Life under Quarantine in Citta Della Pieve, Italy

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Day 10, Quarantine in Città della Pieve, Italy

Cairn on Little Compton Beach, Rhode Island, Artist: Andrea Pilling

My French phone has adopted an annoying tinkling sound when texts arrive. I’m not sure how. I don’t remember selecting a ring tone. I’m still floating in sleepy land when a series of tinkles arrive in rapid succession. Lucia, my landlady, fires off series of messages likes she’s handling bump-stocked gun. I shuffle to the bathroom, click on the light, and see that I have eight new messages from her. Immediately, the phone rings. It’s her. I haven’t activated my brain yet. The left frontal lobe and left temporal lobe still think their safely ensconced in the pillow, and they’re the guys responsible for language processes and comprehension. “Buongiorno Carolina! Look out your window,” she sings to me in Italian. I shuffle to the front and open the window. There are three people outside in the middle of the tiny street, pointing upwards. I don’t see anything. Everyone is gesticulating, so, even though, I’m in my pajamas, I open the door at the center of the two windows, step outside in my socks, and bump into a pair of muffins dangling on a makeshift pulley. Lucia has lowered the muffins to the ground in front of my ground floor garage apartment from her third-floor apartment. She’s so sweet! I laugh and thank her, then grab the dog who’s caught the string the muffins are attached to in his mouth; he thinks the muffins are for him. We proceed to wrestle and finally I snatch them from his jaws.

Even after my breakfast smoothie, I’m exhausted, I fall asleep while watching the PBS NewsHour and drinking my cappuccino. I feel too bad to walk the dog. Lucia sends me Paolo, the neighbor from upstairs. He takes Chianti out for a five-minute stroll. He returns, nods, salutes, then tells me that Chianti has done his business.

Back on the sofa, I tune into the German News and watch at bit of Angela Merkel’s speech, but I don’t speak German. It’s rare for German Chancellors to address the German people on TV. It’s the day after the infections jumped 1000 to just under 12,000 cases in Germany. She’s very somber. I read a synopsis of the speech in French online. She tells the people that Germany faces its greatest challenge since reunification – no, since World War II! It is critical that the German people come together and follow the guidelines set forth by the government. Self-isolation is a necessity to combat the spread of COVID-19. Spring has gotten the Germans giddy, as it always does, and in Berlin, young people are draped on green lawns throughout the many parks, enjoying the clement weather. In Spain, confirmed coronavirus cases surged 25 percent within 24 hours and according to Spanish authorities, cases have risen from 13,716 on Wednesday to 17,147 on Thursday. Deaths increased from 598 to 767.

After Italy’s record death toll of almost 500 on Wednesday, it hit a grim milestone today, 3,405 deaths, surpassing China for the largest number of coronavirus-related deaths. China reported no new cases of COVID-19, a first, which provided a much need glimmer of hope worldwide. Another glimmer of hope came with another premature announcement by President Trump.  He incorrectly said in a Thursday news briefing that chloroquine, a malaria drug, had been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to fight the novel coronavirus and that there were plans to “make that drug available almost immediately.” But after Trump spoke, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn clarified that chloroquine would first need to be tested for use on the virus. “We want to do that in the setting of a clinical trial, a large pragmatic clinical trial,” Hahn said.

Anybody who back-packed through Asia in the 90’s, is familiar with chloroquine. I took it for six months when I travelled through Southeast Asia on my sabbatical travel year, but got Malaria anyway when I encountered chloroquine-resistant mosquitos in Flores, Indonesia. It’s an inexpensive drug that is readily available. If they can establish the correct dosage and the testing is successful, it would certainly be a milestone in the battle against COVID-19.

I called Raymond and Leonardo in Australia this morning to find out how they are holding up down under. Weeks before the madness of quarantine started, they had to rush out of Italy to Victoria where Leonardo’s father is in a nursing home, very ill. It seemed the end was nigh. But it’s been weeks now, and they are still in a holding pattern. Now they will be there for an undetermined period because all flights to Italy from Australia are cancelled until at least the end of May. Everything depends on the father, regardless. Raymond and Leonard live just up the road from the Café Degli Artisti in a beautiful stone house at the end of a curvy road that abuts a promontory with the most amazing view. When I have the odd one too many glasses of wine at dinner there, they let me stay in their guest room. It’s practically my room now. I don’t like driving back on the curvy road after even a second glass of wine. They used to have a trendy restaurant in Greenwich Village but gave up the New York downtown life for a simple Italiano life in the Umbrian countryside. Leonardo, with an “o”, is, as might be guessed, of Italian origin. Raymond is British. Raymond is a prodigious talker. Leonardo is the thoughtful one. They have been extremely good to me, generous, and most instructive in the ways of Pievese Living. They know everyone in town. When I met them, on my birthday, on the first day in Citta Della Pieve, at Catherine’s house on the Selve Vecchie, they brought me a gift and a funny card. They didn’t even know me. I’ll never forget that.

Andrea, my friend from Beach Haven, NJ, called me and we chatted while I finally cooked the Boeuf Bourguignon that everyone’s is getting so bored hearing about. Yes, I finally finished it and non-one has to hear about it anymore. Andrea lives in Newport, Rhode Island, in the winter and Beach Haven, New Jersey in the summer. She invested in an electric bike this past fall and has been riding it on excursions to the lovely surrounding towns of Newport, like Little Compton. Andrea is a talented artist. She, like so many, has been a bit stressed recently. To soothe her nerves, she started painting and doing collages of cairns, little pyramids that serve as markers on a path for most and for others are zen symbols with religious significance in Brittany and in the Himalayas. I want to share some of her artwork in my blog tonight to offer a little beauty and peace in this turbulent and troubled time. Enjoy the beautiful cairns…..