Category Archives: America

A Date to Pinpoint on the Moral Arc of the Universe

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In early March I found myself, like so many fellow Italians, playing the role of Cassandra. My open letters to American friends describing what was happening with the arrival of the Coronavirus – the rapidity with which the health situation had worsened, the dismay about the lockdown, immediately followed by the awareness of its inevitability – were also an early warning system: get ready, what happens here is only the prelude to what will happen to you shortly.

I never thought that the disbelief with which my messages were received in the U.S. would have turned quickly into my own disbelief , with friends, former neighbors and colleagues now sending pictures of familiar places in Washington, D.C., now locked by gates and fences, of looted shops, of the most symbolic places of American democracy surrounded by military personnel.

The tragic reality is that, however shocking and painful, all of this was perfectly predictable – probably much more so than the pandemic. After all, we’ve known it since that November morning of almost four years ago, when we woke up with a new president, enveloped in sadness, filled with the awareness that nothing good would come from this, and that no, leaders are not just all alike: even in our tired and hollowed democracies, the moral compass counts. These certainties were confirmed by every single act, proclaim, tweet, interview, photo-op., ever since. This disaster, now for all to see, was only a matter of time and circumstances.

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1968 after winning the primary in California, on the way to obtaining the nomination of the Democratic party and, perhaps, the presidency.

Just two months earlier, Kennedy had found himself in front of a mostly African-Americans in Indianapolis. Martin Luther King had been murdered that afternoon, and it was Kennedy who broke the news. He had been advised against keeping that election event and addressing the crowd, but Kennedy showed courage and moral standing, telling local police officers that if they crowd would bother them, “you’re the one with the problem.” RFK had the credibility to speak honestly about King, and how personal that loss was, evoking (for the first time in public) his brother who was murdered five years earlier.

In the somewhat grainy video of the time, you can clearly hear the gasps of disbelief and pain with which the news was received. RFK spoke only for about five minutes. Quoting Aeschylus and the Greeks, he said, among other things: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

John R. Fulton, Jr./Associated Press

The mostly improvised words he delivered that April 4, 1968, are dramatically current as America relives scenes from the same movie 52 years later – the riots in the cities, the police brutality towards African Americans, the economic crisis that aggravates the already dramatic social inequalities.

Nobody can say how the same crowd would react today, in the same situation, to RFK’s words. Words of compassion, love, understanding can sound hollow 50 years later: the injustice perpetrated runs just too deep, the original sin of slavery is too persistent, the inequalities and the missed promises and, above all, the infinite deaths for police brutality. They are no longer enough.

But it is also true that without leaders like these, without these words and without these acts, America remains an empty box that not only is not, but cannot even aspire to be what the world still needs it to be.

A new president will not eliminate the injustices of American society, just as eight years of Obama’s presidency did not erase institutional racism. But it has become a categorical imperative to remove the moral and intellectual misery of somebody who brandishes the bible like a weapon without having the moral qualities to represent any ethical, religious or human principle.

While hundreds of American cities burned on the night of April 4, 1968, there were no riots in Indianapolis.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice, said King. And on a specific point in that arc, Americans must now pin the date of November 3, 2020.

So how is the lockdown working for you?

#ItalyLockDown #WorldLockDown April 3, 2020

Today was originally planned to be the day when restrictions imposed on March 9 would be lifted.

Back then, we looked at the calendar and wondered, how on earth can we survive a lockdown until April 3 – as individuals, as families cramped in our apartments, as a society?

Well, most of you are now in the exact same boat, with restrictions lasting even longer. How do we all do it? I think we complain a little, then watch the news and count our blessings. 

The tragedy on our doorsteps is in fact immense. I personally know so many people who have been deeply affected – losing a loved one without saying goodbye, or getting very sick, or suffering in so many other ways. The list grows exponentially, just like this damn virus. And we are barely starting with the economic pain.

Our health care system didn’t get close to collapse like Lombardy’s because we had a little time to prepare; the slowdown helped. Also, 11 people were airlifted from the region to ICUs in Austria and Germany, freeing precious beds and respirators. (Europe is helping, don’t believe who says otherwise ). The curve seems to be flattening now, like the one in Italy.

But the extension of the contagion in our town and in our region is simply breathtaking. And the effective death toll is very likely much higher than the official 128 — like in Bergamo, many of our towns saw an increase of deaths over the same period in previous years – and this will be true everywhere as well. Similar statistics in your locations will be appearing very soon.

How will we be able to live with this pandemic before we have a vaccine is the question that is on everybody’s mind now. The worry about if, and how, we can live a decent life with COVID19 is slowly overtaking the worry about our everyday’s life, which has basically become routine.

To no-one’s surprised, we are now supposed to shelter in place until at least Easter Monday, or Pasquetta as we call it, traditionally a day for family and friends gatherings and outings. Prepare for an influx of news stories about how Italians are reinventing the tradition during the lockdown (picnic on our balconies?), and then re-read them with Americans and the Fourth of July as the subjects.

The days seem to go by faster than one would think…   Anna and her schoolmates seem to be still pretty diligent about online classes and homework. For how long? Alex is finishing his quarantine (and looking at the UK situation with very different eyes now).

I resumed groceries shopping (no scarcity, long but very civil lines at the entrance) and turned to “quarantining” all the boxes for 72 hours on the balcony, and washing what needs to go into the fridge right away. Yeah. Maybe not needed – but why risk it?

I was also able to visits to my parents to bring medications and food. I walked around their apartment like I was on a crime scene, careful to touch the least possible amount of surfaces, wearing gloves and a mask (which makes conversations with my hard-of-hearing dad quite colorful), and staying several feet away from each one of them. This is most painful for my mom – holding her hand and looking her in the eye was the best way of communication in her advanced Alzheimer’s stage. 

And then we have the happy moments, like our neighbors’ daughter who discussed the thesis for her BA in early education from home via Skype.

We celebrated her from our legendary balconies. With the promise that we will soon have a proper party when this is over. We promised each other so many parties to last a century. But it ain’t happening anytime soon.

Stay safe and stay inside. And Washington, D.C.: it seems you have a little time advantage in terms of slowing the contagion. I hope that’s true.  Don’t waste it!

Our neighbor Chiara proudly showing her thesis that she discussed online.
We celebrated her BA clapping from our balconies.

God Bless Italia

God Bless America. Negli Stati Uniti più che una benedizione è un sottofondo costante e confortante al quale non si fa quasi più caso. Accompagna la fine di quasi ogni dichiarazione ufficiale, lo dicono i Presidenti in chiusura di discorsi e comizi, ma anche i giornalisti, gli attori, i cantanti. È una richiesta a un dio laico per una benedizione che attraversa tutte le religioni e protegge tutti i cittadini. 

Il valore che gli viene assegnato è direttamente proporzionale alla persona che lo pronuncia, così come l’attenzione che ottiene da chi ascolta. Posso pensare a pura ipocrisia quando lo pronuncia un presidente che non ha fatto nulla per tutelare gli americani dallo tsunami del virus, e posso commuovermi e capire la profondità di questa invocazione quando lo pronuncia un governatore che si sta facendo un quattro per aiutare la sua città e il suo stato. God bless New York.

Nel nostro Paese, dove un politico può appropriarsi senza vergogna del rosario o di una preghiera, quello sì come uno slogan che non trasmette nulla e non rappresentare alcun valore, non dico cristiano, ma neanche di comunità o di solidarietà, mi piacerebbe avessimo una frase equivalente, un semplice Dio benedica l’Italia che potessimo usare tutti in questo periodo di buia incertezza, per invocare un comune denominatore cui tutti, credenti in qualsiasi dio e non credenti, potessimo affidarci per invocare uno stesso desiderio – di guarigione, di rinascita, di un fine ultimo che tutti vogliamo. 

E allora God bless Italia: un augurio a tutti noi di lavorare insieme, di aiutarci, e di imparare dagli errori commessi prima e durante questo flagello, e di uscirne migliori. Non dovremmo lasciare questo compito solo a un uomo solitario in una piazza bagnata dalla pioggia…