Here’s the good news: we’re alive, and my American and Italian families are in good health. I feel immensely fortunate. At least for today. And I wish to sincerely thank, from the bottom of my heart, all of the people that have reached out to us over the past weeks with words of concern and kindness. Only our humanity will get us through this. And we can’t get through this alone.
It has been a month or so since we in Italy began to realize that Covid 19 was serious, and that it was on our doorstep, or for some, already making itself at home. It has been a gradual process of acceptance (for we have no choice but to accept it). The experience is too surreal and the consequences are too great to easily digest and explain what is happening in our lives… but I’ll give it a shot.
Chapter 1: Awakening & Denial
Last days of February, first days of March: we understood that the virus was around us, and contagion was a real possibility, and consequently this would be an inconvenience. The question was if it would be big or small (and we had no idea what “big” really meant yet). It still seemed to be a problem just in a few small towns in Northern Italy, a good 4 or 5 hours away from us. We still thought that friends ordering stocks of face masks were overreacting. Mask jokes were common memes.
We felt pretty safe here in Tuscany, but we realized we were going to have to stick close to home for a while. Looking on the positive side of things, we realized we had time to do a few things we hadn’t done in years: a full in-depth spring cleaning, and planting a few seeds for a vegetable garden. But at this point we only prepared for a few plants, as surely we wouldn’t have time to properly water and care for them come summer, when we’re always busy with work.
March 5th: all Italian schools were closed. My kids were sent home having been taught how to properly wash their hands and sneeze into their elbows on their last day of school. I had mixed feelings: I secretly shared my kids’ excitement about being off school and having time to do things together (like an unexpected vacation); but at the same time I knew that this was going to be no vacation and tried to impress that upon the kids (and myself). At the time the idea was to reopen the schools on March 15th. While I ached for the tragic loss of lives in the North, a little part of me was enjoying the new rhythm of life: just a few scant hours of office work each week, lots of gardening, pruning, planting, clearing, burning (accompanied by aches & pains!), and cooking projects galore. Making home-made pasta as a family -wow, it had been years since we’d done that – what fun! I was catching up on life. It felt good.
Chapter 2: Shock, Fear and Need for Reassurance & Hope
March 8th: our Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, appeared on national television, and in a very calm and reassuring manner, ordered that the entire country go into lock-down. The Italian term for it “restare a casa” simply means staying at home… which feels so much less harsh and threatening than “lock-down”. Regardless of what you call it, the reality was that everyone had to stay at least 1 meter apart, and no one could leave their home except to go to and from work (with “smart working” highly encouraged when possible), exercise, or to go to the supermarket and to the pharmacy. It really hit: this was serious shit. After the first few days people started to get restless: citydwellers sang from their balconies, people lit up the night sky with flashlights at designatd hours, and people were signing up to Zoom and various group video platforms to have a virtual aperitivo together. As a friend of mine noted recently, for the Italians that pre-dinner drink with friends is really not so much about the drink and much more about the community that it represents. It sunk in how very lucky we were to live in the countryside so we could go in and out of our home as we pleased. This is when I started to get a lot of questions from a couple of friends in the States about what was really happening in Italy, as they had a feeling it would soon be spreading there too.This led me to feel that I kind of had a mission: it was my duty to get the word out as what was happening here could potentially happen anywhere. The majority of my friends and family in the States, however, sent notes of concern for us, but without much worry that it would come to their neck of the woods too. I tried to warn them to take precautions and stock up on the “essentials”. Hardly anyone listened. I get it, it’s a normal 21st century self-preservation mechanism: don’t freak out until it hits close to home. A few days later the WHO declared covid 19 a pandemic. Our vegetable garden started to take on new dimensions – we realized that at least tourism would not be back and running come summer. We started to understand we were going to be in this for the long-haul and, worse-case scenario, be out of work until 2021.
Chapter 3: Despair. Reclusion.
March 22nd: A few weeks into the national stay-at-home order the Italian government, realizing this was not enough, issued a new and stricter decree: all non-essential factories were ordered to shut, all non-essential workers to stay at home, and now you couldn’t go outside to exercise (the farthest you could stray from home was 200 meters), and no one was allowed to leave their town limits (unless they had a government form stating why it was essential business). At this point the virus was spreading throughout Europe and there were a few serious outbreaks in the States. This is when it started to appear unavoidable that this would be devastating for the global economy and have really long-lasting repercussions. This is when the future started to look not just uncertain, but seriously fuzzy… so fuzzy it made you dizzy if you tried to figure it out. This is when it became an absolute necessity to just take this all one day at a time. This is when the gardening and cooking projects began to lose a bit of their thrill. There is actually one certainty: life will never be the same.
But I do – and I must – have hope. Hope that we will survive this mess, and that we will learn from it. Who knows, we might even make the world a better place…
To be continued.