Most writers know the oft-cited nugget attributed to E.M. Forster, “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?” I totally agree, and never more than in these coronavirus-ruled days. That’s my defense for what will probably be a rambling post, as I try to make sense of what’s happening. The world is changing faster than most of us can comprehend, while simultaneously—at least for me, on day 5 of Italy’s lockdown—time seems to have decided to sit and stay awhile. It’s only been 5 days?
My walk today revealed nearly empty streets and the determined arrival of spring—but as you see in the photo below, not everyone is staying home. The people in this park are keeping their distance from one another, true. But we’ve been told to stay home unless we’re going someplace essential, and the park on a sunny day doesn’t qualify. I said nothing, of course, because I was there too. My dog is my excuse, but being outside, even legitimately, makes me uneasy; consequently, the whole time she’s stretching her legs and sniffing the fragrant earth, I’m fighting the urge to rush home. In a sort of compromise, I’ve given up long walks across the city, choosing instead to stay close to home. It’s easy to clock a few miles in the maze of side streets that meander up the hill from the park.
I recognize my unease for what it is—a tendency to become slightly obsessive, in this case about doing my part to contain this virus. (Hey, you can’t be an editor for 20 years without retaining some of the qualities that make it possible to read the same damn story/paragraph/line 18 times—or 30—without sobbing.) Part of me wants to go to the store for fresh vegetables and some fruit that isn’t an apple, and part of me wants to make my food supply last as long as possible (despite having neither wine nor chocolate), in an effort to minimize exposure, mine and others’. Part of me wants to clean my house far more than I’m doing, but see above—I don’t want to run out of cleaning supplies. Laundry? Ditto.
Is this normal? I don’t know. But in this at-first-unrecognizable, now all-too-familiar world ruled by a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat (talkin’ about you, COVID-19!), I’m learning some things about myself. Aside from seeing certain tendencies amplified, I've discovered that I was dead-on right in wanting to move to Italy because its values were in line with mine (among other reasons). And holy hell, am I living the proof of that now. How so, you say? Keep reading.
Public health, the common good, survival, and morale top the list of priorities here in Italy. Efforts may have begun too late (hindsight and all that), but they’re happening, and they’re changing as needed—tighter restrictions, added strategies like disinfecting the streets, services for elderly or disabled people who need food or medicine, the suspension of mortgage payments and utility bills in certain instances. Yesterday the Italian Air Force, in a display intended to boost morale, sent 9 fighter jets representing the Italian flag out to overcome a single jet (the virus), accompanied by a recording of Pavarotti singing “Nessun Dorma” from the opera Turandot. (Watch it here.)
It’s not only the state and local governments that are supporting their people; the people themselves are. They're being courteous, thoughtful, generous—more so than usual—and there's a palpable sense of community. For example, a pizza delivery to some hospital employees arrived with a receipt that said, “Omaggio.” No charge. And yesterday at noon many of us, out on our balconies or leaning from windows, joined in a long round of applause for our healthcare workers. What started a few days ago as a one-time show of solidarity—music- or noisemaking from balconies and windows—has become a regular event. (Here's a montage.) Word is out that tonight at 6pm we’ll all sing “Ma il Cielo È Sempre Più Blu” (“But the Sky Is Always Blue”). And tonight at 9pm we’ll shine flashlights or other forms of light in another display of unity that we hope will be captured by satellite.
It’s too soon to say how effective Italy’s containment efforts will be, and yes, they should have started sooner. And it’s true that shows of solidarity and hope don’t stop people from dying. But the message here in Italy is clear—we’re in this together, and for the most part, we are. A new hashtag, #andratuttobene (everything will be okay), can be found around town as well as online.
That said, Umbria’s numbers jumped from 76 to 107 yesterday, and today they’re up to 143. These sunny days aren’t helping people sequester themselves. A friend who lives in the countryside said she’s glad the weather has been nice because it’d be more depressing if the days were dark and the rains relentless. As a city dweller, I’m hoping for nonstop downpours. We dog walkers might get soaked, but everyone else would be where they should be, hunkered down indoors.
Still, andrà tutto bene, no?