Monday, March 23, 2020

Coping, Italian Style

Annamaria on Monday

Italians as a cultural entity are not known for their dedication to following orders, especially when those orders come from the government.  Quite the opposite.  History has deeply embedded political skepticism into the populace of arguably the most beautiful peninsula on Earth.  Devotion and pride go first to family, then to community, then to region, and only then to country.

You see, every Italian is steeped in the country's past, which surrounds them in them in their buildings, in their art, in their music.  For most of them, that past is local.  Understandably so, because every locale, which used to be a political entity unto itself, has a unique, rich cultural heritage.  All Italians seem genetically aware that, as a country Italy will not turn 150 years old until 2021.  The last bits to join with the motherland were not added until 1918.

Italians, wherever you find them on the map, are - for the most part - intensely  protective of their family members.  And they fully understand that their neighbors feel the same way. But, as a nation, I reiterate, they are not famous for slavishly following rules.  So when the government ordered the entire country to follow the Lombardy region and go into complete self-isolation, even the Italians themselves were not sure how compliant the populace would be.

Silvia Poggoli, NPR's senior correspondent for Europe and an Italian-American, reported from Rome on how Italians behaved in the face of  the March 9th order.  Her tone over the airwaves the next day rang with pleasant surprise.  I could hear the exclamation points coming from the computer speaker.  "They are doing it!!!"

A great deal of what is happening in Italy now is too sad for words.  Italy has the highest number of COVID-19 deaths on the planet.


In some hospitals, doctors are having to triage patients and decide whose life to save with the only respirator they have left.  Italy's excellent healthcare system is strained beyond its capacity.  The reason for Italy's worst-of-the-world death rate is that the virus began circulating there in November!  Yes, before the world knew there was such a thing as COVID-19.  In Lombardy, a part of Italy that has close economic ties with China, family doctors were then seeing patients sick with an as yet unidentified "flu."  Enormous damage was done long before there was any hope of accurate testing and preventative measures.

Mercato Nuovo now!

Mercato Nuovo, taken from my living room window on
New Year's Eve.

Also, extremely sad for Italians are the deserted streets where in ordinary times happy tourists roam in groups from 2-90.  UNICEF has concluded that 60% of the Patrimony of Humanity is in Italy.  Ownership and stewardship of those treasures are a most important part of the Italian economy.  Hundreds of thousands of people thrive in work connected with the hospitality industry.  And many thousands more depend on those tourist dollars to pay for the restoration and preservation of those priceless artifacts.  All of that went off a cliff on the 9th of March, bringing to a near halt the already fragile national economy.

Building in Milan: the lit windows spell out 'State a Casa."  STAY HOME.

Unbearable, right?

Yet somehow, Italians are bearing up in ways that are...well, Italian.  Creative and beautiful.

Shortly after the "lock-down," hashtags appeared: #restoacasa (I am staying home), which I first saw posted on FaceBook by my cousin Lucia Caputo, in Sicily with a photo of herself complying with the government dictum and staying in the house.

Then came #andratuttobene (Everything will be okay).  Signs went up all over the country, many of them made by children.  Imagine how comforting this must be to a child, confused by all the sudden changes, not being able to sit in their grandparents' laps, for instance.  They made images the creation of which must have comforted them, and then they saw their drawings displayed to encourage everyone else too.

My friends Lilli and Marcello, she in her late 80s, he in his mid-90s, have had a long habit of going out in mid-morning to have a coffee at a local coffee bar and buy the newspaper.  The pandemic put a stop to that.  So they created their own "Cafe dei Ciclamini"  - Cyclamen Cafe:

Every morning at 11, they go out - to their garden - for their daily coffee excursion.  

Lots of us have seen the Italian community sing-alongs that have gone viral.  Even if you already have, take another look.  Such moving and uplifting sights.

My absolute favorite of the things Italians have invented is one that was organized though social media and involved the whole country.  At nine o'clock on Saturday a week ago, they shut off all the lights, and everyone shined a flashlight, many of the on cell phones, out a window or from a balcony.  Some turned on the lights of their cars:

What you see at the head of this post is a satellite photograph of the result: the whole country making itself beautiful to the cosmos.

Shine on Italia!!  ANDRA TUTTO BENE!!

Addendum:  I want to also give credit to the latinate cousins of the Italians in Spain:  They have invented a nationwide daily event.  Every evening at six, Spaniards step outside and applaud to thank the doctors, nurses, and other medical staff for laying their own lives on the line to save the lives of others.

Last week, I ended my post this way.  I am going to continue to write these words in every week until we can go back to normal, whatever that may become.  

Thank you, Nurses
Thank you, Doctors
Thank you, Technicians
Thank you, Orderlies.
We pray you will be safe!

For today, I will end with this beautiful message of hope.


All'alba vinceremo.  At dawn we will triumph.


  1. Wonderful post, AmA. Long may the beauty of humanity shine.

    1. Thank you, EvKa. Now other places around the globe are following suit. I am, as usual, looking for the positive. The sad parts are awfully sad now, but your phrase "the beauty of humanity" is also, as I think it always is, near at hand.

  2. The French are also celebrating their health workers and responders. Every night at 8 the public is out on their balconies singing and applauding. Very moving, indeed, here in Paris.

    1. Thank you, Ann, for the report from Paris. I think of you often and hope that you are keeping well and happy despite how all of this is affecting you beautiful adventure.

  3. Thank you. I think we are about to slip into lockdown. The business closes its door today but we are still open via Skype and email. It took a long time to draft the ansphone message as theres a lot we can do to ease gp stress by phone triage. How are you doing? It sounds as though your online life is lively!

    1. Yes, Caro. I am making full use of the many channels of communication I am lucky enough to have. The best part of the my lucky state is the number of precious friends I have. They boost my spirits and keep me going. Thank you for being part of that for me.

  4. Wonderful! But I hadn't heard about the outbreak in November. Should Trump be calling it the Italian virus?

    1. give him time, Michael...

      Beautiful post, Annamaria. I hope you are keeping safe and well.

  5. Thank you, Michael and Zoe. Except for two grocery runs, I have been isolated at home since I returned to NYC on March 12. I am not finding it all that difficult, since--as you have remarked, Zoe--social isolation is largely life as usual for the likes of us. Regarding the "Italian Virus." the Lombardy district of Italy, where most of the industries are located, has very close economic ties with China. There is lots of travel by Italians to suppliers in China and Chinese reps to customers in that part of Italy. Certainly, the bug first found human hosts in China, but it must have been incubating in folks, probably for weeks, before anyone though to ask if it was something new. The Italian epidemiologists, looking for the source in Italy, queried the local family physicians there and found that they had seen cases before they understood what they were looking at. TOO SAD! As for what Trump may or may not say, one of my attempts to remain sane is that I do not pay very close attention to him. But then again, I am a New Yorker. We all learned, long ago, to ignore his silly attempts to make himself sound important.

  6. A tear evoking post, Sis. Thank you for that. The land I travel to most, after Greece, is Italy, and as I was raised in a largely Italian neighborhood, your post reminded me of why I so love Italians. #andratuttobene

    1. Thank you, my brother. One way we became brother and sister is that we split our travel time between Italy and the islands of ancient Greece (in my case, its the island of my ancestors--Sicily). Also we grew up in the same neighborhood, though it was separated by about 360 miles. My childhood home was between the Abramowicz's house to the north and the Gennarelli's to the south. #restoacasa #andratuttobene

  7. We are your 'neighbor' in Greece and have watched the events unfolding there with such great sadness but also with cheer for the spirit that is being shown by the sing-a-longs and the flashlights. We just went on a government ordered lock down after too many were taking the closures as an extended vacation time. In our rural area, we've got a ghost town for a village and are only going out as necessary. Good luck to you all and good luck to us as well ~

    1. Thank you Jackie and Joel, on of my American cousins just sent me another gorgeous addition to the lovely efforts I posted yesterday. I hope you and all my of MIE's friends will enjoy this one too.
      It a wonderful!