After a week of self-isolation here in Italy, I thought it would be good to give some guidelines of what to expect to those who are in the UK, USA and Ireland who are just starting out on this journey of self-isolation.
1. Be Wary of Click Bate Headlines
Journalism has gone to the dogs. Every media outlet is trying to come up with the next eye catching sensationalist headline. Last night I read a headline ; Italy hit by Earthquake as it battles with Coronavirus. …
There were prayers, OMGs, etc in the comments. On reading the article it states it was in the Tyrrhennian Sea and some people in Sicily felt a vibration. The picture showed a red rings in the centre of Italy. All contrived for clicks and reaction. Italy has literally thousands of earthquakes per year which go unnoticed (there were 2,384 of Mag. 2+ from March 2018 to March 2019. Source: Statista).
If a headline includes; ‘If’, ‘May’, ‘Could’, ‘Might’ it’s hearsay or opinion. What they are writing about hasn’t happened and may never happen. Read between the lines of the article and if they haven’t quoted official sources, don’t take the information on board and move on.
And read articles before you share them, otherwise you could be just adding to the hysteria.
2. Limit your media time. Use a reputable media outlet as your source of information, listen to it once or twice per day at the most and then get on with your day. Do not spend hours scrolling through social media reading scare mongering headlines – you just need to know three things. 1.Self isolate, 2. Wash your hands and 3. We’ll get through this.
3. Don’t stay in your PJs all day. It’s tempting I know, it’s okay for the first day or two but then try to establish a routine for yourself and your family to include some fresh air time and activity.
4. Don’t drink your monthly wine supply in the first three days.
5. Day three seems to be the worst for a lot of people I have spoken to. It seems to be the day reality hits, and we realise this is something serious that we have to deal with. Watch out for each other’s mental wellbeing. It gets better as the days go on – there’s actually a certain calmness or peace that comes after a week of isolation. (I’ll let you know what it’s like after two weeks next week, I may have changed my opinion!).
6. Be gentle with each other. Don’t sweat the small stuff, do your best to avoid arguments over minor things. And remember, if you have little people in the house this can all appear very scary, so be careful of your discussions and the news you listen to.
7. Stop stock piling food. Grocery shops and pharmacies stay open even during the most strict lockdowns. Italy’s shops remain fully stocked because people are acting reasonable and there has never been a shortage of toilet roll. Seriously what is the toilet roll stock buying all about?
8. Respect the quarantine. Don’t ‘cheat’ your self-isolation, by having friends over, dinner parties, play dates. Commit to do it, stay at home and only go out for the essentials once or twice per week and keep your distance from others. The quicker we deal with this like adults the quicker we will be out the other side of it. Familiarise yourself and family elsewhere of how to use Skype and Whats App and stay in touch.
9. Keep risky DIY jobs and rough or boisterous play with kids at a minimum – the last thing you need is to be going to the hospital for a cast to be fitted or something to be stitched when the staff are dealing with this.
10. There is a very high possibility that, at some point, you will think that you, or a member of your family has the virus. It’s the time of year for snuffles – and you’ll become super aware of every sneeze or cough. For me this fear usually grips me in the middle of the night after I have indulged in Number 4 and then broken Number 2 and read scary headlines just before bed. Several times I have semi woken up in the middle of the night, with a sudden urge to reach out and gently feel my husband’s forehead. But because I am half asleep and feeling somewhat panicked, my co-ordination is off and I end up whacking my hand on his face in the dark and then grope my way to his forehead. He’s very understanding, but I think he’s getting a bit tired of it now.
Both he and my son know that I can pounce at any time during the day with the palm of my hand smacked onto their forehead. To be honest, unless they had a raging fever, I wouldn’t know an ‘off’ temperature if I felt it. But whacking them on the forehead gives me a sense of being motherly. If you really do think you have it, be comforted to know that 80 percent of the people that do contract Corona need no medical assistance, you just stay at home and take paracetamol.
