Life under Quarantine in Città Della Pieve

Day 12 & 13, The Weekend Edition, March 21-22, 2020

Italian health workers singing the Italian National Anthem
Parisians, in spirit at least, applaud the caregivers and police for their work, as the coronavirus ravaged communities across the country, in Paris, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. In France at 8pm sharp local time French citizens leaned out of windows and dangled from balconies and began applauding and whistling in unison to thank those on the front lines of the pandemic that has already claimed scores of lives. The move was an organized initiative that began circulating on social media. France has been on effective lockdown since midday on Tuesday as French President Emmanuel Macron tightened restrictions on movement to fight the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
FILE – In this March 16, 2020, file photo, Health workers react as people applaud from their houses in support of the medical staff that are working in COVID-19 outbreak in Barcelona, Spain. At a time of unfathomable isolation, people in many European cities hit hard by the new coronavirus are taking at least a minute to come together in gratitude as they stand at open windows or on balconies singing, cheering and applauding. (AP Photo/Joan Mateu)

Images of homages to health workers and their patients via musical flash mobs on flag-strewn balconies in Italy and a poignant nightly sound and light show at La Tour Eiffel that accompanies a resounding nationwide clapping warm the heart and lift it just a little. But despite these small demonstrations of the human spirit, grim realities persist: health workers pushed to their limits, grim news of the homeless dead, profiteering scalpers of masks and fake hand sanitizer sold at 10 euros a bottle, break-ins to steal medication and respirators, and health official’s cars being broken into to steal medical ID’s. These stories dominate the news. 793 dead in Italy on Saturday, bringing the total to a staggering 4800 total, well beyond the number of casualties in China. The military has been mobilized as reinforcement in Italy, France and Spain and makeshift hospitals are being erected on parking lots and in hotels, cruise ships and military vessels.  As Emmanuel Macron reiterated eight times during his speech last week, Nous sommes en guerre. We are at war. At war with an invisible, all powerful enemy.


The Great Pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx and Luxor’s Karnak Temple all closed Saturday. The world is going dark and profits from blood money sully the hands of those that are supposed to lead us into the light. But the DC “swamp” if it is indeed that seems light years away now. I’m floating in a pleasant reverie, relaxed and warm. For a moment, the dull feeling of dread that lives  in my chest these days, dissipates.

Eyes squinting, almost shut, I look towards the sun from my terrace. I’m sitting on the roof hatch, soaking in the late afternoon sun of central Italy. It’s warm and delicious. The masons just finished the mortar this morning. When I saw them exiting the great ornamental gate of my palazzo, they told me the terrazzo was just dry enough to walk on. 

My heart jumped. Elation is so rare in this time of doom. I finally see the end of this building project. With access to parks and green spaces newly vietato with the Italian Government’s further tightening of controls on outings, I’ve found the only accessible patch of green in town. Chianti is running figure eights on the green next to La Rocca that is opposite my palazzo. I’m half hollering to the masons across the traffic circle at the top of Via Marconi as they exit my apartment building. I am waiting on Jamie, Paola’s husband to whom I promised some specimen of French cuisine weeks ago, before quarantine. It was supposed to be delivered by way of a dinner party with friends. Now, I, like the restaurants in Italy, have adapted to providing take-away.

Vietato! We are no longer allowed to walk in the Public Park

After meeting Jamie and Daisy, the  darling-but-oft-testy fox terrier, to hand over the frozen tin of Boeuf Bourguignon, I enter the gate, climb the stairs and bypass the apartment, taking the door from the hallway that leads straight to my own private rooftop terrace. Heaven! I’m finally ensconced in my own little dusty paradise, above the roof tops of Città Della Pieve.

On our terrace, Chianti is lying in the same place as yesterday. He’s plastered against the cool stucco ’ed wall, next to the remarkable automated hinge mechanism of my three-meter-long roof hatch that I sourced in the Netherlands with much frustrated ado. I believe I now know where home on the terrace will be for him – and for me. I must order a reclinable beach chair tomorrow from Amazon. It will be the best friend of the view and sunsets from this vantage point. For the first time, I can imagine this place as home. I know I will spend most of my time here. It is beyond marvelous. 

The sun is starting to set behind me; my view is blocked, but I know it will be a stupendous sunset, one of a thousand that I must look forward to beyond the craziness of our current existence, beyond Coronavirus and the decimation that it has brought upon this gentle and beautiful country that I now call home for a portion of the year. 

I do not have the 240-degree view that I will ultimately have after all construction is completed. The workmen have installed plywood on the westside to protect the roof while they levy dry sacks of concrete onto the terrace by way of the remaining scaffold lattice on the exterior wall of the palazzo. Most of the scaffolding was removed weeks ago because there are few building materials that still need to be hoisted. All the rough work is finished. We are nearing the end of the building process. The windows are going in this week. We are expecting the stairwell I designed to arrive next week. Soon the kitchen will be installed. I can’t wait to get settled into my apartment and – more importantly – up on my terrace, where I will eat most of my meals and snuggle with Chianti on a sofa I have yet to order.

