The lockdown in Italy in the spring of 2020 was one of the strictest in the world; not only did we have to socially-distance and wear masks, we weren't even allowed to go out for solo exercise and had to stay within 250 meters (800 ft) from our homes. I turned to my Facebook community to find connection and offer my take on the situation. It's interesting to see how almost wide-eyed and naive some of it seems now, more than a year (and more than 3 millions deaths) later. Here's a look back:
(March 16) Lockdown Day 7: some advice from Italy It's been a week now that we've all been "self-isolating" in our homes, allowed out only to go food shopping (shelves are still fully stocked) and thankfully to take walks (by yourself or at least far from other people). France and Spain have just joined us in lockdown and the U.S. isn't far behind, so I thought I'd offer some thoughts and a few suggestions:
1) The Initial Shock: the first reaction to restrictions is always the shock of "hey! but I had plans!" You were going to go to a concert, you were going to travel, you were going to go out to dinner. Then you hear the ambulances and you see the numbers skyrocket and you realize "this isn't about me." Your plans don't matter. This is WAY bigger than any one of us individually.
2) You will be OKAY: Your essential services shouldn't be affected. If you have heat, running water, electricity and wifi you will be FINE at home (and you're luckier than so many people who don't have some or all of the above).
3) DON'T PANIC ABOUT FOOD or (for %$#'s sake) toilet paper. Barring absolute catastrophe your supply chain shouldn't be interrupted. This virus doesn't keep farmers from growing their produce or trucks from supplying stores. So you don't need to stockpile spam like you're about to disappear into a bomb shelter for months (it's your fellow humans who are causing the empty shelves, NOT "the world is running out of stuff"). Stock up on healthy food, and see if any community farmer's markets will be offering delivery service. Many shops and markets will probably even start offering delivery if lockdown becomes severe.
4) Stay connected with your community! Check if there's a Facebook group for your neighborhood to stay on top of the situation near you. If there isn't one, make one. It's a key way to share information relevant to your area and to organize fun activities if you're all stuck at home (like the daily singalongs that we've been doing in Italy). I can't wait to see "Bohemian Rhapsody" being sung from windows around the U.S. 🙂
5) Channel all the good feelings: gratitude, compassion, community spirit. If you have a safe place to live, be grateful. Realize that this is devastating lives AND will wreak havoc on the global economy, so be kind. Offer to run errands for your neighbors who might have problems getting around. Reach out to your friends who live alone and might suffer from being isolated at home. Try Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Zoom, that lets you video with multiple people at the same time. If someone you know has problems with setting up their computer, see if they can install TeamViewer so you can "go into" their computer and set it up for them.
6) Take care of YOURSELF. Don't obsessively watch the news. Don't mope around in sweat pants or your pj's and forget to shower for days. Do something nice for yourself, cook a nice meal, watch your favorite movie, turn the music up loud and dance ("like no one is watching" -- ha ha! Literally, no one is watching, you're in lockdown!). Start a fun project. Do a big house cleaning. And don't give in to conspiracy theories, racism, or just being a dick! 😝
7) Get Outside. If you're near nature, take daily walks, or just sit in the sun. Unplug. Meditate. Do yoga. Exercise.
8) Try to see this from a "grand historical perspective." Humans have been confronted with plagues and scourges before. What was it like during the Bubonic Plague of 1348? (time to get out your copy of "The Decameron" to find out!) How are we doing this time? How's our health care system coping?? How has the global community reacted? Whatever went wrong this time can help us better prepare for the next (and there will be a next, eventually).
9) And finally, remember that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. If you're lonely at home, reach out. If you're scared and sad, reach out. If you can't sleep at 4 a.m., odds are someone else is up at 4 a.m. (or it's another time zone so we're definitely awake over here). Take care of yourself, take care of each other, cry if you have to, hug a tree if you can't hug a person. And love as much as you can. ❤
(oh, and share as many humorous memes as you can because we all need a laugh 🙂 )
(March 19) Lockdown Day 10: Brace Yourselves for Change (good and bad)
-- The Bad: It's been over a week but it already feels like months. I can't remember the last time I thought about the future or any sort of plans. They say this lockdown will last until April 3rd but nobody believes it. The situation here in Italy is still critical and now we're watching it spread across the world like a toxic cloud in a Stephen King novel.
* My once joyful daily walks are now fraught with fear as my neighborhood Facebook group spits vitriol (and even threatens to throw rocks!) on anyone out walking or jogging even though a SOLO excursion to stay healthy and relieve stress is wondrous therapy for the crippling loneliness of lockdown.
