Monday, March 30, 2020

"Days and nights run into more days and nights": Life under Italy lockdown

Because we are living in historic times, I am again posting an updated account of a friend about life under lockdown in Lucca. It is well written and will help people understand the emotional aspects of living under a strict quarantine. Note: This was written before the hopeful figures from today came out. More from Jonell:

I could call these missives Love in the Time of Coronavirus. Living in total lockdown in Italy for three weeks is not all negative. Lockdown has become a way of life and we find ways other than museums and concerts and sports to amuse ourselves. Some are newfound; others are simply enhanced.

My husband and I were already madly in love, and confinement has reinforced it. The only argument we’ve had was about placement of a comma in a sentence I wrote, and we argue about commas even in normal times, so I’m not worried. We were already in the habit of cuddling every morning before getting out of bed. Now we spend more time at it. We have longer, more serious conversations, ones we probably should have had before. We’ve rediscovered what an incredible complicity we have. Liking your spouse or partner helps in these hard times, as do tolerance and adaptability.

Food is as always an important part of our lives. Takeout was never our thing and we don’t have that option anymore, and anyway, we feel it’s safer to cook from scratch at home. We eat more carbs than ever — pasta, bread, polenta — and find it comforting. I’ve been researching food from Lucca for a couple years. The food here is meat-based, often slow-cooked, so we’ve been delighting in what is essentially peasant food. It’s a switch from my favorite food, duck à l’orange. Since there are no restaurants open, and no place else to go as we’re restricted to our neighborhood, we also save money. After dinner, we dance a few slows and relish in our good fortune at not yet having contracted the virus (I just knocked on wood). It’s not at all a bad situation.

In this mostly pedestrian city, I can’t shop for food for the entire week because I can only buy as much as I can carry home. I go out 2 or 3 times a week, juggling the times according to the shorter opening hours of the food shops. Since our wine merchant is closed, my husband goes to the supermarket outside the city walls once a week to stock up on wine and a few other essentials. Today, he found all non-food departments except for cleaning supplies cordoned off with red tape by order of the government.

We call those we love more often and have longer conversations. We need to hear their voices. Short, choppy text messages are no longer satisfactory. The subject is almost always about our experiences of coronavirus around the world, but someone actually called me about kale risotto the other day. That was refreshing. There is a new tradition of aperitivo and family gatherings by videoconference or using the Houseparty app. Restrictions spark our creativity and force us to find ways of recreating old traditions.

The odd person I pass in the street makes more eye contact than before and often smiles, even though we’re strangers. It’s a smile that says, “yes, we’re doing this for the good of everyone. No, none of us likes it, but it has to be done.”

One woman opens her windows in the morning and sings opera arias. Another neighbor plays jazz sax with his windows open. Little things count more than in the past. We all become like family even if we don’t know each other’s names or faces.

An emergency fund of 6 billion Euros is being allocated to unemployment, even for part-time and temporary employees. The government is also injecting 50 billion into the economy and is now pleading for aid from the EU. This will be a test of the solidarity and solidity of the European Union.

But all is not well. There is the harsh reality that 10,779 people have died as of this writing and the daily number of new cases, slightly down for a few days, went up again yesterday after 3 weeks of total lockdown of the country, and even longer in Lombardy where it started. Today there was a decrease. The town of Codogno, where this all began, has been in lockdown since February 21. They had two days with zero cases and thought there was hope, then on Friday, there were six new cases. Several doctors yesterday said that the epidemic might peak in a week or 10 days, but it doesn’t end there. Living in lockdown has become a routine and just as well since an epidemiologist on TV last night said we might need another six weeks to get the virus fully under control. The government is already talking about an extension of our total confinement and rightly so.

In the past two days, ten more doctors have lost their lives to coronavirus, bringing the death toll to 51 nationwide, 10 in the virus-ravaged city of Bergamo (Lombardy) alone. The total number of health workers who have tested positive for CV as of this writing is 6,414, approximately 8% of total cases; no data is available on overall fatalities among hospital and nursing home staff, but in all, the virus has infected more than 5,000 doctors, nurses, technicians, ambulance staff, and other health employees. Doctors and nurses are coming out of retirement to help.

And this is on top of the personal suffering we as humans have to bear in the course of our day-to-day lives. Someone in my family in the States is in extremis and I can’t go visit. Our children and their cousins have had CV for two weeks and they’re still not over it, though it’s not getting worse. In Florence, the father of a friend died, and his family was not allowed to have a funeral because funerals have been banned for weeks. Only graveside prayers with the priest and a single family member are allowed. Grandparents haven’t been able to see their grandchildren for over a month. Many older people have been shut in alone for ages in order to avoid catching the virus. Those who are hospitalized are not allowed visitors, so for many there has been no chance to say goodbye to loved ones. I suffer with the Italians and I suffer for my relatives in other countries. I don’t worry much about myself because I take all the required precautions, still aware that that might not be enough.

Meanwhile, a gentle spring has come. We look out at it from behind the barred windows of this 17-century house. Days and nights run into more days and nights. This is the new normal, at least for now. If I were to give advice, I’d say concentrate on those you love. Remember why you fell in love with your partner. Read all the books you haven’t had time to read. Think of funny things your kids did or said when they were young. Savor every bite and every sip and forget the other material stuff. Get to the essence. Life has changed and so have we.

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