Florence, Italy: US Expat Life in the COVID19 Quarantine
That's how quickly our lives changed. This article is not like my other articles. I'm going to get personal and allow you a glimpse into my real life. This quarantine in Italy is unsettling. I've never seen Florence so empty. So eerie. Although we are staying positive and signing on the balconies, sometimes we cry when we are alone.
The soaring numbers of ICU cases and deaths in northern cities is deeply troubling. The Italian healthcare system, which is the best in Europe, is extremely strained right now. Military has stepped in to help hard-hit areas process the large number of deceased.
I feel like I am on the set of a dystopian movie.
Today is 20 March 2020. Eleven days ago, the prime minister of Italy appeared on TV and declared the entire country a "zona rossa" (red zone). He imposed a national quarantine.
We were aware of COVID19 sweeping through China and leaking into Europe. We knew it had reached Italy, but we never expected it to impact us like this.
The schools were already shut down, and so were the major museums. The academic programs had closed too, sending over 6000 American college students home. Shortly after the quarantine was announced, the rest of the lingering tourists vanished.
We noticed the change immediately in Florence. Nothing prepared us for the deafening silence and deserted streets of the world's top travel destination. In all my years working in tourism prior to becoming a full time writer, I have never seen anything like this.
On 10 March, we went about our lives as usual. Pubs and restaurants had to be closed by 6pm, people were out and about, no big deal. Life went on.
Two days later, on 12 March, EVERYTHING shut down.
The only places open now are alimentari (butcher shops, bakeries, produce vendors), supermarkets, and pharmacies. What's more, you need an official document and a residency card / ID to go to the grocery store. It must be the one closest to your home, and you cannot wander into a neighboring city. No loitering in public, no group gathering, no strolling the streets or going to your friend's home for dinner. No socializing. Flaunting these regulations may lead to an arrest and fine.
The economy in European cities that rely on tourism will be greatly impacted by this quarantine. Florence is no exception. These glorious spring days should have been accompanied by a healthy dose of tourists. Not this year. I fear that many businesses will not recover.
Daily walk in the Tuscan hills
I power walk every morning. As a professional writer, I need to get my blood circulating since I sit down a lot. What's more, I suffer from anxiety / depression and outdoor physical activity is crucial to my physical and mental health. The NYT recently released an article stating that if healthy people under quarantine take daily walks in the sunshine, it is beneficial. Naturally, they must maintain social distancing and try to avoid populated areas.
For me, who grew up between two parking lots and an old factory building in New England, trekking through the breathtaking Tuscan hills is a privilege. I never imagined I would live anywhere so beautiful. There are many winding deserted roads near my home and I rarely encounter other people.
My husband took this photo of me a couple of days ago. Many places have sold out of masks and I have really bad allergies. In order to protect myself from itchy pollen that leads to sinus infections, I cover up with a scarf.
Currently, the quarantine allows us to jog, run, and power walk. Because so many people have abused this allowance, however, Italy is considering forbidding these activities. They've already prohibited physical activity in certain regions. If Tuscany implements this decree, I will be devastated since my walks are now sacred.
Ironically, people are totally allowed to queue outside tobacconist shops in order to purchase cigarettes during a viral outbreak that attacks the lungs. Go figure.
A crisis allows you to see what is truly important and how little we need to live and be happy. Maybe when this is over, it will curb the rabid consumerism so prevalent in our society. Who knows?
COVID19 has deepened my appreciation for the countless people in society putting themselves at risk to save lives, keep us safe, and feed us. It's not the celebrities or star athletes who are doing this. The REAL heroes are the countless doctors, nurses, truck drivers, farmers, utility workers, military, police, firemen, EMTs, and the countless people in retail selling food and medicine. Children should look up to role models, and plenty of them emerge during a crisis.
I don't normally do windows. Seriously. On Day 7 of the quarantine, I cleaned all of my windows. See how they sparkle? I've been watching videos on You Tube featuring Italians describing their lives during quarantine. The majority have commented on their super clean houses. Coincidence?
I've been researching historical content for my books and reading for pleasure. Much more than usual. Yesterday, while reclining on my sun-drenched sofa reading, I actually fell asleep. I woke up with a start. I'm a workaholic! I never take naps! Since I had nowhere to go and my computer needed to charge, I gave myself permission to indulge in this luxury. Who sleeps during the day? Apparently I do under quarantine. This caused me to reevaluate how I treat myself.
In short, this quarantine has forced everyone to slow down. That's not a bad thing for certain personalities (mine included).
Needless to say, I have been writing more than usual. I'm already a prolific writer, now I'm on overdrive. I'm working on two novels simultaneously. One features Veronica Franco (set in 16th century Venice) and the other features Giulia Di Marco (17th century Naples). Quarantine = zero distractions.
I asked my husband on a date a few nights ago. He appeared puzzled and reminded me that we can't go anywhere. I suggested an aperitivo on the balcony. We sat outside with our negroni cocktails and left our phones inside the apartment. After taking a moment to listen to the strange silence of our neighborhood, we began chatting. It was nice to step outside our routine for a change. Normally, he has conference calls with US in the afternoons, but they were canceled due to the COVID19 shutdowns.
We've been watching funny videos together to combat the negativity online. Laughter is the best medicine for everything. Italians love to joke around and they are uploading some of the best clips I've seen in a while. Take for instance the Facebook video "Basta, io esco" (Enough, I'm going out):
Since we can't go out to our favorite trattorias, I've been cooking a lot more than usual. So has my husband. It's nice to be able to take our time in the kitchen and experiment with new recipes. We have more time to enjoy our meals together too.
"Everything is going to be okay"
Let's be honest, the media is relentless in its fear mongering. I blame irresponsible journalists for the initial panic we experienced here in Italy, and also for the bizarre toilet paper hoarding in Australia and US. FYI: this virus attacks the respiratory system, not the bowels. Hysteria and panic only worsen a situation. People need to remain calm and cool-headed.
Children are perhaps the most resilient among us. I don't have any kids, but I've been paying attention to the posts parents are sharing online. Many Italian children are stuck inside small apartments with no balconies or terraces. Gardens are rare. Parents cannot take them to parks. I can only imagine how challenging this must be for everyone.
Adults are doing their best to keep kids entertained and prevent them from getting anxious or scared. Italian youths began creating colorful rainbows with the words "andra' tutto bene" (everything will be okay). I snapped this photo of a charming chalk rainbow near my home. It made me smile.
Reading has always been my favorite way to escape reality. It eases my stress. For those of you in quarantine, please know that all C. De Melo eBooks are free on Amazon to anyone who is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. Americans in US can take advantage of this feature. For those not enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, visit my website and contact me with your title of choice. I'll send you the PDF for free.
That's my "cope with COVID19" contribution.
By the way, did you see the articles about Venice's canals being crystal clear? Wildlife is returning to the city! The air in Florence is clean, no more smog. Italy's pollution has diminished considerably during this lock down. Hopefully, when this is over, nations will realize the importance of boosting their own economies. There's no need to outsource to other countries, which places a burden on our planet. What's more, if every government implemented laws against planned obsolescence, we could buy less quantities of better quality items and lower waste worldwide. Sustainability is key going forward in preventing further global viral outbreaks. That's my humble opinion, anyway.
Be smart, take precautions, but don't panic. No need to wipe out shelves at the grocery store either. This isn't a zombie apocalypse. It's a temporary quarantine until the virus is contained.
Stay safe everyone and read #CDeMeloBooks
C. De Melo