Italy Reconnects

A wonderful hike in spectacular weather offered a much-needed sense of optimism about the future. The landscape unveiled by the Great Reopening ain’t pretty. But last Sunday, the focus was only the beauty and the clear air we were breathing – for the first time in weeks our lungs did not seem afraid of whatever was coming in. 

The bus and the cablecar rides were strage, as they are these days. But once up up on the mountain, where there are no tourists not yen even many hikers, it does not take long to reconnect with your happier self.

And I have reconnected with many other things, habits, and people since the lockdown ended.

The best: a visit (or three!) to the hairdresser (which, for the next pandemic, should be deemed essential business); a cup of coffee and a lovely conversation in the sun-drenched town square, where all bars are back in business and the rows of empty chairs you saw in earlier pictures are now welcoming a few customers; and, very basically and very simply, ice cream (yes, I know, it’s now called gelato).

Significantly, the city’s Saturday morning market is back, and with it Bolzano’s quintessential weekend ritual of strolling through produce stands to get your week’s worth of bread, fruit and vegetables from local producers, usually followed by a long aperitivo with friends.

I had the last in-person aperitivo with friends on the Saturday before the lockdown, when we knew what was inevitably coming but we didn’t know what was coming. So it seemed only fit to celebrate in the same place – there is enough space in the open-air cafés to do so safely…. But no, it does not feel the same, with masks + distance, but the memory of what this Saturday morning ritual means is too strong to keep away. That, and a good Hugo, of course….

On top of this, local indicators continue to show great improvements – only a handful of new infections over the past week; no new hospitalizations; Rt at 0.45; ICUs in the low single digits for the past two weeks or so…. Three weeks after the end of the lockdown, it looks like we are managing to keep infections down! Of course, caution is the word, but a little anxious optimism is warranted, and we should rightly be proud and enjoy the things we missed dearly during the Great Lockdown. At least until we open up our borders, welcome tourists back, and increase the contagion curve all over again! (But let’s hope not!)

We are, for sure, enjoying our well-earned #Fase2. But, as I said, it ain’t pretty. The economic and social losses are growing, and will only increase with the looming disaster of the summer tourism season, whose impact on Italy is hard to quantify.

The hardest part for me are the significant changes to our social life – the constant physical distance, no hugs, no handshakes. It’s hard for extroverts! You can’t embrace friends you haven’t seen in months because of the pandemic, yet this is precisely why you want a bearhug when you finally meet again!

And yes, we must wear the masks, but just how annoying and depressing it is to hide so much of who you are, and not “seeing” the others, including all the clues that help you navigate any social situation better than a thousand words?

So I shudder when I hear catchphrases like “this is our new normal“- there’s nothing normal about it! This cohabitation with SARS-CoV-2 feels like a forced marriage which will impose profound changes to our way of life. For how long? Who knows. During the lockdown we had one clear, collective goal: flatten the curve, protect the healthcare system and its ICUs, learn as much as possible about the virus so as to eradicate it as soon as possible.

I miss that clarity. I miss the hope we had that things would magically change for the better (Andrà tutto bene!) The awareness that this was only wishful thinking and we should have known better is depressing. 

I therefore expect that much more ice cream and many more hikes will be needed to endure this arranged marriage with the virus. I will indulge in both!

But will need more to survive the time between now and the divorce from SARS-CoV2 (because divorcing this thing we will!) We need to think a bit harder about how to do things differently. Change does not magically happens – not even during a pandemic – and the hard work is just beginning. But first, will try a few new flavors!

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