(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19,
first published March 16, 2020)
I can hear them outside in the piazza. I peek through the curtains. There are three of them and they are clearly not following the order to "restate a casa", stay at home. They are keeping their distance from each other as suggested though, and there’s about a meter and a half or more between each of them. Which means they’re shouting at each other.
They’re shouting at each other.
Yes, I know.
Should we say something?
What can we say?
I don’t know… “stop shouting”? “We live here”? “Go home for chrissake”?
My crankiness isn’t an effect of the lockdown. I don’t spend a lot of time at home because our apartment, like many ground-floor apartments, isn’t all that comfortable. It’s right up against the piazza, for one thing. It wasn’t intended to be used as living space. It should be shop, maybe, or a garage, now that no one keeps donkeys in it anymore. It’s dark and opens only to the street/piazza. I’m a tree-house dweller. A quiet tree-house dweller. So unless it’s raining heavily and no one comes outside, I tend to feel a little bombarded in this cave-like space: all the conversations, shouted or not, the bells, the cars, the filling and emptying of the piazza between morning mass and evening mass, the two-year old across the way whose parents put her out on the balcony to scream, delivery trucks idling, dogs in heat; rowdy soccer-like games at the inexplicable hour of 10pm. Our situation was supposed to be temporary, a transition between my 2nd floor apartment with the sunny south facing balcony and a house in the countryside. It’s been two years and we’ve agreed that a change is vital. We also agreed that since I have two residencies and a couple workshops planned and wouldn’t be here between March and September, we’d put off any move til the fall.
I plan, so God’s laughing. My mother’s probably laughing too because this is one of her favorite sayings. I’m not having particularly warm feelings towards either of them in this moment.
The only upside was that the order to “restate a casa” would mean an empty piazza. Peace in our apartment.
In theory anyway.
Finally G., my hero in pajama pants, opens the door. The shouting buddies look over. There’s really no need for words. He holds out one hand and puts his fingers together as if taking a pinch of salt, upturned. He makes eye contact and wags the hand in their direction. Ragazzi, this says, whaddya doin’?
They nod and wave, understanding. Shortly afterwards there’s quiet again.
On the TV news there’s someone going around interviewing whoever they find on the street or at their open window in the southern city of Matera. There’s almost no one. Whoever they find though says the same thing: c’è la faremmo, we’ll make it.
In an empty piazza they interview an elderly man who talks animatedly about this unprecedented lockdown, about the durability of Italians; about the solidarity and strength of all the people at home right now. It is wonderful, he says, everyone working together for this.
He says: “However, for me…”
And then he shrugs. This gesture starts with a lift of the shoulders (I’m sorry but it’s impossible, it says) and moves, wavelike, down into the hands that open outwards (it’s out of my hands) and simultaneously up through the neck, tilting the head, making the chin jut out. The eyebrows raise. The mouth half-smiles. (Regretfully, there is nothing to be done.)
“… no. At home I just cannot stay.”
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.