As Italy is living its most difficult moments from the post-war period, Italians are demostrating to be resilient and on the front line when it comes to supporting each other. That’s why we decided to exorcize the lockdown — or to find an excuse to go crazy once and for all — and share our personal impressions with our readers, whose letters, of course, are also very welcome.
Stefania Manservigi, Editor-in-Chief, currently in Rome
In these quarantine days, I have been overcome with a feeling of bewilderment for this surreal situation. On the one hand, there is fear of the consequences that the lockdown will have for the country, the vivid fear of losing everything I have painstakingly built over the years. On the other hand, there is this strange feeling of finally being able to slow down, in a world where we are used to living in a rush, without ever stopping. I always say that I have no time for anything. Now that I have all the time in the world, I feel like I’m going crazy. However, every day at 18 I look out the window for what has become a daily appointment, when everyone goes out to the balconies to sing together and feel less alone. Then, I’m less afraid. Because I think that all together, we can make it.
Riccardo Venturi, Editorial Director, currently in Rome
When a couple of years ago I came up with the idea of starting a magazine about Italy, my first thought was that there was much more to say about my country. Having lived myself in London and in other European cities, I have struggled many times to break the (positive) cliches about Italy as a simple paradise for tourists, and the negative ones — often well deserved — related to politics, with Berlusconi as main target of mockery before, and the management of the migrant crisis as main target of stigmatization more recently. There was something more: the unique character of those Italians who, behind the scenes, are capable of making something special every day, carrying a wounded country on their shoulders. One only has to look at how we are reacting to this situation, from the preparation and sacrifice of the medical staff and the other workers, to the indomitable spirit of people of all ages singing from the balconies. But Italy has always been full of examples of excellence and humanity. Something that raises from our way of conceiving life, and from our deep attachment to instinct and feelings, the real, ultimate motivation behind any choice we make and action we take. Something that makes me sure that what Boris Johnson is doing in the UK, it would simply not be possible here. Although I will never stop loving London — and I’m still convinced that very important moments of my life are going to have the National Gallery in the background, I’ve never been happier to see the sunset over the roofs of Rome. Because, as I read somewhere in Twitter, this is exactly the kind of context in which Italians give their best: being adaptable, thinking on their feet, trusting the hunch, caring about others. This is my Italy.
Daniele Angelini, Business Director, currently in Rome
I am one of those lucky employees who can enjoy the nerdy pleasure of working at home. Now my colleagues call and text me at any time of day. Thank you guys for sending me that fascinating report at 11 p.m., I didn’t have any trouble sleeping. The number of messages on WhatsApp groups has dramatically increased, while their quality has fallen in an inversely proportional way. After receiving the millionth meme about the toilet paper shortage, I changed my mind about the need for a new smartphone. Maybe I’ll give my old Nokia 3310 forgotten in the drawer another try.
I’ve also found out that those human beings wandering in my building are called neighbors, and that you can even talk with them. That’s amazing! Now, I would never do without the deep morning conversation with my new next balcony friend about her cats’ balanced diet.
For the first time in my life I bought corned beef. A lot of it. The web says it is a best buy post-apocalyptic food. After tasting it, I gave all the boxes to my next balcony friend, but she said that her cats don’t like it either. Tomorrow, after another long queue, I will buy more useless food at the supermarket. However, I can stop going to the gym without feeling guilty. I won’t be the only one overweight at the beach this summer. I finally took the time to watch that Georgian documentary about the critical conditions of Caspian fishermen saved on my Nextflix watchlist several months ago. After 20 minutes, I figured out why. Maybe there is a reason behind procrastinating things.
This weekend one of my friends turned 30. Since he could not celebrate it properly, he invited us to join his lonely birthday video party on Instagram, during which he acted as an entertainer and presented us as special guests. We had a lot of fun. This was perhaps the most meaningful moment of my quarantine. We always find a way, even in the darkest moments.
