Have you heard of La Monyos?
I hadn’t until quite recently when my partner told me about the mysterious eccentric lady who used to live in Barcelona and was often seen walking on the Ramblas
Her name was Dolores Bonella i Alcazar and although not much is known about her life, there are many stories about who she was and what happened to turn her into a seemingly crazy street lady.
‘Ets més popular que La Monyos‘ is a famous Catalan expression meaning that you are more popular than the much beloved Dolores or Lolita as she was known.
My dog Bonnie, as many of you know, died in February this year after being diagnosed with a lymphoma in her abdomen. It is still something that hurts me a lot and some days I am knocked backwards by a memory which both makes me smile and cry. I miss her and I feel a large collie sized hole in my heart.
She died peacefully with both me and Pep by her side, in the peaceful gardens of Sant Nicolau. A kindly woman vet administered the injections and with a little sigh Bonnie left this earth.
So, I can’t imagine how the nurse Teresa Romero and her husband Javier Limon will cope with the pain of losing their dog Excalibur who was taken from their home by men in Ebola protection suits and killed by who knows who, in some place who knows where.
I have been following this story ever since we heard that Teresa, a nurse in Madrid had contracted Ebola after helping care for two Spanish priests who had been working in West Africa. They both later died from the disease. Teresa had volunteered for this work and did it with all possible professionalism and with more, she did it with love. She had received the training available and followed procedures but somehow the virus got through the protective layers of her suit and she became ill.
She had been back home and living a normal life before she got sick and so her husband and several other people who had been in contact with her were put into isolation only hours after she herself was taken into hospital.
This couple had no children but they had a much loved dog called Excalibur. Before leaving the flat Javier left food and water for him, not knowing how long he would be away. There were others who could come and take care of Excalibur if necessary and as it all happened in a moment of great crisis and confusion, he did the best he could, leaving the door to the balcony open so Excalibur could go outside.
But Ebola is a serious disease and of course access to the flat was forbidden. Excalibur spent a couple of days there alone while in the outside world there began an argument about what would happen to him. Teresa was fighting for her life and knew nothing of what was going on. Javier was trapped inside an isolated room in the hospital but was able to say he wanted his dog to be cared for in quarantine to see if he was carrying the virus or was not infected at all. The authorities made it clear they intended to go in and get the dog and put it to sleep, euthanise it, kill it…. use whatever description you want…. later Teresa called it an execution. The health officials had no intention of waiting nor of consulting other experts in the field. The dog, in their opinion, was not important enough to save, nor to monitor under care and they would get rid of it.
A campaign grew on Facebook and other social media and I was able to follow the story on the page, Salvemos a Excalibur. People went to protest on the street outside the apartment. The police went in and broke up the crowds. One day a van arrived, men dressed head to toe in protective suits entered the flat, took Excalibur away and that was that.
I read lots of newspapers at the time, both in English and Spanish. Of course there were many who thought it ridiculous that such a fuss was made about a dog when there are thousands of humans dying from Ebola. People sneered at protestors and accused them of the usual ‘crime’ of caring more about animals than people.
But I felt strongly this was about more than a dog – and I care very much about the actual dog although of course I don’t know Excalibur and my grief for him was nothing like the grief for my own Bonnie. The people involved directly were Teresa and Javier. Their feelings were ignored by the authorities, their rights were not respected. At the same time there were reports in the newspapers that Teresa had somehow caused her own infection by touching her face with her hand when removing the protective suit. This seemed an incredibly crass attempt to absolve the health officials from responsibility – perhaps for not providing good enough equipment, or doing enough staff training, or failing to have enough staff so someone would help Teresa remove her suit. Surely there would be an inquiry which would take time to analyse what had happened. How could anyone just make public statements in the days after Teresa became ill, naming her as the one who had made a mistake? When she wasn’t able to respond as she was in isolation and was close to dying.
Excalibur showed up a system where panic and cover-up seemed to be the response to a problem rather than honesty and respect and integrity.
In the days that followed there was a similar case in the United States which only made the Spanish authorities seem more inept, dishonest and stupid. The American nurse also had a dog but the US authorities took it into quarantine, released photos so we all knew the quarantine was comfortable and there were toys and home comforts. They were also testing the blood and furthering the scientific knowledge of Ebola which some say can be carried by dogs but there is still a lot to learn. When the nurse (who also thankfully survived) and her dog were reunited there were videos of the happy meeting between them.
I cannot imagine how painful it must be to Teresa Romero and Javier Limon to see these films, to go over and over in their minds the last days of Excalibur and to know that he died without good reason and without the presence of those who loved him. At the time he died no-one knew if he carried the virus so of course he was not patted or stroked or given human love. How can they bear this pain on top of everything else? My heart aches for them.
Yesterday Teresa Romero came out of hospital at last and has gone to Galicia to recover at the family home. She attended a very short press conference and thanked all the staff who had cared for her – the nurses, the cleaning staff, the auxiliaries and the doctors. She was too emotional to speak about Excalibur but her husband read out her statement. She said that her dog was like a child to her and her husband and that killing him was not necessary.
Interestingly many of the news media ignored this part of her statement – all the films showed her smiling and saying ‘thank you’ but I had to search for the statements given by her husband.
“The worse part of all of this is that our dog was not given a chance”
- Ambulance staff in Cadiz bought their own Ebola protection suits as the ones provided were not ‘up to the job’
- Health workers in Madrid and many others are calling for the resignation of health minister Ana Mato claiming that the equipment and training provided are inadequate.
- Madrid regional health chief Javier Rodriguez accused Teresa Romero on public radio of lying about her symptoms and making mistakes which caused her contract the disease. He later apologised.
- After being released from isolation Teresa’s husband Javier said ‘they destroyed our life, they killed our dog and they nearly killed my wife’
- He will be seeking redress in the courts on behalf of his wife and their dog.
- I sit outside. Its not too cold even though it’s nearly the end of November. A man and a young girl come out through the sliding doors. She looks like him with thin spindly legs, straight hair and a quiet serious face. Another little girl comes running out after them, the little sister, about 5 years old with a tartan scarf and curly brown hair. The man grabs her arm roughly and pushes her back inside. She resists and he pushes her harder, her arm is twisted up awkwardly, ‘go and stand with your mother‘ he says in Catalan. A few moments later they are all standing outside in the dappled sunshine. Three of them are grouped together and the little girl is playing with the leaves under the tree. The parents talk a little and the man tenderly does up the zip of his elder daughters jacket but his face remains stern and unsmiling. The corners of his mouth seem to be pulled down by gravity. The little girl is a few feet away exploring the world and humming to herself. She is full of life but not noisy or bad. The group of three start to move off and the mother calls over her shoulder, ‘Maria, come on‘. Obligingly and merrily scuffing her feet in the leaves she runs to catch them up. Noone smiles or waits for her or offers her a hand.
- The uniform of Granollers women of a certain age in winter is black trousers and shoes and a brown jacket, a black handbag and well coiffed hair usually tinted slightly red. Younger ones exchange the brown jacket for a black one. If I continue to work on constructing a Catalan female character to perform (she is called Pepa) then I need to sort out my costume. I have a black coat but its not puffy enough and I have black trousers but they are not that crinkly sort of drip-dry fabric that you could buy in M&S
- There is a large circle of children sitting in the middle of the square. They appear to be in an organised group but I can’t see who is in charge. Is it a sunday school activity while the adults are in mass? After a while they start playing ball and several times it bounces into the cafe tables or bashes up into the trees making the leaves fall off. I find this annoying but no-one else seems to notice.
- So many things that children do are quite irritating to adults. Or is it just British adults? Or is it just me? Unless it is your own child of course. The ball bangs about, the children, mostly boys, scream and yell. Another boy waiting for his parents who are inside the cafe races up and down past me on his scooter. Outside the church a boy plays with something that looks like a belt and when you flick it in the air it makes a loud noise like a banger. The first father wanted to control his own daughter and I have a desire to tell the boys to play ball further away. Perhaps we are affected by gender…. would the father have dragged his son back into the cafe in that way? And would I look on kindly at girls playing ball in the square?
- Actually there are a few girls in the group. All about 10 years old I would imagine. One girl in a pixie hat stands alone. My eye is drawn to her but everyone else ignores her. Noone throws her the ball and neither does she run to catch it. When they all sit down again in little huddles she sits on the church steps by herself. She looks perfectly normal to me, nothing to mark her out but still she is isolated. Later when the adults organise the group again into a large circle she is sitting there and smiling. I think she is more comfortable when the group is controlled.