* And forget the image of Italians singing together from their balconies. Nobody is doing that anymore (at least in my neighborhood). Now we appear at the windows or on our balconies, pale ghosts peering into the distance to assure ourselves that we are not alone.
* I managed to slip out for a walk yesterday, passing swiftly past prying eyes, and breathed a sigh of relief as I entered the woods. The birds were singing merrily and I sat on a log by a babbling brook. The warm sun shone on my bare legs and I watched a fly take a slow tour across my thigh. I burst into tears and finally gave in to my sadness. For myself, for the world, for my total inability to take in what is happening. We're all putting on our best faces and "doing our part," but damn this is hard. That little fly will be the only living being I will touch for weeks. This sucks.
-- The Good: (Oh, are you still here?? :-D ) Watching this thing spread around the world has completely overturned my life. I really DO feel part of something larger than myself; I am alone now PRECISELY because I am connected to 7.5 billion people around the planet. Suddenly our societies must face the fact that no one is safe unless everyone is safe. We now have a front-row seat to "The Year the World Shut Down." How will we manage?? We will. Because WE MUST. Humans get weak and greedy when they don't have anything to challenge them, but they rally together when tested by a common enemy. This may be the biggest challenge of our lifetime and I am watching avidly to see what happens.
* Some good news! Did you see that the canals of Venice are running clear?! With fish and swans in them?? And gorgeous white dolphins came in to play in the harbor of Cagliari (Sardinia). I myself was startled by a sizeable hare yesterday who crept up to me as I was sitting on a stump in the sun. Pollution levels are clearing over most of the world, most notably in China, whose skies had become poisonous. This is an amazing opportunity for us to hit the reset button on the climate, and maybe it took a disaster to make us focus on the harm we've been inflicting on this planet, our only home, since the Industrial Revolution. I'm not saying we should all go back to an agrarian society once this is over, but could we use this global momentum to make some real change??
* Case in point: my local organic food service is now offering home delivery (by bicycle!) and they sold out just 2 days into this week's sale! What if all communities made a concerted effort to grow more gardens, produce more food locally, so we're NOT dependent on giant stores (and the harm they do in so many ways) and there wouldn't have to be a rush to the supermarket since your LOCAL community would look after you.
* This is an extraordinary moment in time that I hope will never be repeated. But it's here. And it's hard. The initial shock of "sheltering in place" will evolve slowly into an appreciation of the true scope of this tragedy. As the days go by in your isolation, you may find yourself crying just to feel the sun on your face. And in this fast-paced world of material gratifications, that is a miracle.
(March 21) Florence Lockdown Day 12: the Five Stages of Grief
I wasn't going to write every day but things are happening so fast I figured I would send another "dispatch from the future." It has been frightening to watch the U.S. go down the exact same path that Italy did weeks ago, making the same mistakes, like watching a horror movie where the clueless teens keep wandering off into the woods but WE KNOW that the killer is out there with a chainsaw. Or like in "Jaws," we're yelling "For god's sake, close the beaches!" but people keep on partying in Florida. You don't see the disaster until it is literally UPON YOU. And now 1 in 5 Americans are in "self-isolation." Welcome to Lockdown Land! and climb aboard the "5 stages of grief" as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:
1) Denial: We're so good at this. It's a Chinese problem, we said. Oh, now it's an Asia problem. Now it's a northern Italy problem. Now it's in my community but _I_ surely will be fine. And suddenly the cases jump ten-fold, so do the deaths, and your friends and family are in the direct path of disaster.
2) Anger: this CAN'T be happening!! I was going to fly to New York to see my niece! (the ticket was for tomorrow!! 😆🤪) What about my tour season!?! No. NoNoNoNoNo. NO!!
3) Bargaining: Okay, shut us down NOW so I can go to Sardinia in June. I'll trade you March for July. I'll be good now if you let me play later (who exactly am I talking to???).
4) Depression: I can't turn off the news, I can't stop crying, I am sad for all of humanity. I sit slumped at my keyboard, fingers typing listlessly, clutching at some sort of meaning in this surreal, forlorn landscape. Today they imposed a ban on jogging/walking (except "in the area directly near your house" -- yeah sure, I'm going to walk for 2 hours in circles around my block). My days in the woods with the birds and flowers are over. Pour all the booze into a bucket and give me a straw. I am done.
