March 13, 2020, Midnight:
Late at night, lying on my sofa with an unfortunate espresso-induced insomnia, computer balanced on my belly and Chianti curled into the crook of my left leg, I am watching Netflix’s Dirty Money, Slumlord Millionaire. It’s a documentary about Jared Kushner’s company, Westminster Management, a subsidiary of Kushner Companies. It’s fascinating if not a bit skewed. The phone rings, it’s Hadley, my stepdaughter. She’s calling from San Francisco. Her company, finance giant, Blackrock, has just mandated a policy in anticipation of the propagation of the Coronavirus. They have organized staff into two teams: Team Black and Team Rock. The teams will alternate between teleworking from home and working at the office, but in a much-dispersed disposition. She’s not sure how she’ll manage her job from home since she relies on monitoring many screens simultaneously to advise clients on investments. Her laptop will make the job difficult since an infinitesimal splicing of the screen will challenge her eyesight and slow her down. On the upside of life during the advancing front of the Coronavirus, she mentions that restaurant reservations are easy to get and crowed cafes – usually jam packed – have thinned out so much that one can easily keep a safe distance from others. However, the ominous presence of the Coronavirus-infected Grand Princess in the San Francisco Bay is unsettling. Now at anchor in Oakland she can’t see it anymore from her apartment upon the high hill near Coit Tower, but she tells me, everyone feels its presence. Talking to her, it seems to me that the gravity of the situation as we are living it here in Italy is still very remote in The States.
The Coronavirus there is still the Grim Reaper on his way, possibly knocking on some doors and slithering under others. Unlike here in Italy, there, the Grim Reaper has yet to wield his scythe so savagely, claiming so many more victims’ day by day despite the Draconian measures set in place here throughout the country. (See below for a blurb on the Grim Reaper. *)
March 13, 2020, 8:30AM:
My cousin, Jean Pierre L., retired and reputed gastric surgeon from Paris, longtime Médecins Sans Frontiers volunteer and current part-time retiree, calls from the Congo where he runs a charitable organization, he founded with another doctor many years ago. He considers himself safe, at harbor from the Coronavirus. The Congo is one of the few places where there are no reported cases. I mention that there probably are cases, but that we just don’t know about it. Of course, he’s the doctor and I am not. He surely knows better than I do.
He reminds me that he worked through the Ebola crisis there, he got through it then; today, he feels safe from the Coronavirus today. I worry aloud that he might get stuck in Brazzaville and won’t be able to return to Paris. He responds that, as of now, there are no restrictions flying into Paris. When he calls, I am reading the news. In his address to the French people on Thursday night, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the closure of all schools and universities. However, the government has decided that the French Municipal Elections will go forward. I wonder at the logic of this. France, like Italy, is a nation where personal space is defined by the limitations of dense territory. This is no more apparent than in town centers whether that be Parisian arrondissements or provincial towns as tiny as Lourmarin in Provence. How are they going to control the voting cues and people respecting the 1-meter distance rule?
I imagine that when we get through this massive health and economic crisis, A whole new system of conducting one’s life remotely will be in place. The tools needed to do virtually anything that needs doing will be possible from one’s sofa. This new development in the brave new world of technology will foster an entire planet of couch potatoes! Yikes!
After a long shower and a longer period of actually getting myself going (this home-bound prison term has zapped my energy), I gather my coat, my courage and my dog, Chianti, and we pile into my Fiat Cinquecento to drive the long way around town (to avoid the barricades) to Giorgio’s, where I plan to leave the car to go for an illicit country walk without the required paperwork. This walk will be well beyond the allowed immediate vicinity of my flat. Giorgio’s is the IP Petrol station, but all the locals call it Giorgio’s since Giorgio is the mechanic-cum-town-taxi-driver. His gas station happens to have some of the finest espresso in town. Many people come here, not for a fill up, but only for a coffee and a chat amongst friends. Now the cafe is closed, and it has a big sign on the door. No service, only tobacco! Tobacco has been deemed by the government an essential product in the same category as food and pharmaceuticals. Italians cannot live without their cigarettes.
When I get there, I consider washing my car at the automated car wash located behind the pumps but renege, choosing instead to push on to the dirt road beyond the petrol station that leads to the path I have in mind for my walk with Chianti. I am worried about leaving my car at the gas station. I’ve seen some police patrolling and I don’t want to be questioned.
I go much further on the rutted dirt road than planned, past where my friends Matt and Jeff live, and keep driving until I find a clearing amidst an olive grove where I think I can leave my car without hindering passage or annoying any farmers. It is not olive tending season, nor is it the harvest. I doubt anyone in the olive business is around, so I risk a walk through what is certainly someone’s olive production area. The smell in this vast countryside is amazing. The sky is a brilliant blue and cirrus clouds punctuate the vastness like huge smiles. The shoulders of the rutted road leading the to olive grove are carpeted with thousands of tiny dandelions and daisies. Everywhere I look, signs of spring are underscored by that signature April perfume of young grasses. I let Chianti off his lead and immediately he leaps ahead, running far ahead at top speed to let off his pent-up energy. He takes a 90-degree turn out of sight into a field and I run to catch up. When I do, he’s already rolling joyously in scat. I groan in anticipation of the wrestling match that will be our joint shower when I return home for lunch.
*History of the Grim Reaper from Encyclopedia Britannica:
The Grim Reaper seems to have appeared in Europe during the 14th century. It was during this time that Europe was dealing with what was then the world’s worst pandemic, the Black Death, believed to be the result of the plague. It is estimated that about one-third of Europe’s entire population perished as a result of the pandemic, with some areas of the continent suffering far greater losses than others. The original outbreak of the plague occurred during 1347–51, and outbreaks then recurred several other times after that.
Italian Coronavirus Cases: