Mar 16, 2020

Italy on pause

This is actually happening.

Italy is in lockdown. Zona Protetta, as Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte defined the country: a protected area.

"The country needs the responsibility of each and every one of you, it needs 60 million little big sacrifices. Let's keep a distance today to hug each other more warmly and to run faster together tomorrow. All together we will make it through."

The day after the decree was issues with hashtag #iorestoacasa (I'm staying at home) as national directive for people to stay put and help stop the contagion from increasing, the World Health Organization elevated the outbreak to pandemic.

I have to keep reminding myself, this is actually happening.

The perception abroad, given the media coverage––both domestic and foreign––is of Italy's deserted streets and monuments, hoards of people fleeing home from Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto aka "red zones" where the contagion and casualties are higher, and general hysteria at the supermarket.

It's a lot more than that.

Being here and living this surreal situation feels more like the country is on pause.

We are living in one of those strange nightmares. The ones where time is prolonged and everything feels unknown, like a heavy burden. Trying to run away from the monster with lead in your legs.

What exactly is a lockdown? And why are we in it?

What: Lockdown means the entire Italian population is asked to stay home and only leave the house for absolutely necessary errands like buying food, going to the pharmacy and taking a short walk with our kids and pets. Italy is essentially shut down at least until April 3.
We don't congregate, we keep 3-ft social distancing and we wash our hands much more than usual.

Why: We are closed off from the outer world so that we don't infect others and put countless people at risk, and by the same token we potentially avoid contracting the virus from others who may be infected. That's because coronavirus is sneaky, its symptoms appear after a 2 to 14 day incubation period.

A monumental effort. But necessary.
I feel proud that I'm doing this for our elders, our community and our country.

We can no longer go to the bar for espresso (or a grappa, or both). It was tough enough grabbing a coffee while maintaining the 3-ft distance between barista and other customers, given our average personal space is much smaller than the rest of the world's. Now I miss my cornetto like it's crack.

Buses are still running, but the few I see driving by are always empty. We can no longer visit museums, watch a match at the football stadium, attend a concert. We can't hug our aging relatives. We can't go to the gym. We can no longer do impromptu pizza night with friends. We'll hold off on going to the cinema, theater, ballet, getting manicures, haircuts. You'll just have to accept my grey roots showing.

No more day trips to the lake or the countryside. In order to leave our region of residence, we have to carry a signed self-certified declaration stating the reason for the transfer. Work and emergencies are permitted, trespassers without the signed form (or a not good enough reason) outside of their region/province will be fined up to €290.

Don't think martial law. Just strictly applied rules.

The general feeling is of melancholy. A strange new sadness.

So many questions are flooding our minds.

Will my family and I stay healthy?
Will cancellations continue to pour into our mailboxes?
Will I have to homeschool my teenage son who in June is supposed to take a major final written and spoken exam to advance to high school?

We're so used to multitasking and going about our busy daily routine that all this "spare time" is also, quite frankly, driving us a little nuts. But we Italians are also creative, resourceful and never forget our sense of humor.

Lack of work and restricted activities are obviously causing everyone trouble. The travel industry is on its knees. People's livelihood is at risk.

My heart goes out to Venice, my beloved Venice. After the acqua alta in October, now this.
Forza Venezia, we can do this!

As soon as the quarantine lifts, and when it will be safe to travel again, I personally will go to Venice and support its artisans, guides, gondoliers, restaurateurs, bartenders, hotel managers and the general population with my presence, my money, my love. I will do the same with my friends in Bologna, Parma, and other gravely affected areas.

This suspended time will furthermore allow us to do all the things we had previously put on the back burner in the name of fast-pace stakhanovism.

Little sister and I will teach our 82 year old mother (who lives 2 blocks away) to use Skype and Facetime, so we can do video-calls.
I'll make it a habit to check in with family and friends more regularly.
I'll have more time for writing.
I can polish off the book pitch.
Get free pet therapy with our new puppy.
I'll beat my son at scopa.
He will defeat me at Monopoly, as per usual.
I'll finally have the time to read, work out, and do nothing––rare commodities for self employed entrepreneurs…

We will beat this.
We'll find solidarity, our sense of compassion and community––all at a distance.
We'll wash our hands for 60 seconds humming the alphabet or "Tanti Auguri a Te" twice.
We'll try not to touch our face.
We'll stay at a safe distance from others.
And we will make it through this moment.

We will resume complaining about traffic and crowds.

There is a silver lining to all this (because I always try to see the glass half full).
The air smells amazing. Smog levels have dropped. In the early morning when I take the dog out for his first walk, the dawn smells of flowers and springtime. Reminds me of when I was 17.
This is not going to last forever.
We reach out more and talk to each other on the phone/FaceTime instead of messaging.
Banding together as a community and following the rules feels empowering.
It will be fun to declutter
There will be time to learn a new language... Russian is high on my list.
We Italians, so famous for our love of sharing food, have made no visible effort to raid shelves and panic buy. We've left enough for everyone.

If across the web you've been seeing photos of handwritten sticky-notes and rainbows on banners hanging outside windows, you may be wondering what AndrĂ  tutto bene means.
Literally: "Everything will go well."