March 14, 2020
Quarantine on day five devolves into full-fledged slovenliness. My alarm goes off at seven. I slap at the bed surface randomly until finally I hit the correct I-phone’s surface to quiet the annoying jingle that is my ringer. When, fifteen minutes later, it goes off again, I grumble, then succumb, exiting the bed in an elegant overboard roll-over, one leg at a time, and shuffle, sleepwalking, to the bathroom. I try to avoid the mirror, but fail, and get a ghastly peek at my hair that I haven’t brushed in two days. It’s now officially defying gravity. I have an afro. Thank goodness for scrunchy’s. I vow to instigate a military schedule starting tomorrow, Sunday, or maybe, Monday, a more logical day for such a disciplined regimen. Incarceration has made me lose all semblance of an ordered life. After the somnambular trip to the bathroom, I return to bed and go back to sleep for another two hours. Meanwhile, poor Chianti (who is still smelly from yesterday’s roll in the scat-no, I didn’t wash him) is desperate for a walk. Bad mother! It’s 10:30 by the time I awaken. Over my pajamas, I pull on an oversized Aran sweater and cuddle up on the sofa to watch Judy Woodruff deliver more bad news about the Coronavirus on the YouTube retransmission of the PBS Newshour while sipping my home-made triple cappuccino. This has become my daily ritual. Today I am so lazy that I don’t bother to turn it off at the end. It begins again and I half listen to the entire broadcast a second time while intermittently feeling guilty about doing nothing, not walking the dog and daydreaming on the sofa. Beside me, making me feel worse, the dining table is piled high with neat stacks of classified “to do” packets that I have studiously ignored for a full week. I owe money to my contractor and other vendors, I need to send a registered letter to the French insurance company that has ripped me off, I have bills to pay, and I have many materials and items to order for the apartment that I am renovating here in Citta Della Pieve. I also need to turn my attention to taxes, US, Italian and French. Big, big Ugh! Lethargy has set in and I am paralyzed into inactivity by the Coronavirus quarantine. I wonder if this is what happens to inmates? How do they get motivated to dress themselves in the morning?
When the phone rings, I am jolted into consciousness; finally, I’m fully awake; it’s two PM. Matthieu, my photographer friend, is calling from Corsica where he’s compiling a photographic retrospective of the Ile de la Beauté as Corsica is so aptly referred to in French. He, like so many, has seen the first edition of my blog and wants to know how I’m doing. I omit details of my matinal slovenliness and gloss over the truth. Great! I tell him. I’m fine, if not just a little too indulgent with myself. We have not spoken in almost two years, so we catch up on news. He tells me about his boys, both grown and doing interesting things, one studying cinema in Paris, the other a pilot in the Great Northwest of Canada. Both iconoclasts like him I opine. He chuckles and agrees. He doesn’t seem to be affected by the Coronavirus yet, but once back in Paris, he may be, he thinks. I tell him that being cooped up is getting to me a bit but if one must be cooped up, Citta Della Pieve is certainly one of the better places to be quarantined. I explain that I take a country walk every day, eschewing the mandated paperwork that I am supposed to carry with me, figuring that if I am stopped by the carabinieri, my stilted Italian will bolster my chances of staying out of prison or at least avoiding a fine.
I tell him that the indomitable spirit of the Italians keeps my spirits up. Last night, for instance, throughout Italy, at the strike of 6 0’clock (PM), everyone opened their windows and played instruments or sang opera from their apartments, homes and balconies, some accompanying the music with a light show of red, white and green, the colors of the Italian flag. While I tried hard to hear voices singing opera from my garage apartment, I could not, but I did hear all the churches in town ring their bells concurrently and it was melodious and uplifting. Also uplifting, during the day, even though I am alone, I can hear the chirpy and laughing voices of children playing in the street – they are all off from school – and the regular thud of their soccer ball beating against the side of my building – a rhythmic metronomic sound – comforts me and makes me feel less alone.
On today’s walk, Chianti and I exit the city walls by Via del Pero (Street of the Pear Tree), cross the street and take the dirt path through the lower lying houses with gardens that hug the ramparts of Citta Della Pieve. While the path does not circle the town completely, by zig-zagging, one can make one’s way all around the town walls either taking the ring road or by detouring into the adjoining country paths. We circle the town completely intending to finish at the grocery store by way of the Butcher to pick up beef that Fabio, the butcher, has prepared for us so that I can finally make the Boeuf Bourguignon that I’ve been craving. We make our way up Via Roma and turn on Via Manni, then take the secret passage to Via Verri. Once at the Butchers, we realize, he doesn’t open again until 4pm. We push onto to the Conad but find the grocery store too doesn’t re-open until late afternoon. Giving up on errands and the human contact that they provide, back home, I decide to make soup instead. From memory, I make my mother’s Soupe de Poireaux. I have cooked potatoes in the fridge. I sauté the leeks in olive oil until they are golden, then add water, onions, and stove braise them till they are soft. Together with the potatoes and chicken stock, I puree them adding salt, pepper and parsley. I pulverize them with my Moulinex soup mixer, then serve the soup in a big bowl. To “Italianize” the French classic, I top the soup with salsa tartufata and a drizzle Olio extra vergine biologica (black truffle sauce and organic extra virgine olive oil) on the surface of the soup. I’m very thirsty from the long walk, so I drink about four glasses of Aqua frizzante with a whole lemon pressed in the water. Delicious! The Boeuf Bourguignon will have to wait till Monday!
Later, I speak to Sean on the phone. She lives here in Citta Della Pieve, but she has decided to stay in Rome where she was convalescing for several weeks after back treatment. Now she’s stuck. I comment that I can’t imagine a better place in which to get stuck than Rome. At least in Rome, contact with human beings is more likely. She shops, she goes to the pharmacy and she walks in the beautiful streets of Rome. She mentions that true to their nature, the Romans are making light of the situation, being jovial and joking about the Coronavirus, all while they follow the rules, which is quite a detour from the norm for Romans. She’s renting the same Airbnb she rented last spring, I remember it looking like a mini version of the Marriott Marquis on Times Square in New York, it’s circular with windows all around. It doesn’t rotate, but she feels connected to the outdoors just the same and she draws comfort from that connection. The flipside of the isolation caused by Coronavirus is the acceleration of social connectivity that it engenders. In the elevator, she met one of her neighbors from downstairs and within the time it takes to travel between floors, they decide to have drinks together. At her apartment, they mind the 1-meter gap and chat over Prosecco and Campari. New friendships forged and instant therapy in the time of the coronavirus lockdown!
We chat about online dating (Bumble), recent films, losing our The Raffaello exhibit tickets because all theater, music performances and art exhibits have been cancelled, and how sweaty and unwell Donald Trump looked during his address to the nation on Wednesday. We both wonder if perhaps the Brazilian Chargé d’Affairs has infected the president with the Coronavirus? Now wouldn’t that be ironic? After all his denying its imminent threat, were he to contract it, wouldn’t that change the dynamic of the official US response to the health crisis!
Italian Coronavirus Statistics as of March 14, 2020
Coronavirus Cases: 21,157