And last but not least, use this time for enjoying your family. Relax about the school work a little, do something fun each day, make this a happy memorable time for you and your family. It’s not often we get to spend so much quality time with the ones we love.
We live in house which has two fields behind it. A grass laneway runs down the side of each. At the end there’s a drop where oaks grow, we call this ‘the woods’ even though it is only about four trees deep. Beyond that there are the vineyards of Montemelino – rolling hills with perfect rows of vines.
I do a pet walk a couple of times a day around the fields, it’s a pet walk rather than a dog walk as our two black cats as well as the dogs come along. We have a Bichon Frise named Looney, and a very large half long haired black German Shepard called Asha, which sometimes people mistake for a wolf from a distance.
This morning I decided to bring them out early. I’m in my dressing gown – it’s a long, cosy, grey one with a loose hood. On the way down the steps I grab a large stick from the wood pile just in case the four legged Casanova decides to visit (See Quarantine Day 1 to understand what I am talking about). I walk down the lane towards the woods. The birds are (still) singing and the neighbour’s hen is laying an egg. I’ve never seen this hen, but it clucks and ‘bok, bok, BAWK’s’ way too perfectly, so I imagine it is like a cartoon hen – one dimensional, cross eyed and running around in circles.
I haven’t bothered with shoes. Looney has decided she doesn’t want to walk anymore so I pick her up and tuck her under my arm. I cross the end of the field parallel to the woods and begin my walk back up the other grass lane which faces onto the road. The road is always quiet on weekend mornings, but mass has been cancelled an the supermarket is not open yet so today is extra quiet.
A car approaches and slows to a stop at the top of the lane I see them looking towards me. I think it’s my neighbour so I lift my hand to wave. It’s the one with the stick as the other is full of little white dog. It’s not my neighbour and the car pulls away so quickly that it screeches a bit. Strange.
I get back to the house and get dressed. Without thinking I change from my PJs to just a clean set of PJs. I look in the mirror and realise I haven’t brushed my hair for two days.
I have worked from home for over 10 years and have never done this. What is happening to me? I think it’s because I know that no one will be calling in and I won’t be going anywhere, so my brain has gone from ‘party’ mode to ‘let’s just be a slob’ mode, self grooming can wait.
It also dawns on me why the car sped away – I must have looked like a mad hermit coming out from the woods, long grey hooded cap, barefoot with a wolf and other crazed animals circling, waving my wooden staff at them or maybe a biblical vision with the Lamb of God under my arm… They shouldn’t have been out breaking the quarantine anyway. Maybe that will scare them into staying at home. I feel I have done my bit for the community this morning, now off to the shower with me and to get dressed into proper clothes.
I have a new fear for the world and it’s not the Corona virus. It’s balcony singing.
The Italians have been keeping spirits up by singing and playing instruments from their balconies. It’s beautiful, amazing and the videos of the impromptu concerts are going viral. They have brought tears to my eyes and lumps to my throat.
But something needs to be understood. Italy is the home of opera. Most kids learn a classical or traditional instrument from a young age. Yes, I know most parents around the world give their kids the gift of music from a young age and they work through the grades and do well, but the Italians are different. Every town has it’s Saints days and throughout the summer they have Medieval and cultural festivals, in Autumn towns have a ‘sagra’ which is a festival of the local food and wine harvest. Parades and local traditional music play a big part in all of them.
Kids practice together regularly throughout the year for these regular festivals and continue to participate as adults with the same people they grew up with.
In Italian towns many people live in apartments and a lot of towns have districts that compete against each other during their local festivals such as Siena’s Palio or Gubbio’s Race of the Candles – where three districts carry giant wooden beams to the church on top the hill – don’t ask, it’s fun to see, adrenalin pumping for sure and it all ends with them having a massive street party together. Community spirit is still very strong in Italy.
Many members of these close knit communities live in apartments close together, so when for instance Marco whips out his trumpet on his balcony, Francesca in the apartment two blocks down knows when to join in with her tambourine as she is familiar with his music, and she most probably has played with with him many times before. And so it continues and their impromptu flashmob works out.
