Italy In The Time Of Coronavirus


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It has been hard and I know it will get even harder. Part of my family and friends are here in New Jersey as well as in other states, but my two children, ages 20 and 27, plus my mother and many other relatives and friends live in Italy and in Europe. I obviously worry about all of them: After all, I am a mother as well as an Italian so it is in my job description to be worrying about everyone.

I did lose quite a few hours of sleep, and unfortunately, I will probably lose more. I believe that I need to be in charge of all my family, and how can I accomplish my duty when I cannot even get on a plane to go to Italy and be with my children and when I do not know whether I should be even visiting my 92-year-old mother-in-law in New Jersey as I do not know whether I could be carrying the virus to her?

I woke up, on Friday the 13, on a leap year. Let me stop here: I grew up in Italy and this is what I heard all my life: “Anno bisesto, anno funesto,” which translates as “Leap year, fatal year.” So far it has not been such a great year: flooding in Italy, fires in Australia, now the pandemic. And on Friday March 13, the weather is quite awful. It is foggy, raining, gray and really unpleasant.

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I get out of bed, and gravitate towards my laptop. I start navigating–Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram–and it starts. I do not remember laughing so much everyday as I have in the past two weeks. Let me make it clear: I know people are dying and suffering, and I also know that people are facing hard financial decisions as they need to decide whether to be safe or have enough money to pay for essential expenses. But Italians are just coming up with more and more reasons every day for why I should be either laughing or learning something new every day.

Let’s start with humor. I get so many funny posts and messages that I am laughing for hours every day. One of my favorites: When all of Italy was declared a red zone, somebody posted a map of Italy, all red, with the hammer and sickle, symbols of the Communist party, on it and the comment, “We finally did it!” Ok, maybe this is not so funny, but what about the map of Europe with the words, “If we keep on coughing ahead, we may be able to reconquer the Roman Empire”? And the photo of a woman in a subway train using a plunger to hold on and avoid touching anything? I could go on and on… but it is very difficult to translate jokes in another language.

Apart from laughing, social media is making me enjoy some very special moments about life in Italy at this troubling time. It may be a stereotype, but people often relate Italians to music. This makes sense to me because all my life in Italy I heard people say “Canta che ti passa,” that is, “Sing so you will get over it.” The idea is that art, especially music, will help you get over hard times in your life. You may have seen on social media how so many Italians, in different cities, came up with spontaneous communal singing from their windows and terraces: absolutely beautiful! It actually brought tears to my eyes because I see human beings reaching out to each other using music and creativity.

I am not a fan of Facebook but I came across this new group called Decamerone 2020. I am not sure how many of you are familiar with 14th century Italian author Boccaccio who wrote The Decameron. The frame story is about a group of people who ran away from the Black Death, a pandemic, and were stuck together in a villa. They chose to tell each other stories to pass time until it was safe to go back to society. This Facebook group is asking for all to come up with a story, a poem, or some sort of creative writing every day. How great is that? Use your time to create something instead of just be sitting in front of the TV!

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Last but not least, I found links to virtual tours of many museums in Italy. There’s one for the Uffizi Gallery and Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, and the Vatican museum.

The way I see it: people are suffering and dying, but there is a silver lining. We may learn how to live more creative and meaningful lives.

Photo by Karsten Würth on Unsplash

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