LIVING ALONE ON A FIVE START HOTEL DURING THE PANDEMIC
Every five days, Daniel Ordoñez opens 1,400 pipe taps in a waterfront hotel here in Barcelona that locals call “The Sail” because of its shape.
Each tap has to run for about five minutes, so the task takes him a full day. “It’s probably the most boring part of my job, but it’s needed,” he said, to avoid a form of pneumonia that can be spread by bacteria in the water: Legionnaires’ disease.
Mr. Ordoñez, who is in charge of maintenance at the hotel, has been its sole continuous occupant for the past two months, wandering its ghostly halls because of another illness that has ravaged the country and the globe: Covid-19.
When the hotel closed in mid-March as part of a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Ordoñez, an industrial engineer, agreed to self-isolate inside in order to avoid any deterioration of the premises that could delay its reopening, whenever that might be.
He now lives alone on the 24th floor, which gives him an unrivaled view of the city, its beaches and the Mediterranean. “At the start, I thought I would be here for about two weeks,” said Mr. Ordoñez, who is single. “But now it’s been eight, with no clear end in sight.”
Arguably Barcelona’s most emblematic luxury lodging, the W Hotel stands 325 feet tall and 27 stories high, dominating the city’s waterfront. Some might find walking its deserted corridors, peering into its vacated salons, or dining alone on a plate of fried chicken and vegetables cooked in a cavernous restaurant kitchen unsettling, but Mr. Ordoñez does not.
ImageResidents exercise along the beachfront near the W Hotel, with a giant heart glowing on its facade. Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times
“It’s been a bit weird to watch my few socks spin inside the washing machine of a huge laundry room, but I’ve now also had time to get used to that,” he said with a wry smile in a recent interview with a visitor from a safe distance.
With an official death toll of just over 27,000, Spain has been one of the European countries hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. This month, the government in Madrid started to gradually ease lockdown restrictions in order to return the country to what Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez calls “the new normalcy” by late June.
But there is no indication when Spain will recuperate losses from a tourism industry that accounted for 12 percent of its economy last year. As of Friday, foreign visitors face a 14-day quarantine upon arrival, a measure that will be maintained “as long as necessary” to avoid “imported cases” that could annul the gains of the domestic lockdown efforts, the Spanish health minister, Salvador Illa, warned on Tuesday.
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Mr. Ordoñez, 37, left behind a house on the outskirts of Barcelona to take up room in the grand hotel and continue his maintenance duties. Still, he said, he would stay as long as needed in a hotel where he knows every nook and cranny, from its ventilation shafts to its underground storage areas. “This was already my second home before the lockdown,” he said.
Image“I thought I would be here for about two weeks,” Mr. Ordoñez said. “But now it’s been eight, with no clear end in sight.”Credit...Samuel Aranda for The New York Times
The lockdowns and border closures imposed around the globe to limit the spread of the coronavirus left many people stranded in unlikely locations, including two friends who hunkered down in an empty London pub or a couple on an extended honeymoon in the Maldives. Many wealthy people fled big cities, finding a haven in their countryside homes or even a wellness center on Bali.
But the Barcelona hotel’s decision to ask Mr. Ordoñez to stay inside highlights a different issue: infrastructures that need looking after, even when business has ground to a halt.
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On his own in the hotel, Mr. Ordoñez, who is normally in charge of a crew of 20 maintenance workers, has faced some challenges — such as trying to fix something while standing on a stepladder. Occasionally, he has called on the help of the only other person on duty in the building: a rotating guard who monitors the hotel’s security cameras from a basement control room. (The guard does not sleep in the hotel.)
But there is an upside to working in a deserted space, Mr. Ordoñez said. This month, he tested the hotel’s public address system without worrying about disturbing the clientele. “A fair share of our time normally involves responding to customer complaints,” he said. “This issue has certainly gone away for now.”
Early in Spain’s lockdown, with the country reeling from an increasing death toll and escalating economic devastation, Mr. Ordoñez decided to do more than test the taps: He adjusted the curtains and lighting in some rooms to create a giant heart on the hotel’s facade.
It became a beacon of solidarity with the country’s health care professionals. Since the waterfront promenade reopened this month, residents have been taking selfies in front of the heart.
“It felt like a great way of connecting with what is going on outside,” Mr. Ordoñez said.
text by Raphael Minder for The New York Times