As you no doubt know, the Corona Virus has hit Italy hard and the country is currently in lock down.
In Rome this all started three or so months ago when a Chinese couple staying at a hotel down the street from me tested positive for the virus. Since then it’s been a blur. Since Italy is a Mecca for tourists and business people world-wide It’s impossible to know how much the current epidemic has to do with those first two people in Rome.
Fast forward to April 19th. Italy now has 107771 people who have tested positive for the virus, 23227 are dead (mostly elderly) and 44927 have been cured. I’ve heard from an old friend whose son has tested positive.
First some background.
The Italian government reacted brutally though well in my opinion. Seeing as how there is a two week gestation period after an initial exposure during which time one is contagious and can pass the virus on, they decided to quarantine THE ENTIRE COUNTRY, (about 60 million people) for two weeks. This brutal approach was really the only way forward since there is no known cure or vaccine. There are now voices going around that this period of quarantine will be expanded. NB. The quarantine period has recently been extended through May 3 and I’m sure the country won’t open entirely by then. We haven’t left the house except for food and meds since March 10th.
All schools have been closed and the gathering of all groups has been forbidden. This means that all sporting events, concerts, church services and weddings are now forbidden. They have also shut down all flights and train service to and from the country. For a country that exists primarily on tourism this has been a major economic blow.
Here’s an idea of what it’s like here.
The only exceptions to self quarantine are: to get to work (essential activities only), to shop for food, to go to the pharmacy, in case of medical emergencies and in case of family emergencies. Other than those exceptions the entire population is expected to quarantine themselves at home. Food stores, pharmacies and doctors offices are open till 6pm after which a curfew falls into place until 6am the following morning. Anyone caught out after curfew will be fined €200.00.
The government has made forms available for the use of anyone leaving their house for any of the above mentioned reasons. On that form you must put your name and phone number, your ID number, the reason that you’re leaving home (shopping, doctors appointment etc.) and the address and phone number of the place you are going. (If you’re stopped he police will call to make sure you are expected or are a regular client), and the time when you expect to return home. No clothes shopping is allowed and people can’t shop together.
If you’re found out on the street without a completed travel form you risk being arrested and will have to pay the 200 Euro fine.
As of this writing the rest of the world, for the most part, is following Italy’s example. In the United States, Germany and France entire cities are closed down. The entire State of California is on quarantine as are the cities of Dallas, New York City, New Orleans and Chicago. Germany is quarantining her citizens. France and England are bound to follow. In America, although the cities of New York, New Orleans, Dallas and Phoenix are on lock down unfortunately not all cities or states have mandated lockdowns.
In general Americans aren’t taking this as seriously as the Italians are. I hear from American friends and relations that they think nothing of jumping in their cars to drive to parks to exercise or to have dinner at friend’s houses. That would land you another €200 fine here.
The Italian government has long since ordered all nonessential businesses to close their doors. That means no clothes shopping or going to the gym. All Cafes and restaurants are closed.
Luckily the Italians are dealing with this well. They’re staying at home, not panic buying and not gathering in groups.
March 20 2020-Today I stuck my head out of the front door. The street was empty, no Italians, no tourists, no garbage men, NO ONE except a few policemen.
For as long as I remember I’ve been going out to one of several neighbourhood cafes for my morning espresso and a chat. I haven’t been able to do that since March 10th, and for some reason this upsets me more than anything I’m having to endure. I haven’t been face to face with anyone except my wife Judy, the Bangladeshi fruit and veg guys (who deliver), the butcher, Walter (occasionally) and my sister-in-law Karen who got caught over here with us for 2 months. She has recently returned to the States.
At 69 years-of-age I’ve never seen anything like this. I’ve never been involved in a global pandemic before. This is all new.
March 30 2020 The Italian food stores are now starting to deliver. It only took a government decree that people had to stay at home to bring this change about. The supermarket on Via Cavour delivers when it can, the Bangladeshi fruit and veg store up the street delivers (but they were doing that already) and the pharmacy delivers too. Alessandro, The guy who delivers for the pharmacy comes to the front door dressed in coveralls, goggles, gloves and a mask. I’m not sure if he’s delivering or if he’s a terrorist.
I’m in touch with my sister and many friends daily. I get lots of email and what’s-apps. Needless to say work has completely dried up. The bands I played with have called off all rehearsals and concerts. My great grandnieces, who live a short way out of town, are off school and my niece Erica is now caring for them at home full time. My oldest grandniece Emma (4 years old) couldn’t have her birthday this year. That took some explaining, but we had a really cool What’s app party attended by about 15 people.
And life goes on. We stay indoors and wait for things to be delivered. We wash our hands constantly and I dream of the day that I’ll be able to go out for my morning coffee once again.
April 4, 2020 Yesterday we cleaned house. I got out of bed ready to go. After about 4 weeks in quarantine I was ready to get out the vacuum cleaner and have at it. But Judy wasn’t moving as fast as I was.
“Paul, let me at least put it together for you.” She’s afraid I’m going to break the vacuum.
Judy has parcelled up responsibilities for the appliances. The vacuum is hers. The heater/hot water heater is mine. The oven is hers. The computer is mine.
She assembles the vacuum and goes upstairs for a bath. I turn on the vacuum. The whirring/whooshing wakes up the cat who looks at me askance. She’s never seen me use the vacuum cleaner before.
Being mostly blind I have to vacuum v e r y c a r e f u l l y. There is furniture in the way and if I vacuum up the cat I’ll never hear the end of it.
