Today, Friday 13 March, marks the end of the first (working) week under lockdown in Rome. It is still hard to grasp how drastically things have changed in the space of a few weeks, from the early concerns for northern Italy in mid-February to the defiant declarations of #milanononsiferma and #romanonsiferma (Milan/Rome doesn’t stop) to the current show of solidarity in #iorestoacasa – I stay at home. The last one will be with us for the long haul, with some 60 million people now facing three weeks of becoming better acquainted with their living spaces and those they share them with than they ever dreamed possible – an alternately attractive and horrifying prospect, depending on who you ask.
It feels good to have arrived at this small milestone of being one quarter of the way through the lockdown. I think back to January, when not a day would go by without somebody making a comment about how the month seemed to be lasting forever. “How is it still January?” we would lament. Ha, ha. How innocent we were. If we thought January was long, we are really in for a treat with March.
One of the reasons why the lockdown feels so jarring is that in the weeks prior – for me, at least – things in Rome didn’t feel that different . The city was certainly quieter, and you would get a serious stinkeye if you coughed or sneezed in public, and new announcements on the train told passengers to follow new hygiene measures. Still, daily life did not seem to be under any imminent threat.
The day before the nationwide lockdown was announced, a day trip to Bracciano met all expectations: families taking an afternoon passeggiata, friends out for aperitivo, people gathered at the belvedere to catch the sunset – all very Italian, all very idyllic, but noticeably quiet. This was most evident in the town’s central piazza, where vendors had dutifully set up their stalls for the Sunday market despite a visible dearth of customers. This scene might have been sadder if “Hey Ya” hadn’t inexplicably been playing at full blast across the square.
With the announcement of the lockdown, my initial instinct was to find the first flight out of Italy. The fretting did not last long as I reasoned that 1. travelling home could quite possibly result in me carrying the virus to my family in a country where the outbreak is so far (in my humble, non-expert opinion) being taken much less seriously than in Italy, and 2. the safest place I can be is here, in Rome, in my flat.
Five days into the lockdown and my conclusions so far are:
1. This is not the apocalypse. It is above all a test in patience and resilience. The most exciting thing that I have done since Monday is go to buy household items at Acqua & Sapone (where I was reassured to see that my neighbourhood hasn’t yet collectively succumbed to poo pressure and cleared the shelves of toilet paper).
2. The internet is a lifesaver. However long this period will feel, being able to stay in touch with friends and family makes it much more bearable. I highly recommend Skype lunches/coffee breaks/aperitivi.
3. I am very lucky. As the #iorestoacasa mantra is reiterated across all channels, I am well aware that, for all of the frustrations of the lockdown, I am very lucky in that I am actually able to follow them. Doctors and nurses cannot stay at home. Delivery drivers cannot stay at home. Supermarket cashiers cannot stay at home. Approximately 50,000 people in Italy have no home to sit this out in. I am lucky that, so far, the biggest impact this has had on my life is inconvenience rather than fear or danger. And I feel lucky that I am living in a country with a fantastic public healthcare system, where the lives of the people who live there are being put first.
4. The simplest everyday things are going to feel absolutely amazing when all this is over. Case in point: I’m genuinely looking forward to taking the bins out later today.
- Ellie Johnson