Life in Lockdown

We have all followed the horror and terror that has engulfed Italy during the past several weeks. The heartbreaking news updates are hard to read and harder to watch as many people suffer in Italian hospitals. As of March 10, all of Italy was placed on lockdown. Tourist travel was halted and locals’ movements were restricted. The initial lockdown period was extended and could be adjusted to an even later date.

In order for residents to leave home, they must carry a document describing the reason they are out: grocery, pharmacy, medical appointments, to walk their pets. If approached without proper documentation, people can incur a stiff fine.

Changes to the way Italians interact with each other and the fabric of their social network are challenged when they can no longer kiss hello, meet their friends for a chat in the piazza, take their daily passeggiata, men no longer meet at the bar or play cards, and women are not in the parks watching  children play. Will this change Italian life after the end of the pandemic?

Everyone must wear a mask when out. In the supermarkets, to keep the number of shoppers at a minimum, shoppers are kept outside until signaled to enter. They are spaced while waiting to check out and only when the shopper at the front of the line is finished and has packed their bag can the next shopper start the process.

Many are facing no work for weeks. The Italian government plans some assistance in addition to the suspension of rents and utility bills during the lockdown, but will it be enough for the many businesses that have been closed for weeks?

It is heart-warming to see entire neighborhoods out on their balconies singing or even exercising as a neighbor leads. Often neighbors who play musical instruments will offer a concert. Some colleagues and friends in lockdown have found innovative ways to manage endless days within their homes. Here are just a few of their stories.

Kelly Medford, a talented Plein-Air artist in Rome, has worked indoors since early March. You usually find Kelly creating a new painting from a street location in any number of Roman neighborhoods or conducting her popular ‘Sketch in Rome’ tours. At the start of week 4, she described life indoors: “It is not easy. It helps to reach out and be on video chats with friends, send emails, anything we can do to connect. Online meditation and yoga classes have helped too.”

Kelly took it upon herself to reach out to others confined to their homes. She offers free online video drawing classes several times a week as “a way to help keep everyone’s spirits up.” Each class covers a different skill allowing students the ability to layer each skill on the previous class work. The shutdown has encouraged others on her block to frequent the small food shop in her building. The proprietors wear protective gear and the patrons enter only one-at-a-time to make their purchases. One concern we each share is, will Italy be the same after this is over? Kelly is also concerned about the homeless in Rome. If they can no longer beg, how will they have the money for food? 

Marisa Convento, a skilled impiraressa (bead stringer) in Venice, shared photos of her neighborhood near Fondamente Nove. With permission to walk her dog, Toby, she recounts that you meet almost no locals on the deserted calli. On the only allowable quick excursions during the week to the market or pharmacy you can still hear the church bells peal from multiple bell towers. On a normal day, you would see locals walking, using the vaporetti or meeting friends. Now, the streets, piazzas and parks are empty and quiet. Home delivery of meals is not that common, but Marisa says, “a few food retailers have started an online service.” Home delivery can be challenging for a city without roads and now without public transportation by vaporetti.

Prontopia is a unique personal travel app that connects travelers with locals who can assist them during their stay. CEO and Founder Shannon Kenny launched Prontopia in April of 2017. The service is available in four Italian cities, Barcelona, Spain, and Santa Barbara, CA. Once Italy announced that all residents must stay at home, Prontopia in Venice realized the problem this would be for some elderly residents or others who could not easily navigate a city with no transportation options. Prontopia stepped up with a program to help deliver medicine, supplies and groceries as well as run errands or even walk the family dog. Ilaria Nardone, Prontopia manager for Europe, coordinates matching a Prontopia member with anyone requesting assistance. Venice group Generazione 90 has joined with Prontopia to assist during the emergency. About 50 households, some who have signed up for regular service, are part of this special program.   

While Italy remains on lockdown for the safety of its inhabitants, residents and small business owners are stepping up to do their part to take care of each other. La Gazzetta hopes and prays for the safety and healing of our homeland.