My fear for the world is people mimicking this in other parts of the world; garage bands will compete with each other, drummers drumming to their own hard metal beats, wannabes belting out their versions of Whitney Huston and Adele. I’m scared you are all going to be surrounded by a live version of the XFactor reject clips 24/7.
Or people will think they are doing the world a service by playing their Spotify list at top volume in their semi-estate garden, when in fact, a lot of people would prefer to enjoy this God given peace and quiet time.
Be warned and be prepared: skip the toilet roll aisle at this point and stock up on the headache tablets, you could soon be moving on to the music level of the virus.
I’m really crap at this quarantine thing. Four days ago, we did what Irish people call ‘a Big Shop’. It should last us about 10 days, with some supplies lasting a month, with just a need to pop out for milk and one or two other perishables. However my brain, looking at the full fridge and full wine rack seems to have switched to party mode.
I’m a destination wedding planner into Italy so as you can imagine my enquiry emails have tumbleweed blowing through them. I’d usually be doing eight hour days on my computer at this time of year. Now I’m finished work in less than two hours in the morning. So I am making nice lunches and having a glass of wine, which wouldn’t be my normal thing to do on a work day. Sure why not, I’m not driving anywhere? I check in on emails after lunch, more tumbleweed.
As I work from home anyway, I usually have a glass of wine when I close down my computer in the evening. But now my work day is finishing by 4pm so the ‘celebratory closing of the computer glass of wine’ has moved forward three hours. Then I’ll have one with dinner and maybe a nightcap. So now my months supply of wine is already half gone and we’re only on day four. Also party brain has decided I should indulge in my months supply of chocolate, to get over the shock of being quarantined I think. I have two Bounty Bars left. Maybe I could trade toilet roll for chocolate on some online exchange site?
I also have a bit of a guilty conscious going on… you know the way people say;
‘Be careful what you wish for’ or ‘Be careful what you ask the Universe for’ ?
Well, a few weeks ago, I was so overwhelmed with work enquiries and emails I said aloud, “I wish everyone would stop emailing me for a while”. Am I so in tune with the Universe that it sent an International plague on humanity so Rosie could have a break from her emails? Did I cause the Corona virus?
Take note people… be careful what you wish for.
We also forgot to buy salt and toothpaste. We’re crap at this quarantine thing.
This is the map I look at every morning. I look at the stats waiting for the day when the percentages go into minus figures. Poor Italy looks like a squashed lady bird at the moment, I will never look at polka dots the same way.
There’s a real advantage to not being fluent in the language of the country I am living in as I can’t understand what is being said on the radio or by politicians. So I look at my little squashed ladybird map every day and listen to the Irish or Sky news in the evening and that is my news in take for the day. I think it’s good for everyone to limit it at a time like this, as being bombarded by negativity all day just causes anxiety and depression. One news blast and then carry on with your day.
I know a lot of you are concerned about us over here in Italy, but I have to say I am more comfortable being in Italy more than anywhere else in the world during this Corona Virus pandemic and here are five reasons why:
1. Italy Is Self Sufficient
There is no ‘run’ on grocery shops like other countries, even though we are in the eye of the storm, and even if the shops still run out of food they know how to whip up a great meal from what is around them.
I often take the train into Florence or down to Rome I live in between both, I’m quite voyeuristic when it comes to looking in back gardens. And something I have noticed is there are no flower gardens – flowers are kept to terraces, gardens are for vegetables. Each plot has rows of courgettes, artichokes, potatoes, cabbages, tomatoes, lettuce. Along with peach, orange, apple, pears, cherry, figs and of course grapes. All with different fruiting seasons.
The shops are full of local produce rather than imports. They have wheels of aged cheeses and joints of aged hams. ‘Baccalà’ – salted fish – is still a staple food, originating as a way of preserving fish from the time of long sea voyages and pilgrims walking the roads to Assisi.
There are aisles of wines but they are all from Italian vineyards. You won’t see an Aussie or South African Chardonnay anywhere. Processed food and imported food is minimal.
