This is my personal diary about living in Vicenza in the Northern Italian region of the Veneto during the Italy-wide Coronavirus quarantine.
I am updating it several times a day with thoughts – often jumbled – that go through my head during the days we are spending at home in Italy that is on lockdown.
My diary expresses my personal opinions and subjective experiences during the Covid-19 lockdown in Italy. I fully understand that your opinions and experiences may be completely different from mine.
Please, follow the official guidelines in terms of hygiene, staying at home, and moving around.
For up-to-date information on what is happening in Italy, please, refer to official media and sources. Some of the sources of information I follow are BBC, ANSA, Il Giornale di Vicenza, the official Facebook page of Veneto’s governor – Luca Zaia, La Repubblica, and Corriere della Sera.
If you don’t speak Italian and want to keep an eye on the Italian press and Italy’s governmental websites, you can use Google Translate to get an idea of the information if an official translation in English or other languages is not provided.
I hope that everyone is safe, healthy, and keeping a cool head.
Thank you for reading!
N.B.: If you want to share your own experiences and thoughts, please, send me a private message via my blog’s page on Facebook. I may (with your permission) post your words in my diary herewith so that the picture of how people are feeling and what they are going through is fuller. You can be in Italy or anywhere in the world!
If you decide to do it, please, kindly note that I may not be able to get back to you immediately and I don’t promise that everything and/or anything you write will be published in my blog.
Also, no defamatory language is allowed. Only personal thoughts and experiences will be considered but not necessarily accepted.
Finally, no monetary or other remuneration is offered. Just a chance to share with other people your experiences in quite an extraordinary situation.
How It All Started
On 6th March 2020, I wrote a blog post My Life in Vicenza in the Current Coronavirus Times – A Totally Personal Point of View describing the days before and after the term Covid-19 put a deep, indelible imprint on everything we do.
Since then many things have changed. The restrictions on what we can do and can’t do here in Italy have gotten more and more stringent. The goal is to curtail and stop the spread of the virus.
Hello! My name is Rossi Thomson. I am Bulgarian and for the past six years, I have been living in the city of Vicenza in the Northern Italian region of the Veneto. I speak and write in English on account of my studying this particular language for years and then spending 14 years living in England.
I have been writing this blog for over five years now. I am a linguist (originally specialising in Spanish and Portuguese) and currently I am a stay-at-home mother who writes.
Thursday – 12th March 2020
It’s Thursday and it feels like Tuesday. Which is to say that I am losing my sense of time.
It’s the third week that I am staying at home. The last time that I was out of the house was Monday – 9th March – when I went to the local bank and the small food shop just down the road. In the shop, they had asked me to put plastic gloves on my hands. They were the same thin, see-through, one-size-fits-all gloves that usually are provided free of charge in Italian shops to pick the fresh fruit and vegs.
This time, a large box filled to the brim with gloves was placed right by the entrance of the shop. I put a pair on (they are so easy to split) and then executed a complicated dance trying to stay away from the other patrons. At least a meter away, as the official decree of the Italian government prescribes. A lady with bright orange hair made my dance steps extra difficult, zipping in and out of the aisles and muttering under her breath.
The feeling was strange. In my adult life, I have never been one to willingly search the company of other people, preferring alone time, but this active avoidance of people felt really, really strange.
Since that day, I have been cooped in. I have tried to maintain a sort of routine.
Had I been left on my own devices, most probably I would have stoked on tubs of ice-cream and binge-watched Netflix.
Yet, this is not a very good approach if other people depend on you. So, I’ve defined priorities.
List of Personal Priorities While We Need to Remain Home
1. Homeschool my child – thankfully, the school has sent homework. I have printed every resource and try to maintain a semblance of a normal school day by spending time each day on the different school subjects. I am, actually, enjoying this new task of mine.
2. Spend time outside each day – once a day I walk out of the front door and spend 45 mins in our small fenced-off front yard. I have never been one for much physical exercise but now I make an effort to do some basic movements and even run up and down the length of the yard about ten times.
3. Keep the house tidy – I don’t know how we do it but we can have a clean and tidy house turn into a total mess within a minute or two. I have never been big on housework much preferring ice-cream and Netflix to dish-washing and dusting. However, at present, I make an effort to hoover every day (hurray for robot vacuums!!!), to put away stuff as soon as we are finished with it, and so on. Tidy surroundings, tidy mind!
4. Continue writing – even if it is a hundred words a day.
A friend sent me a message today to ask how we are doing in locked down Italy. I said:
‘We are OK so far. Ask me again in three weeks’ time!’
A friend sends me a picture of a balcony with something attached to it.
It’s a banner that her neighbours here in Italy have put up in the last hour or so. I zoom in as much as I can. A rainbow, a butterfly, a heart and the words:
Andra’ tutto bene
Everything is going to be alright!
It’s great! Just the boost that I am needing.
Perhaps I can also pull a sheet out of the cupboard and get our own positive placard up on the balcony!
I post on my blog’s Facebook page about this diary and the uplifting banner.
I am delighted when a lady I have never met in real life but who has been so friendly to me and a great supporter of my blog during its existence, comments with a link to an article in the British newspaper The Guardian.
The rainbow with the message Andra’ tutto bene is a spontaneous initiative taking over Italy. I feel warm inside reading the article and pleasantly surprised when I see that Luisella Romeo – an excellent licensed tourist guide for Venice – is quoted in it.
I also put a call out on Facebook asking people to share their personal experiences with me. I say:
If you want to share your own experiences and thoughts, please, send me a private message via my blog’s page on Facebook. I may (with your permission) post your words in my diary herewith so that the picture of how people are feeling and what they are going through is fuller. You can be in Italy or anywhere in the world!
If you decide to do it, please, kindly note that I may not be able to get back to you immediately and I don’t promise that everything and/or anything you write will be published in my blog.
Also, no defamatory language is allowed. Only personal thoughts and experiences will be considered but not necessarily accepted.
Finally, no monetary or other remuneration is offered. Just a chance to share with other people your experiences in quite an extraordinary situation.
Late at night.
Scrolling through the news and social media updates, it’s difficult not to feel sad.
Every night for the past two weeks or so, I ask my husband one question: ‘How many?’
I don’t need to clarify what I mean. He tells me the figure and every time I am left in shock.
From single digits to the dozens and now, three days in a row, in the hundreds.
News pieces talk about Italy’s overwhelmed health system. There are first-hand accounts of the impossible choices that Italian doctors need to make every hour of every day. Earlier today, a headline announces the passing of a leading medical figure.
A video published by a local newspaper talks about the closure of all public parks and gardens in Padua – a city a stone’s throw away from us – in order to stop people from gathering in them and thus, potentially, spreading the disease. Public parks and gardens were closed in Treviso two days ago.
In online forums and groups, people are abuzz. Some are angry with other people for not following the rules. Others are worried sick about the effects that spending long periods of time closed at home will have on them.
Thousands of kids in the Veneto haven’t been to school now for almost three weeks. Playdates and/or simply visiting friends next door are not allowed.
It’s difficult to explain to a child why things are the way they are and why every day brings new restrictions. Every day I am searching for the right words, I am trying to explain serious subjects in a calm, yet realistic way.
With regards to daily activities, I am keeping things light and fun, quickly moving along, with study time peppered with fun projects and restful downtime. Inside though and, especially late at night, I am starting to worry about the effects this isolation may have on all of us.
To counteract the thoughts, I count the many ways – sometimes aloud, often in my mind – in which we are lucky.
Ways in Which We Are Lucky
1. We have a roof over our heads. Touch wood! (or Touch iron!, as they actually say in Italian)
2. We have food. And, so far, we have been lucky enough not to witness the manic panic buying that, if online media is to be trusted, is taking place in so many other nations around the world. Plus, our usual supermarket in Vicenza is fully stocked with toilet paper and Italians are big on bidets.
3. We have each other.
4. We have internet!!!
5. We have our small fenced-off front yard and we have a balcony! Both feel like such a luxury now that we have to stay put at home.
To keep my mind occupied, a few days ago on a whim I bought an online drawing course. Designed for complete newbies and particularly, for people who think they can never learn to draw, it consists of several videos each of which walks you through a drawing exercise.
I like watching the videos. The tutor – a Spanish artist known as Puño – talks about drawing very passionately. How it helps develop our decision-making process. How it was practiced by prehistoric people long before the advent of a written language.
I spend some time working through the first exercise, letting my mind relax while picking felt-tip pens at random to create a colourful, visually raised outline of my hand.
Friday – 13th March 2020
I wake up with a start. It all feels a bit surreal now.
A cursory glance at the news. I think I am overdoing it now for I check the headlines in the British, Italian, and Bulgarian newspapers.
A headline in a British newspaper makes me really angry. It basically states that the real global emergency is that coronavirus is going to bankrupt more people than it kills. So, money is more important than life?!
What a way to prioritise on a global scale!
I am fuming internally but my priority is to keep things as normal as possible at home.
Ways to Calm Down Quickly When You Are Raging Inside But You Don’t Want Media Headlines to Stress Your Family
1. Water your plants – tell them they are beautiful and that they look gorgeous on the windowsill. You can just think it instead of saying it out loud in case you are too embarrassed to be seen talking to your plants. But, who cares, honestly. I tell my orchids they are beautiful every day.
2. Floss your teeth – take some minutes for yourself in the privacy of the bathroom and give them a good floss. Not an angry one, mind you! Just a very good, thorough one.
3. Wash the dishes – remember, tidy house, tidy mind!
4. Open the window or step on the balcony for a minute and let the air clear up your head.
In other, happier news, apparently, there will be an Italy-wide flashmob tonight at 6.00 pm Italian time. A very nice lady who follows my blog sent me a message this morning to tell me about it. All musicians are invited to play at their balcony or window in order to lift people’s spirits.
Later on, I see a post in a Facebook group about the music flashmob. Apparently, everyone can take part, even if they have just a saucepan and a big spoon to drum on it.
I tell this to my family. Enthusiasm reigns! We have a guitar, an ukulele, a toy piano, and a singer. Come on feel the noize…
Lunch today is rice salad – a simple but filling dish we have adopted the habit of preparing since moving to the Veneto in 2014. It’s simply boiled rice mixed with a selection of chopped gherkins, silverskin onions, olives, pickles, sweetcorn, etc. It sounds quite plain but with a dash of olive oil, it becomes a delicious light lunch to have when you can’t spend hours in the kitchen and yet you want to feed your family well.
Plus, with the many varieties of rice grown in Italy, this basic rice salad recipe can be easily spruced up to something quite special.
Today, I use wholegrain red rice. It takes double the time of normal white rice to boil but it has a nice chewy texture to it and makes the quick lunch a nice family meal.
My husband is working from home now and the three of us try to share the available space with as much consideration as possible for the other two.
Before lunch, I spend time playing tangram with my child. An ancient Chinese puzzle consisting of seven flat pieces, we try to arrange them in four different figures. The school has set it up as a task to keep kids learning and occupied while anchored at home.
Online, parents discuss the homework given by the different schools and the different platforms that teachers are using to get pages and pages of different tasks across to their students. It seems like every school is reacting as best as they can. Some email parents the links to pdf files with dozens of pages of homework. Others record video lessons and hold live classes online.
It’s riposo now – the sacrosanct Italian afternoon break. We try to keep quiet as much as possible. Just as we have settled into our own tasks, the bell goes ding-dong and delivery of something we had ordered last week arrives.
The courier wears thick plastic gloves on his hands and a mask on his face. He is the tenth person with a mask I have seen in Vicenza since this all started about three weeks ago. However, most of this time I have spent completely cooped at home so my observations are not really a good representation of the outside world anymore.
In any case, over the last day, I have seen through the window two of my neighbours wearing masks when going out, so wearing one regularly looks like our new normal.
My husband goes to meet the courier at the gate. I hand him a pack of wet wipes to take with him. Yes, it has come to this. Meeting another human requires full protection on both sides. Will it ever feel normal again when we don’t have to wear masks and constantly worry about the last thing our hands have touched?
I open a tin of sweetcorn to use in my rice salad. Apparently and if what’s written online is to be believed, the virus thrives on cold surfaces.
Would it have survived on the tin of corn if someone at the shop had touched it right before we had put it in our trolley and then brought it home days ago?
Questions, questions, questions…
Some absolutely stupid. Others very pertinent.
My mind is abuzz.
Do we have to carry a self-declaration form with us when we need to go outside for such a simple mundane task as throwing the rubbish in the communal bins?
Can I actually go into my own front yard seeing that we all are asked to stay at home?
How to make sure everyone at home is happy, not stressed, well-fed and well-exercised?
I guess we will have to learn as we go.
At 6 pm tonight, we opened the balcony door and presented our very best music-cum-cacophony mix to our quiet street below.
We used a guitar, a ukulele, a tambourine, and a toy piano. We strummed and then sang a song. For a great moment in time, it was fun to simply have fun.
No-one else on our street took part in the music ‘flashmob’ that was planned Italy-wide for 6 pm tonight (see my entry above from 8:34 am today).
And that’s totally OK. I would imagine people have a lot on their minds at the moment.
On Fridays, we would usually get a pizza in.
Not tonight though. Restaurants, cafes, and bars were closed all over Italy a couple of days or so ago. Restaurants can still deliver food if you call an order in. We haven’t tried it yet.
After supper – garlicky chicken with jacket potatoes and sweetcorn – we watch a film. Peter Rabbit! It turns out to be great. Lots and lots of banter. A silly but heart-warming storyline and England (London and Windermere) looking as gorgeous and perfect as they have never been.
We laugh like mad at every rooster scene. The rooster starts each day by shouting over the rooftops that he can’t believe that the sun has risen again.
Saturday – 14th March 2020
The sun has indeed risen again. It’s a bit of a grey, overcast day but here it is to Saturdays!
Although lately, the days seem to blend a bit in my mind, a Saturday is a Saturday so let’s make the best out of it.
My husband is making surprise pancakes for breakfast! But we have told our child that we can’t make pancakes as we are out of milk. Little does she know we have three small size long-lasting bottles of milk hidden in a cupboard away. So, here it is to surprises and to making Saturdays special.
On this note:
Ways to Keep Sane When You Are in a Lockdown (totally motivated by my mood after my morning glance at social media and the world’s news)
1. Find reasons to laugh every day – watch a fun film, crack a joke, be a bit silly. Laughing releases tension and makes you feel human.
2. Ignore social media warriors – that’s it people who will explain to you online how exactly you should be feeling in the situation that you are in without actually having been in the same situation, like, ever before. They are just looking to offload tension and appear important in their head.
3. Take action – from making your bed to writing a diary, anything helps to make you feel productive and useful or just to keep a clear head.
‘But I spent X amount of money!’, people say. ‘It would be a shame to lose it all!’
The reasons for losing it can be of all sorts: lack of insurance, travel company deeming a particular destination ‘safe’, insurance not covering pandemics…
I think we are at a stage where a potential financial loss and personal disappointment due to a missed travel experience must not overweight health considerations.
I mean, it all happened so quickly here in the Veneto. One day we were all celebrating Carnival and stuffing ourselves with frittelle with cream and then, three weeks later we are told to stay at home and not go out without a valid reason (and the valid reasons are very rigidly defined).
The situation changes and develops every day and, I think, our mentality needs to make a big jump to catch up with it.
‘For the common good!’ may sound thousands of times less appealing than ‘But I want it now! And if I don’t get it now, I will complain to the manager!!!’ but it’s the reality at the moment for us.
We have placed our Andra’ Tutto Bene – Everything is Going to Be Alright – poster on the balcony outside.
My child worked long and hard on it. I gave her a square torn off an old sheet, we took the bottles with acrylic paints out of the cupboard and for an hour creating the poster became the most important thing in the world for her.
It’s such a lovely initiative getting children in Italy to draw or paint a rainbow resting on two white clouds with the words Andra’ Tutto Bene painted around them. It gives kids something to focus on, to feel part of the solution, to feel positive.
In other news, someone perceivably important has made comments in the British press that the Italians are treating Coronavirus as an excuse for a long siesta.
Words fail me!
First, why is everyone feeling like they need to say anything at all?! Just because they have a Dr. in front of their name, it doesn’t mean their opinion is of any interest and/or help to anyone.
Then, if we are going to be dismissive of other nations, let’s use the correct terminology, after all. Italy doesn’t have a siesta. Italy has a riposo! It’s an extended lunch break and you can read more about it here:
And then, Italy – often misunderstood and stereotyped – actually and perhaps thanks to its riposo, works very hard. I have never seen so many small and medium businesses in one place. Such an entrepreneurial spirit!
At a time when most high streets all over Europe are an imitation of each other with branches of huge multinational companies taking all available retail space, Italy’s high streets still feature predominantly home-grown brands, small shops, a variety of local businesses.
Italy is a traditional country where things tried and tested over decades and centuries are not easily dismissed in the name of more money and ill-perceived marketability.
Yes, it can be a bit of a shock to the system when you first move to Italy and you find out that shops and businesses – mostly in the small cities and towns – close for two to three hours each afternoon. Yes, it may appear like madness to you coming from a country where overworking and not taking a proper lunch break is considered the norm.
Yet, in Italy, it works for them and given the choice between having to eat my lunch at the computer with my boss hovering over my head or taking a nice long lunch break, I know which I will choose.
Going back to Italy’s small shops.
My husband returns from throwing the rubbish in the communal bins. I had outfitted him with plastic gloves and our one precious bottle of hand gel (and a pack of wet wipes, too!). He tells me the small shops lining the nearby high street – a butcher’s, a bakery, a fruit and veg shop and so on – are open and have small queues in front of each. People are keeping the prescribed one-meter distance from each other but talking cheerfully among themselves.
He suggests that I go out to the fruit and veg shop today to buy some fresh produce.
I haven’t been beyond our front yard since Monday morning of this week. I don’t have a valid need to be out and about and also I am a stickler for rules. And rules say we need to stay at home.
I am sorely tempted to quickly run to the fruit and veg shop. It’s just around the corner, after all.
My child is going to be upset as she can’t come with me.
So many questions are abuzz in my head.
How to make sure we pull through all this feeling happy, relaxed and productive al the way through?!
How to make sure that we observe the rules yet go out when strictly needed without creating drama at home?!
Riposo starts soon.
It’s a great time to relax and think. Thank God for riposo in Italy!
It is so, so silent here.
It has been really quiet for days now.
Before there were constantly cars coming down our street, kids returning from school, the noises of a drilling machine used in home repairs or whatnot.
Lately, it’s been simply silent. To the point where if you watch a video with the volume at 10% in one room, in the room next door I can hear it loud and clear.
It’s drizzling slightly outside.
I went to the fruit and veg shop by myself this afternoon. I need to be honest and tell you that it was an emotionally draining experience for me.
I prepared carefully for what, normally, would be a ten-minute pop down to the shops. I filled an auto-certification form, as it is required to have one when you venture out of the house, to specify what’s the purpose of you being outside. I put my ID in my pocket, then added my debit card and our one precious bottle of hand gel.
The streets were empty. The large street next to us usually is chockfull with traffic and you have to be extra careful on the zebra at all times. Now, the lanes were deserted and I saw three moving cars for the short amount of time I spent outside. So many parked cars though.
I saw perhaps twenty people in total – many of them with masks.
In front of the shop, I had to wait for a minute or two for a customer to finish paying and leave so as to avoid having too many people inside at any one point.
Inside, they were providing thick gloves for customers to put on. In principle, customers in Italian shops are not allowed to touch the fresh produce with bare hands. So, there is always a box with thin plastic gloves that we use to place apples, onions, and whatnot in thin plastic bags.
This time, the gloves provided were proper latex gloves so I put one on each hand and got on with shopping.
People carefully avoided each other, cautiously looking at you to see if you observed the required metre of social distance.
My mind was a flurry with intrusive thoughts. I tried to focus on picking up the fruit and vegetables that we needed at home. Carrots, tomatoes, crunchy apples, bananas, mushrooms, potatoes, leeks, aubergines.
White asparagus is the big event of Veneto’s spring for me.
This most exclusive and expensive vegetable in other parts of the world was first grown here in the Veneto several centuries ago. To this day, the lands around us are particularly good for the cultivation of white and green asparagus. Come spring thick bunches with perfect straight shoots grace market stalls and fruit and veg shops.
Usually, seeing the first white asparagus for the year is like a big thing for me. It tells me that spring is here and my beloved spring months can be enjoyed in full force with all the trees in bloom, vineyards coming to life, and blue skies above us all.
I put a bunch of white asparagus in my basket and head to the till.
On the way back home, I pass by a neighbour of mine. He and his daughter are exercising in front of their door. I give them the polite wide berth.
He looks at me and says: ‘Ho tanta voglia di stare fuori!‘ (I have such desire to be outside!)
I reply in my faltering Italian: ‘Capisco molto bene!‘ (I understand very well!)
Dinner is a resounding success.
Everyone chips in to help make the food.
I roast chips. My husband marinates and then fries pork chops chopped in tiny pieces and prepares a lovely tomato salad with dry parsley and a drizzle of olive oil. Then we make tarator – a traditional Bulgarian dish with cucumber and natural yogurt. It sounds wacky but it’s very nice.
At dinnertime, we listen to music.
Three Songs to Lift Your Spirits and Even Make You Dance a Bit
1. Drops of Jupiter by Train
2. Mr. Brightside by The Killers
3. Feeling Good by Muse
Sunday – 15th March 2020
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day and a new life!
And it’s time for breakfast. Hurray! As we have been up since 8.35 am and kept super busy until now.
Sunday is usually when we go on a day trip somewhere in Italy. There are so many wonderful places to see and enjoy here both on and off the beaten track.
Today, instead, we will be doing a deep cleaning of one of the rooms. My husband’s idea and a thing that we have been postponing for a while now.
So, we stripped the room bare, moved out everything that we could and straight after breakfast the plastic sheets are going on the furniture and the actual work begins.
The church bells ring their midday song:
Tan tan tan ta Tan tan ta Tan tan ta Tan
Tan tan tan ta Tan tan ta Tan tan ta Tan
I’m in the front yard which traps the bright Sunday’s sun. I am sitting on a plastic chair. I close my eyes and lean my head back. The sun rays shine straight into my closed eyes. The church bells keep ringing.
It’s a lovely and peaceful moment in time!
Ringing church bells are one of the things I love about Italy.
I am not religious and I find it difficult to describe what I believe in or if I believe in anything at all but the ringing church bells touch something deep inside of me.
It’s really warm and sunny.
The trees are fully bloomed.
The scent of a nice roast wafts through the air and reaches me.
The people in the houses and flats up and down the street are getting ready for their Sunday lunch.
Just up the road a father and a son play football, their voices loud and clear making it all sound like it’s just any other normal Sunday.
And for the first time in a week, I don’t feel guilty about being in the fenced-off front yard, about being able to move around for a little bit, about having the opportunity to do some gymnastics once a day, and about letting my child make some noise in the process. For the first time this week, I don’t feel personally guilty and responsible that millions of other people are stuck inside the blocks of flats that grow dense as a forest in the Italian cities and towns.
Most often than not, we can’t fix the world. We try though and we feel personally responsible for it. We put it on our shoulders and then we sink under its weight. Thus, these precious few moments when we are at peace with our limitations and ourselves are to be remembered and cherished.
Intrusive thoughts I have thought this week:
- What if my child falls and we need to go to the emergency room at the local hospital?
- What if something breaks at home? Are we going to be able to call someone in to fix it? How ethical/dangerous it would be to call someone it?
- What if all this goes for many more months and completely skewers our plans for life?
- Would I be able to ever go to Venice/Padua/Vicenza’s historical centre/local cafe ever again?
- So, this is how it all ends?!
- Do I have to wet wipe/wash with dishwashing liquid/smother in hand gel all the fruits and vegetables (from the first banana to the last potato) that I just brought in from the outside?
- Was this person that passed on the street exactly one meter away from me behind the fence of my front yard?
