Here in Florence there’s a big gap between what I’m able to do and what I’m actually doing. We’re allowed to go to supermarkets, provided we stay one metre away from other patrons.
But I’m bowing out – and many venue owners in my neighbourhood seem to agree with me, judging by the colourful signage on many shuttered doors. Most say some version of “Closed out of respect for the governmental decree and concern for the safety of customers and employees. #IoRestoACasa – I’m staying home”). I, like those owners, am erring on the side of excessive rule following.
Public transport is running, but I’m staying in my neighbourhood, leaving only for groceries and quicker-than-usual dog walks. Though we’re supposed to stick to ‘essentials’, today I bought some flowers – even though, as a recent convert to freelance life, I’m counting every coin amid this crisis.
Many, if not most, residents in Florence rely on tourism and international education for our livelihoods, even if we don’t work directly in those industries. There is talk among my friends – many of them self-employed – of the need to diversify income streams or develop new skills.
My friends and I are managing to keep a sense of humour and stay calm, but I can’t help but worry for more isolated people who have no live-in company nor virtual access to loved ones. For now, we just have to ride it out.
I live in Lecco, a small city north of Milan to the east of Lake Como. The atmosphere is calm if somewhat surreal. It feels like Sunday every day, or Ferragosto, when the Italians from the north all go on vacation in August at the same time.
It actually feels quite calm; people are reassured to have a clear plan of action by the government. My family and I have been on lockdown for two weeks already as the kids’ school and my office have both been closed. We are not leaving the house unless needed, which can really be a challenge with three children. But everyone is quite calm and collected here – we just have to stay relaxed and be alert, but not panic. We are young and healthy, so this will pass – it’s just a matter of when.
The atmosphere here in Rome is mixed. On the one hand, there’s fear: people going out only if completely necessary, avoiding public transport and queuing up for half an hour outside supermarkets with a one-in, one-out policy reminiscent of a nightclub, but here the only dress code is the ‘mascherina’ (face mask). Nightlife itself is completely cancelled as restaurants, gelaterias and bars are either closed entirely.
On the other hand, we are facing a ‘new unknown normal’ and I’m trying to figure out how long it’s going to last. I mainly work in schools and museums, and both are closed; however, students are studying online and I’m still tutoring privately.
Today, I went out for some vegetables. The usually bustling market square was deserted, shutters down, save for one lively greengrocer’s stall. The grocer was in high spirits as he weighed and bagged my shopping. Chatting to him, I discovered that the stall was actually his sister’s, and that he himself is a teacher by profession. The school closures have given him a chance to try his hand at something new.
My small town is about 50km (31 miles) from Codogno, the town that reported the first cases of COVID-19 in Italy. Everything is so quiet here. It feels like life is on hold. I was supposed to go to Salerno (southeast of Naples) for 10 days, but I had to cancel my trip due to the new government restrictions.
Yet I am learning to appreciate little things, like the sound of the birds in the morning, the slow pace of life and the time spent alone in my home. I cannot go to visit my friends in Milan, so we try to talk over the phone and we see each other over Skype. We are planning a yoga session over Skype so we can practice together.
When I go to the supermarket, I have to wait in line outside as they only allow people to enter in small groups – two or three people at a time. I feel limited and yet there is also a sense of peace – maybe because I have more time to read and watch movies.
But each time I see an ambulance I get chills in my body, and I have seen a lot of them lately. I hope that this quarantine will solve part of the problem so our economy can improve and grow – so we all can start going out, to the office, to enjoy a dinner with friends.
When parts of Northern Italy were quarantined, Rome – which has been my home for the past five years – felt like a safe place to be. But when the news hit that the entire country would be placed under lockdown, the atmosphere changed immediately.
I read reports of panic-buying and fights over toilet roll – but in my neighbourhood of Ostiense, the community seems concerned but not alarmed. Supermarkets are limiting the number of people allowed inside at a time, but the shelves are well-stocked and – apart from one individual who ran out of the store shouting that people were getting too close to each other – shoppers appear satisfied that the one-metre distance rule is being observed. I often work from home so I hope I’m well-equipped for quarantine. Just in case, my friends and I have planned to share a spritz or two remotely to help keep spirits high.