Category Archives: ENG

A Date to Pinpoint on the Moral Arc of the Universe

🇮🇹 at

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.

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!

May The 4th Be With Italy

And so, today, we switched back on. Not every shop or every profession, but several million Italians are back in business and at their desks. 

Our cities have been slowly coming back to life for the he past couple of weeks, and today they eventually lost that unique, almost sacred look of meaningful emptiness that we will miss while also celebrating its demise. 

I was a bit emotional when I greeted the owners of the kebab shop and the pizzeria around the corner who reopened today, albeit for takeaway only. It was like seeing a long-lost friend, somebody you thought you might never meet again, a collateral damage of the pandemic, who will hopefully weather the storm of the new economic and social normal. Which looks much scarier than the lockdown now!

Gone are statements like Everything will change! Everything is the same – but uglier, with masks, gloves, queues in front of every shop and supermarket, long lines to get on a bus, no place to enjoy live culture or art, dreadful financial prospects for many family and businesses, and, still, very much unreal.

And yet, every key indicator (contagion, ICUs occupancy, deaths) shows that we hammered that freakin’ curve, that the lockdown did reach its goal. We did it. We managed what looked so difficult. And so we must now with some confidence wade into a new uncertainty – en masse, with byzantine rules about whom we are allowed to visit, and very much unsure about what will happen when cases will rise again, or if a second wave hits, and with no sense of the herculean task ahead of changing a whole educational system in just a matter of months…

So, for now, the known unknowns – the real contagion rate and the number of asymptomatic cases – mandate a very cautious approach. 

And the lack of a systematic and well-communicated tracing, testing, and treatment protocol suggests that isolation and social distancing is, for those who can afford it, still the most sensible and responsible way forward  – especially if I want to keep visiting my parents (they are still ok!).

Plus, with schools closed and telework still mandatory, we can keep on with our very limited but comfortable schedule – Alex is whizzing through his online exams and Anna through her online classes, as if that’s what they have been doing for their education all along.

On the plus side, we do get to enjoy walks and bike rides. We are having a stunningly beautiful spring weather.  And as we all know, hope springs eternal!


The sign of my neighborhood kebab joint, owned by a Kurdish refugee family. Was glad to see them reopen today, and am looking forward to their fabulous kebabs.

Phase 2, Strategy 0

The lifting of restrictions will start on May 4th, with millions returning to work on that day and most shops reopening two weeks later. Bars, restaurants, hairdressers will only open on June 1 – not sure how most of these will survive another five weeks of zero activity. No religious services, and no soccer games yet but athletes can resume practice – and I bet Serie A will restart the season. But: no schools until September.

In Bolzano we have regained freedom of movement within city limits already, and as of tomorrow we can even bike anywhere! People are out and about, enjoying the wonderful spring weather while dutifully donning their masks. The numbers of new infections and the numbers of deaths have gone down dramatically (here and in the whole country), and there is a palpable sense of relief in the air. We flattened the curve. Intensive care beds are available again. I continue to limit my social visits to my parents only, and the kids stay away from friends, with a few exceptions. Might try to see friends for a stroll soon, even though the masks and the distance will really take some pleasure out of it.

The date for the end of the lockdown had been in the news for days now, so we expected to hear about strategy from the prime minister’s press conference tonight – after all, we have been hearing for months that we will need to “dance” with the virus for a long time… Alas, in a very disappointing statement he made clear is that Italy will walk into ‘Phase 2’ as unprepared as when it sleepwalked into the pandemic. We can forgive the first mistake (but we should not forget). But not this. Opening up the country after two months of lockdown without a strategy for ramping up testing, tracing and isolating, and without a plan to shelter the most vulnerable borders on criminal incompetence. Doing it without a shred of a plan on strengthening the health system for the inevitable second wave is simply irresponsible.

PM Conte didn’t say a single word to the millions of parents who will go back to work in a week while the schools will remain closed. He didn’t say a single word to the students who will miss out on months of education and socialization, and to the thousands who are not able to follow online classes.

I think the lockdown was necessary and it has saved lives. I thought the point was also to gain time to put a strategy in place for living with the virus for a long time. “Andrà tutto bene” needs more preparation to go from aspiration to reality.

We are not ready for the dance floor.

