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.
When 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 cases. 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.
You 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.
Juggling nuance between Italian and English, Tatiana lights up her five-burner kitchen top with nostalgia for American food, Bologna-inspired fare and cross-cultural inventions. She and her husband endlessly debate on cooking with or without a recipe. Their son just hopes that dinner will either be plain or have chocolate in it.