I knew that this week I would have to go out for groceries and thought I’d go on Tuesday, 14 days since the last expedition but when Tuesday dawned it was with howling winds and plummeting temperatures, and, when I dragged myself out from under the duvet I bought in London and never used because it was too hot, I saw snow on the ground. So I said to myself, it can wait: my fridge is still full even if I am sick of the repertoire.
Later in the day, around 5.15 I learned that petrol stations were going to be closed because they carried too much of a risk of spreading this dreadful virus, so I clamoured into my boots, threw a coat and scarf on, donned the only mask I have (thank you Corin) and grabbed a pile of latex gloves and my shopping bags.
Oh, and my Self Declarazione. This is a MUST. I cannot go anywhere outside my property without it or I run the risk of being heavily fined. Trouble is the government issues a new one practically every day and I can’t keep up. I’m low on printer’s ink so not bothered to print each one out to see where they differ…I read they add a raft of new questions each day. Pretty soon they’ll want to know when we last had sex. And I couldn’t answer that one.
I head to the town 3 kilometres down the hill from my hideaway and I feel the freedom of being out. It’s like wagging school, only better because there will be new goodies to eat at the end of it. But there are also new concerns as two people in this town have been tested positive. I am glad there are no polizia on the bridge to stop me as I want to be there and home as quickly as I can. I slow down through the deserted town. The only sign of life is the green flashing cross at the pharmacy. There is no one at the petrol pump. I don my first pair of latex gloves, grab fifty Euros from my wallet and say a silent prayer. I am hopeless at self-serve petrol. I always screw it up and today is no exception. I put the money in the slot, indicate pump No 1 and put the nozzle into my almost empty tank, now gasping to be refilled. Nothing happens. A car draws up behind me and I ask the man to help but he says no, and stays away. Eventually after invoking the diesel gods in good language and in bad I hear a splutter and slowly the dial on the pump turns and the magic elixir spurts forth. That done, I throw the gloves into the bin and head for the supermarket.
Not usually good at rules, I am delighted my fellow Garfagnanians are adhering to the 2-meter rule…except they are actually at least three metres away from one another. I open my purse to find no coins for the trolley and curse at the state of being that money is needed to access one. One person comes out and another goes in. I wait. I am number 3 and a woman comes out to her car parked where I am waiting. I tell her I have no coin and ask her for her trolley and she says no. It’s a fucking euro I think, you lousy sod. Later, when I borrow a coin from the check-out lady, I discover that a fifty cent coin is sufficient and I wonder about that karma of that woman.
I’d written up my list like a virtual tour of the supermarket so I didn’t have to backtrack and, waiting in that extended queue, I realised I had left it at home. I cursed under my breath and remembered a funny outing I’d had to the supermarket in London with Hugo where, when we got to the till, he laid out everything in alphabetical order: Apples, Bread, Carrots and so on, and I had a laugh to myself. Fewer full shelves than last time, and again, not a carrot or celery stick to be had. I’ve never liked carrots but it’s hard to make a good minestrone without them. The Nonnas must have got in first again.
Then I think of the Nonnas and the Nonnos who have died. Thousands of them. The backbone of the traditional Italian family; the kitchen and the hearth will never be the same. The storytelling and the cuddling of new-born babies. And I stop myself brushing a tear from my eye because I do not want to touch my face.
I get what I can and am delighted there is smoked salmon and tonic water. My predilection with gin is possibly mine alone. I buy loo paper and tissues and find they are not in short supply here. Finally, I hand over my card, thank the woman very much for all she is doing, possibly not clearly through my mask but I hope she got my gratitude, and I flee, removing my tainted gloves and putting them in a special bag in my boot.
It’s interesting. Years of learning and years of being a therapist, I am convinced that how we do one thing is how we do everything. I remember in the late 60’s when I was travelling (oops that’s almost a NEW word) in Afghanistan and we found ourselves enjoying a night or three with Afghani Gold, the best hash in the world. For those of us who were on a natural high we laughed and hooted and had a great time. For those miserable or anxious it heightened that state and they were even more miserable or tearful than they had been. So now we are seeing things as if through a puff of Afghani Gold again…. If we’re anxious, we’ll become paranoid. If we are unconsciously driven by scarcity, that will manifest itself big time. And if we are naturally kind and caring, we will be more so.
I’ve seen friends do amazing things in this time. My dearest young things Emily and Adam, instead of cancelling their long-planned cross-continent wedding, stood in a windy paddock in NSW two days ago with a minister, under a metal canopy that Adam had welded together the day before, with their parents watching from afar. As I said to her a couple of days before when she was uncertain what to do, Em, that’s a truly wonderful story and example to set for your kids in the future. I wish I could be there with you, and I’m definitely coming to the party in Wales when it happens.
What I’m also experiencing is an amazing amount of caring. Remember that round of Facebook posts, ‘only 25% of my friends are seeing my posts so if I do this more of you will see’? What codswallop. Everyone sees our posts; it’s just that most people don’t comment or don’t like/dislike or whatever.
Knowing I’m alone in Italy, the worst affected country (well until yesterday when the USA took over) I have had hundreds of people in some way acknowledging my posts, some of whom I haven’t heard from in a decade. It’s been marvellous and I feel so touched by the generosity and care they have shown. Thank you one and all. In my #splendidisolation that is not always so splendid I have been touched by your concern. And I’ve laughed day and night at the silly, clever stuff that has been posted. How I/we could have managed without the technology we have with free calls and round the clock and round the world connection I have no idea. Not well, I suspect and I am grateful that we don’t have to.
I am grateful, truly grateful for a bunch of other stuff too. I am grateful for my Sunday bread, baked next door and delivered by Anna, last week with 5 delicious Sicilian oranges she’d waited weeks to be delivered. I’m grateful to live in a house with lots of rooms so I can have variety if I need to. For all my books, my DVD’s, my plentiful cellar, the absolutely delicious aroma from my first coffee of the day and for my view.
When we looked for a house 34 years ago the one non-negotiable was a view and boy, am I grateful for that now. For when I look out, at the snow-capped hills and myriad villages scattered down the valley I see new life and I feel hope. Italy has been at the pinnacle of this terrible virus yet I continue to be amazed at its spirit. I have grown to love its National Anthem, it stirs me more than any other I have known and it has brought me to tears often in these challenging days.
I’ve watched as the world has made its own decisions. I’ve been horrified at the beach scenes in Australia and at the PM not acting anywhere near as quickly as Jacinda across the pond. His name has gone from SCOMO to SLOMO. I hope, now that Boris has been tested positive, he might get serious and the ‘I’m ok mate’ Aussies learn to stay at home. My son and my family and friends are in Oz and I want them to get through this safely. Even though I live in an isolated community and in otherwise pristine hills, the only place I feel really safe is at home. And I’ll stay there for as long as it takes.
More soon my friends. Stay home and stay safe. And never lose your SOH.