She wasn’t her best friend. That’s the thing. Before all of that, they weren’t that close. They ran in the same group. They saw each other at parties. But when she saw him that day in the store, wearing his gloves and mask, he was upset. She barely stopped crying.
“It was so strange, so moving to see him after all this time,” she said. “You get used to a situation. You sort of forget things that used to be different. Something like that reminds you of how they were. ”
Most Italians, including Piotto, have been in compulsory isolation for more than a month now. The COVID-19 pandemic hit northern Italy earlier and harder than any other western country at the time. (The United States has since surpassed Italy in the total number of cases and deaths.)
In early March, the National Post spoke to four Italian residents about life in the country at the start of the closure. The goal was to get an idea of what could happen here soon. A month later, three of those four spoke to The Post again about their lives, now and during the month. The fourth person was not available to comment.
All three spoke of boredom and fear and the value of doing what needs to be done. For Canadians, their thoughts offer another window on our very near future, a place where the situation may turn the corner, but where a lot of work and sacrifices remain to be done.
The comments below have been edited for clarity, style and space.
Jake Rupert is a former journalist in Ottawa. He now runs a villa and travel agency in Abruzzo, east of Rome, with his wife, Lisa Grassi-Blais.
About a month ago, the numbers were going up so fast. They could not cremate the bodies quickly enough in Bergamo, which is a fairly large city with several crematoriums. They sent them on military trucks. And that was the tipping point where I thought, OK. It was weird and a little scary before, but it’s very hard. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t think anyone did.
So that was the tipping point for me. We will take care of the business. We’re fine, but we’re going to do our part. I will not complain about anything. We will follow the rules and we hope we can get by without too much carnage. And I think most people have been like this. Even though our city has only one confirmed case, people know people in other villages who have died. It’s like, “my great uncle, my uncle, my grandpa,” that sort of thing. So no one here is really complaining about quarantine.
In the past 10 days it sort of hit a plateau and now we have fewer cases. But the government takes no risks. They may be talking about relaxing things, but it won’t be any time soon. They want to do what China has done – pretty much eliminate the number of new cases before people start to resume daily life and then they will do it in stages.
People here do what they have to do to get through. Our friend is the city clerk. Before that, she processed birth certificates and citizenship and zoning applications. All she’s been doing for 30 days is distributing food stamps.
The good thing about our business is that we have been very conservative. We have not contracted debts and mortgages. So we are fine. It’s different for the 10 people who work with us. Two of our housekeepers receive food stamps. We try to help them as best we can, but we have a negative income. Many people cancel. But we will go bankrupt before we see our employees suffer.
Hezar Abbas is a 22-year-old asylum seeker from Pakistan. He came to Europe over four years ago and has lived in Florence, where he has worked in a leather factory, for a year and a half. He is jobless and has been staying at home since early March.
Right now our condition is like last month. Everything is the same. We are concerned about our finances, our work and the things we need in our daily life. Last week, I sent a message to my boss because the Italian government announced a bonus of 600 euros ($ 910) for workers. I wanted information on how we could request it. My boss told us we should wait. We are still waiting. And our boss hasn’t paid us yet, so money is a big deal.
There are five of us in the house. We play cards, improve our language and try to get Italian lessons. We all have our cricket stuff in the house, ball, bat, everything. But we didn’t break anything because we play very slowly. We cook for each other. Today is my turn. I’m going to make rice because it’s easy to cook and you don’t need too much to put in.
Obviously, we are bored. If you spend more than a month at home, you will be bored. But it was worse in the first two or three weeks. I had nothing to do then. So I thought, maybe I can try online courses, or maybe I can try to improve my Italian. So now I’m trying and it’s better.
If I go out to the market, if the police see me, they ask me, what are you doing here? Why are you outside? I have to tell them I’m here to buy groceries. We can only go out to buy the things we need for our daily life. Purchasing something takes at least an hour. We must stood in line. And one by one, we can go and buy our things.
One good thing is that everyone is the same now. I am treated like an Italian and Italians are treated like me. At first I thought they thought we were different, but now I think they know we are equal.
Ilaria Piotto, 21, is a student at Ca ’Foscari University in Venice. She lives with her parents in Padua, about 40 kilometers west of the city.
At first, I felt very anxious. I did not know what was going on. I was having trouble creating a routine. If you are at home, you can study. It is very good. But it’s hard to get done when you don’t have a schedule, when you don’t have places to go. I was so worried about the situation, the news, but slowly I was able to create a routine, I accepted the situation. I accepted that we are helpless.
Now, I’m just trying to live my regular life, focus on school, and stay busy deep down. It’s almost normal not to go out now, when at first it was so strange. I don’t even remember the last time I went out casually with nothing important to do.
Imagining things back to normal is almost like a utopia
I didn’t know how much isolation affected me until I saw a friend of mine at the grocery store and I almost started to cry. I felt good. I didn’t think about it much. This moment helped me understand that maybe even if I thought I was fine, something deeper was happening to me.
I don’t know what life will be like when it’s over. I can’t imagine. At this point, my friends and I have all accepted it. We accepted the situation. So to imagine things going back to normal is almost like a utopia. I do not know. I think it will take a long time before things get back to normal.
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