Life Under Quarantine in Città Della Pieve, Italy

Day 16, March 24, 2020

I had a terrible day yesterday. I awoke in a foul mood and felt blue. Chianti had pulled his first ever disappearing act during the night. That left me shell-shocked. He’d gone missing for a full 30 minutes at two AM. I was verging on suicidal. He re-appeared licking his chops and waging his tail as if my suicidal thoughts had absolutely no bearing on his good mood. I couldn’t sleep after that. So, Monday, I could hardly open my eyes and had to drink four shots of espresso first thing in the morning. It was that or place toothpicks between my eyelids to pry my eyes open. Still in bed, I read the news headlines on my I-phone. Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister of Italy, had handed down a new decree with much stricter measures following Saturday’s spike in deaths to 793. Along with factory closures, all construction sites were to be halted. That signaled the end of work on my apartment and a major disruption to my summer work schedule. I would not be able to leave on time to open my houses for rentals in Beach Haven, New Jersey. I threw the phone aside on my rumpled bed, dug under the covers and groaned. Shortly after that, my phone tinkled, signaling a message. It was from Enrico, my contractor, informing me that all work on my jobsite was halted as decreed by the government. Aaargh!

Monday was a total wash, even though I had many things to do. I couldn’t do anything except mope around and watch the news. I mustered enough energy to whip up some comfort food because I was definitely in need of comfort.

I can’t eat gluten anymore because of my thyroid. I also can’t eat sugar. But I needed DESSERT, in a big way and only a baked good would do the trick yesterday. I decided on the Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Lemon Pound Cake that I had wanted to make a few days ago, but didn’t get around to baking.

Since I’m eating mostly high protein these days, in my blender, I mixed six eggs, with the juice of six lemons, the zest of three lemons (I used a peeler and scraped the zest off that way, since I don’t have a well-equipped kitchen in my temporary digs), ¼ cup of olive oil, a couple of drops of vanilla, a quarter cup of stevia, and a small container of Fage 2% Greek Yogurt. In a separate big bowl, I mixed 2 ½ cups of almond flour with a packet of leavening powder and a ¾ teaspoon of salt. Once I had stirred the dry mix, I poured the liquid into the dry and mixed it with a fork. I then poured the very liquid mix into a very well oiled (olive oil) loaf pan. I baked the loaf at 350 for 45 minutes. After removing the loaf pan from the oven, I cooled it for an hour. I’ve eaten a couple of slices since yesterday. I pour a little Activa plain yogurt on top to pretend its icing. It tastes amazing, very tart, lemony and it’s plenty sweet. It needs to be kept in the refrigerator because its almost like a custard cake, very moist on the inside.

I also made a curry, ginger, pumpkin & carrot soup during the day that I saved for dinner. I mixed four carrots with four big chunks of pumpkin and brought them to a boil in two quarts of water with two vegetable bouillon cubes. I turned down the heat and added two teaspoons of ginger and two teaspoons of curry powder. At the end, I added a can of full fat coconut milk. I added salt and pepper to taste and let it simmer for another 10 minutes. It was very spicy and soothing. The perfect antidote to frustration!

I’ve become a bit of a news junkie during this pandemic. So, at breakfast, I started with the PBS Newshour, a replay from the night before, Sunday. I then walked the dog, but immediately upon returning, I tuned into TF1, the French News, a replay of the 8 o’clock news from Sunday night. Then I migrated over to radio and listened to the BBC World Service. I then turned on the TV to watch Italian News. I comprehend probably 50% of Italian news. They deliver the news staccato-style, rapid fire fast. Ratatatat Ratatat Ratatat. The Italian newscasters are mostly women, many of them, saucy, wearing sexy garb. The field reporters seem to be mostly men who have allot more hair than newsmen do in America. I’m getting better at Italian, day by day. The TV has been good company and decent instruction in Italian. Isolation has its perks.

By the end of the day, having watched so much depressing news, I was so down in the dumps, I couldn’t move. I was fused with the sofa. I was suffering from media brain and had absolutely zero energy. Only Chianti’s organic needs motivated me to slide off the sofa periodically to accompany him to the closest outdoor post for pet relief. I felt so bad all day that I decided to throw the towel in and go to bed with a book at 8:30PM. I needed something light, some book that would make me laugh, light reading requiring no effort at all. I turned to Dave Sedaris for some levity. He always lifts me out of my blue periods.

