(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19,
first published March 19, 2020)
Today is the festival of San Giuseppe. Yesterday, troops roll through Napoli, the seat of the region of Campania where I live. The day before that, my architect is stopped in the street in front of our studio. They tell him he has to work from home. If they see him again they will fine him. It doesn’t escape me that the origins of fascism are Italian. “Fascina”: a bundle of sticks, strength in unity. I’m sure it sounded reasonable at the time.
“It doesn’t escape me that the origins of fascism are Italian.” I say.
He thinks I’m overreacting.
Of course I’m overreacting. I feel like the canary in this coal mine.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose. It isn’t just a song to me, and the losing doesn't always come easy. Somewhere in my psyche it isn’t a canary that’s braced and baring it’s teeth.
The President of our region has gone above and beyond the orders of the Prime Minister and has issued an ordinance that no one can leave the house for ANY reason other than medical, food-related or “essential personnel” like those in local government offices. Artists and architects are not considered “essential personnel”. “Work from home” means work from home or don’t work at all. He’s called on the military to help enforce this.
“Can he do this? CAN HE JUST MAKE UP A NEW LAW? What gives him this power?”
“I don’t know.”
I understand the spirit of the law; I understand trying to protect people. I understand how to make choices for the good of the whole. My unwillingness to cooperate should not be mistaken for recklessness.
“But someone would have to literally launch themselves out of their house and tackle me to the ground to breathe on me or to get me to breathe on them” It’s a small town, already under populated. “I’M NOT AN IDIOT, I don’t see anyone, don’t touch anyone, haven’t gone to your mother’s in two weeks, I KNOW HOW TO WASH MY FUCKING HANDS… I haven’t even gone to do the shopping in over a week. AND NOW YOU’RE SAYING I CAN’T COME TO THE STUDIO??”
He understands that this isn’t a good time to argue with me. We’ve had conversations like this before. I say things like: freedom is our birthright and our natural state; we lose it when we fail to take responsibility for ourselves, we cause its demise when we refuse to respect the freedom of others or put our personal freedom above theirs. He says things like: It is a delicate balance.
“WHAT CAN THEY DO TO ME if they stop me and I don’t give them my documents? What? I forgot them at home and what? We all just STAND THERE LOOKING AT EACH OTHER?? Seriously, what can they do?”
He remains calm. “They will arrest you. It’s against the law to leave the house without your identification. Under any circumstances, it isn’t about this lockdown.”
He goes back down to his office to make some phone calls to friends and friends of friends: two carabinieri (one a captain), and a lawyer. He wants to understand the situation better.
Yesterday, understanding the situation better, he works from home.
Yesterday I am too tired to work so I go sleep on the grass in the woods. If you break a law in the forest and no one is there to see you, should it be a law? After lunch I sleep the rest of the day on our sofa and dream of my old front porch, of a 1920s bungalow with as many windows as walls; with rooms enough to spread out, each one filled with light and air; a roof to climb out on for a different perspective; a yard filled with violets, and the shade of a pecan tree.
It only takes a day and he decides that it is impossible to work from home.
“We can sleep at the studio,” I say.
If it comes to it, he agrees, we’ll sleep at the studio. There’s extra room, there’s a bed; a microwave and fridge. Sunlight comes in every window. We won’t have hot water but it’s a small sacrifice to pay.
Today we both come to the building, separately; carrying our lunch so we don’t have to leave until tonight. The fewer trips the better. Here, I pray in color and form; in shapes of light. Here I give the answer I always do when there aren't answers: Here, I am here, it is this moment only and I am here.
We lunch in the sun in my terrace and make a list of birds.
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.