March 13, 2020

A New Day Dawns

The new WWW:  the World Wide Wakeup                             

Looking out through my dirty winter-windows at the snow covered peak on the horizon and green grassy fields beyond my pencil pines, it is hard to believe that this beautiful country, in which I have chosen to live, is in lockdown.

Normally at this time of the year my immediate vicinity is pretty silent, save for the church bells a couple of times a day and maybe my next door neighbour’s tractor starting up perhaps to start ploughing for the spring sowing.

So in fact it doesn’t feel much different. Until I realise that by law I am only allowed to leave home to go food shopping or to the doctor. And that I am not allowed out of my Comune without a declaration to the polizia, if they stop me.

Driving out of my village for the first time in a week

I haven’t been shopping for a week so this morning, early, just before 8.30 I took off into the nearest town to hopefully be one of the first customers at the supermarket. With few cars on the road it felt quite eerie and I was greeted with shuttered windows instead of clusters of the locals enjoying the early morning sun with a coffee in their hands.

Notices on shop windows which, even though I could not read at a distance, I knew were conveying the hurriedly enforced law that people must be one metre apart, on official looking paper with a crest or two on the top, and a scrawled but illegible signature on the bottom.

At my supermarket, there were signs of life as masked workers scurried about trying to fill empty shelves, and huge wooden pallets of water in blue bottles outside in the sunshine.  I’ve never understood why they sell water at all in my part of Italy.  What comes out of the tap is delicious, cool and straight from the source; good enough to flow freely through countless village taps around the valley where locals gather with crates of empty bottles to fill.

The church tower in my village

Two large notices on the ‘in’ doors declared that you must stay out until someone had left, so I stood there, numero uno, in the sunshine wondering how long I would have to wait.  Several people stood behind me, keeping their distance from one another, some chatting, some silent. No one wore a mask.

Eventually a customer left and the door was opened for me by two workers dressed in the chain’s green jackets, offering me hand gel. I pulled mine from my pocket, telling them I’d just put it on, and wheeled my trolley inside.

Never one for adopting the Italian protocol of wearing gloves to select one’s fruit and veg, today I headed straight for the pile and put them on.  My problem has never been wearing them as good practice, but I am hopeless with them, as I was today, not being able to prise open the plastic bags to put in my produce for starters, and inevitably sticking the price sticker onto said gloves instead of onto the bag.

I said good morning to the staff and hurriedly went about my business.  Oranges for juicing, lemons for the gin and tonics, potatoes for the sake of potatoes in case all else failed, tomatoes as a necessity, onions, a lettuce and a packet of ruccola and a bunch of green bananas.  No sign of any celery or carrots and I assumed the Nonnas were busy at home making soup, just as I had wished to do. Blast.

Eggs. Yes.  Goodness there are only 6 packets left. I felt guilty taking two but took them nevertheless. Butter. Fresh Pasta. Coffee – two double packs and flour, but alas the wrong one so hope my neighbour continues to supply me with fresh bread as what I took was for cakes which, to the chagrin of my son, is never my strong point.

At the deli counter I chose a few local cheeses to keep me going and a runny Gorgonzola, my all-time favourite, as I asked the girl, hidden under her hat and mask, for pancetta and bread and focaccia and, of course, more pesto. I turned round and looked at their wine offerings, gabbing a bottle of delicious looking Vernaccia from Sardinia, as if I haven’t got enough booze in my cellar.

By this time, I counted 4 people in the supermarket. Me, a man still at the fruit and veg and two women at the meat counter.  I had intended to get a kilo of minced beef to vary my pasta offerings, but I forgot in my hurry to get past them and head for the tonic water. Probably much more important.

Glancing for a final time at my list, I headed for the detergents, none of which I needed but I did need a stack of firelighters to help combust my most necessary winter fires. Then to the register where I chucked everything willy-nilly into my French carry bags, left by a friend some years ago, and headed into the sunlight and the line of shoppers waiting their turn.

Once the shopping was in my car I returned the trolley, extracted my one Euro coin and fumbled in my pocket for my bottle of hand gel, lavishly applying it to my hands until there was so much on I could barely hold my car keys. Oh well, they probably need a wash too.

A scattering of snow on the mountains

Driving home through the town along the empty high street with closed shops I felt sad. Sad for these people for whom life has been tough for a long time. Small village and town folk, many elderly, who have long suffered with the woes of the Italian economy.  And now this.

I didn’t meet a single car as I drove home, passing the butcher on the corner by the bridge, who was standing outside chatting on his cellulare. Normally there is a queue of people outside his shop purveying some of the best meat I have ever had. The pasticceria next door was open, but empty and there had been no sign of life in the main square, with bars and coffee shops likely to be open but empty.

Back to my paradise. I have been here already for 8 days self-isolating after London for two weeks. Not because I had to, but because it’s winter and my life is quiet here over the cooler months.

I’ve loved those 8 days, and whether I like it or not, I am in for another 21 before the ban is lifted.  Maybe by then I’ll be stir crazy or maybe not. Over those 8 days I’ve enjoyed a lot of reading and my stack of unread books still looms high, offering me constant respite from the outside world possibly for a year or two, if you add all the offerings left by my Hugo when he returned to Australia 15 months ago. I’ve been writing; stories from my past, stories that one day I hope he will read, and his children, and get some inspiration from. ‘So Grandma wasn’t such a boring old fart?’ I can hear them say, reading about guns in my ribs and mountains I’d climbed and inspiration I had received from my father.

And all the while I sit here at peace in these beautiful hills. Green grass. Towering mountains. A fort dating from the 10th century before me. Neighbours beside and behind me, each in their houses isolating themselves from this thing that has the world in its grips.

Its time, I think, to slow down. For us all. To enjoy nature. To enjoy the simple things again. To be kinder to ourselves and to the earth. And to be grateful for what we have right now in this moment.

The sun sets over the fortezza opposite after a glorious day in self-isolation

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