Ronald L. Trowbridge, Columnist, currently in San Francisco
I’m 82 plus years old, with still too much power in the engine to die prematurely. Statistics show that in the U.S. and South Korea, 50 percent of the deaths from the coronavirus are to folks over 80, often with the pre-existing conditions that come with aging. So what can I do about it? Not much, except hermetically seal myself in my small apartment. With my wife in heaven for the past 14 years, I’ve learned the hard way to be self-reliant and I have the retirement funds to do so. When I get up in the morning, I look at myself in the mirror and say, “It’s just you and me, big fellow.” And I’m certain not to miss my medicinal glass of vodka at 5:00.
Thomas J. Puleo, Columnist, currently in San Francisco
Since I am not a student, an athlete or a sports fan, I have not suffered from the ongoing shutdowns caused by the latest prophylactic measures underway in the Bay Area, but I have experienced their reverberations; let’s call it Quarantine Psychosis by Proxy. One of the most discussed symptoms of this disease is related to the hoarding of toilet paper by people who see it as the one item that is most vital to their survival during the apocalypse. The response of most observers is derision; for me it is disgust. Despite what we say about ourselves, California is still a backwater, a place where people do not have bidets, and if they did have one they wouldn’t know what to do with it. Savvy and sophisticated people like me know how to take care of matters without resorting to cruder methods. The importance of toilet paper to the average American tells you all you need to know about the quality of their souls.
Alessandra Tosi, Contributor, currently in Berlin
As an Italian person abroad, it has never been easy to receive bad news. Being abroad might be seen as a dream, but it often carries hardships one cannot possibly foresee or avoid. When something bad happened to my family while I was abroad, it was never easy. I have felt miserable and powerless. But when my own country is experiencing something like coronavirus, while life around me goes on as usual, I feel the same pain and fear as those who are currently in Italy. It feels like everything is suddenly different, although nothing has changed for me in my daily life. Being an Italian abroad in March 2020 means to frantically read online newspapers every day to understand what is going on, everything changes so fast it is difficult to keep up. It means staying on the phone for hours with parents, relatives, friends, trying to take their minds off things and to keep them some company. It means desperately explaining to Germans why it is not a good idea to go to clubs and bars packed with people, why sharing a cigarette is no longer an option, why working from home is so important. It means constantly hoping none of their beloved would fall sick, because flying home is not possible.
To those in Italy, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to say to stay strong and to endure through this difficult time, which we all hope will be over soon. The thoughts of all Italians abroad are with you, although we are far, we couldn’t feel closer to our beautiful Italy. Be brave!
Bianca Sue Brown, Contributor, currently in Milan
There are three main time zones on my world clock — I watch Beijing, Milan, and New York. The education consultancy I work with is based in Ningbo, a third-tier city south of Shanghai. It seems like we were yet in winter’s depth when offices first closed and all my colleagues went remote. For those who regularly work from home as I do, the global shift to teleworking has been almost nomadic camaraderie. Our students left their boarding schools and returned home to their parents. And as lessons shifted online, Chinese high school students even found the rare gift of a bit of free time.
Then my colleagues were writing to me, checking in on the situation in northern Italy. Specific concern, lived advice, and alarming news stories retold through foreign news outlets peppered my inbox. These mid-March days are stoic whispers of spring, but the winter will stagger on. Six hours behind us, friends and family in New York are wandering through supermarket aisles checking off their quarantine lists. Six hours ahead, China is back in the office. We… are somewhere in the middle.
Sophia Rita Jadda, Contributor, currently in Venice
Staying at home on lockdown is not the hardest part: I can spend more time with the family, I can make that recipe I saved many months ago, I can study for my Master’s Degree exams, I can catch up with the missed episodes of my favorite TV series and, no less important, I can sleep. The hardest thing is the lack of human warmth. We Italians are very outgoing. For example, it is quite common to hug and kiss on the cheeks our friends to greet them, or to look someone in the eye while speaking. We will get through this nightmare, because we are strong. I also hope that this situation will finally make people reflect and let them understand that we are all the same — that we must unite not only in time of emergency.