Constructive thoughts I thought this week:
- It’s time to make lunch/dinner.
- Hey, I am actually writing every day!
- Hey, I am exercising and just rope jumped for a bit (I hadn’t done it for thirty years or so).
- The house looks tidy and clean.
- I love being at home with my husband and child.
- Everything is going to be alright.
Ways to Keep Intrusive Thoughts Away
1. Breathe – remember to take deep breaths.
2. Busy yourself with something – albeit washing the dishes or putting the vacuum on (Thank God for robot vacuums! When are they going to invent robot dusters?).
3. Write. And then write some more – it’s not going to be Pulitzer-worthy but, who cares, the important bit is that you are getting it out of your head this freeing space inside to feel calm again.
I am suffering from news overload and the inevitable panic that sets in when you have read everything from the official media websites to the tabloids to social media updates from doctors, nurses, friends, and Facebook warriors.
People exchange information – some constructive, some not so much – in private groups and chats online.
368 deaths due to Covid-19 in Italy today. A figure which The New York Times calls a death jump.
I need to keep a clear head!
Monday – 16th March 2020
I read several studies online all saying that stress can dampen your immune response.
I decide I don’t want to panic and stress. It’s the start of a new week. I will focus on the tasks at hand at home: homeschooling, keeping a tidy environment and writing instead of on the countless news pieces and toilet paper memes that seem to flood me from everywhere.
If need be, I will temporarily stop following certain people, media, and groups who don’t seem productive to me and my tasks at the moment.
1:34 pm / 2:25 pm / 2:53 pm
Midday is long behind my back and in my mind, I run through the things I have managed to tick off since the start of the morning:
- made breakfast and lunch;
- printed reams of homework emailed by the school;
- spent 45 mins in the sun exercising with my child;
- washed a load of clothes;
- exchanged messages with the other mothers on the school parents’ online group about the amount of homework assigned and other such topics of interest.
There are so many more things left to do though. The house is a mess with dishes waiting for me in the sink. I need to go through the pile of homework (in Italian!!!) and split it into manageable bites. I need to write. I need to make sure I have a plan in mind for the rest of the day.
Every time I start doing something, another thing happens to take me away from it. The phone rings, someone asks me to send them an urgent email, my child pipes in with a question, it’s time to eat, etc.
My life is a series of constant interruptions and the things I manage to do between two of them.
I feel like I am unable to concentrate and do things. I feel like I am lagging behind other people who have a much better handle on their time than me.
I love my drawing course, as the tutor always emphasises that we need to take the right amount of time to draw a line, a circle or whatnot. If we rush it, the drawing easily gets messed up. If we focus on it and slowly and carefully guide our hand over the paper sheet, the drawing comes together very nicely.
I take my time with every line, circle, and dot. I am proud of the result even though it’s just a doodle and even though I have never thought that I am able to draw.
Unlike drawing, usually, I can never fully concentrate on what I am doing here and now.
I feel like I always need to think about the next step. Rush, rush, rush, get it done, get it done, move to the next thing…
What a crazy life we all live.
In the two hours that it has taken me to actually write the text above (between all the interruptions, etc.), I replied to three messages, took a phone call, made a phone call, wrote an email, waved my husband off on his way to do our weekly supermarket shop, deciphered Italian homework, started folding the dry clothes, prepared a new load to put in the washing machine, took the sausages out of the freezer in order to be able to cook them tonight, and these are just the things I actually remember doing.
All the while, at the back of my mind a voice was screaming: You need to do the dishes next! You need to do the dishes next! You neeeeed to doooo the dishshshshshes neeeeeext!
I should try to find some time tonight to continue drawing. I just want to be in the moment for a fleeting moment in time!
Over the last few days, I have spoken via messages, emails, and phone calls with friends in countries all over Europe.
Everyone is asking us if we are OK and I say the truth by replying that, given the circumstances, we are OK.
Reactions to what is happening at present (all over Europe, not just in Italy) differ. There are people who are not bothered by it all and hope that this whole ‘bustle’ (as they define it) will pass them by. Others tell me that the local schools and restaurants are now closed and they are settling in their own country’s quarantine rules.
In my home country – Bulgaria – a state of emergency was declared about three days ago with draconian fines in place for whoever breaks the rules.
How are things in your corner of the world?!
I forgot to mention that the dishes are almost done! In case you’ve been wondering.
I dealt with the washing, too. On the housework front, everything is alright.
People are exchanging links to education resources in order to keep kids focused, occupied and still learning under these extraordinary circumstances.
Here is My Number 1 Resource to Keep Kids Creative, Productive, and Happily Occupied
1. Krokotak – my most favourite place for quick and easy creative projects. It’s a Bulgarian outfit producing videos, printables, books and all sorts of resources for kids. They have millions of followers on Facebook and I love their projects. You don’t have to speak Bulgarian to make use of their Facebook page and other social outlets. The videos are very easy to follow and don’t feature spoken explanations.
Tuesday – 17th March 2020
Pigeons are cooing and birds are chirping outside. I can hear a lorry trundling down the street. And a man on his phone walks past our house.
It feels just like a normal day!
After a busy morning, I feel more of control of things, more organised and with several domestic and homeschooling tasks ticked off my mental list. It’s not perfect! Nothing is ever perfect! But it feels good.
Late last night, I spent an hour and a half on Reddit browsing through the AITA threads reading about moral dilemmas people are having around the world.
I love and hate Reddit with passion.
I have wasted so many hours on it. I start reading a subreddit and tell myself it’s going to be a minute or two. Then, hours later – with my mind both overloaded and completely blank (a very strange sensation but if you have ever spent hours lost in the thoughts of other people online, you know exactly how it feels!) – I come to my senses and realise that I could have done so many other actually useful things. Or, at least, I could have taken a nap instead!
Cue some mental self-flagellation and anguish.
Then, I will myself not to go on Reddit again and my decision lasts for a while. Until I make the mistake to just have a look at a subreddit thinking it’s going to take me only five minutes tops and then hours later, I come to my senses again.
So, OK, here I said it, no more Reddit for me for the next three weeks!
If I need to fill a minute or two with something to do, I better look through the window at the actual world outside!
Earlier today I see the post lady arrive. Zooming on her Vespa down our street, she has a mask across her face. It covers her mouth and nose. Between the mask and the helmet on her head, you can only see her eyes.
It reminds me that a few days ago, on Sunday of all days, we received a delivery from Amazon.
It was a package with books that we had ordered before the full lockdown was introduced. We had tried to cancel the order afterward but it was not possible. So, the delivery arrived on Sunday and as my husband went downstairs to meet the driver, the driver got out of the van, left the package by the closed gate, walked back to the van, waved from afar and left.
Today is a very nice day! Sunny and bright and so, so quiet again.
With lunch out of the way, I am thinking about the conversations with people I have been having these past few days. Not face to face, mind you. Via messages, phone calls, emails, Skype, Facebook updates – all sorts of modern ways to connect with each other even when we need to physically stay away.
So many stories and points of view are shared in a handful of words and emoticons.
Someone tells me they refuse to go out in the garden and only open the windows for 15 minutes a day, as they are worried that the virus can be brought in by the wind.
Another person wonders if they should cancel the dance lessons they give in a small town in England. If they cancel them, they won’t be able to pay the rent for the hall they hire from the local council. If they don’t pay the rent, the council is not going to keep their time slot for them.
A small business owner in Vicenza is worried about what’s going to happen to their business and will clients return as and when things go back to normal.
I have a lot of compassion for small business owners in Vicenza and all over Italy at present. It takes such an effort, so much time and, often, a lifelong commitment to become an artisan, to open a patisserie, to run a small shop, to start a ballet school, to tailor-make clothes…
And I have a lot of compassion for people in Italy and everywhere else now. Information and misinformation – the avalanche is huge and sometimes it’s difficult to establish what’s fake and what’s true.
We are constantly told and reminded to wash our hands. My hands are now scrubbed red. But then, what should we do with products bought from the supermarkets – do you wet wipe them, do we leave them aside for a few hours, do we just use them as they are?! My mind tends to block with such questions – stupid as they may appear to you.
I needed some new notebooks and when my husband last went to the supermarket, he got me some. Only for me to really feel unsure what to do with these notebooks before touching them at all. Wet wiping them?! In the meantime, I washed my hands again.
We have such a wonderful sense of freedom. Our particular world – and there are many parallel worlds on the Earth – gives us such a wonderful sense of freedom.
Normally, we can go out of the house and to work, we can pop down to the shops, we can go for a walk in the park, we can get on a bus, on a train, on a plane and travel far, far away to another spot on Earth where the local world may be so much more restricted and regimented than ours and we can note inside ourselves the differences and then simply return to our wonderful free world.
When I was growing up in Bulgaria of the 1980’s and the 1990’s, my world there and then was not free the way this current world is. Our world then was made to feel secure and safe but freedoms were different and (often!) not quite so free (if that makes sense to you!).
We had lifelong work security, we had completely free education, and we had (on theory, at least) completely free healthcare system, too. But we couldn’t freely travel everywhere in the world, we couldn’t simply walk in a car showroom and leave with a brand new car that same day, and we were not truly free to say exactly what we thought.
Some of us, at the time, thought that the Western World was free (and they would secretly listen to Radio Free Europe). But it also turned out that this perceived freedom of the Western World is not quite full and true. For in spite of the freedom of travel and the perceived freedom to say exactly what you want, there are so many things that keep you shackled down – job security, impending bills, school fees, the need to shop and consume.
Yet, in comparison to many historical, political, and religious periods that countries go through, in principle, we – in Italy, England, Bulgaria, all over Europe – are extraordinarily free.
What is freedom to you?
Which facet of your freedom you would miss the most if you lost it one day?
I spend a happy half an hour browsing through an enormous list with resources aiming to help you homeschool your child.
A very lovely lady has shared it on my blog’s Facebook page. The list was compiled by one of her contacts who homeschools. Please, click here to have a look. It is a wonderful list with so many resources on so many topics that you can spend months exploring all the knowledge contained in them.
Ah, to be a child again! To have the world on the palms of your hands with all its knowledge and opportunities. And with the right people in your life who take the time to get to know your strong sides and gently guide you in the right direction for you.
Are you the person you thought you would be as a child?
I wanted to be a ballerina! Often little girls want to be ballerinas, don’t they?! There is something so magical in being able to dance well, in wearing a sparkly costume on stage. I never took ballet classes in my life. I was told I was too plump to be a ballerina and that was that.
I love the new style of parenting these days where you sit down and actually listen to your child and then, as best as you can, you offer your understanding and support.
Wednesday – 18th March 2020
I have found the perfect way to counteract reading ad nauseam Reddit and social media updates. Yesterday someone shared a link to a long list of free Ivy League courses online and so many caught my eye that I decided to do as many as I can.
I start with Wonders of Ancient Egypt – a course developed by Pennsylvania University. Late at night, I watch several of the videos. It feels good and enriching. I learn an exciting tidbit: the figures on Ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs face the beginning of the line of text. In other words, if the figures face to the right, then the adjacent hieroglyphs need to be read from right to left.
In other news, this new day has started bright and sunny. Tomorrow is Father’s Day here in Italy. In previous years, we would go down to the local patisserie and treat my husband to the traditional Zeppole di San Giuseppe. This year we will prepare something at home.
Breakfast is quick and sweet. We have fallen into the Italian habit of having something small and sweet to start the day. In this case, instead of the traditional brioche (a croissant-shaped pastry – also known as cornetto – with different fillings that is sold in Italy’s patisseries and cafes for breakfast each day), we tuck into a slice of Colomba.
Colomba is a dove-shaped sweet bread that is studded with raisins and decorated with sugared almonds. It’s eaten at Easter and supermarkets stock Colombas in colourful boxes for five euros or so each in the month or so leading up to the holiday.
My husband returned from his trip to the supermarket last week laden with three boxes of Colomba. You see, while other nations are stocking on toilet paper, my family stocks on sweet Italian cake breads.
OK, it was a bit of a lame joke! I admit it! But a joke is a joke. Plus, Colomba is very nice. Give it a try if you have the chance.
What did you have for breakfast today?
The afternoon is very sunny, pleasant, and relaxed.
We watch animal videos on the San Diego Zoo website and learn curious facts about the animal world. Like, did you know that ostriches are the only birds in the world with two toes (which helps them run so fast), that bats are the only mammals that can truly fly, and that Egyptian vultures love eating ostrich eggs which they break by repeatedly dropping small stones on them.
The hours slip into a late afternoon. It’s all so nice and peaceful. That’s it until I look through the window and see an ambulance turning down our street. It stops, reverses, and then drives off.
I feel relieved and then I notice that, from their windows and balconies, my neighbours have also been keeping an eye on the movements of the ambulance. We have all become a street of curtain-twitchers.
A lady with a mask and gloves walks down the main street that I can see from the balcony. A man walking his dog passes a few minutes after her.
A stinkbug flies into the kitchen. The last few years the Veneto has been having infestations of stinkbugs but this is one of the first we have seen this season.
The stinkbug is officially declared our family pet and moved to one of our plants.
Small things keep us occupied.
Italian comedians have started to post videos online attempting to shine a little light of fun in times that are quite dark. I particularly like this sketch. He is on the phone to a contact trying to arrange a time to have virtual coffee with one another during the quarantine. It turns out he is so busy with virtual exercise, flashmobs, and other online social events that finally he suggests having the virtual coffee date next time that the world is about to end. ‘This way we can do it all con calma!’
Con calma! is a phrase Italians adore. At least the ones I have come across so far. It means more or less ‘Calmly’ or ‘With calmness!’
For all the stereotypes about Italians being impulsive, I can tell you that they do love doing things con calma. Being serene, calm, and collected is something valued and brings you social brownie points. At least in Vicenza and at least in the social communications I have had so far. I wouldn’t generalise.
I read the Wikipedia entry about Heracleion.
Known also under its Egyptian name Thonis, this was an important and bustling city in the Delta of Nile. It reached its apogee between the 4th and the 2nd centuries BC. Then, natural disasters wiped it off the face of the Earth and nowadays its remnants are on the bottom of the sea. Underwater archaeological teams have been hard at work and bringing to the surface the story of the city and its inhabitants.
What makes a really deep impression on me is that Heracleion was originally built on adjoining islands. It was intersected by canals and ferries, bridges, and pontoons connected its wharves, temples, and tower-houses.
Does it remind you of something?!
I love Venice so much. It’s an incredible city with so much history and art.
Every time that I visit Venice (and usually it’s so easy to get there from Vicenza) I leave a piece of my heart there between the canals, the churches, the traditions, and the splendour that can still be felt.
I have always thought that Venice is such a unique city, without a precedent and how sad, tragic even it is what is happening to it nowadays.
The story of Heracleion leaves a deep impression on me. So, this is how it all ends?! In a couple of thousands of years, it all is just a pile of ruins on the bottom of the sea and people try to read a history that is no more based on what has managed to survive the passage of time: coins, stone pillars, things like this.
Do you think the people who will come in two thousand years from now will have a clear and good idea of what we were, of what we fought for, of what we have been through or what we have achieved? Or will they have just a few pieces left to try to decipher our history from?!
The number has gone up so much today. My heart aches.
Thursday – 19th March 2020
A bit of a mad day!
It’s my husband’s birthday! And it’s Father’s Day in Italy!
How to celebrate when you need to stay inside?!
I have never been big on birthday celebrations. I didn’t have big birthday parties when I was a child so the enthusiasm for organising and enjoying one was killed in me a long time ago. A bit of a sob story, I know! But, OK, I just brought the world’s tiniest violin out and played a sad tune on it.
Now that I have a child and with the help of my husband, birthdays have become something to look forward to. My husband really goes out of his way to make birthdays special. So, I feel he deserves the same on his birthday, too.
Thankfully, my child and I had managed to buy some presents right before the lockdown came into force. Neatly wrapped, they were hidden in my special hiding place where I also hide Christmas presents and other such surprises when the need arises. I am not telling you where the place is. I am sure you also have one or, as a child, have raided one or two of those.
As we can’t go out at present, yesterday, in total secrecy we watched some cake-making videos. This morning, after a birthday breakfast and after my husband retreated to the lounge which functions as his office now, we made this cake.
Just as we took the cake out of the oven and left it to cool, my husband came in the kitchen, took one look at the cake in the baking tin and said:
‘Is this chocolate or a really burnt sponge cake?!’
It’s a chocolate cake! No worries! It’s not burnt!
But, maybe, just maybe, I didn’t leave it long enough in the oven as currently, the cake has a deep indentation right in the middle. No worries though! I am sure, we will be able to mask it with lots of chocolate frosting later on.
The cake is OK! Don’t worry about the cake!
I don’t worry about the cake. But the news that Italy looks set to extend the quarantine period leaves me in a strange place between ‘I knew it!’ and ‘I can’t believe it!’.
With the sun shining outside, staying at home doesn’t feel that bad at all. After all, all I have to do is to sit tight, make sure that things at home run smoothly, and that’s about it.
I don’t have to go outside to a workplace feeling stressed about who can look after my children while I am at work. I don’t have to deliver food or mail to people and wonder which one of them may have it while I try to shield myself behind a mask and the obligatory social distance. And, when I think about doctors, nurses and all hospital and medical staff, I feel destroyed just imagining what they must be going through.
Yet, sitting at home without a firm date as to when things can potentially start going back to normal feels quite deconstructive inside. My main concern is about children.
Children whose routine has been suddenly changed completely, who try to follow online lessons, tick off answers on reams of printed sheets with homework, whose parents worry about life and things, who – beyond their siblings (if they are lucky to have them) – haven’t played with another child for weeks now.
As a mother, when I look to the future, to the day when we will be able to go on about our daily lives again, I want to be sure that there will be systems in place to help kids internalise this whole experience and make the best out of it.
If I have to periphrase the headline that made me mad several days ago (see entry above for Friday, 13th March 2020), the real global emergency is not that coronavirus is going to bankrupt more people than it kills but that we don’t know what the social isolation will do long-term to our children.
So, if you allow me to share with you this small revelation I had a few days ago, give all your attention to your children. I think at present it’s incredibly important to keep them lively, curious about things and energetic. It may feel like such a disruption when your child comes to ask you a question right as you have made yourself comfie in front of the computer or two minutes before an important Skype call. Yet, believe me, that question that your child has right now is the most important thing in the world.
At 9:00 pm tonight and led by the Pope, Italy prayed the Rosary. Invoking the protection of St. Joseph – the guardian of the Holy Family – it was a prayer by Italy for Italy and against the coronavirus.
Over the last couple of days, many messages were exchanged on social media and in online parents’ groups about the collective prayer. Families were asked to be together at 9:00 pm and to place in a symbolic gesture a piece of white drape and a lit candle on a windowsill. A file with a drawing of the Virgin Mary was circulated, too so that mummies and daddies could print it and give it to their small children to draw their families underneath the protective cloak of the Virgin during the prayer.
The bells of all churches started ringing at 8:45 pm invoking the faithful to prayer at their homes, surrounded by their families.
Although I wasn’t brought up in a religious environment, I admire this ability of Italians to assign time to pray together. It must feel very reassuring, quite empowering even to be part of such a large-scale ritual, to use words to centre your energy and send it off into the Universe asking for help and protection.
I would imagine such a collective effort would make you feel less alone and isolated. Also, less scared.
I sometimes wonder if I did miss much by growing in a society which at the time was strictly atheist. This ability to pray and to direct your innermost thoughts and hopes to a higher power sometimes feels very attractive and very soothing.
On some mornings during my walks around Vicenza (in the five and a half years that I have been living here and long before the quarantine started), I would open quietly the door of a church and then spend a few moments just sitting on one of the benches inside while looking at the works of art around me and letting my thoughts run around for a bit before quickly quietening down.
It was always a very peaceful moment in time when I felt very present, very now and here. And sometimes, other people would walk in – on their way to work or just after dropping their kids at school. They would cross themselves and say a little prayer, light a candle and then off they would go to continue with their daily life secure in the knowledge that there is someone up there who takes care of them.
Friday – 20th March 2020
I overslept. Or, actually, I had a nice lie-in as there is nowhere to be outside of the house.
Breakfast is a small pot of cherry yougurt and a nice piece of Colomba. Now a cup of coffee in hand I am ready to face the day.
The sound of drilling comes through the open balcony door. People, it seems, are making small home repairs or perhaps drilling a hole in the wall to hang a new picture or painting. My family chatters around the table and a radio station is on somewhere on our street and I can hear the voices of the presenters but not make their words out.
It’s sunny and warm with just a tiny thread of morning chill in the air.
It was quite delightful as people started posting photos of their cups of coffee, too.
Such moments of connection make me so happy inside. No matter what’s happening, we as humans are still able to enjoy a get-together. Even if the primitive fire that once served as a focal point to our cave lives is no more, nowadays we have a cup of coffee (albeit virtual) and the internet to connect.
Yesterday a Coop van trundled down the main street that I can see from my balcony. Coop is one of the large supermarket chains that we have in the Veneto.
It was one of the very first times that I had seen a supermarket delivery van here in Italy.
While in England online food shopping has been part of daily life for over two decades now, it is still quite the novelty here in the Veneto. I remember chatting to another mum here about two years ago after an online food shopping service was launched in Vicenza.
‘It’s very convenient!’, she enthused. ‘You do the shopping online and then they pack it for you and you just have to drive to the supermarket to collect it!’
Italians, actually, love to shop in person and they love to shop daily. Fresh food is paramount. Traditionally, you buy small quantities – just what you need for a day or two – and you also use the visit to the shop as a type of social activity.
You chat with the people behind the counter, you spend time choosing exactly what you want and the day after you repeat it all over again.
Now, with us having to stay at home and with every trip to the shops (or anywhere else) carefully considered prior to execution, home deliveries have quickly caught on.
Restaurants and pizzerias – which otherwise can’t serve customers on their premises – are delivering orders to people’s flats and houses. Pharmacies have started to home deliver medication to those who can’t make it outside. I even saw a pet shop announcing online that they would gladly deliver food for your pets and patisseries were home delivering the traditional for Father’s Day sweet – zeppole di San Giuseppe – yesterday.
It remains to be seen how the quarantine and the social distancing are going to affect the shopping habits of the Italians in the long run. Is the online food shopping going to take on such a big scale as in the UK? Are takeaways going to become the new Friday night thing in Italy? Will Italy lose a bit of its sociability in result of it all?
Lots of questions for a social commentator to dig in in the months and years to come!
I see the stinkbug relaxing on one of the roots of my pale pink orchid.
Is it the same stinkbug as the one we adopted as a pet the other day? I have no way to know.
With the warm weather outside, we have seen a rebirth happening in the insect world around us. A plump locust – big as a small bird – jumps from branch to branch. A gorgeous wasp suns herself on our balcony. A couple of flies swivel and air-dance.
I am OK with them all. I am happy to see them around, free to fly and enjoy the sunny day.
Just, don’t let mosquito season start any time soon.
I don’t know what the situation is where you live, but the Veneto has some of the most vicious mosquitoes I have ever had the misfortune to be bitten by.
Come spring and summer, huge and striped, the local mosquitoes (or zanzare as they call them in Italian) attack you any opportunity they have. When you walk in the supermarkets here and you see a whole aisle dedicated to anti-mosquito products you start to understand how torturous the local mosquitoes are.
To combat them, the local councils spray gardens and parks all over cities and towns.
With everything that is going on at present, it will be small mercy if mosquitoes stay asleep for another week or three.
At 4:30 pm today I open the front gate of our house and step on the street outside.
Since last Saturday it is the first time that I physically am beyond our front yard. I am on my way to the nearby fruit and veg shop.
Earlier today my husband asked me if I wanted to go. We needed potatoes and other fruit and veg. Then, immediately he volunteered to go himself if I couldn’t face it. Last Saturday I had a very tense and emotionally charged trip to the fruit and veg shop and I had felt helplessly overwhelmed by all that is happening in the world at present.
Yet, no matter how long we will have to stay inside and no matter what is happening, I don’t want to become afraid of the world. I want to be able to keep a cool mind and face up to the daily tasks that running a family, a home, and a sane life entails.
If I become scared of going to the fruit and veg shop now, how am I going to deal with things going forward?!
So, I said yes, of course, I will go and straight after riposo I did it.
I carefully prepared for my one trip out of the house this week. I put nice clothes on, combed my hair carefully, and looked at myself in the mirror. I noticed that I had overplucked my left eyebrow these past few days and I made a mental note to go easy on it.
I wanted to look presentable for the world, for the handful of people I would come across on the street. And even though we all avoid each other and don’t dare look at each other’s faces as we pass each other by at a meter distance or more, I wanted to look presentable and good.
I have always admired the Italian women for their constant strife to look good even when they pop down to the shops. And even though often this can degenerate into a show-off of brands or a constant preoccupation with one’s looks, on this occasion – my going down to the fruit and veg shop – I totally understood where the Italian ladies are coming from.
I wanted to show a bit of civilisation and social skills, to show the world that I respected both myself and the environment we are in.
I also filled in the self-certification form that we all need to carry when we go outside, packed our one precious bottle with hand gel, added a pack of wet wipes just in case and headed out.
Our outings these days are reduced to the bare minimum. Once a week my husband goes to the supermarket to do a weekly shop. If he is needed at work, he goes there, too. The rest of the time he works from home. I go out once a week to the fruit and veg shop.
We can get the fruit and veg from the supermarket, that’s true. But we wanted to support our local small shop during these testing times.
Inside the shop, I once again performed the difficult dance of staying away from people as much as possible.
If I am not careful, I can easily be overwhelmed with tense thoughts. Instead of thinking, I concentrate on doing.
I pile my basket high, then pay, then put everything in my bags and then leave.
During all this, there is an awkward moment when I drop a banana on the floor while stuffing bananas in a plastic bag.
The sales assistant – always very helpful and cheery – tells me: ‘Don’t worry! I’ll get it!’
And then completely naturally and normally he steps towards me to try and pick the banana off the floor. Both of us freeze, unsure what to do next.
His helpfulness will bring him within the meter distance that we need to keep between us. But then again, he can’t not be helpful to a customer.
I quickly step back as far as I can and he picks the banana off the floor.
I walk outside and head home. In the distance, I see two large trees covered in spring blooms. They look like enormous pretty snowflakes. I admire them every spring as I pass by them.
This spring though the trees are beyond my reach. They wave to me from a hundred or so metres away but it’s a distance too great for me to cover considering the circumstances. I turn right and get ready to cross at the zebra the empty road.
Governed by habit, I look left and right. At the end of the road, I spot an ambulance. It drives quickly and before I know it, it flies through the zebra. I catch a glimpse of the driver and the medic next to him. They are wearing full protective suits, with faces covered with masks and see-through plastic shields.
‘It is real!’, I think. ‘All this is real!’
Saturday – 21st March 2020
It’s Saturday! The start of the weekend and of astronomical spring.
Actually, I just checked and spring seems to have started early yesterday morning. The weekend is still about to start though.
Yesterday, the Veneto’s governor signed off new, even more restrictive measures for people to observe during the quarantine. I have a quick look at the list: all parks in all of the Veneto are now closed, supermarkets will close on Sundays, and people can’t go for walks any further than 200 m away from their front door.
A lady asks me in a comment underneath one of my Facebook posts how do I stay so positive.
I have my moments of feeling real raw fear but the most important thing for me is that I cannot afford to stress my child.
Being shut at home without contact with other children is already strange and stressful enough for kids at present. If you add to this environment parents who are stressed and talk about the virus all day long, can you imagine how this is going to affect and shape a child?!
I don’t want to imagine that. I prefer to focus on simple things like watching a film with my family, exercise when I can, make meals together, and be silly every now and then.
Being able to be silly is a very important skill to have. I was never able to let go, I always had to be in control. I grew up during endless political and social crises in Bulgaria with parents who were incredibly strict. Not being able to relax, always worrying what people thought of me, full of anxieties and stress. Now that I look back, I don’t want to fall into the same hole again.
There are many plans that this COVID-19 is messing for me and my family. It’s also hitting me badly financially. My blog has lost over 50% of its traffic. I still don’t know if I will have to fold it soon or re-direct its topic. If I spend my days thinking just about this, I will most surely not be a great person to have around.
Instead, I prefer to be silly every now and then.
Ways to Being Silly Every Now and Then
1. Dance – as I said above, I wanted to be a ballerina when I was a child and I never had lessons, so now it’s the perfect time for me to dance around the house like no-one’s watching. My child thinks I am hilarious. I am quite lame in fact but who cares.
2. Crack a joke – OK, I will start. And now my mind is blank so I went to ask my husband for one of his jokes that he cracks on request for the smallest of things. And now his mind is blank. But it still gave us a chance to spend some time together and goof around. He finally found this gem on ThoughtCatalogue: ‘My therapist thinks that I am preoccupied with vengeance. We’ll see about that!’ Now he is busy reading the rest of the jokes on the page and laughing to himself which makes me laugh, too.
3. Spontaneously make a poem – come up with little verses about small things in life. It’s difficult at the start and then becomes second nature. Soon you will find inspiration in anything and everything and your rhyming skills will give you thrills.
4. Watch funny dogs and cats videos – no need to explain this one.
Nothing deep, inspirational or of interest happens today.
I feel shattered, so I take a two-hour nap. It’s strange how tired staying at home can make you feel.
With riposo finished, I try to doodle following the guidance of the online drawing course I started a few days (weeks? months?) ago. I have no inspiration whatsoever and can’t really focus on the sheet of paper in front of me.
It’s just an unremarkable day, really.
A thought has been playing on my mind for days now. Namely, how is travel going to change once the quarantine ends? What the new rules of travel will be? I toy with the idea of writing a blog post with my predictions for travel. At the same time, I am not a bonafide travel analyst or professional, so whatever I write could be complete rubbish.
Let me see if I can muster the energy to jot down my thoughts anyway. Or if it will be easier to simply look at the world outside through the open balcony door.
Sunday – 22nd March 2020
It’s Sunday! Yesterday wasn’t such a bad day after all.
Late in the evening, I managed to process a large batch of photos from London – something that I have been putting away since last summer. Yes, procrastination can be my second name. Now I feel all fired up to finish updating a blog post about the 50 free things you can do in the British capital. The text is almost ready, just a couple of more hours to spend first on editing and then inserting the photos between the different portions of text.
Hopefully, I can finish it all by tonight.
Today is my printing day, too. The teachers have sent the homework for the new week and I will be hitting the Print button many times this morning. Great exercise for my index finger.
Also yesterday I spent some time reading about Roman history. I started from the very, very beginning, so I delved deep into the myths about Dido and Aeneas. Heartbreaking stuff! Now, I want to know more about Carthage and the Punic Wars. So much to read, so little time! Actually, time is in abundance now. Look for the silver lining, I tell myself. Otherwise, it will be back to Reddit and its creepy stories’ threads for me.
I can’t say I haven’t been tempted to have a look at them. Just for a minute or two, I coax myself. Thankfully, I haven’t done it so far. As I know, only too well what the outcome is going to be. Hours of me staring at my mobile while everyone is asleep. I better continue with my Ancient History refresher.
So, how is your weekend going so far? It’s only polite to ask, isn’t it?!
The news paint a world that seems to be going a bit mad. Between the toilet paper grab, the baring of supermarket shelves, the emails which people seem to be getting from their respective governments telling them to get on the very last flights home, and the constant arguments and name-calling on Bulgarian mountaineer groups (for people are unhappy that they can’t go to the mountains anymore), it all can get quite overwhelming. In addition to last nights’ numbers in Italy and now in France and Spain.
I can only hope that things will normalise soon. Until then, let’s get cracking on that blog post that I am updating. I love using the time while everyone is having a Sunday lie-in.
I have washed the dishes, put two loads of freshly laundered clothes on the drier outside, and made coffee. Plus, I am just about to unleash the vacuum on the floors.
Yes! I can do this domestic stuff! I can be like the domestic goddess like or something!
On the other hand, this whole domestic stuff takes so much time!
Yet, on the other hand, washing dishes, folding dry clothes, carefully measuring coffee grounds for two cups of coffee and so on are all wonderful ways to not sit around and think.
Overthinking things is my personal downfall. So, if it takes a load of housework to avoid overthinking things, I’ll take it.
Now, off to making breakfast. Or brunch, seeing that it’s close to 11 am! Poached eggs, some nicely sliced speck, pale toast, perhaps a cup of English tea, the works.
Apparently, no-one is hungry yet. This is what happens when you wake up at 10 am. It’s Sunday, after all! Lie-ins are like the law!
How is this staying at home affecting your appetite?! I must say, my constant snacking has stopped.
The temperatures have gone down a bit over the last couple of days. It’s overcast outside with the clouds in a beautiful pattern over the sky.
It feels a bit like it’s going to start raining any moment now. Although, the official weather forecast tells me that no rain is expected until Thursday.
We don’t keep the balcony door open anymore and have put the heating back on. I didn’t go to the garden to exercise yesterday. And I have stayed inside all day today. So far, at least. There is still about an hour of daylight left. Perhaps, I will make an effort to go to the garden and then straight back in or perhaps I will just stay put here sitting in my comfie chair.
Like a proper lazy weekend when just sitting at home is more than enough.
Yesterday, I had a terrifying thought about all this coronavirus stuff. Then I had to put this thought out of my mind. Everything is going to be alright.
It’s crazy how our minds sometimes work against us. It takes mental discipline to keep your thoughts organised.
So, I am taking it easy. Relaxing, not thinking of it all, checking the news and social media a couple of times a day at most.
Everything is going to be alright and this too shall I pass.
Big Events in My Life That I Was Glad to See the Back Of
1. Couponing system in Bulgaria in the 1990’s
2. Devaluation of money in Bulgaria in the 1990’s
Funnily both events seem completely meshed up in my mind. I can’t remember the particular years when they happened. I was in high school for the first and at University for the second but I remember it all as one long bleak period.
3. The credit crunch in England in 2008 (or was it 2007?!).
4. The riots in London in 2011 (this was scary! I was living on my own and remember wondering what to use to barricade the front door).
5. Again in 2011, someone stealing the lead flashings off the roof of the flat that I was renting in London. This leading to a flood through the roof during a torrential rainfall. The ceilings of the top-floor bedrooms (one of which served as my office as I was working from home) almost collapsed on me.
Looking at it objectively it’s not that much. Billions of people have been through much more testing times and events. So, nothing to worry about here.
Everything is going to be alright.
Plus, it’s Mother’s Day today in England. My child made me a lovely necklace out of beads, brought me strawberries and a cup of water, and gave me a small sticker shaped as a little heart. Ah!!!
It’s time for a small cup of coffee now and then I will continue cracking on my London blog post. I made some good progress on it today.
Monday – 23rd March 2020
The days are blending quite a bit now in my mind. It’s Monday – the start of a new week – so I have spent the morning getting on with the tasks at hand: dishes, breakfast, and homeschooling.
I feel a bit short-tempered with myself. A direct consequence of not going to the front yard over the weekend. I need that Vitamin D and fresh air. At least the sun is shining bright so I am looking forward to my 45 mins of exercise later on this morning. On the bright side, I have become quite good at rope skipping. I can do ten jumps without getting all tangled up in the rope. This week I will be working towards twenty uninterrupted jumps.
On the bad side, I felt really frustrated with things last night so I had a look at a Reddit thread last night. Thankfully, I didn’t spend hours on it. More like ten minutes before falling asleep.
In any case, I have frustrating thoughts playing on my mind all this morning.
There is no polite or diplomatic way to say it and anyway I have never been very skillful in terms of diplomacy so here it is, I will say it as it is: I am tired of people fetishising Italy. Or any other country for that reason.
But my gripe currently is specifically with the fetishising of Italy. There seem to be people who think that Italy is paradise on Earth and spend their days looking at beautiful pictures of Italy and thinking that’s all that there is to it. They want to have the film experience or better said the Instagram experience.
In line with the current situation, they feed on videos of Italians singing on their balconies and photos of iconic Italian sights and streets completely deserted of people. And, based on a comment I got on Facebook yesterday, they seem to think that we – lucky to be living here – have an idea when they will be able to have their holidays here again.
I will try to explain what social distancing and isolation is. And I can’t talk for other people as this is the point of isolation: we all are isolated from one another. So, this is my experience:
- we stay inside without any contact with other people beyond our immediate family.
- if we see a neighbour on his balcony or in his front yard, we wave and smile to each other (instinctively checking that we are at a safe distance albeit we perfectly well know that there are dozens of meters between our house and theirs). But we don’t talk. We can’t simply run to the fence and start chatting about our feelings or pour them (albeit from a distance) a cup of coffee (like in that drawing that is doing the rounds on social media at present). And we also don’t talk because they may be wearing a mask on their face as they may be on their way back from the shop or work.
- we are careful not to use too much of this or that as if we run out one of us will need to go to the shops and running to the shops for one or two things only is out of the question now. Shopping is a big expedition with a carefully prepared and double-checked shopping list. Shopping is also an exercise in staying away from other people and constantly worrying that they are coming too close. By the way, we are very low on bread so I will be kneading and baking bread today as we have everything else and I can’t justify asking my husband to go to the shops just for bread. And no, my bread-making is not some wee cute exercise in rusticality. It’s just a need that we need to deal with.
- there is a 14-day clock in your head that resets every time that you go out.
- every time that we hear the siren of an ambulance I think who is inside it and what they are going through.
- we follow the news and social media updates and try to keep a cool head and a smile. As if we panic, we can’t continue forward. And, also, apparently panicking lowers your immune system’s defenses.
- I, personally, follow the media in three countries: Italy, England, and Bulgaria and try to keep a cool head in spite of this triple onslaught. Sometimes, it’s difficult.
These are just the things that come to mind now. I am sure there are others.
And, no, we don’t all spontaneously jump on our windows and balconies to play and sing music in order to keep our spirits high. Actually, as I wrote above, on the day that flashmob was supposed to happen, we – meaning my family – did play some music in our kitchen. It was to keep our spirits high and to feel part of something.
We were the only ones. And then I understood (although I am old enough to know it anyway) that life is not social media. And that people have so much on their minds now. Worries, job (in)security, the schooling of their children, the health of their relatives.
So, no, guys, sorry, I don’t know when travel to Italy is going to be open. I can only hope that things will normalise soon. All the while, perfectly well knowing at the back of my head that the big day of re-opening – currently set for the 3rd April – may be moved several times.
If you want to come to Italy when things are re-opened and governments officially allow travel again, by all means, do. In the meantime, please, keep an eye on the official media and try to think that beyond the walls of the eerily empty streets of Italy that you see on social media updates are real people with real worries trying to live life as normally as possible while adjusting to the circumstances and keeping their emotions in check.
It is a lovely, lovely day outside. Very sunny, very bright, with just a thread of chill going through the air underneath the blue skies.
We baked bread! It’s a success! It’s very tasty. I have to physically stop myself from going to the hob on which the baking pan rests with our soda bread in. I’ve already torn off nice big pieces of bread twice and if I continue like this the bread may be finished before my husband finishes his last online meeting for the day.
So, instead, I need to practice restraint.
This is the story of how we baked bread. I knew we had flour but I realised we didn’t have yeast. No problem! We would make Irish soda bread, I thought. That’s it until I read a few recipes online and they all called for buttermilk.
It’s a quarantine here, people, no such fancy stuff in my fridge. Plus, I don’t even think I know how to say buttermilk in Italian. (Note to self: Google Translate buttermilk once you’ve done diarising this super incredible episode of life at home!)
I remembered my mother baking soda bread when I was a child. Bulgarian recipes tend to use few ingredients and the result is always good (take it from me, Bulgarian cuisine is delicious!). One online search later and we had the perfect recipe. Very simple. You literally take some flour, water, olive oil, soda bicarbonate, and vinegar and voila! you get Bulgarian soda bread. It only takes half an hour in the oven, too.
Hence, inspired by our baking success, I have been looking at bread- and pita-making recipes for the past hour or so. I need to add yeast to our shopping list!
Are you a dab hand at breadmaking?
P.S. Buttermilk is apparently burro di latte in Italian!
Tuesday – 24th March 2020
The day starts with a quick look at the news. Britain is now on lockdown but, apparently, tube trains and railway trains continue being full of people (if photos online are to be trusted) and a certain company insisted on keeping their shops open until it provoked a backlash.
I wonder how is the lockdown going to work in the UK from a practical point of view. The silver lining could be that, in general, British people have an aversion to living in a flat so theoretically most people have access to a garden space. Which is such a luxury when you need to stay put at home for long periods of time.
According to this detailed analysis, one-third of the UK population lives in a semi-detached house!
Then again, the picture for London is completely different with 43% of Londoners living in flats. The flats may not necessarily be in tower blocks and could simply be in a large house that has been split into different flats. Thus, theoretically, some flat-dwellers may still have access to a garden.
All this is just theoretical, of course. It just helps to pass the time and keeps my mind busy. It’s interesting to see how the lockdowns are going to work in different countries and what the locals are going to find most difficult to deal without.
A local newspaper in the Veneto the other day had an article about a person caught by the police in Chioggia without a valid reason to be there during the lockdown. Apparently, he calmly explained that he had a great desire to see the sea so he travelled to Chioggia thus breaking the restrictions.
What crazy excuses would people in other nations use, I try to joke in my mind, quite un-PC-stically.
‘I just had a great desire for a fresh baguette!’
‘I just had a great desire for a pint!’
‘I just had a great desire for a bowl of mussels with some chips!’
My trying-too-hard-to-be-funny monologue is cut short in my head when I realise I don’t have a great desire to be anywhere at present. Just sitting at home, in front of my laptop feels enough. My horizons have shrunk. No great desires left in me. I just want to abide by the rules and for things to quickly go back to whatever we considered normal before it all started.
I spent an hour last night reading through a reddit thread (yes, I fell into the rabbit hole again, please, don’t judge me too harsh, I hope to stay away from reddit for a while now!!!) about people who lost their jobs due to the crisis. It makes for grim reading with over 18,000 comments from, what it seems to be, all over the world.
The sentiment I am left with is that I am not panicking enough. All this keeping a cool head when people are talking about being laid off with an hour’s notice or having to rely on food banks. I feel guilty for still being able to shop for food and for not having an immediate doom over my head. Although, in six months time, who knows.
But, enough of these unproductive thoughts. The sun is shining bright outside. The birds are chirping and for the first time in many days, our flat is completely silent. Everyone is ensconced in their tasks, there are no Zoom meetings to be had, the vacuum is not swirling around, and I still have lots of hope left in me that things can only get better, especially if the figures keep getting smaller no matter how slowly this happens.
The good news is that I achieved my personal goal for this week – twenty uninterrupted rope skips! The bad news (it’s never perfect, isn’t it?!) is that I must have hit or somehow bruised the area around my left shin. It feels very tender.
I ask my husband what does he think it is.
‘I am not a doctor!’, he says and then enigmatically concludes ‘So, I would rather not say anything!’
I admire his restraint. It’s a rare quality nowadays to not feel tempted to express an opinion and/or speculate on anything and everything.
But, then, again, reader, this is why I married him.
I looked online and discovered that there are actually people who can do 1,000 rope skips in one go.
I feel rather small with my 20!
But then again, a week or so ago I couldn’t do even two. So, 20 will do for now.
And then 30 next week!
I am tired of memes. There is a terrible overdoing of memes on social media. It’s like these little pictures with a line of clever text across them are the only way we can express our emotions, fears, and smartassedness nowadays.
I just saw the most godawful one of them. Written from the perspective of the Year 2030, it consists of an imaginary dialogue between a college kid doing research on the 2020’s Covid-19 pandemics and a parent. Apparently, the parent remembers the panic shopping, the lack of adherence to the rules, and the fear of economic failure. Whereas the college kid remembers it as the most amazing time for eating meals together with the family, having time to sleep, and watching their pastor on the laptop(!).
Please, spare me the positivism.
When I wash the dishes, I often look outside. My sink is next to the window and washing dishes is a job that lets my thoughts fly away. I often find myself miles away when I am at the kitchen sink. So, I was looking through the window this afternoon while carefully soaping a large dish and I saw the following scene:
A father was walking with his two small children down the main street that I can see from my window. Both children were dressed for cold winter weather with hats on their heads and thick gloves. Before I could see more of them, they walked out of my line of vision.
I felt really warm inside for having seen this lovely family scene – a daddy taking his kids out for a nice walk. It’s been such a long time I have seen kids walking down the street, I thought.
And, then, of course, I remembered. I remembered the rules, the fear, the social distancing. And I asked myself what must have made this father take his two children for a walk outside.
Maybe he had to go to the shop and didn’t have anyone to leave the kids with, maybe they were walking to their car to go to an urgent medical appointment, or maybe they all were so tired of staying locked in a flat that he decided to take them for a walk up to 200 metres away from his front door (which currently is the maximum allowed distance for dog walks and exercise).
I would never know his reasons. Even if I did, as a human, I am in no way in a position to throw the first stone.
I know (for myself, at least) what is the most difficult thing that this social distancing has imposed on us. It’s the restriction of the movement of our children. The inability for them to socialise with their peers and friends for a long time.
And if the kids remember this time as ‘the happiest time’ of their childhood (according to that meme that got me started writing all this), which planets are these kids coming from?!
Kids are emphatic and they can understand complex concepts like ‘it’s for the common good’ if you take the time to explain these concepts to them with suitable examples and words.
Yet, even if you give your children all of your attention and time, under these extraordinary circumstances sooner or later they do start feeling cut off from the world. They understand there are things (normal up to two weeks ago) that they can’t do anymore: they can’t see their friends, they can’t go to school, they can only see their teacher during short video calls, they can’t go to the patisserie with their parents, they can’t not wash their hands time and time and time again.
So, yes, please, no more memes. Here is a revolutionary thought instead. Next time, when you want to share how you feel, please, use your own words. It is very likely that fewer people will give you the Sign of Social Approval – the almighty Like – but, at least, what you have said will be unique. And, maybe, another person will recognise themselves in your words and offer their own words to you back.
Wednesday – 25th March 2020
Sciopero was one of the first Italian words that I learned when we moved to Italy. In English it means a strike.
I still remember the nursery where my child used to go to giving us a letter almost every week warning the parents that there was a sciopero scheduled for the days ahead and to make provisional childminding arrangements. They never actually went on strike but the talk was always there.
There were a few actual strikes here though. For example, of the railway transport a couple of times. But there hasn’t been anything major or incredibly stressing. Life in Vicenza always just went on.
Yesterday, the Italian newspapers wrote about an incoming strike. That of the gas station workers – 100,000 people in all of Italy. It seems that they feel invisible and underappreciated at a time when every business needs to take measures to make sure that its workers are suitably protected against contagion.
So, the talk is that first, the gas stations along the highways are going to close followed by the ones along the peripheral roads and then the ones in towns and cities.
My mind went into overdrive when I read this. We have gas left for about 100 km. How is this strike going to affect us all? What about deliveries of food, key workers who need to travel to their place of work and so on. On a purely personal level, if we can’t get to the supermarket to do our weekly shop, one of us will have to go to many different local shops in search of bread from one, meats and cheese from another, toilet paper and cleaning supplies from a third and so on. For the first time in my life, I regret not having a shopping bag on wheels. Perhaps, I can take a small cabin-size suitcase with me to stuff everything in so that I don’t have to carry it up and down the street?
I hope that everything is going to be OK.
It’s sunny but very windy outside. To the point where I have to pull the drying rack with freshly laundered clothes off the balcony as sheets and pillowcases are flapping wildly in the air.
