Life under Quarantine in Citta Della Pieve, Italy

March 15, 2020, Sunday

Day 6 – Quarantine:

With one hand holding my phone to my ear listening to Valerie and the other scratching my head incredulously while we discuss the toilet paper raids in the US, UK and Australia, I’m looking at photos on my phone of what she’s describing. It’s a purely Anglo-Saxon phenomenon. We have no problem finding carta igenica (loo roll as most English speakers here refer to it) here in Italy.  I tell my Franco-American, perpetually rushed, and over-wrought friend who’s calling me from Bethesda, Maryland, that just today, I replenished my stock. At that moment, she’s at the grocery store, herself, standing at the top of a superhighway-length aisle that has been devastated by shoppers who have somehow gotten it in their heads that COVID-19 causes massive diarrhea. Her boys are returning from college for an enforced home stay and she knows she’ll need the usual stock, but alas, she’ll have none.

As we chat, she meanders over to the pasta aisle to stock up on filling food for perpetually hungry grown boys. Another superhighway that has been washed clean by a worried tsunami of mothers convinced that the supply chain in America is broken. As she rails and stomps around the store, I continue to wonder if perhaps I’ve missed something. Are there unfortunate side effects like digestive distress caused by Coronavirus? Maybe I, too, should be preparing by stockpiling paper products and intimate wipes. Memories of backpacking in Asia – Giardia  and Dysentery – come to mind. Just to be on the safe side, I decide to consult the World Health Organization’s website to get a precise definition of Coronavirus and COVID-19. Sure enough, their definition makes no mention of any digestive distress or unpleasant protracted bathroom stays that might ensue.

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).

Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a new strain that was discovered in 2019 and has not been previously identified in humans.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. 

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

However, herewith in black and white is mention of “ zoonotic” animals transmitting Coronavirus. I start worry. Proximity with a capital “P” to Chianti over the years has convinced me that I’ve built an arsenal of antibodies against all transmittable diseases and yes, even, the bubonic plague. How could COVID-19 be so different? He sleeps in my bed, he licks my face, we play hand-to-paw combat, we practically eat off the same plate (Eeeew! I can hear you saying!). I must be so completely disease averse at this point. And yet, the little phrase in the Coronavirus definition has me spooked. ZOONOTIC, a chilling word if ever there was one. I shall likely have nightmares about it tonight. I hope I can sleep. Chianti is sleeping in HIS bed tonight!

I left the house early this morning to take Chianti on a walk in the immediate vicinity of the apartment. I heard the Italian version of my name, “Carolina!” called from above. It was my landlady, Lucia. She’s a lovely woman with a perpetual smile that beams the warmth of her soul. She’s the polar opposite of the Roman Landlady I had immediately after arriving in Italy. We chat for a bit and I ask her about Sunday hours for the main grocery store just outside of town. I tell her I’m going to bake bread and need a pan. She tells me not to bother buying one; she’ll lend me one. I offer to come up to collect it. She tells me, “No, no! I’ll leave it for you inside your apartment.” Clearly people are very wary of any contact at all! So, I go on my way with Chianti. We slip out the town walls via the closest exit and cross over the ring road to the gravel path and go look at a lady planting her vegetable garden. Chianti races back and forth in tandem with her black and white dog who hugs the garden wall below, tandem tails waving greetings. Chianti does his business and we walk a bit further along the road that runs parallel to the ring road. There is a sharp chill in the wind, the sky is an exquisite blue.

When I return to the apartment, Lucia has left me not only a loaf pan to use to make my bread, but, on my stove top, she’s left me a portion of home-made pasta sauce she’s made for her family. Little post-it notes dot the stove hood; she signs them with hearts.

I’m trying not to eat gluten these days due to my thyroid condition, so I have purchased Chestnut Flour to make my bread. While I’m not doing a keto diet, I do some keto inspired concoctions. I do not follow recipes very often. I improvise. Today, I decide on a Chestnut flour base bread with Olives, Artichokes, Walnuts, and Pecans. I mix 5 eggs with ½ a cup of good olive oil, a teaspoon of salt, and a teaspoon of leavening powder (its not called baking powder here but I’m sure its equivalent). I beat all of that together and then add in a cup and ¾ of the Chestnut flour. I pit, then slice a half cup of black olives and slice and dice a ¾ cup of fresh artichoke hearts and mix those in. I then add a cup of mixed pecans and walnuts. I mix it with a fork and spoon it into an olive-oil-greased loaf pan and bake it at 150 centigrade (probably about 350 F) for 35 minutes. I let it cool an hour and then cut a hunk because it crumbles if you slice it too thinly. I cut the hunk in four and eat that as a snack before my afternoon main meal.

My fridge is filled with leftovers and a few fuzz-covered strawberries. It’s time to stock-up. So I pile Chianti into the Cinquecento and drive to the big grocery store on the edge of town for some excitement on this Sunday. At the entrance, I slip on a pair of the free plastic gloves that are provided for shopping, collect a shopping trolley and wait outside at the door for a short time to get in. The Conad is allowing only ten people to enter at once – and this is the BIG grocery store!  Because it is a Sunday, the wait is short; during the week, the clerk tells me, there is a cue and much confusion.

Because I am a reasonable European now, I buy only one 4-pack of toilet paper. I note that there is plenty of toilet paper, Clorox, plastic gloves, and hand wipes in the grocery store. I take some photographs but resist any overwhelming Anglo-saxon urges to stock-up. I’m feeling smug, very proud of my reserved shopping habits when I get too close to an employee stocking merchandise and she yelps. I jump and drop my clementine’s. They roll everywhere. She’s madly gesturing for me to back off even though I am much farther from her than the 1-meter prescribed distance. Nerves are raw! I drop to the floor and gather the little orange balls that have splayed in every which way forgetting surface germs in my addled state. At this point, my plastic gloves have popped, and my fingers have touched the floor! EEGADS!

When we return, there is another gift from my landlord. Lucia has left me home-made biscotti with almond and hazelnuts. I can’t resist. I taste one, then another, and another. They are so fresh that they are not completely cool, and some are still a bit soft in the middle. I’ve never had biscotti so recently taken from the oven. Soon, all but one is gone. I give the last one to Chianti and we take a nap together on the sofa. Gluten be damned!

March 15, 2020: Italy Coronavirus Cases: