Città Della Pieve, Quarantine Day 9

Wednesday, March 18, 2020, The Corriere Pievese, the Local online newspaper, reported that today was the, “Fifth day without new cases. We are at a crucial moment. We will be doing street sanitizing.” Basically, that means that they used a bleaching product to clean all the streets in town in order to further ensure that the virus does not propagate. They also provided local Coronavirus statistics in the immediate vicinity:

Città Della Pieve           8 cases (3 as reported yesterday in my blog and 5 others, all within the same family from Canale, a neighborhood of Città della Pieve)

Castiglione del Lago    7 Cases

Magione                         1 Cases

Chiusi                             20 Cases

Midnight, Thursday, March 19, 2019:

I was not going to write tonight. I’m not feeling well. I thought those four words were alarmist, so it was best to keep them to myself and skip writing for a day, but then I decided that I was probably not alone. After speaking to Jean, my Scottish friend who started off being my dog sitter, I confirmed that lots of people could relate to this newfound hyper-sensitivity to one’s health. I left the house to walk the dog with wet hair several days ago. Today, actually yesterday now, I woke up feeling crappy. I had a bad cough. I feel achy. I had a horrible headache. My forehead felt warm. I was monumentally tired. My throat hurt. Ergo, I had a cold. I’m not going to die. Hypersensitivity to any little ache is giving way to emotions ranging from worry to full-on panic. The last thing I want to do is bother a doctor over a cold. I think they probably have better things to do at this critical impasse than talk to me about a cough!

Just to be safe though, Lucia, the landlady, has sent the name and phone number of her cousin, a local doctor. If my symptoms get worse, I will call him.

I made the beef broth, brodo, this morning, thinking I would finally make the Boeuf Bourguignon that I have been talking about for days. The beef and ingredients are in the fridge. One more day and I’ll have to toss them. Given how I felt, though, I had to abandon cooking. I’d gotten suited up for the occasion, however. I was quite a sight. I’d donned surgical gloves, a ski mask (no surgical masks to be had in Italy), and an apron over my P.J.’s. I planned to distribute little containers of Boeuf Bourguignon to Jamie, Paola’s husband who’s here alone in Città Della Pieve with Daisy, the blind Fox Terrier, and another container to my landlord’s family.  I didn’t’ want to risk transmitting COVID-19 to them via Boeuf Bourguignon should that be what I had in lieu of the common cold. Better safe than sorry, hence the terrorist gourmet attire. As soon as I was suited up for the cooking extravaganza, the texts started rolling in. Feeling ragged, and a bit hot from the ski mask, I removed the surgical gloves and mask, and started responding to texts. Then the phone started ringing. Friends from all different epochs of my life popped up on the screen. I think people think I’m going off the deep end because I’ve been writing a blog. I didn’t realize that writing a blog equated to an unbalanced mental state. Everyone seems very concerned about me. It’s great all this attention! I must continue to promote the idea that my mind is failing me. By the time I’d pulled on a fresh set of surgical gloves to begin the browning the beef, I couldn’t stand up any longer I felt so badly. Back to the sofa, cellphone in hand, reclined position, sans mask, 2-liter bottle of Frizzante on the coffee table, thermometer jauntily positioned out of the right side of my mouth, I read texts and listened to Chianti’s modulated groaning moans, “Mom, please take me out, I really need to go, PLeeeease, NOW!”   

              So, the Boeuf Bourguignon will have to wait until tomorrow. I hope the meat will last and not be smelly. A la Madame Recamier, in a reclined position, I read through personal texts and WhatsApp messages, then proceeded to scan dozens of predominantly impersonal emails, the quotidian treasure hunt for a single personal one within all the junk, pseudo-professional ones and bonified weirdly-esoteric-ones-you-just-don’t-know-how-they-got-in-there-ones. There, tucked in between a message from “Tarmo from Procurement Flow” and “Baker Interiors Inc” – both ostensibly seeking business from my now dormant US design company, is a personal email from my English teacher at St. Margaret’s School, Shannon Spears. I heard from our class representative, Dana, that she is retiring this year. It’s hard to imagine, frozen in time as she is for me with her 1970’s Dorothy Hamill haircut and signature hand gestures when she made a point in class.  I remember clearly the day she arrived on campus. I was in the eighth grade and had already been at the boarding school for a year. She taught upper-class girls, not squirts like me, but she ruled my dorm with an iron fist, and I was a hellion in need of taming at 13. Later, she had quite an influence on me and became a friend of sorts.

              Miss Spears (I can’t bring myself to call her “Shannon”) wants to know If I wouldn’t mind if she uses my blogs in her Seniors English Honors course to make relevant quarantine in modern times. Coincidentally, Camus’ The Plague was on their Spring Break reading list. It’s one of my favorites and of course most relevant presently. I’m not sure if I’m to be Dr. Bernard Rieux or Jean Tarrou, but Città Della Pieve will stand in for Oran as the modern setting of La Peste.

