UPDATE – 12th March 2020
Please, have a look at My Coronavirus Diary – Daily Notes About Staying at Home in Vicenza in Lockdown Italy for daily (sometimes, several a day) updates about my personal and subjective experience with the current situation in Italy. #IoRestoaCasa #istayathome.
UPDATE – 9th March 2020
Many things have changed since I wrote the original blog post below.
Currently, a large portion of Northern Italy is under strict quarantine. Museums and schools are closed until the 3rd of April 2020. There are travel restrictions in place, too.
In Vicenza, some shops now ask you to wear thin plastic gloves on your hands (the same plastic gloves which are traditionally supplied free of charge in Italian shops to pick and bag the fresh fruit and vegetables). In other shops, there is no such requirement.
The general, government-introduced requirement to keep at a distance of at least a meter from other patrons in shops, coffee shops, and cafes is still very much in force. There are polite notices attached to the doors of shops and other commercial premises. Once inside, it becomes a bit of a complicated dance to remain as far as possible from other people but we all are doing our best.
My corner of the city feels emptier and quieter than usual.
For the latest information, please, refer only to official sources and media. 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, please, use Google Translate to get the gist of the information. Some Italian media may also provide an English-language version of their most important news pieces.
I hope that everyone is very well!
Thank you for reading!
Original Blog Post as Published on 6th March 2020
Yesterday I had to run errands and thus left the house and ventured into Vicenza’s historical centre and a shopping mall just outside of it.
With the Veneto, currently, a hotspot for Covid-19 and schools all over Italy closed until the 15th March, coronavirus is on everybody’s minds and social media feeds.
So, leaving the house and stepping into the world – an otherwise inconspicuous action of daily life – can easily become a whole new mental barrier to overcome.
I carefully tucked a small bottle of hand gel in my bag. We had bought it only a day before from the parafarmacia at the Rossetto supermarket. Parafarmacia is to a pharmacy what a paralegal is to the legal profession. In other words – a pharmacy but not a pharmacy at all as it sells all sorts of health and beauty products but doesn’t fill prescriptions.
It was the first time in many days – what felt like years but most likely it was less than two weeks – that we had seen hand gel being sold at all. Signs along the lines of Mascherine e gel per mani esauriti (Masks and Hand Gel Are Sold Out) have been gracing the doors of pharmacies.
We bought a bottle – four euros for 80 ml of sanitising liquid. ‘A bit expensive for what it is!’, I thought. That’s it until I read about the excessive prices of hand gel that people on social media claimed to have come across on their shopping expeditions both online and offline.
’35 euros for a small bottle!!’, someone complained.
And then I panicked and told my husband: ‘We should have bought more! So much more! Four euros a bottle apparently was a steal!’
I don’t even like hand gel. It easily dries and cracks my skin – already damaged after I took jewellery-making as a hobby some years ago and foolishly dipped both of my hands in a polishing barrel filled with caustic silver-cleaning solution. Since then, hand gel is like torture to me.
Yet, at that very moment in time, I actively regretted not spending whatever price they would have asked me for a load of hand gel. I could have generously handed it out to friends, neighbors, and enemies. Thus becoming the new hero! Or I could have stockpiled it at home and feel so, so secure in my knowledge that the hands of my little family are protected against whatever comes next.
It’s so easy, isn’t it, to sow the seeds of anxiety and panic in one’s head?!
So, yesterday when I had to run my errands, I carefully tucked my one small bottle of the precious hand gel in my bag and stepped out of the door.
The day felt fresh and sunny – a beautiful harbinger of spring that had been trying to spring on us for weeks. And even though the week had started with two days of heavy rains that put a dampener on our mood, yesterday the sun was shining bright and it felt so good to be out of the house again.
Or was it?
I was in a shop – the branch of a large multinational retailer with stores all over the world – when I realised that the lady behind the till made every effort to stay as far away as possible from me. She was stretching her arms as much as possible to quickly scan the items that she was stretching her arms even more to grab from the counter on which I had placed them carefully a minute before.
‘What a strange dance!’, I thought.
And then it hit me. The lady had heard me speak a ‘strange’ language to my child. Not Italian, not English, not even German, Spanish or French – the ‘safe’ languages, you know.
She heard me speaking Bulgarian. Perhaps she didn’t know that it was specifically Bulgarian the language that I spoke, but it was a different, unknown language, just the thing to make one feel like one had to take precautions in one’s interactions with me. Gone was the common courtesy reserved for clients all over the world.
It was strange seeing her dance behind the till, not replying back when I greeted her in Italian and asked her again in Italian a question about one of the items I was buying. Perhaps the lady didn’t even know that while it was all kicking off in the Veneto, in Bulgaria there were no registered cases of coronavirus. Yet, just by the virtue (or sin if you like!) of me speaking a different language, I was a fair game for suspicion.
‘But that same lady at the shop was so nice and polite only a few weeks ago when I went there with my English-speaking husband’, I thought. ‘Why is she so scared of me now?!’
