It is safe to say that I did not have that Friday feeling when I closed my laptop on Friday evening, work done for the week. Things had gone from bad to worse around the world. With Rome having ground to a halt, all we could do was sit and watch and wave our arms as other countries dithered in imposing their own lockdown measures as the sobering figures kept climbing.
Friday evening brought a lift with the first of the neighbourhood concerts and singalongs, an initiative that has by now moved and inspired people all over the world. At 6 o’clock my sleepy street became alive again for a rendition of the Italian national anthem, before retreating back into their homes, feeling cheered. Videos soon started emerging of mini-concerts all over the country, from a DJ in Palermo to folk songs in Siena, a trumpeter in Trapani, and even one of AUR’s own performing opera for her neighbors in Rome. This much-needed antidote to lockdown blues made me fall in love with Italy all over again.
Another display of solidarity for Italy came from outside its borders, with news coming in over the weekend of doctors and nurses arriving from China, bringing with them medical supplies and equipment. I couldn’t help but think of how China has been villainized by so many – including in Italy – in the wake of the virus. And yet here were the doctors and nurses, stepping off the plane with smiles on their faces, that to me sent a very clear message of hope.
Saturday arrived, and my preferred lockdown pastime of going to park was off the cards, as all of Rome’s green spaces had overnight became out of bounds. This was a blow, but it had seemed inevitable when my last trips to the park had all the jollity of a typical Italian Sunday afternoon, complete with family picnics. With my options outside of my flat next to none, I turned my attention inside. By Saturday evening, my room was the most spotless and organised it has ever been, and my net worth had skyrocketed thanks to the large unopened bottle of hand sanitiser I unearthed in the cleaning process.
Up until Tuesday, Rome for me had become limited to the 200 meter radius around my flat, within which I can reach a pharmacy and my new favourite haunt: the alimentari. (A side note to anyone sick of queuing for the supermarket only to find empty shelves: your local alimentari quite possibly has neither long queues nor empty shelves, and the food is better!) Anyway, my travel restrictions were lifted on Tuesday as I had to cross the city for an undeferrable errand. I chose to make this journey by foot, as the chance to see Rome in its current empty state was quite possibly once in a lifetime – plus I am quite keen to avoid public transport these days.
Needless to say, empty Rome was an incredible sight to behold. My journey took me from San Giovanni to the Colosseum, along the Via dei Fori Imperiali to Piazza Venezia, across to Largo di Torre Argentina, down Corso Vittorio Emanuele and over the Ponte Vittorio Emanuele. It occurred to me that it was almost ridiculous that these landmarks should be the milestones marking my journey’s progress. We are well and truly spoilt in Rome.
The idea of being the only visitor at the world’s largest and most beautiful open air museum is one that ordinarily would have made me go weak at the knees – and of course, there was a part of me that felt hugely privileged to be able to see Rome so quiet. The majesty of its architecture and its beauty are even more evident, the view unmarred by passing cars, buses, or crowds. However, it was undeniably sad. A city so beautiful needs admirers, a city so chaotic needs noise, and a city so grand needs movement. Without these, it didn’t really feel like Rome.
To the collective exasperation of those in Italy, the lockdown measures are to be extended and tightened because of those who continue to flout the restrictions. This probably wouldn’t be a problem if my neighbor was on the control squad: he is passing the lockdown on his balcony overlooking the street, calling out (rather explicit) reprimands to passers by who have no business being outside.
With the lockdown stretching ahead, it might be reassuring to know that a few things remain unchanged through these scary and difficult times:
- The weekend still flies by. Saturday and Sunday have somehow resisted the slowed pace of the weekdays.
- Coronavirus is no match for tradition. In my trip to the alimentari on Thursday, a customer came in appearing very distressed. The reason? He needed to know if they had gnocchi (traditionally eaten on a Thursday in Italy).
Until we can return to normal life, I will be keeping myself motivated by thinking of all the other traditions we have to look forward to in the glorious Roman spring and summer.
- Ellie Johnson