(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19,
first published March 22, 2020)
I’ve just come home from the studio for lunch and he’s still in pajamas. This is unusual.
I kiss his forehead.
“No fever. “ I say.
“I should take my temperature.”
“I’m 100% sure that you don’t have a fever.” I say walking past him towards the kitchen. I take temperatures the way my mother did, with a kiss to the forehead. Only if it’s important to know the number do we take out a thermometer.
I see that the thermometer is on the table by the sofa. “How many times have you taken your temperature today?”
He responds by taking the thermometer out of its case and sticking it under his arm. Every half hour all morning then.
“I could be really sick you know. I was coughing. A lot.”
“When?” I heard nothing all night or before I left.
“All morning. And my throat feels funny.” The thermometer beeps. Normal.
“Have you been taking the olive leaf tincture I made?” I say from the kitchen. We both know what he’s thinking and I’m not inclined towards panic.
“Yes, I took some this morning.” He comes in.
“And your throat is burning or is it aching?”
“And do you feel hot or cold in general right now, in your body.”
“Cold.” He pulls his grandfathers wool sweater closed and goes back to the sofa.
I prepare a hot tisane with sage (for the throat) and ginger (because he feels chilly), adding a little honey to soothe both the throat and the heart and a squeeze of lemon to pull it all together.
After lunch I bring up that another outing to the supermarket may be in order. We’re out of eggs and wine, among other things. (No, we haven’t been subsisting on just eggs and wine).
“I’m not sure if we should go. I don’t feel so well.” He has the thermometer in his hand again.
“Of course you shouldn’t go. I can go. I’ll just go to AnnaMaria’s. We don’t need much.”
I go out and instead of walking across the small piazza to the bodega on the corner, I turn left and walk up the narrow street towards the house of my young friend. He’s 19 and, abandoned by his family as they fled a rival clan, set out from Ghana a couple years ago. After the long and dangerous trip so many like him make, he arrived at the port of Salerno, surprised to learn that Europeans spoke a language other than English, the language he learned in school. We became friends, passing in the street one day. I was happy to see the rich color of his skin and he was happy to discover that I speak English. He’s alone and in that in-between state before boys become men, so I can’t help but mother him a little. We spoke yesterday and he told me he didn’t have internet or any books to read. Finding a copy of Old Man and the Sea, I’d left it on his doorstep this morning. The book is still there. And the house is dark. I knock firmly on the door and call his name. The light comes on, the door opens. He’s been sleeping all day.
“You can’t just sleep all day!” I fake exasperation.
He laughs. And he’s happy for the book. It’s not really about the book.
“It’s a classic for high school reading in the States. I’m not sure you’ll like it but… “
“Thank you. Of course I will try it.”
“And wash your hands! I’m not sick but I touched the book and--“
He laughs again. “Of course, of course, it’s just the precaution.” His accent is a lilt between British and something African.
“Ok, well, eat something! Are you eating? And get a little air … do you need anything? Don’t forget to wash your hands!” He’s still laughing as I shout and turn to go back down the piazza. I can’t help myself. One of my own boys is on another continent and the other may as well be.
At the bodega I wander up one aisle and back down the other. Eggs, paper towels.
“Cara, I’ll take that last scamorza please.”
At the cash register, I can see Annamaria is tired, but I ask her how she is anyway.
Her eyes are suddenly wet. She is tired and worried; terrified really. Her words are muffled by her mask and she wipes down the counter with alcohol as she talks: her mother, her daughter who is small for her age, her son who is home from university and helping at the store.
“I want him to stay home but he says I won’t leave your side mamma.”
It’s the present: there are two more cases in this town since yesterday, others in her town across the valley. Only two ICU beds in the hospital. It’s the future: What kind of future will our children have? What will they do? I’ve invested everything in this store. How will we get through this? Everything is already changed.
“You know I love to hug people, but I can’t hug anyone anymore. I don’t know, after this is over, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to hug anyone anymore. Maybe I won’t want to; I won’t trust this. Even my own son, he hugs me this morning and I tell him, you can’t hug me! But he says, everything yours is mine.”
I listen. Everyone needs a witness sometimes.
“I understand,” I say finally. “It’s such a scary time.”
Everyone needs permission to be terrified sometimes.
“It’s true that we don’t really know how this will turn out. We can’t say what the future will bring. Everyone’s doing what they can though.” I say. “Look, you’re showing up. This community needs you right now. You’re doing everything you can.”
Everyone needs to know that they’re enough sometimes.
“This might sound crazy,” I say, “But I see some good things coming out of this. Yes, we’ll have some challenges to face-- let’s be realistic-- but there’s already good coming out of this. We’re seeing what needs to be fixed in our world. There will be opportunity to work together. And the environment-- ”
She nods and starts talking about the canals in Venice. Have you seen the canals? And about the clean air over Rome.
“Oh, and my husband had to make a delivery in Napoli the other day. He was driving his truck to Napoli and he said, cara mia, I’ve never seen it so beautiful there before. Vesuvio! You should have seen it! Just perfect and clear... Incredible.”
I could tell that behind her mask she was smiling a little.
She took a deep breath.
“We just have to carry on Melì.”
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.