An account of my life on lockdown during the Coronavirus outbreak.
Friday, March 6th – I wake up to the sound of children playing in the courtyard of my apartment building. It’s Friday, I think. Oh, yes, the schools are closed.
I go about my day stopping in at the grocery store, not expecting to wait in a line but here we are queuing one meter away from each other to enter. I buy only a few fresh food items and focus on lentils, beans, and other dried or canned foods that I can store in my tiny kitchen cupboard, just in case I don’t have the opportunity in the coming days. I only buy what I can fit in my backpack and in my bicycle basket.
In the afternoon I cycle to an art school in Santo Spirito, where I model for a painting class. I notice along the way how quiet the streets of Florence are, almost deserted. At this point learning institutions, gyms, churches, museums and some businesses are closed. The tourists have vacated almost entirely. Whilst I’m modeling for three artists in the silent studio I can hear conversations echoing down the street: “I should leave Florence now, I don’t want to be stranded here”, “I wonder if the trains to Germany are still running, I need to get home”.
When the art class is over I ride home with a cash payment in my pocket. Little do I know that this €30 will be the last income I’ll see for a while. I cycle fast in the crisp air under a huge full moon which hangs over Florence in the early evening sky. I cross Ponte alle Grazie and into my neighborhood passing some of the cute little restaurants, which are still open – holding on, holding out for clientele. Tables set with newly laundered white tablecloths, candles alight and not a single person dining. Proprietors standing proudly at the door waiting for someone to come in. My heart sinks.
Saturday, March 7th – I’m called into the Spa where I work as a massage therapist. I have four clients throughout the day. The first is a woman from Pakistan who has an awful cough. “I’m getting over bronchitis”, she says. I don’t think twice about it until a couple of days later but try not to dwell on it. We’ve sanitized everything between clients and been vigilant about disinfecting the facilities and ourselves. Another client is from Germany, one from Italy and one from the United States who lives in Florence. After her session, we talk about the situation at hand and how her workload has been rapidly declining over the last few weeks. Little do I know she is the last client I’ll work on until further notice. Two days later the Spa closes its doors. Payment won’t be made until after we re-open. We are notified via our WhatsApp group of the closure and we send good wishes and strength each other’s way. For some of us, this job is a matter of making the rent or not.
Sunday, March 8th – I am officially let go from my Air BnB job, even though I’ve barely been there since the first coronavirus case was announced in Tuscany at the end of January. Up until this point, everyone in the tourism industry has been riding the winter wave when everything is slower, waiting for spring to pick up and tourists to flood back into the city, but instead, guests have been canceling one-by-one until entire building’s of clients are now empty.
Monday, March 9th – I read an article online about the surge in coronavirus cases in Italy and the grave situation the medical workers are finding themselves in. It states that doctors are having to implement a ‘Selection Protocol’ to choose who lives or dies as the equipment on hand is insufficient to assist all patients. Tears fill my eyes. I just can’t imagine having to be put in that position as a healthcare worker. Not only feeling exhausted from working long hours and at risk of contracting the virus themselves but now having to make this unfathomable choice.
Tuesday, March 10th – Guiseppe Conte, the Italian prime minister, announces further restrictions on public gatherings and advises people to only go out if it’s absolutely necessary.
Later on that day I try and make a call and realize my phone service is down and decide I should brave the great outdoors and go to the cell phone store to solve the problem in case I need to make an emergency call. I get dressed and leave my building. I walk down my street and am dismayed to see that all the shops have closed – the café downstairs, the pizza place, the language school, and the sweet Indian man at the corner, selling bags and clothes is gone. I turn the corner into Piazza Santa Croce. It is empty except for one man walking his dog and a few military men standing at the steps of the Cathedral, it’s majestic facade casting long lonely shadows down onto the empty square. Will the men stop me? I think. They don’t.
I walk briskly under a cloudy dark sky and make my way across town. There is a chill in the air and the atmosphere in the streets is heavy and palpable. I only see a handful of people. I pass by Piazza del Duomo, which is empty bar one woman sitting on a bench and a couple, wearing surgical facemasks, taking a photo – two miniature figures perched in front of the steps of the immense towering beauty of Cathedral di Santa Maria Fiore. It’s not the first time she’s seen desolation and it won’t be the last.
I reach the cell phone store, which is devoid of any customers. I explain my issue. I am told their system is down and they cannot help me at this moment. Unbeknownst to any of us, this would be the last moment as the next day they will be closed.
I start to make my way home and pass through Piazza della Repubblica which is the central point of Florence and is usually bustling with people – musicians play and a carousel whizzes around with smiling children throughout the day and into the night. Now the piazza is empty except for a few police and the carousel is shut down. I sit on a bench in the sun which has decided to make an appearance through the clouds for a few minutes. The only movement is a mother and daughter crossing the piazza with shopping bags and panini’s in hand.
On my way back home I decide to buy a tube of toothpaste as I’m running out, and I get a spray bottle for the bleach I purchased a couple of days before. They will be my last purchases for a while.
That evening the Prime minister announces that the whole of Italy is now a ‘protected zone’ and signs a decree that in order to safeguard the citizens of Italy and the healthcare system, it is mandatory for everyone to stay at home, except for emergencies or to walk your dog. The only stores that can stay open are supermarkets and pharmacies. Everything else must close. We are on lockdown. If you do go out, you must go by yourself and keep a distance of one meter from the other people you may pass. Buy what you need and go home.
Being single and having a dog are now tickets to partial freedom!
The next day I wake up and notice something is different. The church bells are not sounding. It’s dead quiet except for a few birds chirping in the palm tree downstairs. I go online and see photographs of the completely emptied streets. Only police patrolling up and down, two by two, making sure everyone is obeying the rules.
I start to feel a sore throat coming on and decide to use my credit card to purchase some extra immune-boosting supplements online, hoping that they will be delivered without any problems or delays. I know I am well. Worrying and staying up too late has affected my immune system but I’ll be fine in a couple of days.
Two days later the mailman rings the doorbell downstairs. I buzz him in expecting to go down and sign for the package as usual but in order to avoid any contact he has placed my package in the foyer under the mailbox and left. On my way back up the stairs to my apartment I pass the elderly lady who lives next door. We nod and greet one another politely in the stairwell. She has a slight grin on her face as she makes her way out of the building. I wonder where she is going. Later, from my window, I see her walking up and down the deserted street to get some exercise.
That was four days ago.
We’ve all accepted that this is what needs to be done for the citizens, for the hospitals, for each other. Resto a casa, I stay home.
I have fallen in love with this country more since this all began – seeing how people have supported each other, been creative and resourceful, setting up times via social media to have music concerts from balconies to lift morale, on-line support groups established and notes being written to hang out of windows, saying tutto andrà bene, everything will be ok.
I’ve been trying to develop a routine in the last couple of days so that I not only feel productive but am also taking care of myself mentally, physically and emotionally. The first few days of the lockdown I was somewhat aimless, not getting dressed, online a lot looking at updates, eating more than I needed to and worrying excessively about not having any work.
There were certain people both near and far who I expected to hear from during a time of crisis, “hi, how are you, I know we haven’t spoken in a while but I just wanted to check in and see how you are”. It was the people that I least expected to contact me that did and I’m so grateful. It’s essential not to feel alone during a time like this. Especially in a new country with not much community around you.
As I reach out to my worldwide community and as the days go by we are realizing we are all in the same boat, some sides sinking more than others but nevertheless together. We connect the dots and support each other as the situation develops differently for each of us in our own countries. We stay level headed and talk about the bigger picture. We see how necessary this situation ultimately is for humanity, although the implications in our immediate reality are real and from this standpoint uncertain. How will we all get back on our feet financially? How will I pay my rent next month? How long will this last? I feel for all the businesses here in Italy and worldwide, some of which will not be able to recover.
I’m quite content with staying at home. In general, I’m a loner and very capable of spending a lot of time by myself. I actually relish in it, but when you’re not given the freedom to roam you tend to feel restricted because it’s not self-imposed but rather imposed upon you. This is only human. I miss going on a walk, even if it’s to the river a couple of blocks away from my apartment building to take a few breaths of fresh air and even if I don’t have many friends, just being around people in the street is nice. I know the first thing I’m going to do is go into the hills on a hike when this is over and be in the sun surrounded by nature. I keep that vision in my mind’s eye.
But for now my days will include my morning tea as usual, stretching, catching up on creative projects, learning Italian, sending love, light and compassion to everyone on the planet at least three times a day, eating well, taking supplements to keep my immune system strong, dancing to good music turned up really loudly to release any trapped emotions, reaching out to people to see how they are and going inwards – just being quiet.
As my friend in Scotland said a couple of days ago during one of our lengthy check-in conversations, “Well, we have all the time in the world to do simple things such as laundry, cooking, and reading. If we want to take 3 hours to do the laundry, we can”. I washed my sheets yesterday, made gourmet mashed potatoes and cleaned the tiles in my shower. Because of the silence, I hear sounds in my surroundings that I don’t usually hear – the old man upstairs listening to the news on his radio, the lady downstairs playing classical music, the couple across from my window passionately arguing.
One thing I feel certain about is that this situation is showing us who we are, both individually and as a global community. How are we responding? Do we soften and prioritize generosity, kindness, and positivity or do we demonstrate greed, fear, and animosity? Do we waste time in panic and information overload or are we creative, resourceful and helpful? Yes, the fear is real, the virus is real, the tragedy of it all is real but I feel now is a time to stay centered and not get carried away with despair and anxiety. As humans we’ve been so driven by the external world – what we are doing ‘out there’. Now it’s time to go inside. This is a reset. An opportunity for change. It’s showing us what we need to prioritize. It’s showing us that we are together in this – all of us! We are being forced to be at home and that also means at home internally within our own beings. To be quiet and listen to each other and ourselves. To connect to what matters.
This virus is a change-maker and if we ride this wave with strength, trust and take the middle path with the right doses of information balanced with intuition and logic and come together to support each other, we will emerge on the other side of this with a renewed vitality.
I’m going now to sit in my doorway, as there is a shaft of sunlight coming in at just the right angle and I don’t want to miss it. Who knows what tomorrow will bring but for now I will turn my face towards the sun and take some long deep breaths and give thanks for my healthy lungs.