Perhaps they will fly off, I think as I open the balcony door, fly all the way to the neighbours’ yards and this will give me an excuse to step outside on the street to go collect them. With the drying rack pulled safely back inside, my wild dreams of escape are put an end to.
We haven’t been outside yet today. But we have made a mental note to get in the front yard at 4 pm when riposo ends and to throw our rugby ball around for a while.
Tomorrow, I need to go to the local shops. While we are waiting to find out what’s going to happen with the gas stations nation-wide (I haven’t checked the newspapers since this morning, perhaps the schiopero has been called off?!), we’ve decided to support the local businesses a bit more so I will do a shop tour to fulfill our shopping list.
I am looking forward to buying some chocolate! I have been having a craving for chocolate for a couple of days now and as luck would have it, we don’t have any left at home. Last night my craving got so bad, I asked my husband to kindly give me one of his Mars bars that he keeps a stash of in his backpack.
A Mars bar is a chocolate dessert I, otherwise, really don’t have a taste for. It’s chewy and sticky whereas I prefer smooth milk or dark chocolates, ideally studded with some hazelnut pieces.
Lunch was a huge bowl of pasta that we saw the bottom of. This staying at home really makes one hungry.
We still have two large packs and one small pack of pasta left so that’s two and a half kilos of love hiding in the cupboard.
What we know as pasta in both English and Bulgarian, is referred to as pastasciutta in Italian. It literally means dry pasta and, once boiled, it is served in thick and/or chunky sauce. Pasta in brodo on the other hand is the pasta that is served in broth like the famous tortellini of Bologna.
We love our pastasciutta at home.
We usually have it with pesto calabrese. Sold in small thin jars, this is a delicately spicy red sauce made of peppers, chilies, and two types of cheese – Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano. We can’t have enough of pesto calabrese and when the supermarket we would usually shop at wouldn’t stock it for months, we used to make the pilgrimage to another supermarket especially to buy a jar or five.
Since we have been stuck at home, a lunch of pasta and calabrese has been on the menu rather often. Today, I added a tin of peas and a tin of tuna to the mix and in ten minutes lunch was ready on the table.
In the end, I went to the shops this afternoon.
It wasn’t smooth sailing all the way through but I am glad I did it. I also took the rubbish to the bins. Sorry to bother you with daily trivia but, actually, taking the rubbish to the bins is not a daily thing anymore plus any outing feels like a momentous event, so, yes, OK, let me tell you all about my trip to the communal rubbish bins.
Seeing that I was going to the shops anyway, it made sense to also do the bins, said my husband. Vicenza is big on recycling so we collect our rubbish in five different bins.
Now, I have to admit that in my close to six years here I have never done the bins myself. It’s one of the things that my husband does and, yes, I am very spoiled in this regard. So, this afternoon, he had to talk me through the different bins, their respective colours, what to put in each, and how to use the green hob that opens one of the bins.
Off I went with five plastic bags in hand and one large bag stuffed with paper recycling. With all the printing of school-assigned homework that I am currently doing for the homeschooling of my child, the bag with the waste papers was rather bulky.
OK, I found the bins on the main street, identified them by their colours, pushed and shoved the respective bags in each, fought with the green hob that controls the one electronically locked bin, and broke a nail in the process. So, feeling like I had achieved something with my day, I headed back home to wash my hands (after dosing them with hand gel first) and to grab my shopping bags.
I walked the short distance to the tiny supermarket down the road. Along the way, I saw three ambulances passing by. Although their lights were flashing, their sirens were not on. I don’t know what that means. Is it that they don’t need to have the siren on seeing that the roads are practically empty so they don’t need to clear traffic away. Or is it that they didn’t need the siren on as the medics were not tending to an ill person.
I truly hope it is the second option.
At the shop, I put the plastic gloves provided on both of my hands and got on with ticking stuff off my shopping list.
I got a bit panicky when two different people kept coming closer to me than the prescribed and expected one-meter distance. They also were not wearing masks. As we don’t have masks at home and as we go out so very rarely, I had put my husband’s black motorcycle snood on. It leaves just my eyes and the top of my head explosed (maybe I looked a bit funny but, honestly, it’s not a moment to be that fashion-conscious).
So, these two people kept coming closer than strictly needed so I had to wheel my trolley from aisle to aisle trying to keep the distance.
Gosh, people, shoo!
Follow the rules!
The other thing that upset me was that while I was placing everything on the checkout belt, one of the thin plastic gloves on my hands broke. I went to pick another one and it broke, too. My hands were incredibly sweaty and trying to push a new plastic glove on turned out to be very difficult. Finally, I did it somehow and went back to pack my purchases.
As I don’t want to have to leave the house within the next few days, I had bought two large bags worth of items. It took me some time to place them in my bags and the person behind me in the queue started to show his impatience. I was doing my very best but, come one, a minute would have been appreciated.
Seeing this, the sales assistant decided to help me and started putting my items in my bag while I was doing the same. This made me even more nervous. Thinking about it now, perhaps I should have asked her to simply give me a minute and keep the distance. But, as they say, hindsight is 20:20.
In any case, if you feel like you are being rushed, don’t be afraid to state that distances should still be observed and that you need a minute.
Then I walked home with my heavy bags, got in, wet wiped what I could, put the snood and everything else in the wash and took a deep breath!
Gosh, I used to enjoy shopping!
Still, I am getting better at managing my anxiety when I need to go out and if I feel like anxious thoughts are about to take over, I keep telling myself that stress affects adversely our immune system and I calm myself down again.
Thursday – 26th March 2020
It’s been raining all morning here. It just about stopped.
It was strong, drenching the earth rain. We can’t open the windows as the heating is on, so I stepped on the balcony for a minute and it was chilly but not shivery cold outside. A great day for a bracing walk.
I watch a couple of videos on Facebook showing the Venetian lagoon at Chioggia on this rainy day. Steely grey choppy waters. Beautiful to look at. I can almost feel the strong wind on my face. The smell of the sea!
I have such desire to for us all to get in the car and drive to Chioggia for the day. We would so often do it before. Just get in the car and off we went – flamingo spotting, hill hiking, castle capturing. The world was our oyster! Or if not the whole world then, at least, everywhere we could easily reach from Vicenza.
Yet, rules are rules. I know some people are trying to bend them yet this is not a very clever idea at the time. What happens if you decide to go hiking on the assumption that it will be safe as there won’t be any people around and then you fall or suffer another such misfortune and then search parties need to be despatched to find you thus putting people in close contact with one another and taking resources away from where they are most needed at present??
I spend ten minutes looking at a website that delivers monthly boxes with Japanese sweets and drinks. They promise such delights as Sakura Kit-Kats and caramel popcorn milk. Even I am tempted by the milk considering that I don’t drink milk at all and can’t stomach the taste of raw milk (I have no problem with cheese and ice-cream though!).
The box looks lush and above all, it brings the promise of faraway lands, of adventure, of being on the move. I don’t order it but may do it later. In the meantime, in my mind there is a battle between the want for cutely packaged sweet things and the fear that money needs to be saved in these strange times.
I haven’t checked the news today. Fingers crossed they are good.
I still haven’t checked the news. And have no desire to do it at present.
I spent the late morning and now the early afternoon overseeing the school tasks that my child needs to do.
Considering the circumstances and how suddenly it all happened, the teachers are doing incredibly well. We receive a batch with tasks for the new week every weekend. There are videos, drawings, fun information, many resources. Plus, the lead teacher provides a daily reading which is sent to us as an audio file.
I know that homeschooling and distance learning have been on the lips of every parent in quarantine/isolation over the last few weeks. Believe me, I’ve seen the memes.
People compare notes, schools, approaches. WhatsApps’ parental groups are abuzz with discussions. Some people have had to adapt quickly to new apps and virtual ways to do schoolwork, other people are complaining that the assigned tasks are too much or too little.
All in all, and considering the circumstances, I am happy so far. The important thing is to keep the kids’ interest in learning and to make sure they remain open to the world and curious about new things.
My main concern is the time and opportunities that are being lost in terms of missed extracurricular activities like sports and dance. Will the kids lose the habit and the enthusiasm to do them once or twice weekly when all this finishes? It remains to be seen.
I wouldn’t describe myself as a pushy mother but inside myself I grieve a little bit about these missed extracurricular activities, about the lessons in mental and physical strength they were teaching and about the system of rewards through hard work they were promoting.
On a positive note, I managed to buy two small bottles of hand gel during my expedition to the shops yesterday afternoon!
Tomorrow, I am planning to go rummaging deep in my jewellery-making box. I remember having a pack of masks there. Many years ago, when I was into jewellery-making, I would wear a mask when using liver of sulphur for oxidation.
Hopefully, the masks will still be there, as I am trying to avoid having to go to a pharmacy specifically to buy masks. Yesterday, I wore my husband’s motorcycle snood (a remnant of his wild youth!) and I looked very strange on the street (not that I cared at that point!).
A curious fact – did you know that a sea lion can hold its breath up to 20 mins underwater. They do this very weird thing like snapping their nostrils shut and off they go diving and having fun. Lucky whatsits!
The evening is now shiveringly cold outside.
Friday – 27th March 2020
The day starts with my putting the Moka on the stove.
A Moka Express is a traditional Italian cafetiere that since 1933 has been faithfully serving Italy’s needs of strong home-made coffee.
My husband gave me a two-cup Moka for my birthday a few years ago and while before all this started we would use it every weekend nowadays the Moka is on the stove every morning.
While I wait for the water inside it to boil and start percolating through the coffee grounds, I lean against the balcony door and look outside. It’s Friday and it’s very, very quiet.
The street is deserted, the sky is blue with a shade of grey, two pigeons are chasing each other (ah, young love!) above the rooftop of the house across from us. I see a curtain twitch in another house across from us and the daughter of our neighbour peaks from behind it – mobile phone clasped to her ear – and then retreats back from the window. The curtain falls into place.
Coffee is ready! Mmmm… Very nice!
With all the printing that I am doing at present, we are running very low on paper. We are trying to order some off Amazon but they can only deliver on 15th April! I send a message to all the mothers that I know asking them if they know of a stationery shop in town that although closed for walk-in business still does home deliveries. One of them kindly recommends a shop while the others are lamenting that Amazon really seems to have started to give delivery dates that are two or three weeks from now.
Obviously, we can simply drive to one of the large supermarkets but is buying a ream or two of paper really a good enough reason to go out of the house?! Also, I would need to ask my husband to do it, because, yes, I can’t drive. I never learned (it was never a necessity in my life up to now). But my husband is super busy at work and has spent the last few days anchored in front of the computer.
I will try to decipher the stationery’s shop’s website. Italian websites often throw me off. I hasten to add I am quite well versed with computers from a customer experience point of view. I used to localise software for living which means that through the years I translated, edited, and tested hundreds of software programmes and apps making sure that they were ready for a local user to use without a hitch. I even trained and oversaw translation teams on the art and craft of localisation.
Yet, Italian websites can be a bit of a minefield – either very outdated or missing important bits of information or with too many frills and thrills or not really intuitive. Sorry, guys! I know this comes across a bit harsh espesh as my own blog is a bit of a mess.
In any case, I can always call the shop a bit later and see if they can deliver some paper to us.
OK! So, I managed to order six reams of paper with surprising ease. Just a button or two could have been slightly closer to their respective options to make it visually clearer what they were referring to. Otherwise, a great site to use and order from. So, I am taking back what I said above about all of the Italian sites!
Then, pleased as a punch with myself, I told my husband that I had ordered paper only for him to reply that last night he had ordered five reams, too.
Oh, well! Let’s see whose order is going to arrive first.
How many years do you think it will take us to go through eleven reams of paper?!
The Moka is on the stove again. The afternoon stretches around me. Each one of the three of us is absorbed by his or her own tasks. I reply to a few urgent emails.
It hits me what yesterday’s announcement of the Italian Ministry of Education truly means. The schools are not going to reopen on 3rd April – the original date on which things were supposed to go back to normal or normal-ish, at least.
Without a fixed date to look forward to, I need to concentrate on something else. Looking deeply inside myself, I realise that I have lots of hope left that things will be OK in the end, I just don’t have any expectations as to when this is going to happen.
At dinner last night we listen to music. My child requests something happy and with lyrics (it’s a clear warning to us not to put on classical music). We listen to Pharrel’s Happy – the perfect song to lift one’s mood. Maybe even to bust a move or two over one’s sausage, chips, and steamed veggies.
I request Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now – ideal to make you realise that all we have is right here at this very moment in time. Everything else is plans that can change at any minute and memories that can be easily forgotten.
So, yep, let’s focus on the present. Seize the moment. Carpe Diem! The Ancients knew what they were talking about.
P.S. Do you think Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now will be considered an anthem of the Ancients two thousand years from now?!
Saturday – 28th March 2020
I think Saturdays is when it hits me the hardest. Waking up and remembering that we don’t have anywhere to go and above all, we can’t go anywhere. A trip to the front yard to exercise is our one luxury the same way that before a trip to Venice or a trip to the Maldives or the Caribbean would be a trip of a lifetime for some people.
I read about British people honouring the NHS and all that it does to stem the pandemic by clapping from their windows, doors, and balconies. It sounds wonderful until I watch a video of a paramedic being applauded by her whole street. People are out in groups on the street and she is so overcome by emotion that she starts crying and wiping her tears with her hands.
‘Don’t touch your face!’, I think. ‘Don’t touch your face! And why is everyone outside on the street?!’
I’ve lost it. I am not touched by grand gestures anymore. I am just holding onto the Rules in the hope that they will help us make the high jump back into the future of what was once normal to us.
A high jump that has an arched curve and the peak of which we still have not seen. The Numbers in Italy yesterday – nearly one thousand people – were heartbreaking and, yet, the Italian authorities tell us that we haven’t reached the peak. We are still hanging up somewhere in the air flying higher and higher waiting to hit the high spot. Are we flying though or are we digging down?!
Someone I used to know in real life posts a coarse status on Facebook. It’s designed to offend and denigrate. It questions the cleanliness of a nation and speculates is this why the pandemic is so devastating there.
I hit the Unfriend button after a few agonising minutes. Socially speaking unfriending someone on social media is seen as the utmost personal affront you can commit these days. Yet, I can’t put up with such an attitude. At a time when we are all equal in front of the virus, how does it help one to put another down?! Why such vitriol is practiced for social clout?! Why a person can consider it normal to feel above someone else just because the virus hasn’t hit him yet?! Many hours after I hit Unfriend I still feel disgusted.
The school has sent to the children a poem by Maria Ruggi called Il Virus Misterioso – it describes simply what coronavirus is, how people react to it, and what we can do to be safe. We read it at home in our faltering Italian. Bravo, maestra! It’s a great poem and, apparently, it has reached two million people in Italy already.
We have breakfast so late that calling it a brunch will be a misnomer. Outside it’s a beautiful day. Sunny and warm! The balcony door is open and it feels so good. The sun rays streaming into the kitchen, a ball bouncing off in a yard somewhere near us. A young man walking down the main street walking his dogs, both of which are so cute and fluffy!
At one point during breakfast, my plate is swimming in oil from my fried egg with liquid yolk and a fantasia di funghi (basically a selection of mushrooms preserved in sunflower oil that they sell in local supermarkets). I mop it all with a piece or two of toast greedily letting them drench all the glistening droplets.
In my head, an orchestra bursts into the famous tune from ‘Oliver Twist with lyrics adapted to the situation:
Oil, glorious oil! Egg, toast, and mushrooms…’
For dessert, we tuck into the leftovers of the apple crumble that we made last night. We have been making and baking lots of things this week with a pan-fried garlic bread and said apple crumble being the highlights.
‘Shall we consider this lunch then?!’, asks my husband.
‘Sure!’, I say, ‘In any case, I am ready for my second coffee!’
At 5 pm today sparks fly at home.
‘Is this something you wear to go outside?!’, I point accusingly at my husband’s jacket which is hanging off the wardrobe’s handle. ‘You know we can’t bring into the flat anything that we wear outside!’
I am tense, on the way to becoming angry and I keep pointing to the jacket with a wagging finger: ‘Take it out!’
He sighs, picks his jacket off the handle and says ‘It’s not necessary!’.
And puts it in a cupboard with his other outdoor clothes.
Dominance asserted (in my head, at least) I retreat to the kitchen.
When you are cooped up inside for long periods of time, often the smallest things can become the floodgate that releases the tsunami.
We are incredibly easy-going at home, we don’t lead battles for control, we met up later in life with fully formed habits and after an interesting first two years of dating, we settled into a relationship where I sulk if I don’t get it my way the first time round and then we talk about it, laugh a bit and continue forward.
It was a beautiful day outside today, but I stayed firmly put in front of my computer. I am trying to finalise a blog post that I have been working on for over a week now with constant interruptions, and I just want it out of the way. So, I am a bit tetchy.
Tomorrow, I will definitely go to the front yard as even ten minutes of exercise in the open air makes a huge difference to how I feel inside.
At 7 pm today I realised that my imagination is my strongest asset.
I was sitting at the kitchen table colouring a paper snail as part of our art and craft time. In my head, I am far away, in London, where I run a very successful greetings card company. It’s been a dream of mine for quite a while now, I have to admit. There is something so lovely in the British people’s habit to give a card for every occasion. So, it’s been my fantasy for over ten years to have a greetings card company with photos of lovely places, wishing future travellers great adventures abroad.
I see my greetings cards stocked in London’s best shops and, snap, I am now seeing my first book, freshly published, and very successful. Snap, and I am dreaming of my blog becoming very, very successful with people falling over themselves to read my sparkling travel writing. I can do with a million pageviews a month, I generously think in my imagination and… Snap…
I am coming to my senses as my child is dragging a long ribbon over my arm while singsonging ‘I’m a slippery snake! I’m a slippery snake!’.
I’m still so full of dreams and visions, I hardly register the word ‘snake’. So full I am of warm, uplifting dreams.
I’m telling you – imagination’s the word!
Especially in times of isolation…
Sunday – 29th March 2020
On Saturday night we stay up super late to watch 101 Dalmatians. I find it OK up to the middle point and then quickly sliding into boring from that point onwards. It doesn’t matter though as I am not its target audience, after all.
This leads to all of us happily oversleeping on Sunday. ‘Ah, this is what Sundays are made for!’, I exclaim in my head. ‘To sleep in and take it easy. Instead of getting up at the crack of dawn to try to squeeze in as many things to see and do on a day trip to remember.’
I potter around the house. I wash half of the dishes and then lose inspiration for the other half. ‘They can wait!’, I think. ‘They are also stuck here with us, hee-hee-hee. In their sink!’
Time to post on Facebook. I love posting on my blog’s Facebook page daily. I often think long and hard what to post about there. Sometimes I get an inspiration for a long a detailed status message, more like a mini blog post and, other times, a line or two suffice to express how I am feeling inside.
Not much is happening today!
The afternoon is warm and mellow. We colour Easter papercrafts on the kitchen table for a while. I have become quite a dab hand at filling outlines with felt-tip pens. Anything to keep our child occupied and happy during the lockdown!
I know my husband has had enough of all the isolation when he says:
‘It’s such a nice day! Anything would be better than sitting inside. Even visiting a villa!’
Which makes me laugh. He dislikes visiting villas with a passion. The Venetian villas are akin to small palaces. Dotted around the Veneto’s countryside, there are hundreds of them. Some were designed by famous architects like Andrea Palladio (the most influential architect in the Western World for the past 500 years!). Inside, the Venetian villas are covered with frescoes by the likes of Veronese and Tiepolo. Plus, they have gorgeous furnishings and an air of luxury.
I love visiting the Venetian villas, ticking them off one by one from a never-ending bucket list that I constantly update in my head.
My husband has no interest in Venetian villas. I have dragged him to about ten of them already and he has no patience left for the other 100 I have in mind. He much prefers hikes, sights of natural beauty, waterfalls, medieval walled towns, and science museums.
Hearing now that he would be happier to be at a Venetian villa than staying in is a sign that we all are starting to get a bit tired of the walls of the house.
I check the start date of the lockdown period in Wuhan. 23rd January 2020. It’s just about being lifted now. Two months and one week. We are on our third week of Italy’s full lockdown (not counting the weeks we spent before that with the schools closed and daily life slowly but surely coming to a standstill).
I read the articles about Britain potentially staying locked down till June. Where about in this timeframe our own lockdown is going to start being slowly lifted up? I don’t know. But I quickly put a Venetian villa on the list of places we will be running to as soon as this becomes physically allowed.
Monday, 30th March 2020
The day starts with me browsing expat groups on Facebook. Covid-19 seems to dominate the topics of conversation. People agonise over life-changing decisions like should they pack what they can and leave their current place of residence to return to their country of origin. Or should they stay put and ride it out.
It’s an equation with too many unknowns. So many things can work either way or in a way that you completely didn’t expect them to develop. Human behaviours, cultural traditions, medical facilities, the lack of familial support nearby, the prospect of being separated from your partner and/or even children for an indeterminate amount of time.
Situations like this may either completely block your thought process or spur you into action. Flee or freeze. No matter which takes over you, you will still need to fight on so many fronts. Above all on the front of ‘keeping it all together’.
I think this is what I have been concentrating on subconsciously over the past few days. Just keeping it all together. No matter what! If I start feeling too deeply about the impossible choices that people all over the world are facing (and some expats at least have a choice), I may not be able to function on a day to day basis. And functioning at present is of utmost importance. Moving forward, one day at a time.
Keeping the house cleaned. Making sure we keep physically active at home and in good spirits. Our plans for the future otherwise are in a bit of disarray but we will get to them when the time comes. What else can we do at present?! We have thought about plan A and B, and C, and Z. Yet, we won’t know which one or which combination of which ones is going to happen for a while now.
In the meantime and to keep myself sane, I just focus on things one at a time and one day at a time. As humans, we can’t predict the future. We can shape it through our actions. Not always though. So, at present, at least I can try to keep my thoughts in check and just take it easy, take it slow and see what’s going to happen in the end.
First task for the day is completed – I have printed all the materials that the school has sent for the distance learning this week. Well-done! I pat myself on the back. Small things, small steps. The important thing is to continue forward.
Now, onto breakfast.
We work out why we woke up so late yesterday.
Apparently, the clocks went an hour forward over the weekend to European Summer Time!
Earlier this afternoon I do 25 rope skips in the front yard and I am very pleased with my sporting achievement. However, almost immediately my shin starts to hurt like mad again. Is it shin splits?!
Soon I am to be found limping around the kitchen. I wonder if I should call my GP and see what he has to say over the phone or just leave it to heal by itself.
I prepare lunch, read a bit of news, put a nature documentary on for my child to watch, and surreptitiously eat a piece of chocolate. We are trying to stay active and eat well. I make it through with the occasional help of a piece or two of chocolate.
We have joined all sorts of free trial periods. Apps, magazines, streaming services, educational websites are very kindly and generously offering full access to their services without any fees for a week or month or two. We are giving a few a try.
After a morning of successful distance learning and 45 mins of exercising in the front yard, I have rewarded my child (and myself) with some screen time. We have just joined for a free initial week the Disney Plus streaming service so we are trying to see if this is something we would want to pay for in the future. Yet, we are not very much into Disney princesses in this house.
So, we opt for Perri the Squirrel – a nature documentary shot in 1957. I watch it until Daddy Squirrel is killed while protecting the baby squirrels (it all happened behind a bush, it looked a bit like he was playing with the animal that attacked him so it was sensitively handled) and then I leave the room to calm myself with my surreptitious piece of chocolate.
With a piece of chocolate in my hand, things can only get better!
Unfortunately, not for poor Daddy Squirrel…
Earlier tonight we find out that Italy’s lockdown has been officially extended to the 12th April. Two weeks from now!
Although many things can change many times in two weeks, the new date gives me some more hope for a return to normalcy.
Tuesday, 31st March 2020
It’s strange this feeling of having nowhere to go.
When your body is restricted, mentally, you can go in so many different directions. After the euphoria of the first few days when being organised, feeling productive, and keeping my feelings in check were paramount, now I feel I am sliding into the dangerous territory of ‘Who cares?’.
