From inside locked-down Italy, reflections on family life in Verona
Since my last post (only two days ago- seems like a lifetime!), we have now settled into a way of life that just a week ago would have seemed unimaginable.
We are almost entirely confined to our own apartment.
While its a longstanding joke amongst my friends and family that I've been on an 8-year sabbatical here in Verona, as anyone who has kids, work, hobbies and a life will tell you, events can sometimes pass you by in a bit of a blur. Getting the kids out the door in the morning, rushing to work, rushing home to get the kids, trying to squeeze in an aperol, football, music, writing, pub, bike, gym. On any given day, I have four different bags on the go, depending on where I'm rushing off to next.
For a moment, that life is on standby.
We’re now on day 4 of our home-schooling regime. The kids have quickly adapted to their new reality. Our youngest (5) has tended to drift away after an hour so, but that’s fine. He’s made great progress with his numbers and I’ve really enjoyed helping him. It’s amazing how the mechanics of learning to form numbers and letters comes back to you after all these years – we must have had some amazing teachers! I can even remember some of the rhymes they used to recite to us as we learned to write - “top to bottom up and over” (that’s an ‘r’ by the way).
With our eldest the situation is slightly more complex! While I’m conversant in some of his subjects (history, geography, English and German), maths is a different story! I remember doing Lowest Common Denominator at school, but the Least Common Multiple! Is that even a thing!
Anyway, there’s a free lunch in Verona for the first person who can come back to me with the LCM of 288 and 512 – and, as the legendary Mr Woods used to say, “I want to see yer workings”.
We’re lucky to have a communal garden where our kids have been able to play for a couple of hours every day. And of course, we’ve got each other. Some of my friends live alone and that can’t be easy.
On Wednesday, conscious that I hadn’t been beyond the confines of our compound for a few days, I went for a run along the banks of the Adige. My route took me down to the river and then out of town towards the damn at Chievo. Traffic was lighter than usual, but there were some people out running and dog walking. A few were wearing masks. Most initiated some kind of body swerve as we approached each other to avoid passing too closely. Whether such excursions are even permissible now under the new regulations is not entirely clear.
Just after dinner on Wednesday came the news that there would be a further statement that evening from Prime Minister Conte. We already had a sense of what was coming and so we sent the kids to bed and fortified ourselves with a rather nice digestivo from Lucca.
The news that further restrictions would apply was met here with a degree of resignation. Everyone in Italy understands the gravity of the situation. The latest official statistics show 12,839 confirmed cases and 1,016 deaths in Italy.
As far as I am aware, there has been no resistance or opposition to the draconian measures that have been implemented in the last week. Italy has placed its public health above all other considerations, including economic and personal freedom, and that is a position that most Italians have endorsed.
From the epicentre of the crisis, we look on in bewilderment at what’s been going on elsewhere. But then we remember that just a couple of weeks ago we too were sceptical, blasé, cavalier even. Images of hundreds of thousands of people gathering for Cheltenham, lingering comparisons with the flu and a conviction that because I’m young and healthy I don't need to be concerned.
You only have to look into the eyes of an experienced triage nurse as she is asked if she is afraid, or observe the exponential growth rates of the virus, to appreciate the nature of the crisis we are facing.
Remember, the purpose of the lock down isn’t to protect yourself, it’s to protect the most vulnerable and to shield the hospitals from the catastrophic onslaught that even just a 2/3% shift in ICU admissions would cause.
In Italy, Social distancing is seen as a necessary act of community solidarity. But as Prime Minister Conte reminded us last night, we will not know for a week or two what affect the restrictions have had on containing the spread of the virus.
It’s going to be a long two weeks.
Today (Thursday) we have seen signs that the global response to the crisis is shifting. Actions that would have seemed absolutely unthinkable a week ago (America’s European travel ban and India’s ban on tourists) now scarcely raise an eyebrow, while the UK government appears to be sticking to its light-touch approach.
As this most surreal of weeks draws to a close, my thoughts turn towards the weekend.
The kids won’t be at “school”. I won’t be “teaching” and my wife won’t be working. (Did you notice I didn’t use parenthesis for my wife? That’s because she is actually working, albeit from home).
Ordinarily we’d be going to the football, or taking a day trip to the lake, or going out for lunch, or sneaking out for a cheeky pint (I’m beginning to think the recent closure of the Celtic Pub was a necessary training exercise for the social distancing that we’re now facing).
None of these normal activities will be possible this weekend.
Instead we’ll be stuck at home. Together. For the entire weekend!
What the hell are we going to do???
I’ll let you know next week!
Amended on 16 March 2020 to reflect the fact that it was the Cheltenham races (not Ascot as originally stated) that hundreds and thousands of people gathered for.
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.