By the time I finish Judy is back downstairs to mop the floor in the kitchen and the
tiles in the living room.
Then she goes into the kitchen and pulls out a huge chicken. Roast chicken for dinner!
April 7, 2020 I had to go to the pharmacy to replenish our meds. The pharmacy delivers but Alessandro is stretched to the breaking point. Besides the pharmacy is one of the only places I can go to without risking a €200.00 fine.
Farmacia Savelli is located on Via Cavour, an up hill walk from Via Urbana, a right on Via Santa Maria Maggiore then left up Via Cavour.
I fill out my “movement certification.” If stopped I’ll have to produce this form. If I didn’t have it’s it’s another €200.00 fine.
The police are out checking these forms but in my area they’re all local policemen whom I’ve known for years. They say hi to me and wave me on without checking anything. If I went out of my neighbourhood I’d be stopped constantly.
I put on my surgical gloves, grab my sunglasses and cane, put on my mask and head out the door. Judy yells at me to be careful.
I walk up Via Urbana and turn right on Via Santa Maria Maggiore. As I head for Via Cavour I walk past Bar Simo one of the regular bars I’ve frequented for years for my morning coffee. Alas, since people gather in bars they’ve all been closed. (In Italy most stand up cafes are called “bars.” It took me years to get used to this.) As I walked by, the owners husband, Riccardo, called to me from inside. Bar Simo sells cigarettes and even though the bar is closed they are allowed to sell cigarettes. Why this is considered an essential service is a mystery to me.
“Paul, Vai in farmacia?” (“Paul, are you going to the pharmacy?”) Ricardo asks me.
“Ciao Riccardo. Si ci sto andando.” (Yes Riccardo. That’s where I’m headed.)
“Ti displace ritirare delle medicine che Simona ha ordinate l’altro giorno?” (“Do you mind picking up some meds that Simona (his wife and the inspiration for the name of Bar Simo) (“called in?”)
“Certo.” (Of Course.)
He gives me some money and I continue on my way.
On my way home I give him his bag of meds.
“Grazie Paul. Aspetta un attimo. (Thanks Paul. Hold on a second.”) He pulls out an index card, writes PAUL across the top and underneath writes “ cafe piu cornetto (a coffee and a breakfast roll). This is his way of thanking me for this small service, but since the bar is closed he wrote this “IOU” on an index card and filed it away.
Oh Boy! By the time this pandemic is over I’ll have a few free breakfasts waiting for me!
I headed home to deal with the garbage which had been piling up for a few days. I could no longer take it out after dinner because of the curfew.
Taking out the garbage has become challenging for another reason. In Rome everyone takes their garbage out and throws it into plastic garbage tips. These tips had been in the same places for years but now with Covid they were constantly moving around. It took me a while to figure this out but I finally got it. Because of the lockdown lots of garbage workers are at home and the garbage company didn’t have enough people to provide their normal service. They are therefore moving the tips around to give everybody some garbage service. Sounded good but it meant that no one was sure where the tips were going to be on any given day. In the past there were normally 5 places where I could find several tips. Today there were no tips at 4 of them. By this time I was pretty tired from pulling my garbage laden wheelie behind me so I called our garage which is located on Piazza della Suburra, the last possible location where there could be a tip or two set out. The Romanian day guy Vioril tells me that there were no tips there but that the garage was accepting bagged up garage from their clients. Once or twice a week they would load up the van and take it to the garbage dump.
Garbage problem solved.
Yesterday I went to Walter the butcher for some meat. Walter had just taken delivery of a super complicated meat refrigerator but the instructions were in English and he couldn’t understand them. I sat down with him and translated the first section devoted to setting up the machine He gave me a dozen eggs. In a few days I’ll go back and translate the second section. He’ll give me another dozen eggs. By the time I’m done translating I’ll probably have earned a few dozen eggs.
Covid has brought barter economy back to Italy.
April 12, 2020- It’s Easter and it’s the most different Easter I can remember. These feast days are normally days for family and friends to get together, have a meal and catch up on each others lives. Being arguably the most important day on the religious calendar the Pope always held several Masses attended by at least 200,000 people each in Piazza San Pietro, the huge square in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica. On Good Friday the Pope traditionally walks The Stations of the Cross (The Via Crucis) which is attended by hundreds of thousands more from all over the world). All of these celebrations were cancelled this year, the first time I believe this has ever happened.
Easter Monday is traditionally a day to climb into the car and head out of town for lunch in the country. This Easter a lot of Carabinieri are out making sure no one is out and about. They’re even stopping cars and handing out fines like Easter cards.
21/4/2020- It’s time to deal with garbage again but my friend Tony tells me that there are always tips on Via Cavour at Via delle Vasche. That’s right around the corner so I’ll try there after lunch.
Being stuck at home without being able to go to a bar for a cup of coffee or to a restaurant for an occasional meal has some side effects. One is that food becomes a bit of a fixation. My wife Judy, who is a fantastic cook, makes this fixation hard to resist for both of us, for her because she loves to cook, for me because I love to eat what she cooks. For lunch today she made Spaghetti alla Bolognese and right now I’m sitting at the computer typing with one hand and eating a chocolate chip cookie with the other. Everyone I know here is going through this. My friend Alan in Portugal is baking brownies and eating candy bars and my friend Heidi, who has sold baked goods over the Internet for years, has been turning out a never-ending stream of cakes, cupcakes and coffee cakes.
More news as it happens. Everyone please be safe.
©Paul Adam Goldfield 2020