As in ‘Who cares if I don’t do this particular thing right now?! It can wait for a bit anyway!’ or ‘Who cares if I just sit here and look through the window for a bit. It’s not like I have anywhere to go.’
If I keep feeding this type of thoughts I know that before I know it I will be stuck in the middle of it all, doing just the bare minimum and watching the days pass by while being a passive witness of events.
It’s not a good place to be!
So, I am trying to reword the question in my mind. It doesn’t matter who cares. It matters if I care. We are being raised on the idea that everything we do should garner social approval and support. This is why social likes matter so much in our society. And when we don’t get them, it’s only too easy to give up. Ah, who cares?!
Fed on a diet of films, TV shows, and books telling the stories of everyday heroes, of changing the world, of achieving the impossible, and of having a dream/passion and making it happen, it’s very easy to feel paralysed inside when you realise you are just a normal person. And whatever you do, most likely, will never lead to the approval and the support of others.
Hey, we are lucky if our own parents supported us while we were growing up. Now, thinking of that (I have spent lots of time over the years analysing it in my head), I don’t think I got the support of my parents as a child. I got requirements and expectations. I was expected to achieve certain results at school, to go to University, to have a good job. It was all pre-planned for me and it was designed to make my parents feel like they were doing a good job as parents and members of society.
So, obviously, I rebelled. I did go to University and then had a good job and then dropped it all and moved to England where I worked in a pub, and in a shop, and at one point I ran my own jewellery stall at Camden Market – all things beneath my education as my parents would have told you.
But, it’s too early in the day to go into a makeshift therapy session.
All I am trying to say is that when the expectations and the requirements are lifted/nullified/don’t matter anymore, what are you left with?! And what happens if you haven’t developed the skill to mentally support yourself no matter what, to always be on your side, to be gentle with yourself, to do things not because someone expects them from you but because you know that they would be good for you in the long run even though they feel meaningless in this very moment in time.
So, yep. Staying put at home for long periods of time leads to some strange feelings and questions. The only way forward for me is to stop asking so many questions in my head and above all the main and most destructive one of them: ‘Who cares?’
Who cares who cares?! It’s time to wash the dishes. Small steps forward!
Dinner last night was garlicky chicken.
We have always been partial to garlic in this house but currently, we are totally overdoing it. There was more garlic than chicken in that casserole and it tasted so good.
My husband left it all to roast for over an hour in the oven to the point where the garlic cloves became soft as butter and beautifully golden on all sides.
I don’t know about Covid-19 but we are definitely ready for the vampire apocalypse here.
My husband heads out to the supermarket.
The reams of printing paper that we ordered a few days ago haven’t arrived yet and we are down to our last sheet. Plus, there are several things we need to buy again. Food and notebooks with particular lines, wet wipes, and other such items.
Who knew people need so much stuff nowadays?! It’s crazy to think about how we are surrounded by oodles of things that only a few generations ago would sound plucked straight out of a fantasy novel.
Take baking paper!
A few years ago I would have been perfectly happy to simply oil and flour the bottom of the baking pan. Nowadays, I can’t bake without baking paper. It’s so much cleaner and easier to detach, plus then I don’t have to spend time scrubbing like mad the baking trays and pans when I am washing the dishes. The baking paper simply peels off not leaving any debris behind. A quick wash then is all it takes!
Good things spoil us quickly.
Yet, gosh, we – as consumers – are so incredibly spoiled nowadays.
I have a quick look at the news. They are talking about reopening the schools in Italy in May. It would be amazing if it happens as it would still give children a sense of completing the school year as well as an opportunity to spend some time in the physical presence of friends. Online playdates simply are not the same!
My husband sends me a message that the gas station round the corner is working (great! I had completely forgotten about the potential strike of the gas station workers all over Italy) and that he had managed to fill the car.
It’s so nice and sunny outside and I am so used to staying at home that I begin to forget about the reason why. It has become my new normal. I truly hope this new normal doesn’t last long.
Wednesday, 1st April 2020
The one good thing that came out of this home confinement is that it gave me time to think about the things I want to do in the future.
And while only a few short weeks ago I was hell-bent on going back to University to do a two-year course on the history of art, I realised that this actually is not something I really want to do. Although I have a deep-seated interest in the Italian Renaissance, I just don’t feel the same about other branches of art and spending years on learning about artists and artistic aspirations that simply don’t talk to me sounds like the type of boring task that at my age I simply can’t commit to.
I would rather continue with my self-learning process about the Renaissance taking a short course here and there, reading as many books as I can, and actually visiting the places most connected to it.
Documentary photography is my other deep-seated interest. I am still in two minds about doing a two-year postgraduate course. It suits me well as it is completely online. On the other hand, the technical side of photography scares me a bit. I can just about find my way on the crossroads of ISO, shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, and focus point. Anything else and I feel this delicate balance will be destroyed and I will feel like I am failing.
The one thing that re-surfaced during this period of constant (and somehow forced) introspection though is that I really, really want to write a book. At least one, better still – several. In fact, I am one-third into one, one page into another and have the outline of a third in my head.
Sitting at home all day long and repeatedly questioning myself what will I regret the most if tomorrow it all comes to an end, makes wonders for achieving personal clarity.
So, here it is to my re-newed goals and to finding the strength to actually achieve them.
My physical world has shrunk so much.
It stops at the farthest point that my eyes can see which is not that far at all considering Italy’s propensity for blocks of flats as the most widely used form of residential buildings.
Sitting at my computer, I can see to the end of our street and a tiny piece of the main street that runs perpendicular to us. I have taken looking through the window as a new favourite pastime.
I count the cars that pass – less than ten an hour on a very busy day. I notice when a neighbour comes out on their balcony to put some clothes to dry in the sun or to sit and have a coffee. I know that the pomegranate tree just across the road from me is about to bloom in earnest in about two weeks. And I observe with interest the daily walks of a local moggie whom I have christened the Hooligan Cat.
She comes and goes as she pleases. A couple of times when the Hooligan Cat has been late to return home, I’ve seen her owner stand on the balcony hitting a spoon against a tin of cat food as a makeshift call to get her cat’s attention.
The way I have taken to observing my neighbours, I am sure they observe me, too. With not many things to focus on and with the news making for grim reading, paying close attention to the movements of the other humans in our immediate vicinity becomes second nature. It’s like watching a documentary. Or a reality TV show, if you like. So far, however, there is not much drama, (un)fortunately.
Over lunch earlier today – a lovely soup of lentils, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes in chicken stock (I personally made it and I am accepting compliments, thank you very much) – my husband tells me about a British person who has just been interviewed by the media about the four years he had spent in solitary captivity.
I need to read or watch his interview, too. I wonder where the human mind goes to when the body can’t quite move around. I remember The House of the Spirits – the amazing book by Isabel Allende a film based on which was made twenty or so years ago featuring Wynona Ryders and Antonio Banderas.
In the book, when confined in a tiny place, one of the leading characters seeks refuge in her head and starts writing using her memories. Not writing as in with a pencil and paper. But writing in her head, recounting the family history as though she was committing it to paper.
Obviously, we are no-where near such extreme confinements. We have our houses and our internet connections, and our gardens (if we are lucky). And we can even go to the shops. And many people continue going to work and having to drop their children with the grandparents on a daily basis as how else to make it all work considering the circumstances?!
In other news, it is a lovely day outside. Sunny and with some pretty white clouds over the blue sky. There is a cold thread in the air that you don’t feel if you maneuver yourself to a sunny spot. Just like the Hooligan Cat – currently on her own balcony – likes to do.
Thursday, 2nd April 2020
I wake up late again. I am tired of waking up late and make a decision in my mind to make an effort at night to fall asleep at 10.30 or 11.00 pm at the latest.
Early morning hours are my most productive time and I feel like I am not doing enough, not being productive enough at present. I don’t know who I am competing with (myself, most probably!) and what do I have to prove to anyone (again to myself, most probably!) but I feel like I can do more.
I spend a few minutes browsing through the forums of online groups. People all over the world share their worries online, discuss the measures taken at each one’s place of residence, the fines imposed for breaking the Rules, and then they focus on the Numbers. We all are hanging all our hopes on the Numbers – how many each day, is it more or slightly less than yesterday, how many are the cured ones and above all, how many fatalities?!
And every 1 in these worldwide Numbers is a person who had (fatality) or is still having (cured) his own life and dreams. Yet, it seems, thinking about it all in terms of Numbers makes it all so much easier for our minds to grasp and process.
Is the Number of fatalities greater than the Number of the cured ones?! Or is it vice-versa?! The Number of the infected has grown again?!
Hopes rise and fall every day, every hour.
I read and re-read the lists with symptoms that the media keeps posting and updating. I keep fretting if I cough once. Sometimes, I suddenly develop the skill of a thermometer in my right hand and I start placing it over our foreheads worried that one of us may be getting a bit of a temperature. Then I breathe a sigh of relief when the real thermometer proves me wrong.
Lately, I am worried about the loss of sense of smell and taste which media outlets are telling us is a strong predictor that one has got it.
Can I taste my coffee? Can I smell my perfume? Can I smell what’s cooking for dinner?
The other day, in the front yard I walked around, my nose in the air, trying to smell things and panicking that I couldn’t. Finally, I almost buried my face in the branches of a scraggly pine shrub, the needles scratching my skin, and I breathed in the unmistakable aroma of fresh pine needles. My worries melted and I remembered yet again that stress doesn’t help my body, it doesn’t help my immune system.
Yet, the world that we live in has conditioned us to worry. Being stressed all the time is like our second nature, for some is even a sign that they are doing well at work. Many of us fall into the trap of stressing over everything and anything, developing life-long anxieties. Then, we wear them as a badge of honour, we identify with them.
So, maybe now it’s the time to face up to them, to start taking care of myself a bit better by sleeping more and waking up early, by not staring at my mobile phone so much and clearing a bit of headspace. It remains to be seen if it will happen for I worry that we all are so used to worrying that it often becomes our whole lives’ backbone.
On the other hand, how are you? What are you doing? Are you quarantined? Are you worried? How do you face these worries?
We are getting into our fourth week of full lockdown. Not counting, of course, the two weeks (or were they three?!) before that when movements got gradually restricted and the fear gradually got hold of all of us, even of those who – at the time – were sure that it was much ado about nothing.
My mood has gone through several ups and downs. On the surface, I try to keep it all flat and stable and appear very adult and grown-up but inside I have had my fluctuations.
My current mood is silly. Which is a bit unfortunate as there is nothing to be silly about. Yet, you know that story in which a cruel king taxed his citizens so much that they cried day and night. ‘Ah, if they are crying’, said the king, ‘then they are not pushed hard enough!’ So he taxed them some more. They cried even more and using the same logic the king taxed them even more. This process was repeated a few times until the citizens started laughing and having fun.
‘Ah!’, said the king then, ‘If they are laughing they have nothing else left to lose!’
But you know, those are fairytales and this is real life and I have so much to lose but after being in the house (and a bit in the front yard) for about a month now, I am looking for and taking any excuse to feel silly on the inside. It’s a mood where you laugh at anything (fun cat videos?! send them my way!) while feeling slightly on the edge inside, where your hilarity comes at the heavy social price of appearing totally inappropriate to other people, where just as you are laughing something happens to bring you with a thud back to the hard earthly surface.
But what else can I do? Read more news?! Compare more Numbers?! Worry like mad yet again and again?! Or simply open an article with fun photos and have a bit of laughter?!
Which reminds me.
I haven’t been beyond our front yard since last week’s Wednesday. And this afternoon, I need to go to the fruit and veg shop down the road to buy some fresh produce. I will be wearing my brand new mask that my husband bought me from the supermarket earlier this week.
Friday, 3rd April 2020
I don’t have much on my mind this morning.
It’s just a day to get on with.
The ants have returned.
Every year come spring and a long line of ants appears in our house. We don’t know for sure where they are coming from although we have investigated them many times and have narrowed the options to two:
a) the ants come from the outside; or
b) they live somewhere underneath the kitchen sink, maybe where the pipes go through the wall.
We have sprayed them, culled them, bought the most sophisticated anti-ant sprays on the market, used freshly squeezed lemon juice… You name it, we’ve done it.
The ants continue to return every spring.
I have spoken to a few other people around Vicenza. All have ants. I don’t know if I naturally pick to talk to other ants-y people or if the ants really are all over Vicenza. One lady was telling me about the ants that walk in a straight line right across her lounge from the start of spring to the end of summer. Nothing could dissuade them to leave.
Another told me of the ants in their bathroom, making a long black line against the white floor tiles.
Is it just Vicenza that seems to have this ant issue?! Or is it all over Italy?! Europe?! The world?!
In general, I don’t mind the ants that much, but they can be annoying as we have to make sure that we don’t leave anything food-related outside. If you cut a watermelon in summer, for example, you have to wipe all surfaces very quick, otherwise, the ants swarm like mad. Actually, this is the only way to get rid of them. If we don’t leave anything outside for two weeks or so, the ants are gone. Until next spring that’s it.
They are very discerning eaters, too. One year, they had gotten into a two-colour swirly lollipop. It was factory-packaged, as tight as the machine had sealed the celophane wrapping around the lollipop head. Yet, the ants somehow had gotten into it and eaten all of one of the colours and left the other colour intact.
So, yes, the ants have returned this year again. To keep us company in the house?! It already feels small and tight, especially with my family’s annoying habit to whistle at all times and to get easily over-excited.
‘OMG!!! DID YOU SEE THE ANTS???’, they shouted earlier today.
‘SHHHHTTT!’, I whisper-shouted back in my best passive-aggressive voice. ‘IT’S RIPOSO! YOU WILL WAKE UP THE WHOLE STREET!’
Which reminds me, right before riposo started I went to the fruit and veg shop just down the street.
I was supposed to go yesterday afternoon but I had a splitting headache and postponed it for today.
It went well. I wore my new mask that my husband managed to buy earlier this week from the supermarket at two euros a pop. I had stretched the mask so much over my face that I could feel its top seam with my bottom eyelids.
People on social media have been discussing mask-wearing in the different countries around the world. Apparently, in certain places, masks and plastic gloves are now compulsory at all times when you are outside.
I went to the shop, got fresh fruit and veg – two large bags full to the brim – and walked back. All done! No palpitations this time. No anxiety. Stress under control. I forgot to pack a small bag with shallots and the lady in the queue behind me gave it to me. An outstretched gloved hand to an outstretched gloved hand equals to over a meter between us two.
I didn’t recoil in horror at this.
Is it because it has been so long that we have been shut inside that I have grown used to this new reality?! Or is it because slowly I am becoming a bit blase about it all?! Blase is not the right word, though. It’s rude and unpleasant. It makes me feel heartless inside.
I think it is because I have accepted things as they are, I am taking as many precautions as possible, and I am as always hopeful that sooner or later things will return to what we know as our world, our way of life.
In the meantime, I don’t want to feel scared and stressed at all times. I don’t want to feel alienated from people even though we need to stay at least a meter away from one another.
And to finish for this afternoon before the thought of it flies out of my mind: This morning I spent some time looking through photos I had taken many years ago. I came across a folder with photos from Tuscany and Liguria – places that my then-boyfriend (now husband) and I explored back in 2012. It was so lovely to look through these little memories: the fish soup I had enjoyed so much in Cinque Terre, sitting on the Piazza del Campo in Siena, eating finocchiona in San Gimignano, sightseeing in Florence. Great, great times!!!
It would be so lovely to return!
Saturday, 4th April 2020
I spent some time last night and this morning reading a six-part feature in LA Times about a legal case against a couple of parents who had planted drugs in the car of a school volunteer. It was written incredibly well. A real page-turner (or rather page-scroller). It painted vivid pictures of the people involved, of their qualities and shortcomings.
It also helped transport me to another dimension. A place far away from here which otherwise I don’t have the means to visit at present.
I think this is what great writing does for us and this is why people still read books instead of simply consuming video content. Great writing speaks to our imagination, to our innermost feelings and helps us paint unique vivid pictures in our minds instead of simply seeing what everyone else is seeing.
Great writing also makes us feel enriched instead of simply filling up some free time.
I make a plan to continue searching for great long features online.
Otherwise, it’s Saturday here. The day when we, usually, would get in the car and head out exploring. To celebrate the new 2020 and all the opportunities for day trips it would bring us, back in January we even made a trip wish list so that we could cross destinations off it every weekend.
The trip wish list is now hanging on the fridge. The destinations we set on him – perhaps we will never see them. That’s OK, I tell myself. We are not headless chickens on a constant quest to tick off places, after all. We want to explore places, to get close to them, to understand their customs and their people. Instead of just skirting on their surface and taking a selfie or two along the way.
So, for now, I will be travelling through books and features, through great writing and my imagination. It’s not a bad deal, especially considering the number of books I like buying.
I feel tired and uninspired.
It’s my birthday next week and my family is making plans which I sort of overhear as this social distancing has pushed us into very close proximity to one another.
My husband tries to crack a joke or two. I find it difficult to laugh. Just feeling tired inside.
The school has already sent the school work for next week coupled with a new platform that they want us to use.
It’s the weekend but it doesn’t feel relaxing. A neighbour somewhere down the street has been using a chainsaw all day today in his back yard. My head still vibrates from the noise that was inflicted on us all through the afternoon. Yes, even during riposo. The cheek!
We had a lovely dinner though. My husband made us quarter pounders with lots of trimmings. However, we didn’t have burger buns so we ate them between two toasted bread slices. It was very tasty!
Today, I found out that it is now compulsory in the Veneto to wear a mask and gloves every time you go shopping. We have three masks and no gloves. We will have to see what we are going to do about it.
Sunday, 5th April 2020
A very slow start of the day.
I am sitting in front of the computer, looking very busy while my husband makes us breakfast. Our weekend breakfast is more of a brunch with eggs, speck, toast, and pickles.
Pickles at breakfast at home started as a bit of a misunderstanding some years ago when I first took my then-boyfriend, now-husband to Bulgaria where I am from. Eager to show his appreciation for the local culture, he thought pickles and gherkins are eaten for breakfast there and he kept asking my mother if he could have some more pickles, please.
I didn’t have the heart to correct him and anyway he seemed to love it so since then on weekends the jars with pickles and gherkins are ceremoniously taken to our breakfast table.
I’ll tell you what is absolutely delicious for breakfast though.
Pickled caperberries! Pictured above!
We don’t have any plans for the day bar to relax. I hope the neighbour doesn’t pick his chainsaw again.
Holy Week starts today. It’s Palm Sunday.
During my husband’s trip to the supermarket earlier this week he bought us large chocolate eggs (which are traditionally sold for Easter in Italy) and more Colomba (dove-shaped sweet bread). I don’t think we will be doing anything more or anything special for Easter. I would love to paint some eggs as we traditionally do in Bulgaria but I have no way to get egg paints at the moment.
Just trying to look on the bright side, so here goes:
Staying in for a long period of time is an opportunity to:
- Look deep inside yourself and see what you really want to do in next few years or so of your life;
- Put your things in order – paperwork, drawers, collections, relationships;
- Sing your favourite songs without worrying that the neighbours may think that you’ve lost your mind. We are all losing it after so many days of a strict lockdown.
- Cook and experiment in the kitchen. We made onion bread today!!
- Start an online course or a new hobby.
- Get closer to your child(ren) and partner.
- Look through the window and find out who your neighbours are.
- Observe closely the trees and plants around you. Hugging a tree has never felt so good. One tree currently equals a trip to the mountains and gives you this amazing feeling of being close to nature. If you don’t have a tree then talking to your plants is a great substitute.
- Wear your PJ’s around the house one whole day. Don’t do it every day though as then it becomes slovenly and not making an effort feels depressing after a while.
Monday, 6th April 2020
I am a bit late today in updating my diary.
I have been up and doing things since about 8.30 am but I have been postponing the actual jotting down of thoughts here for the past two hours now.
It’s a lovely and sunny day outside and I have ticked off several tasks – domestic and distance learning – off my list. Yet, I don’t feel like I have anything special to write about or share with the world. Staying at home feels unremarkable now. It doesn’t incite the same deep thoughts or spontaneous meditations as it used to do only a couple of weeks ago.
I read this morning that the lockdown is like a marathon – one day equals one kilometre.
I agree and disagree with this statement. It’s a beautiful metaphor. You don’t run a marathon in one breath. A marathon tests your body and your resolve. In a marathon, you can hit a runners wall. Running a marathon often is one of life’s greatest achievements.
At the same time, in a traditional marathon, you have a clearly defined and physically palpable goal. You know exactly where the finishing line is. This keeps you going when you hit the runners wall.
With the lockdown, instead of focusing on the finishing line, we all are staring at the curve. It has flattened now for a few days. And the runners wall is hitting us (or has it hit us already?!).
It’s easy to lose patience, to lose the will to make an effort, to get irritable with the world and oneself.
So, as with every marathon in order to keep going forward, I need to keep my eyes on the finishing line. And even though I don’t know where and when we will reach it, I know what I will do as soon as we are there. And this gives me a happy emotion to look forward to.
It is an incredibly sunny and warm day.
Just before lunch, we spend our compulsory 45 minutes outside exercising and trying to keep active as best as possible. The sun is shining in my eyes, making it difficult to see the ball which we are throwing and kicking around our small front yard.
Bouncing off the fence, the ball startles the lizards that are sunning themselves. They scamper around and I notice that one of them is holding half a worm in its cold reptilian mouth. It makes my stomach turn quite a bit but I use the lizards as an opportunity for a spontaneous biology lesson combined with direct observation of nature.
I think it’s important for kids to spend time in nature and to understand how it works. How amazing it is, for example, that a small seed contains a huge amount of genetic information and can recreate a flower, a plant or a tree with the help of some earth, water, and sun.
Unfortunately, nowadays, there is a big disconnect between people and nature. We take it for granted that fruit and veg simply appear (seemingly out of thin air!) in the supermarkets. We don’t ask the important questions like how far has this bunch of grapes travelled to reach us out of season. Or what were these tomatoes fed with to make them taste so sweet seeing that they were grown in a greenhouse rather than slowly matured under the sun?
The respect that Italy has for food is one of the main things that attract me to living here. I like it that around us there are many small farms where you can go and buy fresh produce straight from the producer. I like it that around 90% of the fruit and veg sold in the supermarkets here are in season and locally grown. Zero km food is big here, too.
It is very easy to get in the car and within fifteen minutes to be surrounded by fields and vineyards. Or to drive on a whim to a small farm (called agriturismo) where you can eat lunch or dinner prepared with the farm’s seasonal produce. And then buy locally made olive oil or on-site made cheese and jams.
Obviously, at the moment, we can’t go anywhere.
I think about it being spring, that the wisterias must be already in full bloom and I will completely miss them this year. I think about all the spring beauty that I am not going to see in and around Vicenza this Easter. And then I feel lucky that at least we have a front yard to run around in for 45 mins each day.
And yet, my legs have started to hurt from the lack of regular walking, from spending too long in front of the computer screen.
Going for a hike now would be absolutely amazing!
Yet, as it is not possible, as I can’t go to nature at present, I start paying attention to the nature that comes to me. Albeit a lizard with a dead worm in its mouth.
‘Look’, I say to my child. ‘Look at that lizard eating a worm. It’s a bit disgusting, isn’t it?! Do you know that worms are very useful to people?! They process the dead leaves and break them down into plant food.’
Tuesday, 7th April 2020
Concentration (or the lack of it) is my current preoccupation.
My mind flies from thought to thought like a particularly annoying fly that circles the room buzzing and flipping in the air without being able to decide what to land on to.
Last night, I stayed particularly late with the grand idea of using the quiet time to write and advance other projects of mine. My concentration (or the lack of it) had other plans though. So, an hour later I found myself staring at my laptop’s screen reading gossipy sites. Definitely, not a great use of my time! But such an easy hole to fall in.
