Each day after the sun rises, I finish my morning meditation and wait for my wife to wander into the kitchen for our morning coffee together. At 9:30 a.m., and later than he would have when he was actually going to school, my son gets down to studying. Another COVID-19 day begins for me and my family. It’s been a week now; and most days begin like this since Italy officially took the first steps of its Corona virus containment policy.
The decision by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to close schools nationwide on Friday March 7, was an extension of a preexisting lock down of 11 towns in Lombardy and Veneto – the epicenter of the outbreak in Italy – that affected more than 16 million people and banned them from moving in and out of those areas. Still, the news seemed like something that was happening somewhere else, “in the industrial northern heartland,” much the same way all of the news before had been from some unknown place called Wuhan China. By Sunday evening, all of that changed. Expansion of these measures and Conte’s official decree to effectively shut down the whole country, finally made everything personal.
My wife, a public school administrator, had already spent much of the weekend reflecting. How would her own students and teachers cope with this abrupt change? She immediately sprung into action; her reasoning was simple: people need structure and some routines to flourish, especially young people like our son who was already looking forward to endless days playing NBA 2K20. Before the weekend was out, we began “negotiations” to explore prerogatives and define expectations.
On Monday morning, a shortened version of a home school schedule went into effect and my wife went off to hers for the last face-to-face staff meeting til April 3 when the decree would be extended, modified or finish. It was my job to make sure the program was followed. Luckily, English compiti and a sunny day helped things go smoothly. At mid-morning, we went outside for the Phys Ed, shot baskets at the church behind our house, did calisthenics, and then headed back home so he could finish up and I could make lunch.
Just like that, obligatory self-study was thrust upon nearly 4 million kids around country and more than 800 thousand Italian public school teachers, young and old, had to put aside their misgivings about technology, organize homework, set-up calendars and make use of secure on-line platforms where assignments could be uploaded and evaluated. Being Italy, all was hastily cobbled together with a healthy but characteristic mix of hand-wringing and enthusiasm and everything went live overnight.
In the days since, many friends from outside the country have written me emails and on Facebook to ask how we are. I thank them for their encouragement and wonder what they think. I say, “Thanks, we’re OK,” and continue, “I’m lucky we live in a place with a temperate climate, where there’s lots of space in the countryside to roam around and along the sea.” Yes, but it is a bit unsettling too.
And yet the miracles of our lives continue to work seamlessly.
There is still heat, running water and electricity. My PC boots up as usual and I can navigate the net to “see” students everywhere and family in the US. My wife has her daily staff “meetings” via Skype and my son “sees” his friends for homework and to just “hang out” virtually.
Every morning, garbage trucks come and go as usual, and delivery trucks keep supermarket shelves stocked. But many smaller “non-essential” shops are closed, and all coffee bars and restaurants. That means that not many people are about; and those who are, can be seen lining up outside supermarkets and other places where indoor numbers are limited. Today I noticed that my son and I were the only people not wearing face masks!
While I’m lucky that I can still see students on-line, many others can’t. Gig workers, freelancers and many others are simply forced to wait things out and rely on the only really reliable social safety net – family, if you have one. I imagine that a lot of households are in dire straits. And then there is the presence of the police.
It is a common complaint to say that the police are never around, But I’ve seen a bunch these days. Yesterday was the first time I saw them stationed around the city, at critical check-points, politely stopping cars, presumably to remind folks to stay home. Fines can be issued for unnecessary travel, even between towns, and they can be as high as €400. One even strolled into the churchyard to discourage 2 kids playing 1-on-1, to maintain the 1 meter suggested distance, and to leave if other kids showed up.
So, this is a snapshot of our life these days in a “soft” shut down of Italy where everything seems like it’s up and running. Except it’s really not.
Unsettling. Yes. But simple too; and relaxing, unpretentious, uncomplicated and – well – oddly livable too. I wonder what signal from above will mean that things can get back to normal? Italy’s public health service means that testing began quickly and continues today. Am I naive to think that we have a more dependable moving picture of this new friend COVID-19 than elsewhere? And how resilient will people be over the short or long haul? Italians and Europeans still have a living memory of wartime rations and imposed restrictions on just about everything. Maybe Americans do too. I’ve heard that toilet paper is suddenly nowhere to be found there.
In the meantime, I am grateful.
Grateful for Italians singing on their balconies in solidarity; grateful that most understand that no one’s to blame; grateful for the vast array of (not always effective) masks people wear; grateful for the amorphous queues to get into places –senza fregare nessuno; grateful that there is still plenty of toilet paper in our supermarkets (for now) and bidets when there isn’t; grateful that a friend told me about how kind everyone has been and how that’s been my experience too; grateful that I have spent more time reading, playing the guitar and resisting the temptation to zone out on social media; grateful that I practice meditation; grateful there’s a documentary on Miles Davis on Netflix to watch this evening; grateful that my bicycle is in working order and that the sea is only ten minutes away; and grateful that everyone’s hair is out of control, not just mine (but sorry for those poor hairdressers and barbers, others who are forbidden to work right now).
And I am hopeful too, hopeful that we may all learn something about the interdependence of this world we live in. At least for now.
Please let me know what’s happening in your world. Have there been changes in your life or community? Are they due to COVID-19? How are you and the people around you dealing with things.
Til then, be well.