Isabella De Silvestro, Contributor, currently in Milan
As an Italo-Colombian under quarantine in Milan, right in the middle of the red zone, I felt the responsibility to tell my friends and relatives in Colombia about the situation here in Italy, so that they could understand as soon as possible the risks of coronavirus. Choosing the right words for a Facebook post I hoped it would reach as many people as possible, I had to think about the essential recommendations to make, in addition to those issued by the authorities. I felt it was important to emphasize a concept: the wellbeing of each one is inextricably linked to the wellbeing of all. Everyone has the responsibility to preserve and care for others, in a virtuous relationship that, seen from the outside, looks a lot like a real community. Italians, with a few exceptions, are proving that they have finally learned that selfishness is of no benefit to anyone. Are we going to get stronger as a country? I don’t know, but I hope we’ll come out more united and aware.
Flavio Artusi, Contributor, currently in Rome
Before lockdown: “Oh, how I’d love to stay at home all day long. Lucky you, those who can work from home in pajamas.”
During lockdown: “Let – me – out. I want to see traffic, peddlers, my office, the coffee machine. Why does my phone keep ringing? What does my wife want? Why are all these stupid people singing from the balcony? I need a Spritz, or a beer, maybe some wine, maybe gin. Oh my God, I can’t workout. I’ll be fat at the end of this.”
On Facebook: “Everything is fine. #IStayatHome, #wecanmakeit. Oh wow, it’s amazing, people singing from the balcony.” Below the caption, a screenshot of the evening call with the friends.
This lockdown… isn’t it, Fry The Fridge?
Rosanna Carnovale, Brand Director, currently in Rome
Classic Italian quarantine Sunday: breakfast on the balcony, the warmth of the sun on the cheeks, and a cup of barley. In the silent background, only loud music and open windows. Some children play. I missed the daily appointment with the national anthem at 12. I was sleeping, damn me. We thought we had the world, the time, the space in our hands, but a microscopic, invisible creature has us in check, closed, stuck, far apart from each other. David holding us at gunpoint. Because, of course, we were Goliath. One time we landed on the Moon, how crazy. We thought we were Goliath. Knowing how that turned out, I’m okay with being David. This morning I was sleeping, but this evening at 18 I’ll be there, and I’ll be the greatest David, singing loud with the entire block, neighborhood, city and country. I don’t care anymore about being David or Goliath. Out on the balcony I’ll be what really matters: less alone, stronger, maybe more Italian.
Lina Pezzi, Contributor, currently in Brussels
I live upstairs (on 18th floor, to be precise). I do not have any balcony to observe from my windows, but I can easily monitor the planes landing and departing from Zaventem. I have a telly that allows me to watch the Italian and Belgian channels. I checked out the news a bit, both in French and Italian, for a couple of days. Then I decided to stop because, after all, all I can do is stay inside and wash my hands. Entertainment is not an issue: I like books and operas more than movies and TV series, I’d rather be by myself than have other people around. I have a huge pile of things that I want to read, and paywalls have been lifted from the theaters’ websites. If I wish to get some fresh air, I go out on the balcony to observe the city, look down — literally — on people, and notice that they still go around, not respecting the one-meter distance. Last Friday I have been downstairs for about one hour. I didn’t like what I saw: people panic buying, carelessly coughing in public… Meh. Better to stay in and deep clean my apartment. Cleaning relaxes me. I have family and friends in Italy, and an old grandpa who now lives as if he was in a Swiss bank vault. Better this way: he is my most precious treasure.
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Italics Magazine was born less than two years ago in Rome, from the idea of two friends who believed that Italy was lacking a complete, in-depth, across-the-board source of information in English. While some publications do a great job, writing about the latest news or focusing on specific areas of interest, we do believe that other kinds of quality insights are just as needed to better understand the complexity of a country that, very often, is only known abroad for the headlines that our politicians make, or for the classic touristic cliches. This is why Italics Magazine is quickly becoming a reference for foreign readers, professionals, expats and press interested in covering Italian issues thoroughly, appealing to diverse schools of thought. However, we started from scratch, and we are self-financing the project through (not too intrusive) ads, promotions, and donations, as we have decided not to opt for any paywall. This means that, while the effort is bigger, we can surely boast our independent and free editorial line. This is especially possible thanks to our readers, who we hope to keep inspiring with our articles. That’s why we kindly ask you to consider giving us your important contribution, which will help us make this project grow — and in the right direction. Thank you.