Over the years, my attention span has shrunk so much. I remember being able, as a child, to stay still for hours on end completely absorbed in a book. ‘My family and other animals’, anyone? Gosh, I loved Gerrald Durrell! I could just close myself in a room and read his books missing lunch, dinner, and anything else in between.
Nowadays, I find it difficult to concentrate on more than a few pages at a time. I read about ten books on the go and if I finish half of them, I consider myself lucky.
I blame it on my work with texts for so many years and on my former job of localising software. Software – from the point of view of electronic texts – is a long list of phrases. Some as small as one word and some as long as a few sentences put together.
So, you read through them and translate them one by one. They are in no particular order. I mean, they don’t follow a reading logic but more of engineering logic. So, your mind as a translator and as an editor jumps from one topic to the next several times within the space of a few minutes.
It was a very fast-paced job, too. I once calculated that I had edited between two and three million words in one year with the texts ranging in scope from software strings to software help centres and marketing materials. So, my mind got used to jumping from text to text to text all day long and to always craving the next challenge.
Since then, it takes an effort to make me focus. Really focus.
So, I constantly keep an eye on attention spans and admire people who are able to either concentrate or keep the attention of other people.
Like teachers! They certainly deserve a medal for keeping the attention of so many children all day long at school.
How is the distance schooling of your children going?! Have you noticed how much time you have to spend with your child to make them concentrate on the work and get on with it?! To inspire them?! To get them to complete the exercises and to do the lessons?!
I remember last year going to a kids’ party that was held in a cooking school in Vicenza. Twenty tiny children running around and having fun and then they were expected to make cupcakes?!
I was chatting with the other mothers when we became aware of the silence. Silence when you know that there are twenty kids there is something akin to a miracle.
We looked up and saw the cooking teacher overseeing the kids who were incredibly busy and concentrated making their batter and then the cupcake decorations. It was quite wonderful to see!
At that moment in time, I admired the cooking teacher. She had managed to make twenty kids concentrate and immerse themselves in the task at hand.
Concentration, being able to get the work done, feeling focused.
All skills I need to work more on during this lockdown.
Earlier today, my husband drove to the supermarket for our weekly shopping.
On his return, he told me that all the aisles that were not stocked with food or personal hygiene products were blocked off. Think of clothes, kitchen utensils and pans, barbecue grills, puzzles, toys and the like. All around these aisles, he told me, there were yellow strips restricting the access and a polite notice was advising the shop’s customers that they were not to go down those aisles.
He also told me that the large do-it-yourself shop next to the supermarket had reopened. Again with certain aisles strictly out of bound.
We discuss for a moment this news. As our immediate world has shrunk so much, anything from beyond our physical confines and our internet connection represents a monumental novelty for us.
We deduce that the aisle restrictions must have been introduced to avoid lingering inside the supermarket and to make sure that people were going there only to buy first necessity items.
Later on, I cook pasta with ragu generously studded with vegetables. For dessert, we have ice-cream.
Another day has drawn to a close.
Wednesday, 8th April 2020
The beginning of a new day brings with itself a group of ‘-ing’ tasks: making breakfast, washing, hovering, tidying up the house.
I have never been one for excessive domestic exercise but now I feel calmer and more useful when I do things around the house.
It’s a blue-sky day outside with the sunlight bouncing off the pastel-coloured buildings around us.
I love how Italians paint their houses and blocks of flats in all sorts of colours – from ochre to terracotta. They contrast beautifully with the sky and make the landscape feel full of joy. Especially, when you add to it the greens of the trees and shrubs that abound in every front yard.
In my head, I run through the things I need to get done today. It doesn’t feel like much – simple, everyday tasks that can so easily be dropped so as to spend the time feeling scared and wallowing in the many ‘what-ifs’ that so easily populate our heads at the moment.
So, I have found that focusing on the ‘-ings’ comes in very handy. Now, where is my dusting cloth?! Time to get started!
Tomorrow is my birthday!
For many years I have been past the emotion of celebrating birthdays.
As a child, my birthday always fell during spring break. So, few kids would turn up to my parties. Then, when I was eleven, I really wanted a birthday party and my mother did her best to dissuade me. Being very stubborn, I prevailed, so food and cake were organised and then, on the day of the party, my mum decided to go to the swimming pool for the afternoon and so she did.
I was left to meet my guests – about six or seven girls – completely by myself.
At the time, it was not unusual to leave kids at home by themselves. Bulgaria was considered a very safe place by everyone who lived there. So safe that actually safety was not even a concept we thought of very much. Women worked full-time jobs, schools had two shifts – one in the morning and another in the afternoon – so kids would go home at lunchtime by themselves and stay inside doing their homework and waiting for their parents to come home in the evening.
To put it this way – we all were latchkey kids.
Birthday parties were also traditionally held at the home of the birthday kid. They were not crazy affairs – a cake, sandwiches and some sweets would be more than enough and the kids were very well behaved.
So, all in all, it was not that unusual for me to be left on my own to celebrate my eleventh birthday at home with some friends. But it made me feel (and I only recently realised this) like my birthday didn’t matter.
For many years afterwards, I found my birthdays a nuisance. If someone wished me a happy birthday I didn’t know what to say, where to look or what to do with my hands. Presents made me feel uncomfortable. The attention, if any, was too much.
At the same time, paradoxically, if you gave me a present and you hadn’t invested any thought in it, I felt doubly rejected. Like that friend who gifted me a candle that she had bought from the supermarket next to my front door in London many years ago.
So, I downplayed the whole birthday celebration thing for decades. The birthday celebration industry – no matter what it did – couldn’t get me excited. Balloons?! Banners?! Getting all glammed up?!
It all sounded so wasteful and pointless.
My husband made a real effort through the years to make me re-embrace birthdays. If not for me, he said, for our child! There are so many people who have never had a birthday party or presents (no matter how small or badly thought out!) or who have had a traumatic episode in their life. Still, they don’t stop, they keep going as best as they can.
It took me a very long time to understand that he is right. We can’t change the past and the past is not for changing anyway. But I can stand tall and confidently say: It is my birthday! On this day I came on Planet Earth and for me and my loved ones, this is a great reason to celebrate. No matter what! No matter who else may like me or dislike me or don’t give a damn about me.
My birthday cake is in the fridge! I haven’t seen it yet but my husband warned me to be careful with the box wrapped in an opaque bag on the third shelf. I immediately computed what he meant to say. He must have gotten it when he went to the supermarket earlier this week.
Hey! Bring it on! My birthday is tomorrow and at a time when every reason to celebrate and to be merry has to be embraced with both hands, I am grabbing my birthday with all my strength and enjoying every minute and every second of this special day!
Thursday, 9th April
It’s my birthday and my birthday treat is going to the local fruit and veg shop.
I haven’t been beyond our front yard since last Thursday so I am looking forward to the short walk down the street to where they sell crates of lovely fresh produce.
I look through the open balcony door – another blue-sky sunny day is in progress – and after a minute or two of aimlessly gazing at the empty streets, I spot a passing couple outfitted with masks and gloves.
We are now requested to be covered like this every time that we go to the shops. My husband managed to get us some proper latex gloves last time that he went to the supermarket, so I am prepared!
I am looking forward to seeing some people, albeit I have to stay away from them.
My family is lovely!!! But it would be great to see some new faces, too. Although they will be covered with masks, it still would make for a nice change.
Over birthday breakfast with the best boiled eggs – my husband really outdid himself and made me an egg with a perfectly runny yolk yet solid egg white – we discuss what we are going to do and where we are going to go when the restrictions are lifted.
Officially, the social distancing/isolation is on until the 13th April. We don’t expect it to finish then though. Yet, it feels good to talk about places we want to go to and things we want to do. At present, just being around other people sounds quite nice.
I look at my plate – a piece of perfectly pale buttered toast, my perfect boiled egg, a roasted artichoke in oil, some tomato slices, a slice of feta cheese and another of Asiago cheese, and a thin slice of Tuscan finocchiona and I have a full-blown Eat Pray Love moment. I am thankful for the food on my plate, for the people around the table, and for being here, now.
We are on the balcony when my husband points two small black dots zipping around in the air.
It’s the bats! On warm evenings, when the mosquitoes are out in droves, we have often seen two or three tiny black bats flying between the houses and the blocks of flats feasting on the annoying biting insects.
It’s the first time that we have seen them this year. The days are getting long and really warm. So the bats are back. We don’t know where they spend the winter, they always appear unexpectedly one warm evening in April and then, as soon as the weather starts getting cold in October, they go away.
It’s been a great day!
I’ve been out of the house twice: one to go to the fruit and veg shop and one to do exercise in our front yard. I can now do thirty skips on my rope and then I am getting better at throwing and catching a rugby ball.
A friend called me this afternoon and I verbatim said: ‘Oh, we are just going out. To the front yard!’
And then it hit me again how ridiculous that sounded – going out to the front yard was like our day’s great event. And it also hit me yet again how small our physical world has become. I wonder what would happen if we can never travel again. Would it be like centuries ago when people would congregate around the fire to listen to the stories of a lucky traveller who had ventured beyond the confines of a small village or a small town and was now back to his native place full of wonderful tales of faraway places with exotic customs and strange animals?!
My trip to the fruit and veg shop was uneventful. I got two large bags stuffed with fruit and veg. I wore my mask and my latex gloves. And then once in the shop, I also put the shop-provided thin plastic gloves on top of my latex ones. It may sound ridiculous to you but this is how things are here now.
As I was picking and packaging my fruit and veg, It was incredibly difficult and time-consuming to open the plastic bags with two pairs of gloves.
Several thoughts went through my head as I shopped. I will try to summarise them herewith:
1. There is always one of those, isn’t it?! One person who will be zipping up and down the shop and breach the social distance without any regard for the other people. In my case, it was a lady who instead of carrying her shopping basket with her, left the basket in the middle of the shop and then was waltzing around back and forth, coming too close to people when she could have simply shown some respect for the situation and kept her distance like everyone else.
2. Wearing a mask completely skewers facial communication as we know it. Are you smiling, are you angry?! I don’t know. How I am supposed to read people’s expressions if I don’t see most of their faces. Also, obstructed by the mask, speech becomes unclear and jumbled and I had to strain myself to hear what the sales assistant was saying. I tried to smile at the lady who runs the fruit and veg shop and then I just waved at her. Smiling doesn’t work anymore in the same way as before.
3. I realised that every time that I go to the fruit and veg shop I have been keeping an eye on the four people that work there. Well, not keeping an eye as in making sure that they were non-threatening or something (they are very nice) but in the sense of making sure that they were all there every single time. So, I calculated that if I have been going there once a week for over four weeks now and the same four people continue working there week after week, they are fine healthwise and this gives me a bit of hope.
4. At the same time, I realised (maybe yet again, maybe for the first time) that mistrust is now a normal part of our lives. The sales assistant was singing an Italian song and generally, he was in a great mood. I was also in a great mood (it being my birthday and me being out of the house for the first time since last week’s Thursday). So, without thinking I handed him my card with my doubly-gloved hands. And he refused to touch it. He handed me the card machine and said that it would be better if I touched my card on it myself. No-one is safe and no-one feels safe and this fear, it seems, will be keeping hold of us for a very long time.
In other news, a neighbour told us earlier tonight (from a safe distance, don’t worry) that the lockdown has been pushed up to the 4th of May at least. I need to check the Italian news now to see what’s what exactly.
Friday, 10 April 2020
It’s Good Friday – the start of the Easter holidays. But as we have been stuck at home for over a month now, in a way, it feels just like any other day.
Still, there is no distance schooling for my child and no distance work for my husband! So, it’s a proper holiday! We just have to stay put. That’s all!
I remember holidays when I was a child. Mostly, we stayed at home. Usually, there was a festive meal that could last a couple of hours at least and sometimes an assorted group of relatives would come to celebrate with us. But there was no expectation that we had to go on a short holiday, a day trip or visit a museum or do something outside of the house.
Nowadays, I live with the deeply entrenched idea and expectation that the more I see, the more I travel, the better. Going on a trip – no matter how short – is my most favourite thing. Discovering new things, learning the tiniest details about a destination is something that can keep me happily occupied for hours. A weekend without at least one day trip is a lost weekend to me.
Yet, now, we have had several weekends without a day trip. Unless you count our front yard a destination to write home about.
And still, these last few weekends they were not lost weekends. In a way and despite the tragic circumstances, at times it felt safe, it felt nice to stay put at the same place and spend time with my family – the laughs, the jokes, the falling outs, the chats, the changes in emotions, the tears, the fears, the exercise in being positive, in keeping the stress at bay.
It was all good! All an experience that we didn’t expect but we are making what we can of.
I check the online editions of a couple of Italian newspapers. Apparently, the country is waiting for its prime minister’s new decree today. While we all will be staying inside until the 4th May, there is an expectation that bookshops and stationers could re-open as soon as the 14th April. The same applies to a mix of different companies – from manufacturers of agricultural machinery to forestry companies and even shops selling baby clothes.
We will wait and see. There is nothing else we can do but wait and see!
It’s very warm and sunny outside. I spend a minute on the balcony with my face turned up towards the sun. It feels very nice!
Then I treat myself to a glass of Chino – an Italian fizzy drink flavoured with chinotto juice. Chinotto is a citrus fruit, slightly bitter in taste. Apparently, in English, it’s called myrtle-leaved orange. I have discovered that the fizzy drink has a polarising effect. Not unlike Marmite, you either hate it or love it. I love it!
I add two dark chocolate bonbons to my little moment of sun, Chino, and peace.
A neighbour somewhere listens to loud music. My family is exercising in the front yard and I can, finally, publish my new entry in my diary. Something that I have been meaning to do since this morning and yet only now I have a moment for. It’s strange how busy we end up being just by staying at home.
Saturday, 11th April 2020
The day starts with a quick look at the news.
The UK reports its highest Numbers yet while the tabloids are describing police breaking hundreds of anti-social-distance parties and gatherings and planning to use a megaphone over the Easter weekend to scare bathers off the beaches.
The tabloids rejoice in painting this picture of unruly Britain where everyone – especially, it seems, students and single men – are traditionally desperate to get to the (now-closed) pubs and wreak havoc on (now deserted) streets, (now closed) kebab shops, and (perennially overstretched) NHS resources. It makes for a great clickbait, I guess.
At the same time, they announce that a ‘major attitudes-monitoring project led by Imperial College London’ indicates that 9 out of 10 Britons adhere to the lockdown.
In Italy, it has now been officially confirmed that the lockdown will continue until the 3rd May 2020 however several types of companies are allowed to resume operations on the 14th April. In terms of retail, bookstores, stationers, and shops selling clothes for babies and toddlers can put their shutters up only provided they guarantee that there is only one client at a time per 40 metres of retail space, the shop is cleaned twice a day, and there is natural ventilation and the air is circulated regularly.
Masks and gloves continue to be compulsory in shops selling food. Computer-making firms, landscapers, and forestries are also allowed to re-open. The Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera has prepared an easy to absorb article on the new developments.
I receive a message from a friend asking me if they are going to ‘let us out soon’ seeing that our place is not so badly affected. I try to explain in a sentence or two that it is not a case of allowing people out town by town or city by city. It’s a national policy and we all have to abide by it.
Next on my screen is an article by a reputable news source about the role of balconies in history and the present day. Allegedly, a pensioner in a block of flats in Turin is working on a pulley system to allow food to be passed to neighbours via their balconies. Apparently, the idea started when one of the neighbours wanted to share a cake baked by their daughter.
I am all for helping neighbours in need with food purchases and deliveries (provided social distancing is observed at all times). The idea of sharing a home-baked cake with neighbours however, makes me recoil in horror. Sorry! I know that it’s a feel-good story aimed to make us feel all fuzzy inside about the value of the community. Yet, when we have been fed for weeks a diet of ‘stay away from all humans you don’t share a flat with’, sharing food that someone has touched and breathed on at present makes me feel very icky inside.
Have I become cynical? Maybe! Maybe this is what pandemics do to people first and foremost. They break the unspoken rules of feeling like we can rely on other people and make us rely on ourselves and look after ourselves first and most.
I fold the dried clothes and put the new load of freshly washed clothes on the drying rack. It’s nice and fresh outside – a perfect spring day with just the tiniest bit of chill in the air right before the sun starts to burn above our heads come midday. I can hear voices outside. A loud telephone call a few houses away, a child playing in a house garden, a passing car.
It all sounds so normal.
It’s a beautiful Saturday and a cup of coffee in hand, I put the news aside to try and make use of the morning as best as I can considering the newly normal circumstances.
Sunday, 12th April 2020
If you are celebrating, of course.
I am celebrating. In a way. Because, strictly speaking, Easter for me is next Sunday in accordance with the calendar of Christian festivities followed by the Eastern Orthodox Church which is the largest and most traditional religious body in Bulgaria.
Yet, I have been living outside of Bulgaria for almost twenty years now so I have just taken to celebrate/mark Easter on the day that it happens in the country I am at present, so Easter for me is today.
Sorry, if I sound a bit despondent. I must say that over the last 24 hours this whole lockdown system is starting to really weigh me down. I am trying to keep productive and it is not negative thoughts that are bothering me. It’s more like tantrum-like thoughts along the lines of:
‘I can’t believe this is happening to me! Spoiling all my plans! Keeping me inside when the weather is so gorgeous!’
A bit selfish, very egotistical. I know, I know.
But I feel like a little child inside at the moment. I know it will quickly pass. It’s just one of the stages that the human mind goes through when the human body is restricted from movement. Yet, I am not greatly enjoying this thought process. It reminds me of everything I am missing out on at the moment and humans hate to think that they are missing out on something. No matter how small or how stupid.
Anyway, I hope that you are having a great Easter with egg hunts and an Easter bunny, and un uplifting religious service (from a distance), and a nice festive lunch, too.
The Easter bunny dropped off some chocolate eggs here. A huge one, wrapped in pink paper for my child. And a very nice one for me, decorated with flowers and nestled in a lovely painted flower pot. All organised by my husband.
As luck would have it, on the very last day that my child and I had gone to the shops together – 9th March, Monday – we had bought a chocolate egg for my husband. It’s decorated with yellow chickens and it’s very cute but it’s tiny, so easily dwarfed by the eggs he so very kindly treated us to.
Yet, it’s the gesture that counts.
Monday, 13th April 2020
I wake up to the faint sound of church bells which soon is followed by what sounds like the large rubbish-collecting truck emptying the bins on the large street next to us.
Easter Monday in Italy is known as Pasquetta and this is when people traditionally go out for picnics with friends and family at picturesque corners around the country.
For a minute, I entertain the thought of us staging a picnic in the front yard. My child would love it. Yet, I am still at a mental stage where I feel caged inside and just the thought of making an effort tires me out. In any case, I will mention the picnic idea to my husband when he wakes up and see what he has to say. He loves making an effort! And even when I am feeling super down and tired, just tagging along with his effort makes the world a better place.
All in all, keeping busy during this lockdown has been a mental saver for me. Hence, weekends and holidays have been the hardest to deal with. This is when the structure we have during the working days is put to rest and I feel hanging in the air not sure what exactly to do.
In any case, the days are passing one by one and I keep telling myself that it’s all about our mental attitude to things and that it is OK for some days not to be as great and productive as others. The important thing is to keep moving forward – with a tiny step or a leap or even the occasional flight but mostly tiny, tiny baby steps.
I think it’s this awful feeling of expecting too much from myself that has kept me despondent over the last few days. Like, I could do so much more if only…
If only this…
If only that….
But we are here now and it is what it is. And learning to accept it at times proves more difficult than other times.
In other news, last night we watched together the first Mary Poppins film. It was very sweet and with beautiful visuals. I was tired though and some of the dance numbers stretched unnecessarily long. All in all, it was a good escapade and then I spent some time reading online about P.L. Travers, her books, and her life.
The thing that made an impression on me was that she adopted a baby boy and it was only when he was 17 that he found out that he had six other siblings one of whom was his twin! I guess they did things differently then.
So, OK, what’s the plan for today?! Just make a tiny step ahead will suffice, methinks. A potential picnic to have in the front yard. Otherwise, just to keep the clock ticking and tocking and trying to put the grey thoughts in my mind to rest.
Tuesday, 14th April 2020
With the Easter holidays behind us, it’s time to get on with distance schooling for my child and distance work for my husband again. For me, I will continue trying to keep some sort of order in the house and in my head plus writing every day. ‘That’s good! That’s enough!,’ I tell myself. ‘Let’s just keep it nice and steady!’
The day looks a bit grey outside as I wake up early in order to have an hour of uninterrupted time in front of my laptop. My family senses me moving quietly around the house though and soon everyone is up, too.
Time to put the Moka on the stove!
Yesterday afternoon we picnicked in our front yard. We used our picnic matt and brought some nibbles with us. It was nice.
Then we talked about going for a walk. Just within 200 m radius from our house – strictly observing the decree that’s in force for the Veneto. The decree stipulated that all physical activity (like walking your dog or going for a short walk yourself) was to be limited to a radius of 200 m from your residence.
We had never made use of this small allowance before. So far, we had simply stayed in only going beyond our front yard once a week each to the shops and to put the rubbish in the bins.
A walk sounded so, so good. So after using an app to calculate the permitted radius around us, we outfitted ourselves with masks, gloves, and hand gel and opened the door to the street. It felt like we were doing something really bad. To the point that as we passed a neighbour’s house and seeing our neighbour in her garden, I felt like I had to explain: ‘We are only going 200 m away!’, I said. ‘It’s our first walk and my child’s first time being out since 9th March!’
‘Bene, bene!’, the neighbour replied.
Our radius restricted us to basically walking in a straight line as any streets that would have permitted us to loop around the block were just outside of the red perimeter that the app allowed us.
It was strange to walk on that deserted street. It looked a bit shabbier than I remembered it. But we saw two large wisterias in full bloom, with long bunches of fragrant purple flowers streaming down a balcony railing and it all looked so beautiful.
We came across two parents with their children riding bikes and another couple walking around. We all kept our distance from one another avoiding to look at each other in the eye.
After 10 mins and with our allowed distance covered, it was time to go home. ‘Ah, we walked so much my legs hurt!, I attempted a lame joke. No-one laughed.
Then, this morning I read that the newest decree for the Veneto abolishes the restriction of only being able to move within the 200 m radius. Now, as long as you stay close to your residence, you can go a bit further afield.
I don’t know! I don’t know if we will be attempting another walk soon. It felt like we were doing something really wrong and the empty street felt a bit menacing.
Seeing the wisterias in bloom though was a definite highlight!
Wednesday, 15th April 2020
I am thinking about sociability. Is there such a word, at all? Yes, apparently, there is. I just checked and as luck would have it it means exactly what I wanted it to.
Our ability to be social.
Has our ability to be social diminished during this isolation period?
Every week when I go to the fruit and veg shop – my only weekly outing for five weeks – I catch myself several times avoiding to look people in the eyes. I have never been a very social person. The intricacies and pleasures of small talk have completely evaded me all through my life. Yet, during this period of isolation and especially during the first couple of weeks when fear was the dominant feeling, I felt really stressed and overwhelmed just at the thought of having to look straight at a person I didn’t know.
Most of my shopping trips to said fruit and veg shop were spent looking down at the crates with fresh produce and avoiding as much as possible to look up and take in the other people – no matter how few of them there were – around me.
This was the fear talking. And the stress. And the whole feeling of being thrown into a very unusual situation and not knowing who could be a carrier of a disease that the media was (and it still is) writing about every single moment of the day.
The question of sociability returned to my mind early last evening when we went for a walk around the block.
Quite the revolutionary thing.
With the removal of the rule to stay exactly within a radius of 200 m from one’s home, suddenly we really wanted a walk. ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful just to feel our legs moving?!’, I thought.
So, covered with masks and gloves – a requirement when leaving the house – we ventured out on a 20-minute walk around the block. We saw irises in glorious bloom, flowering shrubs in every possible bright hue, and so many wisterias that my mind was spinning with all the beauty around.