This nesting tendency is a strange departure from my current gypsy-like life. Even though there are no bathrooms, or a kitchen installed now, I can visualize myself in this place, finished. I can even smell home. It feels wonderful. I know I will spend 90 percent of my time up here on the terrace, with its 240-degree view, working, writing, reading, thinking, doing yoga, and socializing with friends as soon as the distancing rules are relaxed and proximity becomes the norm again.

The sun is very low now, lower than I had planned when I decided to spend my afternoon here. The breeze has a cold clip to it. I had wanted to do an online Vinyasa yoga class here with one of my favorite yoga instructors. Effervescent beach mama, Liz, can now be beamed all the way from my favorite yoga studio, Yoga Bohemia, on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. But I got daylight savings time screwed up. Right now, there is only a five-hour time difference with America, so I missed the class. I’ll try to catch the studio owner, Katie, tomorrow. Her class is in the morning. I’m in need of both some kick-ass Vinyasa and some soothing Yin for a more meditative calming effect on my stressed corona-nerves.

“Vigiles” patrolling Via Vanucci

The isolation that social distancing (I still hate the expression, despite its ubiquity in the media) causes, and, in my case, the darkness that it imposes. It’s starting to drive me crazy. I live in a garage apartment with no natural light. I have gone outside to sit four times since this morning. Once I sat just outside my garage apartment on a curb, after the first mini dog walk of the day, but my landlord and neighbor both told me I should be careful since the vigiles (the patrolmen and women) would come by soon, and I might get a ticket. When Chianti and I set off for our main walk which would take us all the way to Leonardo and Raymond’s house at the end of Ripavecchia, I stopped for a spell on a park bench just beside the public park to read the signs. Then, I let Chianti run ahead. 

Chianti can’t read signs despite being a highly intelligent – no, the most intelligent – dog on earth. Sure enough, as I’d been told, the parks have all been closed now, not just in the big cities of Italy, but here, too. On top of Coronavirus, it is larvae season in Città Della Pieve and city officials worry that dogs might eat larvae in the park and be poisoned. There are notices posted about the larvae. I’ve never been able to understand what the local larvae evolve into, but I just know the larvae are dangerous for dogs. 

So Chianti ignores the signs and runs full speed ahead, then darts out of view. I hear a slight sound of water splashing, not a robust diving sound, just a delicate plop. Sure enough, Chianti has found the tiny pond at the top of Via Vanni across the street from the now closed, Hotel Vanucci. The ponds are on the promenade that run along the football pitch, the football pitch that on any other weekend would be occupied by the local team playing a match while fans and players’ parents cheered on Pievese Calcio (soccer).  I groan when I see him shaking the water from his coat. He looks at me to gauge my annoyance level, knowing I react differently in different locations. At the beach, he’s encouraged to go fetch tennis balls and ride the waves, which he does with aplomb. Here, I’m halfway annoyed since I figure the bath in the pond has done some of  the work that awaits me at home. When we get home, I’ll have to give him a shower, but at least the pond plunge has washed the rolled-in scat from his coat, superficially at least.  I look in the pond and notice goldfish. Chianti takes this as a cue to jump in, which he does, ostensibly terrorizing said fish. I stand back and click a few photos at this point, having given up on any disciplinary action. He’s having too much fun. Besides, something about him jumping in a pond that is surely off limits gives me a frisson of having conspired with him in doing something naughty. My life is rather beige these days. I have to take my excitement where I can get it.

Later, after wrestling with Chianti in the shower, I sit on the steps of The Instituto d’Istruzione Superiore Italo Calvino, across from Santa Maddalena Church, and ogle the red-brick façade of this sanctuary that many people miss when they visit Città Della Pieve. In the low light of late afternoon, the sun casts a golden hue over its bricks that span many renovations and represent different periods in history, all very old and craggy. The building is sublimely elegant though. It’s one I never would have noticed had I not needed to get out of my dark apartment to let Chianti dry outside in the late afternoon sun. One walks right by it without noticing it. But it’s worth a stop. While I’m sitting on the steps of the Instituto, Chianti is wildly rolling and scratching his back on the pavement. He goes a little nuts after a bath. He hates clean water, but can’t resist smelly, scuzzy or filthy water. Even in Paris, he’ll roll in gutter puddles. As I gaze at the beautiful brick façade of Santa Maddalena, I let him off the leash to do his post-shower, rubbing ritual. He sets off, rubbing each side of his body along a long strip of perfectly porous brick surfaces made up of public buildings and private houses. His skin is crawling with the infernal feeling of clean. He hates it. These days, whenever we go on a country walk, he rolls in poo, systematically.  I’m constantly bathing him. It’s frankly getting very old. I spend my life with wet jeans and must change my socks and shoes twice a day. A small cross to bear given the world situation, I admit.

Now it’s time to bake my Lemon Pound Cake.