5) Acceptance: When the full scope of this pandemic finally sinks in, bits and pieces of your ego start to chip away. You don't think anymore about what YOU want, because it's pointless. We know this won't last forever, and we know we'll never recover if we don't ALL do as we are told. And while the fragile walls of your ego are starting to thin and slip, this is your golden moment to connect more fully to others, to nature, to the world. I'm still not 100% there, and I may never be, but I realize the world is on fire and my life, as I knew it up until a few weeks ago, is gone for now. To make a Star Trek reference, Coronavirus Lockdown is like The Borg: Resistance is Futile. 😙 So this will be my reality for the next few weeks, and honestly, it’s pretty nice 💕🌞
(March 23) 14 Days on Lockdown: after the "5 stages of grief": Gratitude
Overheard in line outside the supermarket:
"This reminds me of the war, but you're all too young to remember that."
"What do you mean! I was born in 1936"
[and another: "I'm from 1934 so I'm even older than you!"]
"So you remember the lines-- "
"Yes, but at least now there's food!" [laughter]
As we are now "at war" with this virus I was filled with admiration for my neighbors who had battled an ACTUAL war, and here in Italy the devastation (both physical and emotional) was so serious many people still don't talk about it. At that moment I was flooded with GRATITUDE: for the people who fought (and died) for my freedom; for the farmers who grew the vegetables that are keeping me healthy; for the supermarket workers and healthcare professionals who are working furiously to make sure we all have "normal lives;" for the wifi that allows me to stay connected to friends and family; for the sunshine that was warming a chilly day as I waited to get into the supermarket; for the sound of laughter and human voices after a week in solitary confinement; for stocked shelves; for boxed wine; for my indoor exercise bike; and my house has NEVER been this clean. Thank you sunshine, neighbors, music, oranges, pillows, podcasts, hot showers, hot sauce, and the accursed buzzing synapses of my brain.
The rest of the world is starting to catch up with Italy, and this is going to be devastating. We tried to warn everyone but they didn't listen! The capacity for DENIAL in the human species is truly astounding; it's amazing we're still alive. Focus on the good, it's the only way to get through. 🙏🌞🌏🌷
(March 24) Lockdown Day 15: Fascination
We have just passed the 2-week mark here in Italy and we're starting to see the tiniest glimmer of hope, so that is very good news. I think it's pretty safe to say that most of us have accepted that this is our new reality. I don't wake up anymore and chafe at the restriction to stay inside, and I don't need to go for a walk. When normal life has turned into an episode of the Twilight Zone, you realize that we are living through an extraordinary moment. This is something that has NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE in human history! There have been other plagues and pandemics but none that has affected the entire planet at the same time. And none that has played out so visibly and publicly on "screens" around the world. This will be studied in history books, written about in PhD theses, and of course made into big-budget movies for decades to come (who will play Dr. Fauci?? 🤔). It's like we're all sitting at home watching the same disaster movie and wondering how it turns out. We have seen some amazing acts of kindness, from people helping out their neighbors to organizations putting content online to keep us entertained and educated. But we have also seen deplorable cruelty (people hoarding masks to make a profit! Seriously?!?), as well as incomprehensible ignorance (a man just died because he ate a product meant to clean fish tanks...). These are obviously tragic circumstances, and if I woke up and realized this was all a bad dream I would run outside and kiss all of my neighbors and dance in the empty park across the street, but we all know that is not going to happen. There is no miracle cure. We are in this for the long haul and it is going to be hard. But honestly, if someone came to me and said "there is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event that may change the course of human history, do you want to see it?" I would say YES. I am intensely curious to see how we react to this. Do we all learn to cooperate and comply for the greater good? Do governments come together to protect their citizens? Does this lead to better healthcare and emergency preparedness? Do people learn to trust science? And while we're all at home and not in our cars and factories, do we start to make a serious effort to control climate change?? Or will we just go back to our normal lives once this is all over and get ready for the sequel: "Covid20: the Virus Strikes Back"? So grab your script and memorize your lines, filming is about to begin in your neighborhood and you don't want to mess it up. Shhhh.... cameras ROLLING!
[The photo above shows a scene from an equally odd and perplexing movie from the French New Wave cinema of the 1960s, "Last Year at Marienbad," which pretty much captures the mood in the streets -- except maybe the tuxedos 😙]
(March 25) Lockdown Day bajlllion: %#@&^*$!!! 😠🤬😭😱😬👹🥺😫😖
I have no calm and prescient words today. My thoughts are coagulating into swear words, and I can't focus. I'M SO TIRED OF BEING COOPED UP HERE ALONE IN MY %$#@& APARTMENT!!!!! AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! Okay, I have clearly reverted back to the "anger" phase. Here's a recipe.
How to make your own &%#$@ ^%$#* "sun-dried" tomatoes:
1) Cut a bunch of cherry tomatoes in half (lengthwise if they're the elongated kind), flick the seeds and liquids into the sink, spread out on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, salt & pepper, paprika, za'atar, whatever
2) Bake in a low/medium oven (~175C/300F) and after the first ten minutes open the door a crack (I prop mine open with a wooden spoon). Monitor until they get as dry as you want them, ~30-45 mins. They can get totally crisp and you pop them like potato chips, or leave them semi-dry to toss into salads, pasta, or on your avocado toast.
I don't know how long they stay good in an airtight container because I always eat them, and in this case I may throw this little &^%$ against the wall and then spend the day cleaning it up. Seriously, though, they're delicious
(March 26) Today I'm dreaming of my other life...
... the one in the sun, on the trail, on my bike, with friends, sharing ice cream, having a swim, wasting time in airports, packing my bags for the next adventure. If you don't know what I do, here's a glimpse. THIS is why it's so hard for me to be stuck at home. 😤 But the minute we get the all-clear I will see you out there again!!! 🥰☀️👣🌎
(March 27) Italy passes the torch...
I knew this day was going to come, the U.S. has just passed both Italy & China in number of Covid19 cases. It's not much of a surprise. With years of dedication and training in denial, missed opportunities, and infighting you're on your way, and it won't be long before you crack 6 figures. It has been so painful for me to watch you follow in our footsteps, and while I nursed my own emotions and plotted my own course on the "5 Stages of Grief" I now get to follow along as you begin your journey. It started, as it always does, with denial. Everybody thinks "it'll never happen here" but you have the added burden of "American Exceptionalism": that the country's "history and mission give it a superiority over other nations." You let down your guard. While you were busy fighting among yourselves you somehow dismantled your emergency health preparedness system. You are not going to be "filling churches" by Easter, you will only be reaching your peak of infection. I hope you manage to contain the spread of the virus before the damage is too severe, and that you support your communities as much as you can: give to charities, to food banks, healthcare workers, small businesses, homeless shelters, or a neighbor in need. Call your friends, call your mother! (Hi Mom 😇). Good luck to you all, and may you all stay safe. <3
(March 29) FB detox
Hey everyone! I'm taking a few days' detox from FB since it was getting a bit overwhelming. But here's a status update from Lockdown Day 20. I snuck out for a "walk close to home" and sent the universe a message. 😆 Stay safe, and see you again in a few days!
(March 31) Lockdown in Italy Day 22: "Groundhog Day"
GOOD NEWS! After 3 weeks of lockdown it seems we’ve finally reached the peak and our numbers should start to go down soon. They say the situation will be much better by mid-April and we might be able to gradually ease off the restrictions in early May. Soooooo....... that means several weeks or perhaps another MONTH of lockdown! For those of you who don't know (i.e., my parents), "Groundhog Day" is a movie where a character gets stuck in time and keeps living the same day over and over again, though he can change his OWN behavior (spoiler alert: he becomes a nicer person). After 3 weeks in solo isolation my whole relationship to time and space has changed. I wake up and seem to live the same day over and over again: make coffee, turn on the news, check "the numbers," check in with friends, go stand outside on the balcony, answer some emails, ride my indoor bike, then waste time until the sun goes down and it's wine o'clock. It took a long time for me to stop resisting this forced isolation, and as I said in a previous post, it's almost impossible to accept the personal sacrifices demanded until the crisis is literally AT YOUR DOOR. It is abundantly clear to me now that this thing is only picking up scope and speed, and the damage is going to be colossal (for me, personally, I am potentially facing a year with NO TOURS -- a first in 23 years -- which will have a financial impact but even more, an emotional one). I have had to back away from social media because I realized I was starting to live the trauma ALL OVER AGAIN. The shock, the tears, the awful sucker-punch when you realize what this is going to mean for billions of people. But as in "Groundhog Day," I finally made peace with my new life, and as much as I don't LIKE it, I accept it. It’s up to ME to make every day a good one. Human societies have always known wars, pestilence, and natural disasters, and as far as those go this is comparatively mild. Last Sunday I sat on my balcony in the sun and the only sounds I heard were birds chirping and the sounds of children playing on their rooftops and balconies. Life at its simplest. It’s in our nature to resist anything that impinges on our personal freedoms (_I_ know that better than anyone!), but once you quit struggling against the inevitable you find… Peace. ☮️
I know the economic fall-out from this is going to be disastrous, but right now I"m focusing on staying sane. One step at a time! 👣🙂
(April 3) Lockdown Day 25: Hello, unemployment!