So, this morning, when Enrico, my contractor, suggested we meet at the apartment, I felt relief. At least we could talk about what the plan would be after the hiatus, after the mandated stoppage of all works. After all this coronavirus madness. I prepared a note that I translated into Italian with my ideas of how to move forward in spite of the work stoppage and brought it with me to meet with him at the apartment.

Enrico has a smile that travels the distance of his entire face. Even when he wears a mask, it shines. His eyes curl up at the edges and they smile broadly. He has dark, deep set eyes that give him a soft, but thoughtful air. He has a shock of thick white hair that belies his age. He has no wrinkles. When he works, his hair absorbs dust and defies gravity. He morphs into Back to the Future’s, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown. He also looks a bit like Captain Kangaroo, but only a bit. He can’t be more than late forties. I met him when I was staying for a long weekend at Catherine’s, the first weekend I came to Città Della Pieve. He had transformed the underground cave below her property into a world-class wine cellar and remodeled a bathroom and stairwell. She highly recommended him. She told me he was the kindest man in Città Della Pieve. I saw the work he’d done and was impressed. I never hire contractors without getting a second bid, but I did with Enrico, so sure was I that he was the right person for my much more involved top-to-bottom strip-down remodel and renovation. I have not been disappointed. After nine months of working with him, I think she’s right. He is the kindest man in Città Della Pieve.

He wasn’t always a contractor. He didn’t come from a family of contractors. His father worked for the Italian Railways. He started off working in the hotel business and then worked in grocery retail. He decided to switch careers late, a rarity in Italy. He was bored working in the grocery store and took up a friend’s offer to join him on a worksite. He took a liking to working with his hands. He worked independently or partnering with his friend from 1994 to 2001, at which time he started his own business. His business grew and he had to take on workers. Currently, he’s managing seven jobsites and six workers. The number of jobsites he manages vary, but he continues to roll up his sleeves and work the sites himself, alongside his workers. He’s always verifying the work they do. His first expertise is masonry, but he’s proficient with wood and can handle carpentry jobs as well. Today, the day after the new strict decree by Prime minister Conte closing all construction sites, he agreed to install the new windows in my apartment to ensure that the rain wouldn’t get in and destroy the newly-laid, hand-hewn, Umbrian tiles floors. He had to obtain special permission from the police chief to do so. He’s dedicated. If he had performed the work without the permission, he risked losing his license, receiving a significant fine and possibly going to prison. After tomorrow, however, no work at all will be permitted. He’s going to clean up the jobsite and then I will take over doing whatever I can on my own, mostly sanding and painting.


Italian COVID-19 News:

Italy reported a sharp rise in its coronavirus death toll on Tuesday, with 743 more victims, breaking a two-day trend that had fueled hopes the epidemic may be slowing in the country.

This followed a two-day trend when 601 died on Monday and 651 died on Sunday. On Saturday, a record 793 died. The number of 8 holds in Città Della Pieve.

In other news:

Discovered by scientists in Washington yesterday, a 500-million-year-old, primordial organism, described as a worm-like creature that was determined to be a forerunner to most animals, including humans. Strangely, I found this very comforting – almost warm and fuzzy – during this worldwide coronavirus debacle.

Foremost, terrible news came out of Spain today. Spanish military personnel discovered elderly people dead in their beds while performing disinfecting duties ordered by the government. An investigation was launched, but it is supposed that the home was abandoned by personnel. (Source: Forbes, UK, reporter, Isabelle TOGOH).

This event inspires tommorrow’s subject for my blog: the elderly, the isolated and COVID-19.  Isolation is not only a by-product of what we are living with the coronavirus epidemic, it is a mandate by more and more governments around the world. As one ages, loneliness becomes one’s co-pilot. The daily drudge of spending one’s day alone causes stress and depression in a significant population of older adults. Since so many people of all ages who live alone have been forced to self-isolate, they have had a taste of what it feels like to be old and alone. Empathy has grown for the aged population.

Italy is second only to Japan with 22.4% of its population 65 years or older. It is one of the reasons that COVID-19 has claimed so many lives.


Share of the Population Ages 65 and Older, 2015Share of the Population With a Remaining Life Expectancy of 15 Years or Less

Source: International Institute for Applied System Analysis (IIASA), Aging Demographic Data Sheet 2018 (Laxenburg, Austria: IIASA, 2018).



Coronavirus Cases: