish seaside town for the first time in two months.

Staying at home has been a tough challenge in Spain, where sitting outside for a beer and tapas is something akin to a national sport.

But on Monday, bar and restaurant terraces across half the country were stirring again as Spain moved to ease its lockdown to slow the spread of a virus that has claimed almost 27,000 lives.

For now, though, Madrid and Barcelona, Spain's biggest cities, will have to wait -- where the outbreak hit hardest, the rollback takes longer.

In Tarragona's Old Town, the pavement tables were heaving by midday, with waiters carrying armfuls of beer and tapas to groups of friends excitedly catching up while trying not to exchange hugs.

"After so long shut up at home, we're finally enjoying a reunion here in a nice sunny spot," grins Marcos Maimo, 29, who is out with three friends toasting their new-found freedom.

- 'Clears your head' -

At Olivier's ice-cream parlour, many locals have popped in to say hello or congratulate him on reopening although few stay.

"We've decided to risk it. We know that in the first few days, we won't be making much money but we're convinced we need to get on with it," he admits.

Even with the new limitations, under which bars and cafes can open their terraces up to half their usual capacity, the tables here are not full.

Wearing a mask, Marcos Rodriguez is chatting with a friend about football, which has also been ground to an unprecedented halt by the epidemic.

"When you spend so long not doing something, a routine thing suddenly becomes really special. It really clears your head to be able to go out into the street, have a coffee with a friend and talk about football," says this 41-year-old.

Unemployed and living with his parents, being forced to stay at home was "very hard", although he was able to get out to do the shopping or go to the chemist to spare them the risk.

And he still can't see his girlfriend who lives in Barcelona where people are still confined to home.

"There's still that fear you could get the virus and pass it on to someone you love. But you have to go out, we have to start living again," he says.

"People want to go out to terraces, to eat and drink, to get together and get back to some kind of normality even though it's not the same," says Olivier.

- No tourists, no business -

For now, only outdoor terraces are open, all staff wearing masks and gloves and serving counters shielded by a perspex divider.

When a customer leaves, waiters disinfect tables and chairs and all tableware is washed at a high temperature.

There are no menus, with the plates on offer listed on a blackboard or accessible by scanning a QR code.

Other businesses too are reopening with changes.

Antonio Perez who works at Les Orenetes, a fashion boutique for women, has been phoning customers to tell them the shop has reopened for business.

Clients may come one at a time, and every garment that is tried on must be passed under ultraviolet light and steam-cleaned to get rid of any germs.

"It's more time and it means more work" but at the same time, "it's great for everyone," says Perez, 60, who sports a bushy grey moustache.

Not everyone is celebrating the chance to reopen.

In a narrow, pedestrianised street leading up to Tarragon's imposing cathedral in one of the town's most-visited areas, most shops are closed.

"We won't open until June," explains Nuria Girones, 45, who runs a souvenir shop.

"We'll have to wait until they open the borders and the hotels so people can come."