The streets somehow felt shabbier though. Without the throngs of people to make them look full of life, they were simple grey lanes on which we had to stay at least 2 metres away from any other human being. Of which we saw approximately twenty. All masked up and gloved up bar one young man who was walking around seemingly aimlessly and without care for the rules.
I must admit, his uncovered face made me feel anxious inside. What does he know that makes him feel like he can walk around without a mask? Why is he not wearing a mask? Doesn’t he respect the Rules? And other such once strange and unedifying but now seemingly normal thoughts came into my head.
We usually fear people who conceal themselves but this man was too revealed, too exposed. I steered us away from him.
It’s interesting to notice and observe how my thought process has changed in such a short amount of time, how we adapt to our reality in spite of it not being anything that we might have expected. How little it takes to start fearing other people.
Yet, I am positive that things will go back to normal as soon as possible. Over the centuries there have been several cases of infectious diseases taking over a city or a nation, of quarantines enforced strictly and lasting longer than we have been in at this point. And yet, once it was all finished, life picked up exactly where it had stopped and continued forward. People didn’t suddenly become a housebound species, trust and sociability returned and everyone embraced life as much as possible again.
I am looking forward to this happening here again.
In other news, we had a gust of really strong wind here yesterday afternoon. It was a gloomy day anyway but right in the middle of the afternoon suddenly a very strong gust of wind started howling outside. We ran to the balcony to see the sakura tree in a nearby front yard sending clouds of pink petals in the air. The wind would then grab them and spin and spiral them around blowing them into open balcony doors and windows.
A strong rain then started. We watched the pattern that the sideways falling raindrops were leaving on the wall of the house next door. And then, half an hour later it all stopped and the sun came up again and before you know it it was all dry. Just the sakura tree looked a bit bedraggled having lost half of the pink blossoms that made her such a beauty to look at for the past two weeks or so.
Thursday, 16th April 2020
Not much left to write about.
We are all hanging, waiting, passing the time as best as we can.
And also forgetting.
Events that happened as recently as six weeks ago are now smudged in my mind. What happened first, what came next? In a way, it doesn’t matter. We are here now dealing with the days as they come and go and waiting for the new deadline – 3rd May 2020 – to arrive to see if we will be let out or not and if we are let out under what conditions and restrictions this will be.
I thumb through the news each morning. I cry inside for the young pregnant nurse who died in the UK from Covid-19. They saved the baby!
And then I read a story about an English aristocrat giving an interview about how she had to clean her own luxury hotel room in the US where she was quarantined before being able to meet her newborn twins from a surrogate mother.
It’s easy to judge, to compare, to ridicule.
Yet, Covid-19 is like a mirror handheld up to our world’s face, reflecting just what we are and the reflection may not be just quite what we expected. And even if we expected it, we don’t necessarily like it.
But once Covid-19 passes, will anything deep inside us change? Will covering our faces become simply a fashion after months or a year of having to do it? Will we let go of our superficial obsessions and try to achieve something more meaningful?
Friday, 17th April 2020
On travel and expat forums people talk about Covid-19.
They ask for other people to share their real-life experiences as they feel they can’t trust the news anymore. They want to know is it really serious where the other people are, are they being restricted more than them, is there any chance that come summer things will magically click into place and we will suddenly find ourselves at the beach, cocktail in hand.
Others worry about masks, gloves, constant sanitising, and the prices and scarcity of all these products.
Articles in the Italian media broach the subject of beaches and summer travel. Simulated photos showing beach umbrellas separated by plexiglass walls to guarantee social distancing circulate on social media.
I try to suppress my fears and my ‘what if’ emotions.
I actively don’t want to start thinking about a world where going to the beach or to the restaurant will require that we have plastic sheets around us. Then again, wouldn’t this be a natural progression from the fabric furniture and flaps that have been in use on beaches and around swimming pools for years?! And isn’t a large percentage of office workers already used to work in cubicles? A beach cubicle sounds like the logical step forward.
And then again, even if we accept that plastic sheets are the way forward, who is going to sanitise them when the beach-goers leave their plexiglass cubicles at the end of the day? How is the sand going to be raked and prepared for another day of sun and fun?
Plus, how are we going to guarantee the observation of this social separation long term?!
Questions, questions, speculations, fears…
It’s more productive and mind-saving to simply focus on the task at hand.
On the other hand, people are desperate to go back to work and earn money again. Hold onto this thought for a while, as….
Ring, ring, riiiing…
Just now the buzzer rings at home provoking a real madness. We run around trying to find the masks so that one of us can cover themselves and go downstairs to meet the delivery driver. Or, better said, to wave to him from a safe distance while he places the delivery by the front gate. Then we wait for him to drive off, grab the box, take it upstairs and leave it by the front door to air for a bit. A bit being at least 24 hours before we wet wipe it and actually take it inside. In the meantime, we wash our hands several times.
So much ado about a small delivery.
That’s why I don’t like us ordering anything online. It has become such a complicated thing to simply go downstairs and take whatever it is that has arrived.
And then again, on bloggers’ forums, people are upset with the largest online retailers. It seems that just in the middle of one of the biggest opportunities for online shopping, online retailers have cut their affiliate programmes forcing bloggers to earn a much smaller percentage from affiliate sales. Some online retailers have cancelled their affiliate programmes altogether.
This could spell the end for many blogs as maintaining a blog is not an easy or a cheap exercise. To continue writing and getting material for new content, you need money to cover your time and cover any experiences or products you are describing. Not to mention web hosting, paying for particular apps, themes, and other blog-related services. Percentages from affiliate sales have been the bread and butter of many bloggers.
I don’t use affiliate sales but with the current lack of interest in travel blogs, my blog has taken a serious hit in terms of page views which has decimated my ad income. I started showing ads on my blog in the summer of last year. I felt that after spending so many years writing and regularly posting content for free, I had to monetise my effort in order to be able to keep my blog running.
Now, with everything that is happening, once again I need to think long and hard about is it worth it to continue writing.
Yet, what else can I do? I write hence I breathe. That just about sums me.
Blogging has been a bitter-sweet journey for me.
I have had wonderful experiences in my constant search for things to write about. I feel I have learned so much about history and art and my horizons have expanded many times.
At the same time, I have had my photos and my writing stolen hundreds of times. Just two days ago, an Italian blog took
two three of my articles, translated them in their entirety and posted them on their website without any authorisation from me. I found out by chance and I am currently fighting to have my content removed from that website.
So, yes, I am trying to stay focused, trying to come up with new ways to guarantee that I will be able to continue writing. As such, I can’t spend all my time reading about Covid-19 and worrying about hypothetical things. If they introduce plexiglass sheets on beaches and in restaurants, OK, we will do what we have to do. We are people – individuals yet a flock. We have a free mind but often we do as we are told.
In the meantime, the fight for survival is what keeps us busy every day. And while the battle for the survival of a blog may seem totally ridiculous next to the battle for the survival of a family with many kids and parents without savings and a steady job, it’s my battle and I need to keep fighting.
Saturday, 18th April 2020
Last night we sat outside in the dark front yard. The air was balmy and it was very pleasant!
At one point we heard a rustling sound coming from a corner across from us. Then a hedgehog appeared from behind a small creeper plant. We squealed in delight and watched it heading out on his evening hunt.
We have known about a hedgehog living somewhere around the house for years now. My husband had glimpsed it a few times before but it was my very first time seeing it.
It was a lovely moment.
It’s Saturday now. A day of rest but as we have been stuck at the same place for so long I am feeling restless.
I will be finishing my newest blog post today. It’s long and detailed and it covers hidden gems in Venice. I was about to finish it yesterday but then I spent a long time agonising over the appropriateness of publishing travel blog posts in the current climate.
Am I being insensitive by showing people places they can’t visit at the moment? Am I being heartless by continuing to think and write about travel when the world as we know it seems to be falling at the seams around us?
These are difficult questions.
I think that if I spend all my writing time and social media activities on Covid-19, I will be feeding the fear and the sense of gloom. And this is not productive.
We can’t drop it all and spend all our days just looking at and sharing uplifting memes and showing photos of our work-at-home stations. As someone put it across quite well and succinctly the other day – we have never seen more people not showing their faces on the street and the inside of so many homes.
So, yes, I would much rather simply continue forward. Which for me means finishing blog posts I have started a long time ago, processing photos I have taken in the last year or so, and not letting my whole mind be rearranged by the current circumstances.
If there is one thing to learn from what happened in the last two months is that circumstances are always open to change. When you least expect it, boom, a new reality transpires. And then again, and again.
If we dropped absolutely everything every time something huge happened, nothing will ever get done. And, also, I can’t live in fear. The first two or three weeks after it all started, I lived in fear and this was not a good time for me. I remember one Saturday when I woke up in a panic thinking about what would happen if both my husband and I fell ill. Who was going to look after my child?!?!?! The fear was so strong, so debilitating, I almost lost it and cried.
But we can’t live in fear. We need to be reasonable about it. Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.
So, I am hoping for the best while my mask and my gloves are always ready. And my writing?! It’s the one thing that keeps me sane, allows me to focus on something, let’s me keep my head clear and makes me calm. And my travel blog posts? I hope that when the time comes they will be of use to someone who will make the journey to the places I write about and will show him or her some wonderful corners to explore. In the meantime, I hope, too, that people would find them interesting to read either to fire up their imagination and their dreams or to find some curious nuggets of information in them. The same way we watch a good documentary – not because we will necessarily go to the same places that are explored in it but to learn something new and feel good about it.
Sunday, 19th April 2020
I have started to really abhor Saturdays.
While during the traditional working days we follow a certain schedule and keep busy, Saturdays are for relaxation. Hence, they have no structure and this makes me focus on irritants and allow them to bother me a lot.
Thus yesterday Saturday was spent trying to contact the hosting company of the Italian website that has now stolen four of my articles. After emailing them and messaging them on Facebook, the hosting company finally replies but immediately washes their hands off by saying they need to be contacted by a lawyer.
I ask for their DMCA policy – something that any hosting company must have – and they tell me that they are in compliance with ‘their laws’ but don’t tell me which ‘their laws’ are.
Then they suggest that I contact the infringing website directly which I would have been happy to do in the first place but the infringing website has not provided any contact details whatsoever and has obliterated any traces that can be followed to establish who owns the website and who runs it.
I manage to find the name of a ghost writer (in her own words) who has signed off as the author on one of the translated articles but I decide against contacting her directly.
Instead, I email a copyright lawyer asking him to look into it.
The whole story upsets me no end. My articles have been translated word for word, including personal references to me and my feelings, and then plonked on a website I have no connection to.
To take my mind off things, I watch a documentary on Disney Nature with my child. It’s beautifully shot and very sensitively managed but when it transpires that one of the animals that the documentary has followed for the last hour ultimately dies, I am distraught inside but need to keep calm and be reassuring.
‘I am sure the snow leopard will be fine, my love!’, I tell my child. ‘She is just relaxing on the rocky stones!’
All the while we can see just the paw of the lifeless animal already covered by quickly falling snow.
Then the shot quickly changes to a beautiful visual of flying cranes and the voiceover tells us a story about a local belief that with every flight that cranes take a just-departed soul is transported to the world beyond.
I am fooling no-one.
I need an emotional break!
Later on during the day, I go to the shops.
To the fruit and veg shop and the small supermarket down the road. It being Saturday and food shops no longer operating on Sundays, there are small queues in front of both.
People keep a distance of two metres from each other while waiting in the queue. Everyone is wearing masks and gloves.
As always, I double up my own gloves with the thin gloves traditionally provided by shops in Italy. I notice that the other patrons don’t do this which means that they could have touched anything with their own plastic gloves and now are touching the fresh produce and other products inside the shops with the same gloves, too.
It makes me feel icky inside but there is nothing I can do about it.
And then again, there is always that one person that simply will drop their basket in the middle of the shop and flit around getting too close to you, breathe down your neck and stretch their arm over you. The impatience, the total disregard for other people is something that totally upsets me.
Again, what can I do?! I walk away time and time again but when I go to pay and a woman once again stands too close to me, I am grateful to the sales assistant who politely tells her to step back and he will be with her as soon as possible.
Outside, there are slightly more people on the street than last week. And slightly more cars. And we all keep a distance from one another which with the narrow pavements here is quite difficult. So, we cross to the other side of the street when we see someone walking towards us or step on the road and do a wide berth around a person we want to overtake.
It’s a bit of a soul-crushing dance.
Plus, I have made the error of going outside wearing a light jumper. It’s hot and with the mask covering my face and the gloves on my hands, soon I feel really uncomfortable and sweaty. I don’t know how masks and gloves are going to feel in summer when temperatures rise close to 40 degrees Celsius here.
I know it’s ridiculous to complain about all of the above seeing that for billions of people life is much more difficult at present. At the same time, it’s a diary where I am honest and document things as they are happening, and being honest means not being afraid to put on paper (or on a digital screen, as it happens in my case) exactly how you feel.
Thank God it’s Sunday now! A new week starts tomorrow. Not much of April left.
Monday, 20th April 2020
I start the day with a walk outside.
It feels groundbreaking just writing down these simple words.
At 9:45 am I go outside for a little walk around the block. Just over the now mythical (and no longer valid) radius of 200 m and yet further that I have been for the past six weeks or so.
It’s drizzling and the streets are devoid of people. The wisterias are now passed their best and their dry shrunken blooms hang between the tender green leaves of the wisteria shrubs.
Mask over my face and thick plastic gloves on my hands, I hold the umbrella and move around, re-learning to love walking and being outside.
I do two circles around the clock – one to the left, one to the right – retracing the same circuit twice but seeing it from two different points of view.
Then I spot the local patisserie which – oh, rejoice! – is open for business.
With the stipulation that clients are allowed inside one at a time and are wearing masks and gloves.
All the seats and tables are blocked, too. It’s takeaway only. It doesn’t matter. I buy a selection of bite-size cakes. Called pasticceria mignon in the Veneto, these are tiny but elaborate sweets – from mini beignets to my favourite mini lemon curd tart.
Yesterday was a very emotional day for my family, we spent it making plans for the future and putting the wheels in motion towards achieving some significant changes in our lives. So a selection of Italian mini cakes is just what we need this morning to boost our morale.
I return home and quickly scan through the online forums yet again. There is talk about re-opening all the shops and businesses in May but no word yet on the re-opening of the schools. People are talking, commenting, and worrying. Who is going to look after their children when the parents need to go back to work?! When are the schools going to re-open after all?!
For me, as I have said many times in my diary entries above, the biggest issue with socially isolating ourselves is how all this is affecting our children. What is happening in their heads trying to understand the sudden change in circumstances and way of life?! How are they dealing with not being able to see their friends in real life?! And what about the kids with no access to a garden or locked in with an abusive parent hovering over them?!
What the long-term repercussions of all this are going to be?!
It’s the early afternoon now. My husband is working remotely from the room next door.
My child is working through the tasks the school has provided for this week.
We spent some time together this morning watching the videos that the different teachers have prepared for the kids. Every teacher has gone beyond the call of duty to make sure that the kids continue learning no matter what. They send them words of encouragement and fun tasks to do. And then, at certain times during the week, we can call the teachers and have a one to one with them.
Is this how schools are going to be in ten years’ time?
Each child constrained to their own home, learning from a distance?!
I don’t even want to think about such a possibility.
Tuesday, 21st April 2020
A day like any other.
A neighbour on the street has been cutting wood in his front yard all morning so my head is about to explode. I have closed all windows and doors to minimise the noise but it trickles in no matter what.
I have an intolerance to loud noise, it makes me feel on edge and nervous. I am dealing with it as best as I can. Just focusing on the things at hand – distance learning with my child, writing a bit, selecting photos for my new blog post, waving my husband off as he leaves for the supermarket.
It’s time for his weekly shopping expedition. I am looking forward to his return with news from the big wide world.
Is this how cavewomen felt when their menfolk returned from hunting outside in a dangerous world?!
Wednesday, 22nd April 2020
Again, I am feeling out of words. Days blend one into another.
Every day we do the same things over and over again and they slip through my memory and leave me with a mish-mash of the same images and the same conversations in my head.
Going out doesn’t bring joy anymore. It hasn’t for a very long time.
Going out now must have a purpose and brings with it the fear and mistrust of other people and the constant attempts to avoid getting close to other people by performing convoluted motions on the street like crossing from one pavement to the other, walking on the road, and avoiding eye contact at all cost.
The masks may help in terms of physical protection but in terms of mental health, they just make it all so much more depersonalised.
It feels like everyone is out for himself. What type of society we will end up being if we are afraid of everyone?! If we avoid everyone?! If the mask of politeness slips and we don’t even acknowledge one another anymore?
The local newspaper writes about the nuns from an order here in Vicenza who have set up a phone line for people to call and talk through their issues with them. Specific help will be offered along with the opportunity to simply unburden oneself by talking.
Talking is what we all need at the moment. Just letting it all out – the fear, the worries, the preoccupations as well as the sudden good moments, the unexpected silver linings.
But talking to whom?!
Friday, 24th April 2020
Almost two days without a dairy entry.
I have been binging on Netflix. Delving into improbable stories that keep you on a constant cliff-hanger until the last minute of the last episode rolls on.
It’s a quick and easy way to spend the days. You feel like you’ve done so much, seen so much, and learned so much. Yet when you look through the window at the real world outside suddenly you realise that your mind has been stuck on a screen the same way that flies flock to the burning light bulb at night.
It was a gorgeous day today – so sunny and bright, and warm. Through the open balcony door, I heard the voices playing outside and I saw people walking up and down the street with their masks pulled underneath their chins.
I haven’t been outside, not even to the front yard since Monday. I think it was since Monday, at least. Could have been Tuesday.
There wasn’t a specific reason to prevent me from going outside. It just… It feels like such a big effort to go outside.
I know I am in a dire need to go outside tomorrow and for a little bit, I play with the idea of going to Piazza dei Signori – Vicenza’s main square. Yet, it is not exactly in the direct vicinity of where I live, so I have absolutely no reason to go there bar for my desire to see it again.
I am really tempted to go there though but I know rules must be observed and at the moment the rules dictate that we need to stay in the vicinity of our homes when going outside for physical exercise. So, be it!
I will go for a walk round the block.
Saturday, 25th April 2020
Today is Liberation Day in Italy so everyone is invited to another flashmob.
At 3 pm (right in the middle of riposo), Italians are welcome to lean out of their windows and balconies and sing Bella, Ciao! – an Italian folk song originally sung by the poor women labouring in the rice paddies of Northern Italy and which was later adopted as the hymn of Italy’s anti-Fascist Resistance during the Second World War.
More recently, you may have heard it passionately sung in that Netflix series Money Heist (originally called La Casa de Papel in Spanish).
Funnily enough, I know this song very well as when I was growing up there were close relationships between Bulgaria and Italy on account of Italy’s anti-Fascist Resistance and historic socialist movement. Italian films and music were very popular all throughout my childhood. We all watched the San Remo festival every year, knew all the big Italian movie stars, and when La Piovra – an Italian TV series – was broadcasted, everyone was to be found firmly in front of the TV screen avidly following the ups and downs of the drama.
Will I be singing Bella, Ciao from my window in about an hour or so?!
Will my neighbours sing it? Will we see someone bravely standing on their balcony in the middle of riposo to intone the iconic song? Will the people up and down the street join in a chorus? I am curious to see what’s going to happen.
I feel a bit disconnected from everything at the moment. It is so easy just to stay inside and unplug from the world.
Yet, I make an effort to check the news – both official and unofficial. Newspapers are all about numbers and curves. There is a lot of talk between friends and colleagues online about the potential staggered reopening of shops and businesses. A lot of speculation, too.
I heard this…
I heard that…
Someone who works at this particular place told me that they are expecting to…
Chatter, chatter, chatter!!! What’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen remains to be seen.
Until then, this afternoon I need to put my mask and gloves on and head to the fruit and veg shop.
I will report both about the Ciao, Bella flashmob and my trip to the shop later on today.
Sunday, 26th April 2020
There was no singing of Bella, Ciao! on my street yesterday.
I have found that people in Vicenza, in general, are not prone to manifestations of spontaneity. Being always well-presented and impeccably behaved is very valued here. Losing face is considered the ultimate faux-pas and a source of embarrassment. It’s a rather rigid culture and often it is difficult to slot into it.
For all the years I have been here, I have remained simply an observer to it. Being accepted and embraced doesn’t happen for generations. Vicenza is like an island where everyone knows everyone and if your parents were not born in Vicenza and lived here all their lives you have quite a difficult time feeling part of it all. Even if you are from elsewhere in the Veneto or a bit further afield.
So, yes, I wasn’t expecting anyone to break into a song right in the middle of the sacrosanct riposo but then I was hoping somewhere deep inside myself that I was to be proven wrong. Eh, well, I wasn’t.
Moving onto other things, I went to the fruit and veg shop yesterday afternoon only to find it closed. I had completely forgotten that as it was Liberation Day – a public holiday – shops would be open only in the morning if that.
Instead, we went for a walk around the block finding a new alley to follow. Car-free, too. It was great! So nice and warm. People were walking in twos or threes down the same path that we were following and had it not been for the masks and gloves that we all wore and the distance that we tried to observe, it would have been just like any other pre-Covid day.
We actually met a family we know in passing. We, the adults, didn’t recognise each other with the masks on but the kids did. So, we stopped leaving a couple of metres between us and had a very civilised chat with our mask-muffled voices and looking into each others’ eyes to see if the other was smiling.
This morning we walked the short distance to the local pasticceria to buy some brioches for breakfast. Unfortunately, by the time we had gotten ready to go out of the house, all the brioches had sold out. I gather it’s difficult for the pasticceria to calculate how many brioches to produce seeing that they wouldn’t know what the footfall would be like. And then again, everyone – happy beyond belief that the pasticceria has reopened again – is heading there first thing in the morning to get a freshly baked pastry for breakfast. So, yes, they sold out!
We bought some biscuits instead and retreated home. On the way back, an ambulance drove past us.
I have taken to observe what attire the ambulance driver and the paramedic in the front seat wear every time that I see an ambulance. At the start of it all, in the days of constant fear and stress, I remember seeing an ambulance with the driver and paramedic in full hazmat suits. It was a very distressing sight. I wrote about it in my diary somewhere in the entries above.
For the last few weeks and considering that I have been out of the house perhaps once a week on average, I have seen ambulances with the driver and the paramedic wearing their high-vis jackets and with masks on their faces. The ambulance that drove past us today had the driver with a mask on and the paramedic in scrubs and the mask on but pushed underneath their chin.
It’s a small sign of the changes that are happening. Perhaps a sign that I mustn’t read too much into it. Just a casual observation more like it. But it made me feel hopeful inside.
Once again, it’s a lovely, warm, and sunny day.
I keep browsing the news trying to find specific indication as to what exactly is going to happen come 4th May. This is when the second phase is about to start. The second phase being the staggered relaxation of rules, the gradual reopening of businesses and shops, even the permission to travel beyond the confines of one’s neighbourhood, city, province.
Until then, we have a whole week left. So many things may happen. So many thoughts may come and go. Here it is to thinking constructively and positively about it all and just getting through each day, each hour as calmly and collectedly as possible.
Monday, 27th April 2020
It’s a new dawn, a new day, and so on but for me, this Monday morning is a stressful event.
First, we all avidly discuss the so-called Phase 2. This is the staggered return to normal life. Or as normal as possible. The Italian and the world media have now published what is going to happen next in Italy. I skip through all the reopenings of shops and businesses and focus on the thing that interests me the most: the reopening of schools. Apparently, it’s not going to happen until September.
I feel dispirited.
It would have been so wonderful for kids to be able to see each other in real life for a week or two in May/June, at least. To play together, to bounce off energy. And to have a sense of achievement and completion with regards to the school year.
