The end of the beginning?
It’s been a long, slow week. In fact, I spent much of Tuesday entirely unconvinced that it could still only be Tuesday. It was. By Wednesday things had picked up. And by Thursday, the first day of the Italian Easter holidays, the weekend had finally arrived!
It promises to be an Easter weekend quite unlike any other.
Last Easter we were sledging in the Dolomites. The Easter before that we were in Tuscany with the in-laws.
This Easter we'll be lucky to make it off our compound.
And we’re not likely to be going anywhere else (apart from the weekly trip to the supermarket) any time soon.
Few were surprised earlier this evening when Prime Minister Conte announced an extension of the current lockdown from April 13 to May 3. That’s another 24 days of lockdown!
And even that is unlikely to be the end.
If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that we are no more than midway through the lockdown (which came into effect here on 9 March).
Italy still has the highest number of coronavirus deaths in the world (18,279), although there is some evidence that the death toll has now plateued. But the lockdown is working. Imagine how much higher the death toll would be if the virus had been allowed to spread unchecked. Of course, the raw statistics have severe limitations, but they do convey an undeniable trend.
In the coming days, Italy's grim tally will undoubtedly be surpassed by other nations. In fact, with 980 recorded deaths in the last 24 hours, the UK has now overtaken Italy as the epicentre of the crisis in Europe (Italy’s highest single death day was the 27 March when it recorded 919 deaths).
I remember how gut-wrenching it was to hear those daily tallies. Now the UK faces a similarly challenging period. Of course Italy and the rest of Europe will offer what assistance and solidarity they can, but the stark reality is that strict lockdown and social distancing are the only remedies currently available.
Even under strict lockdown daily life will, as ever, continue. Intensify and blossom even.
On our compound the seasons have decisively shifted.
I haven’t worn long trousers for a few weeks now. As the temperature soars towards the high twenties, we spend as much time as possible ‘outdoors’ - on our balcony, in our communal garden, or in our cavernous subterranean garage. The plants on our balcony have never been so well tended!
Despite the restrictions, our youngest (who celebrated his 6th birthday at the end of March) has graduated from his little bike to his big brothers old one. He gleefully does laps of the garage and, in compliance with the ‘200 metre directive’, has occassionally ventured out onto the deserted street in front of our apartment. These are milestone moments which we continue to chalk up despite the suffocating restrictions on our daily life.
Less significant, the weekly trip to the supermarket was surreal, but uneventful (no police check this time). The giant queue, which snaked its way around the carpark, advanced quickly enough, but in stark contrast to just a few weeks ago, everyone was wearing masks and gloves. Despite what I heard today from UK government scientific and medical advisers, gloves and masks will become a new global norm in the months to come, as we learn to live with the virus. Inside, the only shortages were for flour and eggs, as Italians were evidently planning some seasonal home baking. Otherwise it was business as usual.
I stocked up on the essentials – Easter eggs, pre-mixed Aperol spritz and a large case of beer. I balked slightly at the checkout, but then remembered that this was the first time I’d opened my wallet in two weeks (I quietly vowed that any cash I had left at the end of this crisis, would be gleefully unleashed on the local economy).
Finally, this longest of weeks is coming to an end.
It's Easter. A celebration of rebirth and resurrection.
In Italy, we dare not yet celebrate the end of the crisis. Nor even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel and is currently working on a trilogy about wartime Verona.