I cross the piazza, with ease and grace. For the first time in my nearly 30 years in Italy, I am not afraid of being run down by a distracted driver, who then gives me The Hand after nearly flattening me or my dog as they race to the red light ahead. That's because, there are almost no cars on the streets. And now, road blocks with police stops are keeping it that way.
The feeling in Rome is not unlike feeling as though you, and the handful of others who cross your path, making sure to avoid each other's gaze, are survivors of an H-bomb... which left buildings intact but disintegrating on impact most of the people. You don't know why you've been spared, but here you are, picking up your mozzarella at the corner store as if nothing had changed at all.
And while my life has been for the most part unaffected, with dog walks and remote working prior to the pandemic, there are many things I miss of my Italian existence pre-Covid19 (with trash strewn along all the streets and sidewalks not one of them).
Please feel free to add yours.
- Gaggles of old codgers lined up on benches engaged in vibrant conversations, day in, day out. It behooves me to think what they have to talk about 362 days a year, but there you have it.
- The old ladies, in the sun, not so far behind. This is a relatively newer trend over the last decade or so. As they were usually to market in the morning and then preparing il pranzo, cleaning up afterward. I think that between male mortality rates and women living longer have given them some liberties to afford bench sitting.
- The contented silence of the neighborhood. When it is this quiet, it usually meant that that the Roma team was playing soccer somewhere. And then, from the quiet, would spurt the occasional geyser of cheers or groans, or mostly shouts after a ref made a bad call or the other team scored. These days, no cheers ring through the condo complexes. Just silence.
- The hair stylist guy hanging in the doorway to have a smoke. We have watched our hair color change over the years, and I can't help but think each time I pass he wants me to step inside for a treatment. He's still waiting for me to become a customer.
- The florists burst of colors in the piazza. I don't think a day has gone by when I don't wonder how, exactly, the money laundering scheme on cut flowers works. Because these guys, open 24/7 have been my cold case for 30-odd years. Gone.
- The farmer's market, where everyone has their favorite market stalls. Where they still address me with the formal greeting, 'Lei', despite my having seen them grow from middle schoolers to vegetable sellers in their own right. A quick recipe suggestion and a handful of parsley thrown in for good measure.
- People watching at the post office. These days, people approach with trepidation (although I must admit, some things never change...). Their 6 inch thick windows made to block any productive conversation from ever transpiring, are deemed not thick enough. We now have tape to stand back even further. Just hand over the envelope and hope you don't need a pen to sign a document (4 times over) that no one will ever return to to actually verify your signature.
- The sound of coffee grinding in coffee bars across the land. If we could stand in a line for groceries, I don't know why we couldn't for cappuccino. But certainly, fewer people at their jobs reduces the rate of infection for all.
- And finally, grandparents escorting their grandchildren around, engaged in animated conversation, no matter how old they are (both parties, intended). Now, the kids can't see the nonno...or as one exasperated young man confessed, "If I can't even give my nonna a hug, then I'd rather just sit it out and not go over there for the duration of this lockdown." Of course, he shouldn't anyway.
What are you missing? Maybe tomorrow I'll give a tidy list of the things I hope and dream will never come back.
*If you would like to help out the medical personnel fighting on the front lines of the Coronavirus pandemic, here is a fundraiser for the hospital in Italy's northern town of Bergmao to go toward buying masks and ventilators. GOFUNDME BERGAMO HOSPITAL ASSOC.
PHOTO CREDIT: Patellani, Federico (1911/ 1977), fotografo principale - Roma (RM), Italia, 18/04/1943