March 17, 2020 - Written by: Tatiana Pollard
Read Time: 5 Minutes

Io Resto A Casa = I Stay At Home

Your life is about to change drastically. You’re probably wondering what’s in store for you as coronavirus spreads. As Kitchen Detail’s Italy Insider in Bologna, let me tell you what it’s been like in Italy under a nationwide quarantine, or coronavirus lockdown.

an image of no venus on the half shell via Tatiana PollardWhen the first outbreak began in Lombardia, I received a message from a friend in Holland who had planned to come to the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna. The event had immediately been postponed as part of Emilia Romagna’s response to the encroaching epidemic. She asked me whether we had to live inside all the time. I chuckled and wrote to her that that was only in the red zones (the first isolated provinces in Lombardia and Veneto). Just two weeks later the Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte announced a national lockdown. To answer her question now, yes, we are staying at home just like the Italian slogan and social media campaign suggests: #iorestoacasa.

So What Is Quarantine Like?

No more school. Kids at home. Vast majority of people working remotely from the dining room table and other ad hoc home office spaces. It means celebrating your birthday with yourself and whomever else you share your living space with. Trips cancelled. No movie theaters, museums, gyms or libraries. Parks closed. Every time you head for the door you ask yourself “Is it really necessary?” And if it’s not for your job, grocery shopping, health or your dog crossing its legs, then the resounding answer is no.

You’re going to have a week or two of obsessively reading the newspaper, watching the news and monitoring the growing numbers of COVID-19 shopper waiting in line in Bologna during the coronavirus lockdown via Tatiana Pollardcases. You’ll inform yourself via the World Health Organization, epidemiologists, virologists and other medical and scientific experts. You’ll get to know about black swans, you’ll learn how to make hand sanitizer at home, you’ll reach out to social media or your neighbor for and to help. Terms like herd immunity and R0 will become part of your growing vocabulary list.

After the panic washes over you, after you scramble to figure out how you’ll reorganize your child’s education, your workload and package all aspects of your life into the square footage of your home, a new kind of normalcy takes over. Living in a first world country, you’ll realize that your most basic needs are covered. In Italy we can still do grocery shopping – albeit very few people at a time – and pharmacies are open. Don’t feel like cooking? You can still order a pizza or other delivered favorites. We go out for walks or runs by ourselves or with our children as long as we keep a meter between us. With the streets strikingly empty, maintaining distance isn’t a feat. We’ve also learned that the rules can change tomorrow.

You’ll discover creative ways to spend your time, doing projects you kept putting off. You’ll do inventive cooking with the odds and ends in your kitchen. You’ll look at satellite pictures of decreasing air pollution over China or Italy as people drive less and industrial production slows down. Perhaps you’ll muse on the deeper reasons for there being a pandemic now. The historian in you will compare notes with the Black Death and the Spanish flu. The reader in you will reach for Albert Camus’s The Plague or Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. When all is quiet and dark, as you drift towards sleep, the human in you will silently wonder, even worry, whether you too are carrying coronavirus.

Andrà Tutto Bene = Everything Will Be Fine

Friends outside Italy ask me if such strict measures are necessary. Watching the figures in daily reports here, yes, they are. The risk of overloading the health care system is extremely high if the rate of infection doesn’t slow down. Even more so in a country like Italy where the elderly, the most susceptible to the disease, make up a significant portion of the population. Swamped intensive care units and hospitals decrease the capacity for ordinary health care. It could mean less room for people suffering from a heart attack, for example. If social distancing and restriction on movement are the only means proven to reduce the spread (cases in Wuhan, South Korea and the original red zones of Italy are at this writing decreasing), then thinking twice about going out for dinner with friends might not seem so irrational. Unless, of course, you’re fearless like Boris Johnson.

sign from volunteer students to do errands for vulnerable people in Bologna during the coronavirus lockdownYou might look for a culprit or try to pinpoint who’s really to blame for this pandemic. Witch hunts are irrelevant, as they always have been. They won’t change the fact that we’re in it now, and the only way forward is directing our efforts towards a solution.

Across Italy flash mobs of people singing and playing music from balconies or applauding for doctors and nurses are joyful, heartfelt moments of social solidarity and reminders that we are not alone. As are the spontaneous offers of help, like the college kids in my apartment building who help the elderly in our palazzo by doing their grocery shopping and other essential errands, or the taxi driver in Bologna providing free rides and deliveries for those in difficulty. As Enrico Quarantelli noted in his work, disasters also make us better people.

Optimism and humor also surface in this atmosphere of catastrophe. As a demonstration of thinking pink, banners with the phrase Andrà tutto bene surmounted by a rainbow were hung from building windows. As a cultural anthropologist, you might compare the responses of each nation. You might ask yourself what it says about who we are? It’s true that supplies of hand sanitizer and masks are low in stores here, but rampant hoarding of toilet paper has not yet occurred. I can’t help but think that coronavirus has proven the civility of bidets.

 



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« We are all in the same boat », I don’t know if you use this expression in english. Our quarantine in France has really started yesterday. Bon courage à tous.

Richard Grant

Bonjour, Geraldine. Yes, we use the same expression in English. Encouragement from across the Atlantic.

Merci !

Kat

Great article – sending love across the seas ❤️

Sabrina Ardizzoni

Very precise narration of life in the lockdown. Personally. I would add 1- my house has never been so clean; 2-my baking proficiency is improving! So, when all this is over (it will, we know!), we will all get together again! ❤️

Caroline Orner

Thank you Tatiana,
Your message is pure inspiration and reminds me of why I love being in Italy and why I love Italians. 🥰

Mamie

The video—words cannot express the joy these examples of the beauty of the human spirit bring to me. Grazia! Am first generation American—parents from Italy. Keeping Italy in my prayers.

Richard Grant

Thank you for this informative piece, Tatiana. Much appreciated.

What are some of your food nostalgias?

Sonia B

Hi Tatiana,

Thanks for your great insight.
After seeing the balconies singing, I wondered what the Americans would do.
Then I saw Trevor Noah’s Insta trying to sing on his balcony in NYC, to which someone replied “shut the fuck up, man!!” 😆😂
Humor is helping!
Bisous à la famille.
Sonia

Janet Keefer

Thanks, Tatiana. I’ve been wondering how you and yours were faring in Italy. If you were able to come home right now to visit, it would be “deja vu all over again” for you. And nobody can explain why people are frenzied about toilet paper. We live in a community in North Carolina where the average age is 72, so we quickly canceled the spring concert of our old people’s chorus. We would probably have moved to our balconies to sing by now if we had balconies or if our back decks were not so far apart. Hang in there!

Fred Lowther

Well done, Tatsie. Like your parents, we are hunkered down in Alexandria and worried very much about poor Italy, which seems to be bearing more than its share of the brunt of this. We do have one positive side: we are seeing Trump doing face plants daily and suffering openly from the moronavirus. He should be gone gone gone come Election Day. Stay strong and healthy.

Russell De Rose

Tatiana, My grandfather (my mother’s father) and his daughter (Petricia, my mother’s sister and my great aunt) died of the Spanish flu/influenza) and left my mother an orphan at 8 years old. All their Italian immigration and other records were lost. I did go back about 10 years ago to the two small Comunes — Sant Angelo all’Esca in Avellino (where my mother was born and to Belsito, Cosenza, Calabria where my Dad’s father (my grandfather was born. I became a Dual citizen and can vote in the Italian national election and take part in other national Italian concerns. Karen… Read more »

Paola Pallotta

Great job, my “third sister”!