(A series of personal observations recorded in the countryside in the province of Salerno as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 27, 2020)
I watch the prime minister’s address on Saturday night and spend the day digging in the earth on Sunday. We have another month ahead of us before there will be a cautious normalcy, before we can take a coffee out, or go out to eat something with friends. Perhaps. Between now and then, little by little, there will be movement. My architect’s work-sites will open next week. Next Tuesday he’ll need to go across the valley, which hasn’t happened in nearly two months. I’m envious. I want to go across the valley on a Tuesday too. I would even go to his meeting, stressful for him and not at all interesting to me, just to see if the poppies have started blooming near the Carthusian monastery yet, or if there’s still snow on Monte Cervati; or if the storks have come back to their nests this year.
(A series of personal observations recorded in the countryside in the province of Salerno as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 25, 2020)
Oggi è la Festa della Liberazione.
Today is Liberation Day, a celebration of the end of Mussolini’s fascist regime and of the Nazi occupation of Italy. It is a celebration of the Resistance, of the partigiani— the bands of civilians who rose up against the military occupation.
O partigiani, porta mia via
O Bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao ciao ciao.
(O freedom fighters, take me away
goodbye beautiful, goodbye)
Ma della liberta, cosa abbiamo adesso?
But of liberty, what do we have now?
It’s a conspiracy.
It’s 3am and I’m not sleeping.
Of course, it’s a conspiracy.
We’re not talking Bill Gates or 5G or the Knights of Templar here.
It’s “conspiracy”, as in collusion, mutual agreement; collaboration even.
It’s the power of the word:
Something has to change.
Things can’t go on like this.
It has to stop now.
Have these been your words?
Today smells of rain and crushed geraniums.
Across the street from the studio there’s a building being renovated. It’s owned by the Church and will be the home of the new priest, as the old one has not, after nearly three years of retirement, agreed to leave the apartment that would normally house the village priest. Before the renovations, the Church had allowed a man to live there, a painter who, having no family left and being rather lost in society at large, was taken in and given a home. He showed me his paintings once, colorful beautiful visions done with an un-taught naïve hand. He took care of the roses at the edge of the garden and had geraniums in the all the windows of the stairwell turret. I can see them from my terrace.
I’m not sure where he went when the work started last fall, but he left behind the geraniums. I don’t believe they’ve been watered since. They definitely haven’t been watered since the jobsite was closed over a month ago in accordance with lockdown ordinances.
Friday we watch from the back windows of the building where we have our studios. We can see the hills climb up into mountains there. There is a path that cuts across the nearest steep hillside and walking down it are two carabinieri, followed by an old blue car. I know who they’ve got. I don’t know really know the man other than to see him, and I always hated that he drove his car up the steep stone path, but still, to bring him down for picking asparagus?
Rules are rules.
That’s the argument.
I don’t wholly agree of course.
(A series of personal observations recorded in the countryside in the province of Salerno as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 17, 2020)
Quarantine. From the Italian "quarantina". 40 days. Forty days and nights in the desert. Forty days under the bodhi tree. Have I been in the desert? Not really. Under a tree? Occasionally. Maybe I haven’t been making the best use of these 40 days. There have been some visions though, and a few demons. We still have a ways to go. Another 40? Maybe.
A few days ago, Tuesday, Italy started taking some very tentative steps to lifting restrictions. Bookstores now join the exceedingly short list of “essential businesses” and have been allowed to open up again. Our local bookseller’s shop is only big enough to turn around in. It was Arsenio’s father‘s before his and he not only sells books, but pens, pencils, notebooks, folders, paper, cards and envelopes. Not many other booksellers do, nor will they send a fax for you or make copies like this one does....
(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 14, 2020)
It’s been a few days since I took to the hills and so this morning I go, prepared with gloves, shears and a large bag to collect some nettles for drying and some for a soup. I’m drawn into the details: all the things growing from between the rocks that line the path, or escaping into crevices with the flourish of of a tail. Most everything growing or escaping is green, which is a good thing. I am aware that soon the black snakes will come out in the open to mate and the brown and grey vipers have probably already begun to leave their hibernation.
Moving past the dry open rocky part of the hill I enter the woods.
There are more things blooming or about to bloom than there were just a few days ago. I’m curious about the things I don’t recognize. Some of them are from a plant family familiar enough that I don’t mind crushing a leaf, smelling, getting a sense of it. Something is budding that I will come back and check on soon because I think it might be comfrey. I wonder what else besides the plants I already know are useful, edible or medicinal.
There’s a place where two paths converge and this is where I start to find my nettles.
(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 13, 2020)
I’ve rather lost count. I’ve skipped some days. Is it Sunday? Was it Easter? Monday? After so many weeks the effort of keeping track seems meaningless.
It’s spring. It's now later in spring than it was earlier, when all the moist sunny places were covered in bright yellow blossoming lesser celandine. Now is when the wisteria just blooms. Today is part of the greater period of wild fennel, which sprouted just after the violets did, and part of the smaller period of orchids, which will disappear months before the fennel seeds, being too delicate to face the heat. If it weren’t for my architect, I’d already have wholly succumbed to a calendar more like this. I would say things like: on the day the wind brings sand from the Sahara, I’ll meet you between the two walnut trees after the periwinkle opens but before the sun touches their leaves. I would be living by my own clock. It wouldn’t be a clock based on business hours. It might not even be one based entirely on the sun. What if I’d rather wake when the moon rises? Always at a different time so as to better know each hidden part of what passes for a day.
(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 9, 2020)
(I skipped a day)
A full minute of joyful ringing bells at midday and the Quaresima, forty days that began with ashes on a Wednesday, is over. Holy Thursday.
There’s something else in the air today too. The street in front of my studio has seemed busier and busier with traffic and passing conversation over the past several days, even during the hours of the midday lunch break when it’s typically nearly silent. The piazza in front of our apartment is fuller. The sun is higher and brighter, the air drier; the day warmer. Spring is rushing now; every day something else spouts flowers or yellow-green leaves.
It’s as if, collectively, patience has run out. Can we just get on with it already?
(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, first published April 7, 2020)
It’s interesting to me how relatively quickly we’ve adapted to the state of things. Lately I’m feeling little wells of gratitude rise up over things I’d previously taken for granted. I’ve accepted that “I don’t know” is a perfectly reasonable response and need not produce anxiety. I’ve stopped trying to make plan Bs, Cs, Ds, and Es to recuperate my previous, and quite interrupted, plans. I’ve stopped trying to guess about what will happen. It seems exhausting just watching “experts” try. I’ve stopped thinking that there must be someplace better than where I am now, or something better than what I’m doing now.
Some time in the last week or so I even stopped calling for the cat. I hadn’t exactly given up hope, but it’s been more than four weeks now. Sometimes I could swear I heard him and would look out the back windows, down to where he might be waiting at the back door, scanning the rooftops of the woodsheds where he liked to sun; squinting at the grey branches of the neighbor’s fig tree to see if he were stretched out along one, barely visible, grey–on-grey. Today, arriving at the studio, I looked out through the window on the stairwell into the back gardens.
I added this blog as a way to share some thoughts and experiences around the impact of Covid-19 on my life here in Southern Italy. These posts have been a near-daily practice during this time and are largely unedited, most having been first posted on Facebook. They are of course in order with the most recent entry on the first page. I invite you to explore previous posts or even start from the beginning.