I normally write my blog posts from my little commuter train. Once a week my work as and English teacher takes me right into the centre of Rome, rather than the language school. The hour I spend on the FL1 gives me the ideal opportunity to do lesson planning, marking, my own Italian lessons, and, of course, blog post writing.
I shouldn’t be writing a blog post at all this week; I should be visiting family and friends in the UK. I should already have visited my daughter in Cambridge, and helped her to move house. She works in a lovely hotel with a spa, and so right now, I should be en-route from Cambridge to Stockport, with beautifully manicured hands, and a gorgeous gel polish on my nails. In Stockport I should be visiting my son, and taking him for a post house move shopping trip to IKEA (it seems that our children have inherited our inability to live in one place for any length of time). From Stockport, I should be travelling on to the Scottish Borders, to visit Scott’s family. Then it should be on to Yorkshire, to catch up with my family, and our UK based friendship group, to include a wonderful Mothers’ Day lunch at our local pub, with my own mum and my offspring.
So I’m sitting at my dining room table, here in Sabina, writing a blog post about how we came to be locked-down in half a house, on top of an Italian hill, in the sunshine.
Italy has spent the last couple of weeks slowly, but surely closing down due to a menace that we can’t see, we can’t touch, smell, taste, or even (so far) feel. But my goodness, we’ve known it’s been coming.
January is a wonderful month to be in Rome: the days are cool and crisp, but bright and sunny, and nobody visits Rome in January. In January I love the breaks between lessons, and pootle about the historic centre marvelling at what a wonderful place I work in, and how lucky I am to have the city to myself. February, however, is a pain. February is the month when the lovers arrive, with plans of proposals in a romantic spot (surrounded by other lovers proposing) on Valentine’s Day. February in Rome makes me feel old and grumpy. March, the pilgrims arrive, followed by families in the Easter holidays. That’s when I get REALLY grumpy, and start to moan about not being able to move for the blooming tourists.
This year started off like every other year, and January was wonderful, if slightly chilly. My first February day in Rome, tales of a strange, new virus making people ill in China were starting to circulate. With the lunar new year approaching, Rome was filling with tourists from China, and I started to notice people wearing masks on the metro. The following week (the run up to Valentine’s), the city was full to bursting, and Coronavirus had reached the North of Italy, hundreds of miles from Rome. That Monday, there were many masked travellers on the metro, and the street hawkers were selling surgical masks, as well as the normal phone chargers and selfie sticks.
Slowly but surely, the virus crept towards us. Two tourists were hospitalised in Rome, the North of Italy went into lockdown, schools, universities, and eventually museums and public event spaces were all closed, and the city got quieter and quieter.
On Monday I went to work as normal, but on an empty train. By now, we were in partial lock down. Hand shaking, kissing, even sitting within a metre of each other were banned. Shops all sold out weeks ago of hand sanitiser, surgical masks, disinfectant wipes and even the ingredients necessary to make home-made sanitsier . But of the few brave souls using public transport, virtually everone was wearing masks, as well as surgical gloves. Those without used their scarves as a barrier.
With a suddenly reduced timetable of lessons, I decided to take a little wander around the historic centre. Alighting from the metro, the first thing that struck me was the silence. As I walked to work, I became more and more uncomfortable. The city was deserted. No tourists, no workers, no traffic. For the first time ever, the loudest sound was that of bird song. We lived in Brussels at the time of the terrorist attacks in March 2016, and took a trip into the city the weekend after the bombings. Rome felt like Brussels did that horrible spring. By the time I arrived at the office for my only lesson of the day, I was genuinely rattled. My student had walked a similar route to mine the previous day, and described the city as like a movie scene from a zombie apocalypse. She said that she had felt a sense of impending doom as she stood in an empty Piazza Navona.
By Monday evening, our long planned trip to the UK was looking increasibgly unlikely, as rumours of a nationwide lockdown were starting to circulate. And just as we were going to bed, Prime Minister Conte announced that Italy was closing.
And so here we are at home, in quarantine, and adjusting to this new, temporary normal. But what that means will be for my next blog post …