I haven't exactly been laid off, but since tourism has been knocked out cold by Covid19 I'm in suspended animation for the next two months. I've been guiding active tours around Europe since 1997 and as I look back on these 20+ years of exploring our amazing natural world I am in awe and in mourning. I will miss you, Tour Season 2020 (although we're still hoping for a brief respite this summer!), and I miss you now as I am stuck in solitary confinement for another few weeks. I'll be back out there again as soon as this is over, and we'll all celebrate together. <3
(April 9) Italy Lockdown Day 31: Time Warp
Being stuck inside was weird enough, but it's been a week since my job was suspended and I feel like I've been severed from everything that connected me to time. I have nothing to plan for, no concept of the future, and I've lost all track of what day or even month it is. When we started this I was still wearing my winter coat and now it's so warm I'm sunbathing in my living room. We're told things are getting better here but we probably won't be able to go out until early May, and even then, they warn us that it might not get fully back to "normal" for 6 months! I feel like a goldfish in a bowl, swimming around and around, gazing out at the warped world beyond the glass, and occasionally disembodied faces loom up to peer in at me (Zoom and Skype). I haven't lived a life this free of "time" since I was a kid and school let out for summer. On one hand it's strange and disorienting, everything has suddenly been suspended in uncertainty, and my plans for the year lie in tatters on the floor. Days come and go, divided into periods where the sun is shining and then it's not. On the other hand, it's liberating! Sometimes I just sit on the balcony and DO NOTHING. Without a future to plan, I live in an endless present. Just me and my thoughts, which are getting slower and clearer every day as my reality is restricted to my immediate surroundings. My life has suddenly become so much simpler. Obviously I don't LIKE living this way, but it feels like the universe has pressed the "pause" button and this is a rare opportunity for many of us to examine our normally insanely busy lives. So while my mind is calm and clear, my body paces back and forth like a tiger in a cage. I ride and ride on my stationary bike without going anywhere, like a hamster running in a wheel. Run run run, push the bar for a food pellet, run run run, push the bar for alcohol, sleep. Repeat. Days arise and pass without substance, like those little soap bubbles we used to blow when we were kids, and I watch them from my balcony as they drift, shine in the sun, and then pop back into nothingness. 🌬💫
(April 22) Lockdown Day 44 (!!!): Celebrating Earth Day from quarantine
I heard a fascinating story on the BBC this morning about an outbreak of the Bubonic Plague in Florence in 1629*. It struck Milan first, then Venice, and the locals watched in fear as it spread south, eventually engulfing Bologna. The government acted quickly and sent armed guards to the northern border and stopped anyone from coming in without a health check. Anyone found to have the disease was put in a secure facility while anyone they had come into contact with was put in another. The whole city was put under mandatory quarantine (40 days, after the Italian word "quaranta" for 40). No one was allowed to leave their homes and the government provided everyone with food (bread, cheese, sausage, and of course wine). Some people were caught sneaking out, of course, scrambling over their rooftops to see their neighbors and sing and play guitar or pop into a brothel (which reminded me of the guy the cops caught in his car the other day who gave exactly that reason for being out 😀 ), but later when they were tried in court they all covered for each other and said it wasn't true, and they were all let go. 🙂
In the end the death toll was 12% throughout the city, which was MUCH better than Milan’s (46%) or other cities where it was as high as 60%. The similarities between this case and my current experience are striking, and it drives home the fact that this is by far a rare occurrence. We've just been spoiled to live in a world in which many of the most devastating diseases have been controlled by science and technology (obviously not all of them, and not in all populations...). But if this virus reminds us of anything it's that we are still part of the animal kingdom. It's so easy to feel invulnerable, protected by our steel and glass, but if one tiny speck of non-living material can send the whole planet to its knees, we need to remind ourselves more than ever that we are all dependent on this planet (and on each other) for our well-being. I'm alone again today, forbidden to go outside, but I have a lovely Blackbird to remind me that nature is still there for me. I may have the world's music catalogue at my fingertips through the internet, but this is the sweetest song I can imagine right now. 🥰💕🎶
* the book about the plague is Florence Under Siege by John Henderson
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8 days after that last entry they lifted the restrictions in Tuscany, and I was finally free. We enjoyed a fairly "open" summer before being slammed back into our cages in October. Luckily this time we're allowed to go out for exercise but I haven't left the Florence city limits for 7 months. Thank goodness I didn't forsee all of that one year ago or I'm not sure I would have been able to stay that upbeat... How about you? How do you feel one year later?
Thanks for keeping me company this past year, it really means a lot. And once we're able to travel again, come and find me! I can't wait to guide again IN PERSON! If you enjoyed this post, leave a comment below (you just have to sign in, above right), or contact me at email@example.com, or stick a few dollars in the tip jar (see the "donate" tab at top of page) to keep my journaling pen in sparkly purple ink. ;-)
Ciao e alla prossima!