Life Under Lockdown

I’m sitting at my dining room table again. I do this a lot at the moment, as we are living in a new world, even though we are at home.

This time four, short weeks ago, we were sitting on the little train to Rome, with our son and his friend, on our way to watch Italy play Scotland in the Six Nations Rugby tournament, at the Stadio Olimpico. Not an ordinary Saturday at all, but a lovely one. We ate pizza outside, we watched the rugby in the sunshine drinking beer, Scotland won the rugby, and all was well in the world.

A couple of days previously, when the youngsters had landed in Rome, they were faintly amused to have their temperatures checked before they were allowed to enter the country. I didn’t meet them at the airport, as they arrived on a Tuesday, so I was at work. Just like every Tuesday. Just a normal, happy life, with normal ups and normal downs. Oh! But some virus was apparrently running riot in China, and there were even a couple (not even a handful) of cases in Italy.

We were looking forward to a long planned trip home to the UK, to see family and friends, and said “see you soon” as we saw the youngsters off at the airport at the end of the week. Of course, I’m saying “we”, but again I was at work. Back then, going to work was what you did mid week.

Fast forward four weeks, and here we are on day 12 of the Italian lockdown. In these four, short weeks, everything has changed. Here, we’ve gone from two cases to more than four thousand dead in those four short weeks.

Just as we went into this strange, new life, I wrote a blog post about the lead up, which you can read here: https://bit.ly/3diggaz

As many people are currently starting lockdown, or are preparing for it, I thought that today might be a good time to explain what life like this is actually like, for us at least.

And the answer is … not bad, actually!

It’s all coming together outside

We feel incredibly lucky to live in a truly beautiful place, with plenty of outdoor space. Indoors, the house is half finished, and we are living in what is effectively a nice, comfy, one bedroomed bungalow, with twenty acres of “garden” which we are free to roam, and four hundred olive trees in need of pruning. As I write, I’m thinking about my work colleagues – one of whom was about to move house when the lockdown was announced. She’s in an apartment with teenagers and her entire life in boxes. The vast majoritiy of Italians live in apartments, and I am absolutely full of admiration for them. Recently, Italians seem to have stolen the British Stiff Upper Lip that we were previously so famous for.

So …

We can currently leave the house for one of the following reasons:

  • To buy items essential to life – food, medicine, items needed by our animals, pellets for central heating, light bulbs etc – ideally within our commune, but if this is not possible, to the nearest shop selling the required items.
  • For a medical appointment – proof of the appointment should accompany the self certification that the Carabinieri will need to see
  • For urgent, work related reasons, only when it is not possible to work from home and, of course, only if your workplace is open. I work in a language school, so we’ve been closed for weeks
  • To exercise, or to allow domestic pets to do their “necessities”, in the immediate vicinity of our homes only.

When we leave the house, we must be alone. If we absolutely must be with another person, we must respect the one metre rule, including in the car. So one of us must sit in the front, and the other in the back.

In order to ensure that we only shop for necessities, every other type of shop has shut down. Initally, all shops, restaurants and bars were open for limited hours, but this rule was subsequently tightened, presumably because of bad behaviour – I have read that 53,000 fines were issued during the first eight days of quarantine.

Before going to the supermarket – the LOCAL one (we are not allowed to go to any further than absolutely necessary) – we must complete two self certification forms. One for the journey out, and one from the journey home. We fill in all of our personal information, and certify that we understand the measures laid out in the presedential decree. We certify that we are free from the symptoms of Covid19, and that we have never tested positive for the virus. We then detail where we are going and why, and that our movement is considered essential and in compliance with the restrictions laid out in the decree. The Carabinieri always have permission to stop vehicles for document checks in Italy, and so we are accustomed to being flagged down whilst out and about.

On arrival at the supermarket, you collect your trolley, and must clean down the trolley handles. You then join an orderly, silent queue, standing at least one metre behind the shopper in front. Everyone else will be gloved and masked, sometimes quite theatrically! Only twenty shoppers are allowed inside at any time. As one shopper leaves, one is allowed in. We must maintain the “correct social distance” at all times, and when we arrive at the checkout, we must wait until we are called forward by the masked, gloved shop assistant. There is PLENTY of stock: loads of loo roll, fresh goods, store cupboard items, everything, in fact, except hand sanitiser. In normal times, we have an Aladdin’s Cave called “Super Bazaar!”, a clothes shop, a launderette, a butchers, a beauty shop and a bar attached to our supermarket, and shopping is a real social experience. Now only the supermarket is open. Shopping is silent, eerie, and rather unsettling. It’s a relief to get home to our splendid isolation, and realise that you have been holding your breath for as much of your outing as possible.

So far, the virus is all around us, but not yet in our commune. Cantalupo, Stimigliano, Torri in Sabina, Poggio Mirteto, and Fara Sabina, where I normally work, all have cases, but the numbers here in the countryside are mercifully small, for now.

We fill our days with a busy routine, and go “on holiday” in the evening. We don’t set an alarm. We’ve put the hot tub out on the balcony. We listen to bird song. We don’t listen (too much) to the news, or gossip, or fake news. We worry about our children in the UK. We worry about our parents, our families and our friends all over the world. We message and chat endlessly on the phone, sometimes with people who we haven’t spoken to in years. We wash our hands whilst singing songs. My favourites are “Here we go Looby Lou” and “This is the Song That Never Ends” (you’re welcome). We practice our Italian. We cook Slow Food and make bread every day. We are rediscovering what it’s like to live a slow, good life. We’re not buying loo roll. And we look worriedly at one another each time we cough, and then we laugh.

Life in Lockdown.

It’s the small things that actually matter.

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