The answer is unpalatable. It’s difficult to admit that the tenets of civilised society get on shaky ground when an enemy comes threatening our fragile state of normality.
For, as it turns out, it’s so easy to impair what we assume to be stable and even rightfully ours and normal. What we take as a given can so suddenly evaporate thus leaving us totally bewildered and unsure what to do next.
Suspicion is easily planted in our minds especially under Force Majeure circumstances. It starts with something small and grows from there.
‘Are the hands of the person slicing cheese in the shop clean?!’
‘That child there just coughed and sneezed! I am out of here!’
‘Ohmygosh! The world is coming to an end and it’s’ all the fault of those people!’
It’s been two weeks since the Covid-19 alarm rang over the Veneto in Northern Italy. We were nearing the culmination of Carnival, eating frittelle with cream and exchanging tips about festive parades to head to in order to throw confetti and have fun. Schools had just broken for a three-day Carnival holiday, too. Everyone I spoke to had plans for exciting trips all lined up.
And then the news started coming through fast and thick. Infected people, the rapid spread of the disease, schools and museums closed, the first fatalities…
The Sunday before it all started, we had driven the short distance from Vicenza to the town of Malo to see its famous Carnival parade. It was a lot of fun! Among the people outfitted in all sorts of cool and imaginative costumes, there was a couple dressed as a nurse and the Coronavirus. The boy was in a full-body isolation suit, with a mask and C-o-r-o-n-a-v-i-r-u-s spelled in red letters on his front and back.
They must have thought that it was all a light-hearted joke in spite of the steadily rising numbers of infected people and fatal cases. But those figures were not – at the time – applicable to us, here in this lovely corner of the Veneto. So, to the couple, it must have all appeared as a fair game.
How quickly the tables turn.
Now, Covid-19 is here and Italy is headline news all over the world.
Online forums and social media groups are frenetically abuzz.
Canceled travel plans, people unsure if they should stay put or continue living life as normally as they could, influencers calling for help for Italy’s travel and artisan sectors, professionals terrified of the loss of business, social media users sharing memes…
Several messages seem to crystalise in the general hubbub:
- ‘The world is a beautiful place! Stop and enjoy what you have here and now!’
- ‘It’s all disproportionately overblown!’
- ‘I am so scared! What’s next?’
I don’t know what’s next.
On the surface at least Vicenza seems a calm place although emptier than usual. The local business confederation has put up posters around town calling for us to continue life as normally as possible.
‘Have breakfast at the local cafes! Shop at the market and the supermarket! Go to the gym! Spend nights at the hotels!’
These are some of the phrases on the posters reminding us to keep living life. It’s all under the hashtag #VicenzaNonSiFerma – Vicenza Doesn’t Stop.
I saw masks being sold in two places. Plus, said hand gel above.
And so far I have seen exactly five people wearing masks on the street. Three of them were together in a group.
Supermarket shelves are full. I haven’t seen anyone panic buying and stripping stores off stuff.
My catchphrases at the moment are:
- Don’t touch!
- Did you wash your hands?
My child thinks I am overdoing both of them. Now that I have my precious bottle of hand gel and although it cracks my skin, I will be using it to the last drop.
Schools are closed, but sports clubs are open. In cafes, customers need to sit a meter away from one another. There is an official decree in place for this. Museums in Vicenza have re-opened. Again with the stipulation that visitors need to be a meter away from each other. The sun is still shining beautifully above us all.
This whole thing, this uncertainty, this slight change in relationships are not new to me.
When Bulgaria was on the brink of self-inflicted catastrophe several times in the 1990’s I felt it deeply in many different ways. The bare shops, the couponing system, the devaluation of money, the coldness in personal relationships, it was all too real and lasted for a very long time.
Later on, in England, the credit crunch hit people hard. You may have been there and lived through it, too.
Now, here in Vicenza, I am trying to keep a cool head. I am trying to see things realistically – I have one child and as I work from home (if writing this blog counts as work for you), I can easily homeschool her and keep her entertained. Most people need to continue going to work and find a willing relative (grandparents in Italy are usually very happy to help but what happens if you live far from them?!) or a babysitter to look after the children during the day.
Friends tell me they feel anxious about it all. There are moments when I feel anxious, too.
Especially when strangers in social media groups go: ‘We may all be infected, you know?! It’s just that we don’t know it yet!’ A panic button immediately goes off in my head and then I go ‘Cool head! Cool head!’
After all, this too shall pass! Or so I hope!
N.B. The above text expresses my personal opinions and experiences. I fully understand that your opinions and experiences may be completely different from mine. I don’t encourage or discourage anyone to travel and/or sightsee at the moment. This is a decision everyone needs to make for themselves. I feel deeply about the loss of business the travel and artisan sectors of Italy are experiencing at the moment. As a tiny example, I can openly share with you that my blog’s traffic has halved over the last two weeks which hits me badly on many different levels. At the same time, I think that it is very important to follow official guidelines in terms of hygiene and moving around. I hope that everyone is OK and keeping a cool head. Thank you for reading!