All perfectly clear, right? The Italian government’s criteria for the monitoring of health risks during the reopening Phase – Fase 2

My Empty City

I went downtown yesterday, for the first time in six weeks. A few more shops have opened, and I needed a replacement for SodaStream (the one thing I missed during isolation!) So I was allowed to venture outside the 400m-limit currently imposed in my town for simple walks (a doubling from the initial 200m!)

Click here to share my walk… Enjoy!

It was a beautiful, melancholic walk through Bolzano’s quiet streets. It’s hot – as is normal now, we moved straight from winter into summer. Normally it would be difficult to move around in the city’s most narrow streets, as it would be the peak tourism season, before the crowds choose the mountains’ cool weather over our sizzling summer. Looking at all the empty outdoor tables I wondered if we will be able to welcome back visitors in a different way. Safer, for sure – this is what everybody is talking about. Tourism is too important for us and for Italy not to take this very seriously. But we cannot think only about how to limit its infection rates when we think about reopening tourism – we could also use this tragedy to think about how to limit overcrowding, exploiting nature to the point of no return, emptying the souls of our wonderful towns..

The pictures of my walk … here you can share it

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 (ENG)

God Bless America. In the U.S., more than a blessing, this is a constant and comforting background which one hardly notices anymore. It provides the closing of almost every official statement, presidential statements or stump speeches, but also for journalists, actors, singers. It is a request to a secular god for a blessing that crosses all religions and protects all citizens.

The value assigned to it is directly proportional to the person who pronounces it, and so the attention it gets from the listener. It rings as pure hypocrisy coming from a president who did nothing to protect Americans from the tsunami of the virus, or I can be moved and understand the depth of this invocation when a governor who is doing whatever he can to help his city and his state. God bless New York.

In our country, where a politician can shamelessly appropriate the rosary or a prayer — indeed as a void slogan that does’n represent any value, I do not say Christian, but not even of community or solidarity – I miss a similar sentence, a simple God bless Italy that we could all use in this period of dark uncertainty, to invoke a common denominator to which everyone, believers in any god and non-believers, could rely to invoke the same wish – for healing, for rebirth, of an ultimate goal that we all want.

So God bless Italia, God bless the whole world: a wish to all of us to work together, to help one another, to learn from the mistakes made before and during this scourge, and to come out better. We should not leave this task exclusively to a lonely man in a rain-wet square …

Teeny Tiny Thanos

The drama of the past few weeks will offer study material for virologists, epidemiologists, and public health specialists to last a generation. Another interesting aspect to review will be how communication shaped the perception and the public response in the early stages of the contagion in Europe. It took a while for people in Europe to grasp the gravity of the situation and act accordingly. What was missing in the messages about the epidemic?

Anna Nardello

We still have a lot to learn about the virus but we can already say with confidence that we are dealing with a teeny tiny son of a bitch who is also incredibly cunning. Cunning and mean. Like a Teeny Tiny Thanos. 

How cunning? Well, first and foremost, he found the perfect way to spread very widely. Like all of his kin, he needs a host to survive, but many of his cousins play tough and die while killing the hosts, or make them so sick that social distancing instinctively or forcefully kicks in. Teeny Tiny Thanos, on the other hand, invites himself in, and, all too often, gets all snuggly without bothering the host at all. Or maybe causes only a little fever or a nasty seasonal cold. But while all silent and polite, he is already shedding away with gusto. Contagion galore without making noise. Very cunning.

Secondly, in a stroke of marketing genius, he got himself a cute little name. So cute that we made beer jokes and crown jokes, and soon we were blabbering away like expert virologists that he is from the “same family as the flu, which we all know kills many more people.” 
How on earth did Teeny Tiny Thanos get away without getting “respiratory” or “pneumonia” or even “acute” added out in his name? Of course, if we spell out the full acronym – SARS-CoV2 – we do read “acute respiratory sindrome.” But, who does use this, let alone spell it out? Any name linked to this virus should have immediately flooded our brain with images of respiratory crisis – pulmonary fibrosis – can’t breathe – might need respirator in ICUs – are there enough of those in my hospitals? Next step might have been, what can I do to stop the contagion?  Instead, we thought about the beer, and the many times we went about our daily life when we had the flu. Extremely cunning.

His next winning move was to choose the perfect location for his big premiere. China. So many people, so open to the world, so many opportunities to travel around, at globalization breakneck speed, to the four corners of the world, by plane, cargo, ship… We watched in horror and disbelief as he ravaged China, but we also felt at a very safe distance. And it looked like another peculiar Chinese disease that the Chinese were addressing with unfathomable measures: people locked in their apartments; doctors dressed up like Star Wars soldiers; police patrolling empty streets; hospitals being built in 10 days; smartphone tracking…. China displayed a strange disease and an alien reaction: something we were horrified by but could not relate to. And we couldn’t relate any more to South Korea and its highly technological and digital response.

His latest skillful move was to choose Italy for his European debut. Beautiful country, excellent food, the oldest population in Europe mingling with the younger generations either by necessity or by inclination, millions of tourists, and an innate sense of distrusts for rules. What’s not to like for a mean, cunning virus? 

Most of all, when the world realized that something really bad was happening here, it thought that Italians had, as usual, messed up. They couldn’t get their act together. They socialize too much anyway. They know about food and soccer but what do they know about health care? They react slowly, emotionally, and of course they touch their face with their hands – they are always gesturing! 

So our little cunning virus had all the time to ravage the country before others could relate to Italy, who could not relate to China. And at the same time he was traveling on ships and planes, playing Hollywood celebrity, basketball in the NBA, and soccer in Italy. Even getting very close to playing prime minister in Canada.

But then something finally clicked. It took us a while to get there, but hopefully we are now getting a little bit smarter than Teeny Tiny Thanos. His power comes from using so many of us as transport. There is no need to fight him or run from him. A few of us need to hide — the more vulnerable and fragile. For the rest of us, the most important thing to do is to stop playing Uber for him. It took us too long, but a  collective Avengers mentality is finally emerging – unfortunately still one country at a time, as he seems to have gained a time advantage in every other country through his cunning moves. But we are getting there. The real superheroes are fighting in our hospitals and ERs and ambulances and family practices. The rest of us, millions of minor characters, get to play superheroes while sitting on the couch- the role of a lifetime!

We will isolate ourselves to isolate this cunning virus to protect our most elderly, our sick, and those who need it the most. We will thus buy time to get our health systems stronger. We will support our brave doctors and nurses. We don’t know that it will work, or how long it will take. We don’t know yet if Teeny Tiny Thanos will destroy our way of life in the process. But his time setting the rules is up. This is Infinity War. Endgame is not far behind.

#ItalyLockDown 6

Tough day – 368 deaths today, over 20,000 infected, and, in other otherworldly news, Germany is closing its borders… It is very, very hard to look at Europe right now, with the tragedy unfolding across the continent and every leader handling things his or her own way… So one hopes against hope that all this will be temporary, but it takes a long time to build trust and only a moment to destroy it. When it is gone, how do your rebuild it? For instance, wil parents in the future have the same confidence that their Erasmus student will be able to travel back and forth freely across Europe, at any point in time?

There are currently no flights between London and Vienna, just one of many examples of flight suspensions, and there is no way to know when they will resume.

In all this mess, Alex has decided after much deliberating that he will bunker in London with a roommate, and weather the storm in the UK This only adds exponentially to the anxiety and heartbreak of these tragic times.

I hear that in DC people still go out and about. So am adding a chilling “show and tell” that has already circulated widely on social media: The obituary pages of the local newspaper in Bergamo, a town in Lombardy that has been hit particularly hard.

Stay home. Stay home again, and maybe a little bit more. Good night, and good luck.

Il drammatico aumento dei necrologi sull’Eco di Bergamo

#ItalyLockDown 5

Only a quick note tonight to say that we are ok. Everything looks quiet outside as well as very orderly. Supermarkets are well stocked I hear, like bakeries, produce shops, and so on. Life continues as well as it can in Bolzano, Alto Adige Südtirol, in the year of the pandemic.

I feel mentally exhausted – so am not adding more tonight, as I would only repeat what I said already, and I imagine that some of these are things you will now start seeing in your local news (bar the worst numbers, I pray).

A moving moment today: at midday in the whole country clapped from our balconies to show support for our medical staff. And you might have seen videos of people singing together across buildings as well. A wave of optimistic anxiety (something that a Danish sociologist said we should all need now) signaling that we are all fully aware of what is asked from us while supporting those on the front lines.

In the picture below: this is the closest I have been to my older sister this week. She visits my parents regularly, so we are being extra careful at keeping our distance … My other sister walks up to my door and we chat briefly from afar …

But yes – everything will be alright, like doctors keep telling us, if we do our part … Optimistic anxiety indeed.

Stay safe and stay home!

I miss you, too!