Wartime survival instincts are still strong – it is still common to see old people with rickety legs from the time they were children of the war hiding in the mountains and all they had to eat were the nuts and weeds they could forage. At this time of year in the woods near where I live, you will see men (mostly), with a bag full of wild asparagus they have just collected. The use of pesticides or weed killer seems to be frowned upon. They know how nutritious and delicious some weeds can be, they know their mushrooms, roots and nuts.
2. They Love Their Nonni
They put their citizens before economy – They love and respect their nonni (their grandmothers and grandfathers). Many people still live in houses divided into apartments which is shared between three generations. In every town you’ll see groups of old gents playing cards outside coffee bars. In many town centres they have converted an empty shop to a place where the elderly men can gather to read the paper, chat, play cards, have a coffee. The women stick to the benches, balconies and church steps for their chats. Old people here don’t suffer from loneliness as much as other countries, they are loved and respected. They have put these citizens before the economy and have done all it can to curtail the spread of this virus in order to protect their elderly. This is why the Italians are not putting forward arguments against the quarantine, or other extreme measures, even though their businesses or jobs are in jeopardy.
Italians are very careful of their health, there’s a thing they fear called ‘colpo d’aria’ which means ‘a blast of air’, the closest Irish equivalent is ‘catching a draft’ or ‘getting a chill’ but ‘colpa d’aria’ is more serious. I’ve had friends who blame stopping during jogging to read a text on stomach sickness caused by ‘colpa d’aria’ or getting pains in their joints caused by ‘colpa d’aria’ after working out and not cooling off properly before going into an air conditioned supermarket. Air conditioning is frowned at – recycled cold air? no thanks. They wear their scarfs and overcoats until after Easter even if it’s 20 degrees. Going out with wet hair is a near criminal offence. Every house has a thermometer that is regularly used to ensure no one is close to getting a fever in winter season. If your temperature goes up in any way, a whole series of old wives cures are used. They are very careful about their health.
This is reflected in their health system, even though their economy was struggling before this outbreak, their health care system remained admirable. Even though it is under severe strain now, it is coping with this virus better than other countries would or will.
There is always a cleaning crew on the trains. Not just during the virus. The same with airports, there are always busy cleaning crews.
On a lighter note, a lot of places sell pure alcohol so that people can make their limoncello and other liquors, so if we run out of hand sanitiser we can always make our own AND every bathroom has a bidet in Italy so not only is their bottom hygiene excellent, but running out of toilet paper is not a concern!
5. Sun is on the Way
Temperatures are on the rise, so like many, I am hoping warmer weather will kill off this virus. However, I am surrounded by beautiful scenery and the Italian’s are very, decent, kind people so even with a raging virus rampaging the country, I still feel very lucky to live here rather than anywhere else.
The national train network Trenitalia sent out guide to who can travel, work and health with self certification.
Underneath in the comments, there was a question from Vincenzo:
Vincenzo: “Can I travel to Naples to visit my family which needs a bus and a train?”
A can of worms opened.
“Only if you want to bring your mother or grandmother the gift of Corona. Stay At Home sitting on the sofa.”
“Don’t be so selfish, I haven’t seen my parents for 20 years you can last 3 weeks.”
“Follow the instructions fool, STAY AT HOME.”
“Think of all the refugees who have not seen their families for three years. Don’t be so selfish you can wait three weeks without running back to your mama.
Vincenzo then replied: “I”m 70 I just wanted to go to my daughter and get my glasses fixed.”
Poor Vincenzo. But it does show how seriously the Italians are following the ‘Stay At Home’ order and how annoyed they get at people breaking it.
It was 18 degrees today. The birds were singing (still) and lizards are reappearing which means the ground is heating up which will hopefully kill off this virus. I sat out on the terrace working and after a few hours I became paranoid and thought I had a fever but then realised I’d done the ultimate Irish thing and sat out for too long at the first appearance of the sun resulting in a big red face.