Life in Covid Italy

  • 29 March 2020
  • Prue Scott

I find it odd that my days are filled not by work and creative endeavours, but with social media and the news.

My Lucca messenger groups ping, my inbox fills, there’s the WhatsApp conversations, the Facebook scroll is so much bigger, the Instagram feeds are fewer. With my online newspapers, it’s headlines only for Covid, but even so that can take time. Then there’s the regular reads. We’re 12 hours behind New Zealand, so everything happens twice a day.

Last night, we had virtual aperitivi. Deb called in from Rome. She, Rick and Maggie May – the Scottie who lapped me on the hike – are heading home to Toronto to be with family. Such is our new world, today I’m messengering Deb who’s just boarded her plane for Toronto. They go into three weeks’ isolation and a 1.5-metre rule.

Until the death of the Princess of Wales, I didn’t understand the significance of “Where were you when Kennedy was shot/Marilyn died?” I was walking down the street in Brooklyn, Wellington, when my mother phoned. “Have you heard the news? The Princess of Wales has died in a car accident in Paris.” I stopped and tried to digest that news. Really? How? Princesses don’t die in car accidents in Paris. Now, we will have those “where were you” questions about Covid Where were you when you heard about Wuhan/Italy/Spain? Where were you when you heard about lockdown? Who managed to get home?

I was told a lovely anecdote about an NZ policeman who suggested that people who didn’t stay at home “might like to come to our place and do some self-reflection”. It was tongue-in-cheek, but oh-so good.

Talking about oh-so-good….food. Yes, we’re back to food. It’s either that or the washing in the courtyard, chaps.

Friday I decided to do a supermarket shop for things I couldn’t get inside the wall. Took my little hopper bus, just me and the driver. Carpark not too full, ah – there’s a queue. It’s a mix of Mums, pretty young things and Nonnas. I take my place as l’ultimo – the last one. A rather nippy wind that took me right back to Wellington. Nonna in front of me asks me a question but I’ve no idea what.

Then, she waves this at me. This is the most important piece of paper to have on a Friday at about 2pm, standing outside Coop at San Luca in Lucca.

This is what we get me through the door. Nonna points at the head of the queue and I take a number. It seems we go in in groups of 10. The first group I hear is “quaranta” – 40. I have a wait, but that’s ok because I’m in an apartment with no balcony and it is nice to be outside, to see the hills (blue – and it does rain later), to see traffic. I’m quite content. As we head through cinquanta (50) and sessanta (60), it seems some people have given up, so the queue moves a little quicker.

Having said that, it still takes about 30 minutes to get in. This isn’t panic buying; this is the weekend shop now supermarkets are closed on Sundays. Prevention measures have increased, as the infection/death toll next door in Lombardy continues to rise.

Today, I’ve seen figures for both Tuscany and Lucca. Tuscany isn’t doing too badly and still have only a few cases. I feel safe here. Most of the businesses, local government and retailers inside the wall are closed, so there’s minimal traffic. We’re compliant and uncomplaining about our isolation. I’m lying, of course. The moment the gelato shops re-open, I will be in there like a robber’s dog (i.e. quickly and with no concern for anyone who gets in my way).

Signor Door Monitor heads to the doors and we all start to quiver. Pavlov would have been delighted. Despite only a few being quaranta, we all move a metre or so forward.

Pretty young thing in the queue has lost her number. She has pockets in her coat, her shirt and her trousers, but no ticket. It’s not in her shopping bags. They let her in, anyway. I wanted to lean over and suggest that a little more application to the entry ticket and little less time on her phone might serve her well, but that seems, well, a bit churlish.

When we reach settanta we swarm in slow motion. I usher the people behind me to go ahead – they are sessanta. We nod. He says something and I say “prego”. He nods. I’ve probably just agreed that I’m a total ass because I should have been behind them to begin with. We’ve got time, oh my, we have plenty of time.

Inside, it’s hand sanitiser and those silly plastic gloves. Signor Hand and Glove Monitor watches us. You know what’s coming, don’t you? Yes, yet again, I stick myself to my produce and have to wrestle me glove off the bag of oranges. They don’t stay on. I may have to invest in those startling blue gloves for myself. Friends under lockdown in Croatia are washing theirs and hanging them out in sunlight. Dusting them with flour so they can get them on. I only hope it doesn’t rain while they’re wearing them.

It’s warm inside Coop. It’s busy, but we’re all keeping our distance. In some narrow aisles – what were they thinking? – there’s that “you, no you” dance and one of us retreats to go the other way. Sometimes, we both go the other way and meet in the next narrow aisle. He was so good-looking but far too young, and is this really the best time to indulge one’s lust? No answers required.

Lots of tarocco oranges. Good basil. I need a small box of sale fine – fine salt. It comes in small bricks. Bottle of red to keep the corpuscles happy. Signor Wine Connoisseur has parked his laden trolley across the entire Prosecco section and has wandered off. Twit! It’s not that warm outside, so more red – for the health, you understand.

Dishwasher tabs, dishcloths, Sellotape, some envelopes (yes, I still write letters), some cantucci (local biscotti), the local version of wine biscuits to have with a cuppa. Ooh, strawberries. Big strawberries. Red strawberries. Essential. Coffee. Thinking I really will have to a buy a Bialetti/Nespresso machine to get good coffee.

I wish I’d bought the shopping trundler when I saw it. My two cotton tote bags, one on each shoulder, are too heavy by far. It’s a short walk to the bus stop but someone has spilt something green and sticky all over the seat, so no sitting down.

And that’s it. That’s the outing for the day, the excitement, the proximity to other people. We head into virtual aperitivi and exchange stories of the week. I bought some of Simon Gault’s Habanero Mustard with me (won’t mean anything to non-NZers, sorry) and Linda is desperate to get some. We work out four bottles shipped parcel post from NZ would be affordable, even with Italian tax, but fear they won’t be seen as essential. Linda and I talk ROAD TRIPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPP when we’re let out. There are international shops here and there; she and husband Eddie (a Brit but says people think he’s German ‘cos he’s bald) have lived in Italy for years and know about these places.

We chat with Deb who’s giving Maggie May a toilet break outside their hotel in Rome. Bill has made pasta con funghi for dinner for himself and Patricia. There’s talk of where and how to rent for the summer, whether prices will drop because there’ll be no tourists; the difficulties of getting a call back from a real estate agent.

And this is our life just now. I expect yours, particularly in New Zealand, is about the same.

To end on a positive note, this came from Aussie pal Sheena who now lives in Lucca.

Heard some advice on the radio last night, it said to have inner peace, that we should always finish things we start, and we all could use more calm in our lives. I looked through my house to find things that I'd started and hadn't finished, so I finished off a bottle of Merlot, a bottle of Whisky, a bodle of Baileys, a butle of wum, tha mainder of Valiumun srciptuns, an a box a chocletz. Yu haf no idr how feckin fablus I feel rite now. Sned this to all who need inner piss. An telum u luvum. And two al bee hapee wilst in de instalation



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