Ennio Flaiano, a great Italian satirical writer, wrote once, describing the political situation in Italy during the 50s: “The situation is desperate but not serious”. His words, always quoted and misquoted in Italy about practically everything, apply to the current coronavirus emergency as well. The situation is desperate: you all have seen images of cities and roads empty and lonely, with shops shut and no people around.
Since yesterday, nobody has been allowed to go out except for urgent and necessary reasons: medical checks, shopping food, and going to work if it is not possible to work from home.
If you go out you must carry a form downloaded from the Interior Ministry website where you declare that it was absolutely necessary for you to leave the house.
The hashtag #iorestoacasa (I stay at home) is trending in Italy and famous actors and singers are advertising it on TV.
Why Coronavirus Lockdown is Desperate but Not Serious
The only shops open are supermarkets, pharmacies and tobacconists (because there you can also pay bills). Public offices and banks are open, but they allow people to enter only after checking that there's enough space to ensure one meter distance. Same for supermarkets, where you see people queuing for a couple of hundred meters because we are allowed to enter only one by one.
The images remind the older people of the queues during World War II, along with the scarcity of goods. And this is not because goods are not being supplied but because people are stocking food in their houses like during wartime.
Yes, it is a national emergency but I don't want to talk of despair. I prefer to tell you how we Italians are coping and why for us it is “desperate but not serious.”
We Italians Know How To Make Even Coronavirus Delicious
The sale of flour has increased by 82% in the past few days. It is understandable. You are stuck at home and there are little children around: what do you do all day beside watching TV, reading a book, or place the child in front of television? Bake! Bake a cake, bake biscuits, bake a pizza. The child is happy and busy for a while helping, and the house smells good.
I've been baking pizza almost every day, and some bread too. And I’ve been cooking, cooking, and cooking.
We all have started to send around funny Whatsapp messages and jokes. Like this one, from Naples, in which somebody would hire a Chinese with cough to skip queues at the post office! Or that other one depicting a lady with moustache and chubby cheeks.
Hairdressers are closed and so are beauty parlours. Don't even talk of gyms! The most practised sport is eating: we'll end up being overweight and looking quite uncouth. In theory, you could go out for 'open air sport activities' like jogging, but nobody does.
Our Children Will Not be Defeated by Coronavirus
We are making little children draw rainbows and sending them via Whatsapp to their friends: hashtag “everything will be all right”. We are trying not to scare them telling ugly stories on why they cannot go to the park and meet their friends.
Have you watched ‘Life is Beautiful’? Our lives are something like that. We have rediscovered or, better, discovered, the neighbours. Shopping food for the old ladies upstairs or sending just one person to shop food for two-three families.
Then, there's the front called ‘love in the times of coronavirus’. In the past days a certain number of people have been stopped and fined because they could not give explanations for their trip outside the house. Truth came out later: they were clandestine lovers that could not resist being away from each other after being forced to stay home all day with their respective spouses.
Some teenagers have been fined, too, because they were kissing in the street.
Friends walking together have been advised by police to go home and anyway keep a meter of distance. Cafes have been closed to prevent young kids from going out and share hugs and a 'Corona' beer in the squares. Yesterday a small group of old people was sent back home because they were playing cards sitting outside the house even though they were keeping a regular distance. Daily life has been affected, yes, but we try to see the bright side of it.
Return of ‘Decameron’, a 14th Century Book in Italian
The sales of ‘Decameron’, a fourteenth century book written by Giovanni Boccaccio and usually studied (and hated) in schools, have gone up like it was the latest Harry Potter. It is the story of a group of friends locking themselves up in a villa just outside Florence during a plague epidemic, and telling stories day and night for ten days to entartain each other.
Many people think it’s a good idea to do the same, others are having get-togethers on Skype: wine or drinks, and a conference call with friends, each one in his own house but pretending to go on as usual.
Flash Mobs Across Italy—In Our Own Balconies
We have even started a new kind of flash mob, and we'll go on doing it. At six in the afternoon we open our windows and balconies and start singing together. Ordinary people, famous singers, even the opera divas: all croon in a chorus. We sing the national anthem or Italian songs we all know and love.
Today, at six in the evening, we’ll be singing an old 60s song called ‘Azzurro’ (Blue). The blue of our sky, the blue of hope. The situation outside might be desperate, but, like many things in Italy, it is not serious. Not because we don't take it seriously, but because we love life. And friends, and being together. And making lemonade when life is giving you lemons is one of the things we do better. And as we say in Italy, “Ashtag #everythingisgonnabeallright”
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. She tweets at @francescam63. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)