(A series of personal observations recorded as Italy takes action against the spread of Covid-19,
first published March 17, 2020)
"Micio!” I call.
The big picture, the global view, has receded this morning. My attention has been scattered wide lately. My attention has been on our family trifecta: China, Italy, New York. My attention has been in the valley: new cases; roads are blocked.
But my attention today is focused on a very localized and intimate detail of the global picture.
There’s no response. There hasn’t been for a week now, but I try anyway. Today I leave the back door open, just in case, and go upstairs.
My studio is on the top floor, the first floor is for my architect; the ground floor is a garage and an extra room though which you can pass to where the hidden gardens are. They’re all fenced off, a crowded network of woodsheds and fig trees, vegetable gardens and laundry: the dominion of a clowder of cats. Wheezy Pasqualino, our cat (the “studio cat” now as it seemed cruel to bind all of us together with a litter box in a small apartment where there might be a fireplace to warm by, but no patches of sunlight to laze in) has joined them. It was awkward at first. We both watched, like anxious parents at the playground, from an upstairs window as Wheezy, in his first excursions out into the gardens, tried to make friends. He did what he usually does when faced with someone new: go right up and enthusiastically introduce himself. This did not make him popular. The other cats, cooler, older and more, well, cat-like, either ignored him or swatted at him. Little by little though he’s learned their ways, though in the studio, thankfully, he remains his effable self. When the front door opens in the morning he runs down the several flights of stairs to greet me. Sometimes I pick him up, mostly to keep him out from under my feet, and he holds on. He’s a hugger. Sometimes we have visitors and it simply never occurs to him to go hide somewhere like a “normal” cat when the door buzzes. He leaps up from his snooze and goes immediately to investigate. Guests coming up the stairs are greeted with a curious cat-face peering down at them through the balusters, and are then subject to the slightly impatient, penetrating look he gives them as he waits by their feet until they finally take the seat offered and create a comfortable lap. No one ever wants to leave. His charm is impossible to resist.
So with Wheezy Pasqualino not coming home, I am of course trying to guess what is happening. He with some elderly person and is keeping them company, as this time of quarantine is even more lonely than usual. He is dead in a ditch somewhere (my go-to scenario as a mother). He is stuck in the courtyard outside Pino’s kitchen window, like the only last time it happened that he didn’t come home.
But, no, we’ve checked. Twice.
I pass by Pino’s garden on the way back home for lunch. It’s the only one of the gardens on this block that opens to the street. Pino’s there, where he was yesterday and the day before and the day before that; where he’ll likely be for weeks, pruning, weeding, tending, organizing, until whatever in this well-curated space that ever seemed unruly has been manicured into splendor.
“Cara, what else am I going to do?’ he says, snipping a pile of pruned branches into smaller pieces to be used as kindling next fall. “I’m lucky to have this garden. If I had to stay inside all day… no. I couldn’t do it.”
Pino adds another alternative to my list of potential outcomes for Wheezy: earlier this week the doctor next door found a cat dead in his garden— not cat, a fluffy one. I know her. He thinks she was poisoned.
“We are a shit people, Meli`, a shit people.” Pino mutters through his teeth.
I find out that Rosa on the other side of the garden discovered the orange one in her yard. She thinks he was just old and sick but two is too many. It’s a quarter of the crowder.
My heart aches as I decide for a moment that Wheezy Pasqualino has been poisoned.
But I don’t know.
And I shake my head and smile as I decide that he’ll turn up just fine.
But I don’t know.
And I am torn.
It’s not the cat, it’s everything.
I start a list of all the things I don’t know and can’t know right now. It’s a long list. I’m missing so much information.
There is both anxiety and spaciousness with this thought. Anxiety for what I’d like to control, manage; organize. The spaciousness is in the surrender.
There is a large hawk circling in a perfect blue sky up near the bare treetops of the mountain above me. No net, no ground, no sureness; nothing to hold onto.
There is everything and nothing. Let go.
And the sky, as I float/fall/fly, is alive with possibility.“
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.