I don’t mind the distance learning and the school has been incredibly well-organised in terms of online lessons, homework, and keeping the children’s interest. Still, nothing feels like being at school surrounded by friends and teachers.
We start with the online lessons for the day at which point my laptop – overloaded with photo processing applications and school apps – decides to take it slow. Turtle slow. Snail slow.
I puff and huff around it trying to get it to work but we miss the online lesson and my child is distraught. The teacher is incredibly lovely though and suggests catching up with my child over a one-to-one session later on this morning which she then does and the lesson is a great success.
In the meantime, my laptop starts functioning at speed again so, once again, all is good with the world.
The sky outside is a fantastic light blue with a thin layer of clouds spread over it. It’s so, so beautiful! Looking at the Italian sky you quickly come to understand that the Italian masters didn’t make up all those gorgeous skies and clouds in their paintings. They really did paint what they saw. I think the sky above Italy is one of the best things about this country.
Now that the school day is flowing smoothly and that I have managed to wash the dishes and publish my daily update on Facebook, I feel calmer and more organised. I am looking forward to my little walk around the block later on. It would be good to be outside and feel the breeze on my face. Or on my eyes and forehead, at least. Seeing that the rest will be covered by the mask.
I watch a video on the Facebook page of Corriere della Sera – one of Italy’s largest daily newspapers.
It shows Milan’s underground trains where stickers have been placed on floors and seats to indicate the correct social distancing spaces. For example, triple seats now have stickers on two of the seats saying to, please, not sit in them. This leaves just one person sitting in a triple seat.
I don’t know how this is going to work in rush hour.
And, also, is this how the world is going to be from now on?! With us separated, divided?! Like we were not separated and divided enough before!
Are we ever going to be close to one another again?!
Tuesday, 28th April 2020
In spite of its stressful start, yesterday turned out to be a very nice and productive day after all.
Distance learning, housework, writing, photo processing – everything got ticked off. With my husband having been called urgently into work, my child and I then went for a walk around the block happily discovering more and more shops that have reopened their doors.
The first stop is the local stationery shop for some glue sticks and pencils. I am immediately put off by the demeanour of the gentleman running the shop. With his mask pushed firmly below his nose and with his hands left bare, he is chatting away with another customer whose mask is also hanging loosely just barely touching her top lip.
Gosh, how judgemental this whole thing has made me?!
Incorrectly placed mask and no gloves?! It’s difficult to admit it but inside myself, I make snap judgments. I buy the glue carefully avoiding to touch the counter and resolve not to return to the same shop if I can avoid it.
Then, we delightedly discover that the local gelateria has reopened. We are told that according to the rules, we can buy gelato but can’t have it on the premises. The cups with gelato will be wrapped in paper for us and outside we can tear it open to eat. OK, rules are rules. But let me tell you, that first spoonful of proper Italian gelato felt totally divine.
We continue our walk and come across a reopened flower shop. Bright blooms catch our eyes and we stop a meter away from the displays just taking all that beauty in but unsure if we are welcome to walk into the shop or how things work now.
The lady running the shop politely invites in and after looking around we can’t resist it and buy a large hanging basket overflowing with purple and pink petunias. It’s a completely spontaneous purchase. The bright flowers, their sweet scent, just carrying this large basket up the street feels great and makes us happy.
We drop the flowers at home, grab two large bags, and head to the fruit and veg shop. At the door, I ask if they will let me shop with my child and they very kindly let us in.
We put thin plastic gloves on top of our sturdier latex gloves and get on with picking and bagging our fruit and vegetables. Potatoes, courgettes, an aubergine, radishes, apples, pears, leeks, strawberries, kiwis, mushrooms, tomatoes. We spot the first for this season peaches and nectarines and buy a few to try them.
At the till we pile the bagged fresh produce in a neat pyramid and chat behind the masks between ourselves. An older lady shoots us a glance. She is getting impatient with the time that it takes the sales assistant to scan our purchases and even before I manage to pull my card out and pay, she comes right next to me and inserts herself in front of the till putting her one or two bags with vegetables on the counter.
I am alarmed by how close she has decided to come near us. Her elbow is definitely touching my sleeve. I grab my child and we both step away from the counter and the lady so as to reestablish the two-meter comfort zone between us. The sales assistant starts scanning her products on the second till and shoots a glance at the shop’s owner who comes to my rescue and takes my payment and then we can finally leave.
It’s obvious to me that it’s not only me who has become judgemental during these times of isolation. I have met this type of attitude in Vicenza before, mostly when I have been out and about speaking in Bulgarian with my child. Certain people here can be very unwelcoming when they hear you not being linguistically compliant. And they can show it to you in many different ways.
Now, thinking it back, I should have said something. Anything like: ‘You have to observe the social distancing.’ I feel bad for not standing up for myself. But just thinking of how close she was to me, of her bare elbow touching my sleeve, I feel icky inside. Pulling my child away and standing away was the correct thing to do.
Wednesday, 29th April 2020
Wednesday is the day with the most online meetings.
My husband shuts himself in one of the rooms and we hear his voice coming through the door meeting after meeting from early morning until late in the afternoon. I make him a cup of tea every now and then and knock on the door. This is his cue to switch the camera off and come out to get the cup and off he goes inside the meeting room again.
In the meantime, I deal with the distant learning of my child. Sometimes it’s a lot of fun, sometimes keeping the motivation going is the world’s most difficult task.
It’s been raining since yesterday. At times, the rain is like a waterfall.
We didn’t go out yesterday, we stayed in and my child did a huge amount of homework while I provided support and motivation and managed to process over 200 photos. I am working on a new blog post about the most beautiful squares in the Veneto. I had in mind a light and easy to write blog post and then I kept adding more and more squares to the list which led to more and more research and photo processing. I am currently at over 6,000 words of text and halfway through the blog post.
Hopefully, I will finish it all by tomorrow. Fingers crossed.
I have been reading about the changes in restrictions – some things are now allowed fully or partially. It’s all very complicated and specific. Sport fishing, tennis, using your camper for camper maintenance purposes, walking on river levees all seem to be allowed now. Going for a walk in a park, sitting down in cafes, travelling for pleasure are not on yet.
It’s all very detailed and verbose. There are many special conditions, like you can go sport fishing but you have to do it on your own with a mask on your face and gloves on your hands. I consider taking up fishing for a split second. Anything to get close to nature or for a bit of variety in my life, But, sitting still for hours on end with a mask across my face?! No, I don’t think so.
My dream to go for a walk around Piazza dei Signori in Vicenza remains strong. I still don’t know if we are allowed to go for walks in town centres provided we don’t live near them. So, I will keep reading the long decrees and the news pieces that analyse them to see as and when we can simply walk around the towns we live in (and not just within the vicinity of our place of residence).
That’s all for now!
Thursday, 30th April 2020
It’s lunchtime and it’s sunny outside.
I haven’t been out of the house since Monday and I don’t have any urgent need to go out any time soon. I don’t need to go to the shops. But also, inside, I don’t feel the need to be out. Not even on the balcony.
I am perfectly happy just staying inside. My world hasn’t shrunk. My world is simply the size of our flat.
While people are making plans to make use of the relaxation of rules and while I spent an inordinate amount of time reading through decrees, analysis, and regulations to the point of having it all in one big mishmash in my head, to be perfectly honest I feel perfectly happy just staying inside.
Everything else feels like a huge effort. A disproportionate effort for very little in return.
Take the opening of the river levees, for example. Here in the Veneto and maybe in other parts of Italy, too, often, the rivers have these raised banks and a nice and wide path follows the curves of the river allowing you to go for a walk along its course. It’s a nice and easy way to enjoy some exercise, either walking or jogging or biking.
During the weeks of the harshest restrictions, the levees were closed and access to them was forbidden akin to gardens and parks. Now, while gardens and parks remain closed, access to the levees has been allowed again.
It sounded wonderful! At first. Then I started asking questions in my head. Along the lines of:
We don’t have a river within a walking distance to us. Can we drive to the river that I know of? (The river is in our municipality, perhaps a seven-minute drive away.)
If we can drive there, how many people can be in the car?
I mean, is it OK for my husband to drive me and my child there?
And, then, when we walk there on the levee (obviously with our masks and gloves on), can we walk together (seeing we live together) or do we need to keep at a distance of two meters from one another?
I read so many different things – from FAQ’s published by local newspapers to personal opinions on Facebook that my head felt about to explode.
Hence, who needs to go for a levee walk?! Not me. It’s too complicated. Too much effort.
I would rather stay put in.
I am perfectly happy just staying in.
Gosh, who knew a simple walk can turn into such a complicated thing.
Friday, 1st May 2020
It’s a public holiday today in Italy and another day to stay in.
I am feeling really tired. Exhausted even. I need to get myself together and get on with things.
After yesterday’s torrential rain, the sky is a beautifully saturated blue. The pomegranate tree that I can glimpse from my window as I write on my laptop is finally starting to bloom. Bright orangey-red blooms are about to burst open between the bright green leaves. It’s beautiful and for a second I feel the tiredness slipping away from me.
I need a coffee, I decide. A nice cup of Moka coffee will do wonders for me.
Yesterday, my husband and my child went to the local gelateria and brought home a large box stuffed with fifteen scoops of the best Italian gelato in ten different flavours. We had a lot of fun after supper, sampling all the flavours one by one. It was a delightful experience.
Have you ever tried pistachio gelato?! If not, please, do. Made properly, it’s pure heaven. It feels so rich and satisfying on the tongue. Then, again, the other nine flavours they brought home were exquisite, too.
Strawberry, mandarine, cookie, chock chip mint, lemon, mango… I don’t remember all the names but the sensations of tasting them one by one are imprinted in my sensory memory.
Delicious gelato aside, my heart aches a bit. We live surrounded by so much beauty but at present, we don’t have any access to it. I know it’s a small thing to complain about when people are dying, are left without work, and are, in general, living under a cloud of stress. But seeing beauty and enjoying beauty is important to me.
I am looking forward to the 18th May when museums are penciled to re-open their doors here in the Veneto. Museums here provide easy and quick access to beauty, so mask and gloves on I will make my way to the museums in Vicenza to admire the priceless paintings and works of history and art that are kept in them. It’s something I am really looking forward to.
Otherwise, I don’t have anything else to write about at the moment.
Distance learning, work-related meetings, cooking, tidying, writing, going for walks around the block, spending time on social media…
All the things that my family ticks off as done each day have become one big mishmash in my head. I am going through the motions, saying all the right things but inside I feel tired. In my mind, I am at a million beautiful places at once.
My child’s teacher sends us an email to say how important it is to keep calm during these testing times and how homework sometimes can wait if we, as parents, want to make sure that the children’s emotional needs are taken care of first.
I agree with her.
Traditionally, Italian schools give a lot of homework. Compiti is the first word you learn when you have a child in the Italian school system. Parents here compare the number of hours their children spend doing homework with the same glee that parents in other countries talk about extracurricular activities.
I love the school we chose for our child as they are very measured in that regard. And now with the distant learning over the last two months, things are well structured and clear and we can take it a bit easy every now and then.
Now, that coffee is not going to make itself, so I better get a move on.
Saturday, 2nd May 2020
The church bells are ringing their midday melody.
It’s sunny and hot outside – the type of day that makes your mask stick to your face as you take large gulps of air and try to stay away from other people.
I am in the fruit and veg shop patiently queuing outside and waiting for my turn to come to be allowed inside. They only let four people inside at any one time so the waiting time stretches and with nothing else to do under the hot sun, I observe the people around me.
Everyone makes a half-hearted effort to keep at a distance from one another but without queue management barriers and with the constant fear of queue-jumpers, this soon becomes a difficult task. So, people stand haphazardly half on the pavement, half under the awnings of the shop, shuffling back and forth, side to side as other people leave the shop bags with fresh produce in hand.
We all avoid looking at one another. Catching someone’s eye is like the ultimate social faux-pas these days. Everyone has a little bubble around themselves.
Masks are worn by everyone but not everyone has them fully on. A nose protrudes above a mask here and a mustached lip can be seen above another mask there.
And then, the ultimate infringers – an older couple with the man zipping around the crates of fruit and veg placed outside of the shop, touching them and moving them around with his bare hands.
When the couple’s turn comes to go inside, they try to overlook the rule which states that only one person per household can shop and both walk in. The owner spots them and asks one of them to step outside. So, the husband leaves.
Finally, it’s my turn and I pick what we need. Mainly potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, and I add lots of fruit as we didn’t have any left at home.
Heavy bags in hand, I walk back home. With the sun shining above and my mask on, breathing is uncomfortable and soon I feel out of breath. The lack of exercise and long walks is starting to show. We all look quite rotund, especially myself.
Come Monday, we will have the new rules in place. I am still not quite sure how all it’s going to work but I am looking forward to being able to go for longer walks if they are allowed. I miss taking photos. The only photo I have taken since this all started (apart from snapping pages and pages of completed homework to send to the teacher) is the one I published on Facebook the other day of that dog we saw sitting on a windowsill and looking forlornly through the window grid.
I miss having my camera in my hands, spotting curious little details to photograph, composing the image in my head, and then replicating it with my camera. Hopefully, next week I will be able to take some photos around Vicenza. It will feel great! Absolutely great!
Sunday, 3rd May 2020
9:48 am – 11:40 am
Yesterday we ordered fabric masks with beautiful pictures on them.
I chose a mask with a lovely sunny landscape with trees and flowers in bloom. I was torn between it and another mask stamped with pink flamingoes. Thinking about it now, I should have ordered them both. Masks are here to stay as part of our daily outfits and it would be nice to have a few to wear.
Still, I so rarely leave the house that I didn’t even think of needing more than one. Let’s see when it will arrive and how it will feel on my face and then I will order a few more.
I am definitely not trying to turn a piece of personal protection equipment into a fashion statement. I really don’t like how my medical mask feels against my face and how it gets stuck to my mouth. I try not to talk at all when out with a mask on. But every now and then I need to utter a few words like ‘Can I get a punnet of strawberries, please?’ as it happened yesterday in the fruit and veg shop.
Hopefully, a fabric mask will feel a bit nicer and less scratchy. Yes, I know this is not a big problem to have especially when considering that people in certain professional fields have to spend whole days and nights with a medical mask on their faces.
I feel guilty over the smallest things now.
My dislike for medical masks and willingness to try on a fabric mask being one of them.
I feel like I have to explain and justify myself and my actions over and over, in my head at least, and it is very tiring. Yesterday, I felt exhausted by it all again, so I had to take the afternoon off and sleep. My sleep pattern is not great. I keep staying up until it’s so late that it’s early in the morning and this lack of sleep incites my anxiety.
I try to keep it all under control though. Doing things I need to do. Keeping conversations going. Getting on with life. But this sitting at home, this inability to tell the days one from another is starting to really get on top of me.
This too shall I pass, I tell myself. I try to do small things to keep my spirit high. Like buying a gorgeous new book about Venice which I will be reading on my Kindle app starting from this evening. Delving into history and art has always brought me pleasure and it makes me feel enriched inside, makes me feel above the niggling issues of daily life.
I wash the dishes and prepare breakfast. It feels good keeping busy in the kitchen. Feeling useful and feeling productive. Over breakfast, we discuss what’s going to change from tomorrow seeing that Phase 2 kicks on the 4th May (May the Force Be with You!).
We read on the website of Vicenza’s Comune (a comune in Italy is like a municipality) about the re-opening of the parks from tomorrow. Apparently, they will only be open for a few hours in the afternoon and people won’t be able to sit on the benches in them, just walk in them but it still sounds awesome.
It’s after breakfast now. It’s peaceful here, inside our house. For a split moment, it’s peaceful inside my head, too. It’s so nice and lovely. I hope this moment lasts.
Monday, 4th May 2020
What a bittersweet feeling it was going for a walk to Vicenza’s historical centre today. It’s been two months since the last time that I went there and so much has changed in the meantime.
Not in terms of the buildings and streets though. They remain the same with their glorious architecture and ornate facades.
The change is in the people – all walking around, riding their bikes around, pushing their children’s buggies around like life goes on completely normal had it not been for the constant reminder in the shape of masks and gloves that life is quite different to what it once was.
At 3 pm yesterday, Vicenza opened its parks once again. They were to remain open until 7 pm and people, the article in the local newspaper said, could walk around the parks but not sit on the benches and congregate in groups.
Around 4 pm I walked into Parco Querini with my child. A large green park with a pond, this is a place where I have spent many moments of my Vicenza life. When we first arrived here in 2014, we all fell in love with Parco Querini for this is where used to live a large number of bunnies. It was adorable to see them hopping around on the green grass.
A few years later the bunnies disappeared and only a handful of roosters, hens, and ducks remained to roam the green expanses of the park while huge fish and numerous turtles populated the pond.
We found the park just as we remembered it. Lush and tranquil. There were people walking around with masks and gloves on. Kids were running delighted to be free at last. Couples were sitting on benches and a few people were lying on the grass. That’s it until the police patrols made their rounds and asked everyone to get up and keep moving.
It was lovely and bittersweet to be so close to nature again. I stood in the shade of a large pine tree and looked up at its branches sticking in all directions above my head. They seemed to have grown haphazardly any way they liked but the more I looked at them, the more I could see the pattern that the different branches had followed ensuring that there was enough light hitting them all. Nature is clever like this and it’s easy to forget how many years of evolution are behind even the smallest thing.
From Parco Querini we followed the streets leading to Piazza dei Signori – Vicenza’s heart. It was quiet there, too. There were people out for a walk, riding their bikes, kids chasing pigeons. The mood felt somber and hopeful at the same time.
Most shops along Corso Palladio – Vicenza’s main street – remained closed. A pharmacy still had their Easter decorations on. A hairdresser’s window was decorated with a mannequin wearing a mask. A coffee shop had placed the Italian flag across their window together with a printed note stating that it was ready to re-open for work in the most hygienic possible way. The statement was followed by a plea – Fateci aprire! – Let us open!
Police presence was unobtrusive but visible. I saw police cars driving down the streets in the historic centre, a couple of policemen entering a cafe to make sure that all was up to code, and then, again, the police patrols in the park making sure that people were not congregating and sitting on the benches.
It was both beautiful and heartbreaking to walk around Vicenza again. Beautiful as everything was just as I remembered it. Gorgeous architecture, striking facades, sun-lit squares, imposing churches, cobbled streets. Heartbreaking as everything felt so, so still. Like a scene from the Sleeping Beauty where the spell has just broken and everyone in the castle very slowly, very painfully even starts to tentatively make the first movements – all numb from the protracted lack of motion.
I hope that Phase 2 will go well. That we will never again have to isolate again, that rather sooner than later we all will be able to take the masks and the gloves off without fear and that people will come together again like they used to. The photo above shows you how things used to be.
Hope is, after all, what gets us out of bed each day, what keeps us moving forward. And I am looking forward to a world where my hopes have become a reality.
Tuesday, 5th May 2020
Today I noticed that a family in a neighbouring block of flats has been blessed with a new baby.
In Italy, there is this tradition to hang pink or blue decorations on your front door, balcony, windows, and even on your car when a baby girl or a baby boy are born in your family. It’s a lovely way to announce your happiness to the world and to get everyone to virtually celebrate with you.
So, yes, today colourful decorations appeared on the windows of a flat on the main street that I can glimpse from my balcony.
What lovely news!
For the past few months, Covid-19 has dominated every single news media and personal conversation all over the world. Since March, we have been staying at home, only moving within a small perimeter and getting used to functioning mostly online. It seemed like everything was put on hold, frozen in time.
Yet, life, it transpires, didn’t stop in the meantime. Although, it often felt like it did.
And, somehow, in the middle of it all, a baby was born!
Whereas before, I may have glimpsed the newborn decorations in passing and then promptly forgotten all about it, now just looking at them every now and then gives me hope.
A hope that is based on the irrefutable (at least, for now) fact that the world keeps turning and that the sun keeps rising every morning. And that no matter what is happening in our lives, so many other things are happening parallel to us, and sometimes it pays to look around and feel more connected to the joys that people have even at the most difficult times for the world as a whole.
Otherwise, it was a quiet yet productive day for us.
We didn’t go out, just spent 40 mins exercising in the front yard and then it was back to distance schooling and keeping busy around the house.
Wednesday, 6th May 2020
A beautifully quiet and peaceful day.
I stayed at home and did things for my family. I felt at peace inside. Happy, even.
Friday, 7th May 2020
Today I went to the dentist. I was supposed to go to the dentist’s back in March but then with everything that happened, all non-urgent appointments were cancelled and today was the first day that my dentist could see me again.
So, this afternoon we got in the car and my husband drove me there. Which was totally crazy as I hadn’t been in a car for over two months now!
He was driving down the road and I thought: ‘Wow! This feels crazy! I am actually in a car! Gosh, it feels so fast. Better hold onto the seat with both hands’
And then I looked at the speedometer and it pointed at 40 km/h.
It usually takes us about 15-20 mins to reach my dentist but today we were there in less than ten. Traffic was minimal and as we drove, I looked at places I hadn’t seen for two months now and it felt quite bizarre to be out of the house and just driving around in our car.
I kept looking at the people in the other cars we saw on the road. Although inside their own cars, most drivers had their masks either on or pushed underneath their chins. Some were driving with their latex gloves on, too.
Once we reached the dental clinic, I went inside (with my mask and gloves on) and I got stopped at the entrance by an employee in a full protective suit, with a plastic protective shield over her face and a mask underneath the shield. She handed me a form I had to read through, tick off ‘Yes’ or ‘No to over twenty questions, and then sign.
The questions were along the lines of:
- Have you had Covid-19 in the last two weeks?
- Have you had a high temperature over the last two weeks?
- Have you been in touch with someone who has had Covid-19 in the last two weeks?
And so on.
I was also given a pair of blue plastic protecting covers to wear on top of my shoes. Then my temperature was taken. I have to admit, I tensed a bit while the lady was taking my temperature. Many ‘what if’s?’ played at the back of my head even though I knew perfectly well that I didn’t have a temperature. ‘But I was running up the steps. What if my temperature has gone through the roof on account of my rushing and running?!’ Such illogical thoughts were swirling in my head. So, I was totally relieved to hear the lady say: ‘36.1 degrees Celsius!’
Then, I was allowed in.
I found my dentist and the dental nurse covered head to toe in protective clothing. The dental nurse had two pairs of gloves on her hands.
As usual, they were very professional and half an hour later my appointment was successfully concluded. It was quite strange communicating with my dentist from behind his mask and protective shield. He would ask me a question, I would hear his muffled voice coming seemingly from very far away and it will take me a split second longer than usual to actually process what he was saying. This led to strange lulls in the conversation, these slightly longer pauses which made it all a bit awkward.
In the end, when I was ready to leave, I stopped at the door to put my own mask back on. I turned around to say good-bye one last time and saw the dental nurse sanitising the chair while the dentist was pulling out a new set of protective clothing so as to meet the next client with a brand PPE.
Outside, I jumped in the car, and in ten minutes we were back home. It was quite elating to be out of the house and being in the car. I had completely forgotten how normal and mundane that felt before.
Other than that, it was a day like any other. Distant learning, exchanging emails with teachers, cooking dinner, you get the drift.
I will be winding down my diary in the next few days. I am really glad that I managed to log a short entry in it every day (bar one!). I think it’s good to have a written record of things and thoughts. Perhaps it’s not the most exciting diary to read but it reflects in a sincere and honest way how I have felt and continue to feel over this rather unexpected and overwhelming period of our lives.
With Phase 2 now in motion here in Italy, we will see how things are going to progress.
An important thing I found out for myself over the last two months is that I can’t live in fear. The first three weeks of the lockdown were especially hard as I lived in so much fear every single minute of every day. I hope this never happens again to me, my loved ones, to everyone who kindly reads here, and to the world as a whole.
In any case, I am stopping here now for tonight. There will be a few more entries over the next couple of days or so.
Thank you for reading so far!
To Be Continued!
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