(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19, ... still a day behind)
For the first time since the lockdown began, I actually stay home, inside, all day. I make us crepes for breakfast and then settle into the chair by the fireplace. There’s no fire, and there won’t be, but I can smell smoke every time the wind blows the smoke from someone else’s fire down our chimney. There’s been no fire since our chimney caught fire last year. Though not actually very dangerous—our buildings aren’t built of flammable materials and the fire didn’t escape the chimney—the episode was pretty terrifying and illuminated the fact that a chimney that zigzags it’s way to the roof is not a healthy chimney, even if it’s been like that for 40 years since the palazzo was hastily rebuilt after the earthquake. I’d been convinced it was poisoning us by smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning for some time and am not especially disappointed not to have a blaze going.
The chair I’m in just fits between the fireplace and the door to a vestibule from which you can turn immediately to the left and be in a small windowless storage room, or immediately to the right and find the small kitchen. After about an hour of working, I swing my legs over the side of the chair and get up, opening the vestibule door, intending to fill my teacup in the kitchen. The vestibule is full. The three small wooden carts we use for storage and counter space are crammed in there tightly. There’s no room to pass. I peek through the upturned chair legs of our two kitchen chairs. Inside the kitchen, the stove is pulled away from the wall, the square table is full with items, most of which I don’t recognize and G. is vigorously mopping the floor.
Ordinarily, one can stand in place in the center of the kitchen and reach almost every corner with the mop without actually moving. There’s a lot more movement going on inside the kitchen than I’d expect.
“Is there… can I?” I hold up my mug.
“Is it really necessary to take all the furniture out of the kitchen to…?”
“If you’re going to do something, you might as well do it thoroughly.” He doesn’t look up from his work. I go back to my chair. After a short while he reaches out from behind the blockade waving the stripped cotton rug that we keep in front of the sink.
“Do you think Gena [at the laundromat] takes rugs? She’s open Sunday mornings right? The rug is filthy.”
“I don’t know.” I’m in the thick of working out just how to frame an idea and my interest in rugs, dirty or not, is at an all-time low. “Maybe it’s not really that dirty.”
“Oh, it’s dirty. Look at it!”
I look up from my computer and over my shoulder. “You’re right, it’s dirty.”
“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.”
“Do you want me to call Gena?”
“No.” Pause. “I mean what’s the point in cleaning the whole kitchen—“
“Look, I can take care of the rug tomorrow.”
“No. It’s fine.” My lack of commitment to this project has already been noted and my offer comes too late.
On the other side of the doorway from the chair, is the sofa. If you want to pass from the vestibule to the door to the bedroom and bathroom, or towards the front of the apartment to the door that leads outside, you need to pass in front of the couch, closely enough to step on the feet of whoever is sitting there.
I am feeling safe in my chair as G. shifts his focus from the kitchen to the bathroom. He clips my elbow as he passes, so I shift closer to the fireplace. Doors open and close.
“Maybe you shouldn’t push yourself today” I say. “You weren’t feeling so great yesterday.”
He knows very well what this actually means and, unfortunately, is not deterred.
A bucket is transported; return trip; mop; return trip; a cleaner; return; a different cleaner. Pause.
“Your vinegar isn’t working on the toilet, do we have bleach?”
We might but he knows I prefer we didn’t use it. It gives me a headache and there are no windows to open in the bathroom.
“Fine. It’s just going to stay yellow then” He says. “Without the bleach.”
I don’t mention that it’s never actually been white and try to concentrate on the email I’m writing.
“Well, I’ll just make sure everything else is clean I guess.”
Back to the bathroom; out again.
“Do we have clothespins?”
“Under the kitchen sink.”
“Where?” he peeks his head out from the kitchen and turn in my chair and I point.
Clothespins; bathroom; return trip; something else; bathroom again.
There is a crash from the bathroom, a shattering of glass. I do by best to feign concern.
“Are you okay? Here, let me get the broom.”
I get up, grab the broom and dustpan from the now-cleared vestibule, and hand it to him through the narrow opening of the bathroom door. I peek in and the glass jar that usually sits on the shelf below the mirror is in pieces and the comb, scissors, tweezers, chopsticks, hair clips and assorted other items are scattered on the floor.
Later in the evening, I’ll find this collection, inexplicably, in the bidet.
Finally, kitchen cleaned, bathroom cleaned, hair trimmed, beard trimmed, showered and dressed in something besides sweats (not sure why), my companion claims the sofa. It’s four in that afternoon by now and I, feeling somewhat frazzled, start my soup. A hot shower calms me as the soup cooks. I manage to finish the proposal I was writing. It took nearly 6 hours (on top of the work already done), but it’s finished.
It isn’t necessarily the confinement to the apartment that I find unsettling, though at other times of my life, “staying home” has meant having an upstairs and a downstairs and a front yard and a backyard to roam around in. It’s more the fact that I find, and have always found, that silence and solitude are really quite lovely companions. I can’t hear my muses over other people’s chatter, for one thing. When my children were young and I worked at home, I protected my studio with: “You may knock on the door only if someone is bleeding, and by bleeding, I mean heavy, emergency-room style bleeding. Otherwise you know where the band-aids are.”
My relationships, as anyone who’s ever lived with me will attest to, are so much more pleasant when I can achieve a certain degree of solitude and silence in counterbalance to an enthusiastic togetherness.
So at the end of this experimental day of 24-hour togetherness, I am washing dishes after dinner and thinking that we’re only halfway there, can we make it? We found a quieter rhythm after the cleaning subsided, danced a few minutes to the theme song at the end of a movie. Maybe it’ll be okay.
From the narrow kitchen window I can see that it’s raining, and I can see the portico of the church; and in the yellow light of the lamps I see my young Ghanian friend, thin and wiry; looking at his phone under shelter on the church steps. I don’t call out to him. I think he’s taking to someone. I know he’s come out because in his apartment there’s no signal through the stone walls; no internet. No contact with the outside world. I wonder if he will come through this period of solitude as a monk might; or if he’ll suffer, as he has before, alone on a strange continent.
The music has stopped and we’re all in the chairs we’ve found, waiting for it to begin again
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.