- Now mass has finished. Crowds of people flowed out onto the square. The crowd of children has moved on in a large group. The girl with the pixie hat is sitting on the church steps not speaking with anyone. An older couple join her and a little boy. At first they seem like a family but as they move off down the street, they all separate. The boy is chubby and full of himself, shouting out to his friends as he passes. The couple now I see them better are too young to be her parents. They must be Sunday school teachers or perhaps it is a meeting of the scouts which includes girls here. Pixiehat passes close by with heavy steps and a very sad face. Alone in a crowd. Always hard but even more so in this country where the group is all important.
- The square has emptied but there are still about 7 children with scooters. They are all boys. There are also two older boys with identical black sweatshirts with a green, yellow and red logo. They are practising jumping off the church steps and spinning the scooter 360 degrees mid jump. It is quite amazing. And a 360 degree flat spin. And a jump onto and off the wooden benches. This dexterity and flair and determination to master the move is something wonderful to watch. Imagine if they applied this power to changing the world!
- As I leave the square I am horrified to see the whole group of children return from another direction. It is some kind of organised walkabout and still the girl in the pixie hat is walking at the back alone. Organised torture for a Sunday morning.
Wherever I go I tend to notice those people who seem different or who exist a little on the outside of the cultural norm. A few days ago I began to realise there is a little group of people here in Granollers who I consider ‘friends’ although I don’t know them at all
- The little old lady who wheels her shopping trolley in front of her like a battle shield. She talks to herself but also stops to chat with the woman in Carrer Tarafa who has the parrot. There is a luggage label attached to her trolley. It says ‘My name is Isabel and this is my address.’ One day when I was feeling especially alien and alone I followed her a little on her journey through town. She walked in circles and doubled back on herself regularly until at some point she stopped to ferret around in a rubbish container and I walked past and left her in peace.
- There is a large wild man who sells little packets of tissues at the traffic lights on the road to the hospital. He looks like that character in Harry Potter, I can’t remember his name but he is dark and fat and played by the actor who used to be in Softly Softly. Our Granollers wild man is always very polite and I suppose enough people buy his tissues to make it worth his while. I have never ever seen him anywhere else.
- Almost every day I see a man cycling through town who looks very out of place in this centre of conformity. He wears what looks like a woman’s coat which is slightly too small for him leaving his arms sticking out like brittle sticks. He is bald and has earrings and his white jeans are very tight. I often see him in the health food store. If we were in Penzance he wouldn’t look odd but here he is clearly an eccentric. When I asked other people if they knew who he was, no-one even recognised my description. Perhaps he is invisible?
- Someone I almost know because we have spoken and we usually greet each other in passing is the slim woman with pink hair who feeds the local wild cats. I suppose she recognises me because I also look different and usually am accompanied by at least one dog. There are several places she puts down food and water for the urban cats. Since I arrived in Granollers there seem to be fewer cats around in the streets – I wish I thought this was a good thing but I wonder where they have gone.
The last person who I regularly notice and try to smile at is not really an outsider like the others. She wears normal clothes and has a job looking after an old rich man who lives (and perhaps owns) the flats opposite. She is often to be seen in our little square walking his small toy dog. What draws my attention is her totally unsmiling and unhappy face. She appears to be Latin American and I imagine that she feels far from home and family. One day I will work up the courage to speak to her.
All these people give me a feeling that it is difficult to describe. They sort of make me feel at home.
Today everyone was happier in Granollers.
Is it Springtime?
Someone smiled at me in the street. She was smiling as she got closer, perhaps at the sight of my beautiful border collie Bonnie, and then she looked at me and nodded.
That is really unusual in a town where normally people look at me with a slight frown or a blank stare.
Some boys down by the river were throwing stones at something. I stopped and asked what they were doing. Two boys ran off at the sight of Bonnie while the others said ‘rabbits’. We talked a little about why it is unkind to try and hurt rabbits then they asked me where I come from and we had a nice chat for a few sunny moments. They were just little boys, bored and thoughtless but pleasant enough.
Then, ignoring my resolution to not shop in the Chinese store (the cheap shops that are in every town in Catalunya selling things made in China) I went into the very one which usually treats me like a shop lifter by following me silently around the aisles. I picked up some photo frames and went to the counter and the woman smiled and said ‘Hola’. Then she asked me where I was from!
Incredible, why do you think today was so different from other days?