              I’ve taken some cues from a New York Times Book Editor named Tina Jordan (see below) for future Quarantine Reading. To help my Italian, I’m currently reading an Italian book, in Italian, by Domenico Starnone, Lacci. It was translated into English by Jhumpa Lahiri. I plan to read it in English afterwards. It won the Strega Award, like our National Book Award. Starnone’s “scalding and incisive” concise novel is about marriage and family bonds that come undone in the wake of an affair. I’ve just watched the first season of Elena Ferrante’s L’Amica Geniale on HBO. The second season is just about to come out. It’s amazing! I thought it would help my Italian, but then quickly realized that the characters speak mostly a Napolitano dialect that won’t get me far in Umbria. I’m planning to read L’Amica Geniale  in Italian next, while listening to it in Italian on  Audiobooks. I used this method when I read In Altre Parole and it helped my Italian pronunciation and spelling.

I’ve also got plans to read several books about Pandemics. I’m particularly interested in the Spanish Flu since seeing the fabulous movie, 1917. Most people don’t know that the Spanish Flu (a H1N1 flu, like the Swine Flu) infected 27% of the world population (500 million) and killed more people than did both world wars COMBINED (between 17 and 50 million)! They also don’t know that the Spanish flu had nothing to do with Spain. Spain sat out the First World War as a Neutral Country. The Flu originated in Kansas.

After I finish Lacci, I’m going to read Barbara Tuchman’s, A Distant Mirror. I’ve been meaning to read it for years. Other books on my list for the coming months are below……

Here’s a full list I borrowed from the New York Times:

7 Essential Books About Pandemics

As the world grapples with the coronavirus outbreak, these works remind us that humans have faced deadly plagues for millenniums.

By Tina Jordan

Feb. 24, 2020

If you’re looking for context, history or scientific information about the spread of disease, these books are a good place to start.


And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic,’ by Randy Shilts

As Shilts writes in the prologue of his award-winning 1987 book: “The story of these first five years of AIDS in America is a drama of national failure, played out against a backdrop of needless death.” He called out local and federal governments, scientists, the news media, politicians and leaders in the gay community, adding: “It is a tale that bears telling, so that it will never happen again, to any people, anywhere.”


The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World,’

 by Steven Johnson

In August 1854, many poor Londoners “suddenly took sick and began dying. Their symptoms included upset stomach, vomiting, gut cramps, diarrhea and racking thirst. Whatever the cause, it was fast — fast to kill (sometimes within 12 hours of onset) and fast in spreading to new victims,” David Quammen wrote in his review of this fascinating and detailed account of the city’s worst cholera epidemic. “Seventy fatalities occurred in a 24-hour period, most within five square blocks, and hundreds more people were in danger.”


The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus,’ by Richard Preston

“The scenes in ‘The Hot Zone,’ a riveting new nonfiction thriller by Richard Preston, will remind you of things you’ve seen in the movies,” Michiko Kakutani wrote in her 1994 review. “The scary part is that these scenes aren’t the invention of an imaginative screenwriter or novelist. They’re the product of months of reporting by the New Yorker contributor Richard Preston, who set out to tell the story of the deadly new viruses that appear to be emerging from Africa’s rain forests, and the men and women who are trying to contain them before they can spread, like AIDS, into the human population at large.”


Flu: The Story Of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It,’ by Gina Kolata

“In the autumn of 1918, when the war in Europe was almost over, a terrible plague came upon the earth. People called it the Spanish flu, but its innocuous name did not stop it killing twice as many as the Great War itself,” David Papineau wrote in his review of this book by Kolata, a medical reporter at The Times. “In the United States alone, half a million perished that winter, gasping for breath as the infection squeezed life from their lungs.” Could such a deadly influenza return in this day and age? “Flu” is about the scientists who worry about such a possibility, and as Kolata explains, they “remain very nervous indeed.”


The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Humankind for 500,000 Years,’ by Sonia Shah

“Sonia Shah’s tour-de-force history of malaria will convince you that the real soundtrack to our collective fate … is the syncopated whine-slap, whine-slap of man and mosquito duking it out over the eons,” Abigail Zuger wrote in The Times.


A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century,’ by Barbara Tuchman

In her award-winning 1978 narrative, Tuchman argued that many of the disruptive forces at work in the 14th century — war, religious schisms, the plague — played out again during the 20th century (hence the book’s title).


Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82,’

by Elizabeth A. Fenn

“The American Revolution coincided with a smallpox plague that swept across North America, decimating the population and determining the course of history,” the paper’s reviewer, Janet Maslin, wrote. “From the nature of the many references on which Ms. Fenn’s lively research draws, it’s clear that the epidemic has generally been regarded as a footnote to the full story of the Revolutionary War. … Not this time: Ms. Fenn’s entire focus is on the disease, how it spread and where its larger importance lies.”