I frequently say that we are “home bodies”. Joe and I can spend days at home, with just the two of us for human contact, and not be “bored”. But that is not really telling the entire story. In the US, we each had a car, and we could (and would) come and go as we pleased. I’d head out to shop for my Amazon business, shop for groceries, drive 20 miles to have lunch with friends, and Joe would do the same. In Italy we are more of a single unit. Here in Italy, we rent a car when we want to do something that requires one, but otherwise generally depend on our feet, and occasionally a bus or train. Yes, we go out independently. Hair salons, massages, yoga, a run to the store, or for me, an “aperitivo with the girls”, etc. But by and large, we are a single unit. We enjoy each other’s company. We have lived alone, without a car, in a town where everything is within walking distance. Together alone for four years. If anyone has been training for a quarantine, it’s us! Thus, our loses might seem trivial to some people. And yet, we feel them deeply.
Today is day 41. A quarantine, or in the Venetian vernacular “quarantena”, was keeping ships at anchor for 40 days during the Black Death to prevent bringing death and destruction into the city. As my friend Elisa said today, when I pointed out that we were in day “quarantuno della quarantena”, that “seems so wrong”. And it does. 41 days of quarantine!
So, what exactly are we “home bodies” missing in this quarantine. I mean, admittedly we enjoy being at home, work from home, and genuinely like each other (which goes above and beyond loving each other). Why would being “restricted” to our apartment be a problem for us?
First, let’s discuss what our lives were before COVID-19. We are what the Italians would call “gente di abitudine” (creatures of habit). Heck, maybe the Italians would call us “noiosi” (boring). Our days before COVID-19 were generally as follows:
- In the morning, we would get up, get dressed, and head into town for breakfast. “Due cappuccini e una brioche vuote” (two cappuccinos and a plain croissant). Our regular bar/caffè knew what we wanted. We simply needed to go in, sit down, and in a few minutes our order would be on our table. I would take a small corner from the brioche and Joe would eat the rest (if I were to eat an entire croissant every morning it would not be good for my weight!!).
- After breakfast, we would meander through town. Stop at the produce shop for apples, tomatoes, parsley, or whatever looked nice.
- Check out the butcher for something for dinner
- Drop in on one of the many “gastronomica” shops for something interesting – torta patate, crespini, formaggio, prosciutto.
- Stop for ink cartridges for the printer
- check out a nice bottle of wine at the enoteca
- drop in at the Carrefour Express for anything else we could not find
- finish our walk along Largo Unità d’Italia until we reached our apartment
Once at home, we both had work to do. Most of our business is in the US, so even though it might already be 10 or 11 a.m., we’d have hours before our clients were awake. We’d work on projects, enjoy time together, lunch and nap. Sometimes we’d go for a haircut, a massage, yoga, go to a shop for paper for the printer, forgotten ham for lunch. Generally it was simply a given that we would not be bothered by US business until after a good “riposo” after lunch.
Often I’d have no actual client work in the US until after dinner in Italy. So, I would always block off time between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm – we needed aperitivo. Even though we’re Americans, and technically can eat quickly or while we work, dinner has always been a family tradition. When our children were at home, dinner was the one time we were all together to discuss our day and be together, and we still DO eat every evening at the dining table when some client crisis doesn’t demand our attention! So, every evening we would leave our apartment around 6:30 pm and walk through town until we found a bar that seemed inviting for aperitivo that night. Once again, many of our stops recognized us, and didn’t even ask. I wanted a prosecco, and Joe had a SanBittèr. “Gente di abitudine” (habitual people) or “noiosi” (boring old folks). Take your pick! There were plenty of evenings where I’d say “there’s no Lambrusco in the house”, and after aperitivo we’d stroll through town to a local shop to buy a bottle of wine for drinking that night while watching TV. In any event, we had a routine. One that made us happy. One that felt right.
We follow the belief that a household in a time of crisis is a single unit. What happens to one happens to all. What endangers one, endangers all. Thus, Joe and I have not been out of our apartment for the past 41 days except to take out the trash and the bottles, and meet the delivery people who bring our food and drink (we and they are wearing masks and gloves, and we always wash our hands thoroughly after these encounters). Truly, these days, the only “argument” in our home is “who gets to take out the trash”. In other words, going to the trash bin, or the bottle bin is a great privilege. We live in a 7 floor condo building (8 to the Americans). Our “outings” also including walking the stairs, and sitting on the veranda in the sun.
Don’t get me wrong. We are not forbidden to leave our apartment. There are “essential” reasons for leaving. We COULD go shopping. Being extremely healthy, with no family who is not self-sufficient, our only real reason to be out of homes WOULD be shopping. But remember the statement above that we are a single unit. If I go out, even alone, technically Joe goes out too, because I bring home any contacts that I’ve encountered along the way. If he goes out, he brings his contacts home to me.
Today on day 41 it occurred to me that our new routine is not going to breakfast, seeing the people at the produce shop, saying hi to the butcher, or having a massage. Dropping in to see a friend, or calling to say “let’s meet for aperitivo” are not our “calls to action”. Our new routine is making sure that there is prosciutto, pane and vino in the house. Those are the essentials that trigger a “need”. Those are our new “calls to action”. Our order from the supermarket today was perfect EXCEPT they forgot the cooked ham. Joe has enough ham for about 4 days. While I would generally only make a grocery order once a week, I now must make a special order to a grocery store or a delicatessen with enough items to warrant having a delivery person bring me more ham! Should I feel guilty that if this were wine, I’d have no problem ordering a case?
Doppio Quarantena!!! We are strong. We will prevail. We miss our friends, our family, and the comfort of our daily routine, but we are not deterred from our resolve to sit at anchor until it is safe to come to the dock.