Living in Florence during the Covid-19 pandemic.
I’ve sat down to write this post too many times to mention, wanting to put down what my feelings have been regarding our transition from normal every-day life to living in lockdown in Florence but I’ve found it hard to concentrate on writing or working on anything in the last three weeks. Not helping this last week is a stiff neck that has gotten progressively worse over the last few days making it uncomfortable for me to sit at my desk and also sleep and of course I can’t go and see an osteopath or chiropractor during this time. I can just imagine my husband’s eyes rolling as I bark instructions at him on how to massage the knot that feels like it is pinching a nerve behind my shoulder blade. He must be doing something right as it is feeling better today!
It’s Sunday as I write this but for the first time in my whole life, Sunday doesn’t feel like it used to. Three short weeks ago, Sunday meant enjoying the last few hours of relaxing with family and friends and anticipating a busy week ahead juggling work, family, school runs, cooking and getting excited about the start of the tourist season. The sun is shining brightly with the promise of Spring but we’ve been inside all day. We’ve been inside our house for nearly three weeks now, only going out to buy food or throw out the rubbish. The boys ‘play’ in our narrow corridor which leads from our front door to the street and as the weather has been quite beautiful I encourage them to get out as much as possible so they can burn off a bit of energy and get some precious vitamin D.
We’re letting the boys stay up an extra hour to watch a movie tonight as there is no school tomorrow. We’ve begun homeschooling, not by choice but this is our new reality. There hasn’t been school since the 5th March and it’s looking like we won’t be returning until the new school year in September. Our house is bi-lingual and we have learnt a new word this past month that transcends all languages and that word is coronavirus. Even though it seems like a fun adventure for the boys, they both understand that there is a scary virus out there and we have to stay home to make sure we don’t get it and or pass it on to anyone else. Matteo, my sensitive eight-year-old has had two moments of crying, saying that he misses his friends, school and being able to ride his bike outside. When I asked Thomas, my five-year-old what the first thing was that he wanted to do when we could go out again, he replied, “get a gelato and go to the park.” I can’t wait to fulfil his promise.
When it comes to home-schooling, I am happy that my boys are not older. It has been stressful enough learning how to use his new online program and assist him with it and so I can’t imagine the added stress of having another child with the same or heavier work-load. And I feel for the families that don’t have a computer or their only computer is needed for the parent now working from home.
I was optimistic about what this year would bring with many new tours already booked and some promising new projects in the works. I, personally thought it was a bit of an exaggeration when I heard they were closing the schools. We all did. We were all guilty of believing the first myths surrounding Covid-19; it’s just a flu, we’ll be fine. I was already panicking about my tours that were being cancelled and the idea that I would have the boys at home full-time made me wonder how I would be able to do any work from home.
The first week to ten days were a very surreal time in Florence. As international students started to flee home amidst the closing of universities and people cancelled their travel, the city started to empty. We were still allowed out at first but were told to keep a safe one-meter distance from everyone. I would take the boys across the road to ride their bikes along the river, but when more people came out, we would head home. When the region of Lombardy was put on lockdown first, there was an initial rush on the supermarkets with pasta, beans and salt being the first things to disappear. Thankfully this panic-buying didn’t last long, even when the rest of the country was also put under lockdown. I personally am so happy that we have not had to succumb to the panic and hoarding that I have seen in other countries. The waits may be long but Italians have adapted to lining up calmly, standing the required distance from the person in front of them and waiting their turn to do their shopping. And it is rare to go out now and see someone not wearing a mask.
Even though I am desperate to be able to go outside like we used to, when I do have to go out to do the shopping, I feel a weird anxiety. I carry my certificate stating where I am going just in case I am stopped by the police and I feel like I need to explain to anyone whose path I may cross why I am legitimately out. The other day I had to go to the post office to collect some registered mail. In my confusion, instead of grabbing the slip of paper from the postman with the identifying information to pick up the letter, I grabbed the supermarket receipt, only realising my stupid error when I had arrived and parked the car. Luckily the post office was closed and so I felt my wasted excursion was not my fault. I am so very grateful for all the people working in the food stores, markets, pharmacies and all essential businesses. I can’t imagine the stress they are under as they face so many people every day. We have had two supermarket deliveries which we prefer to do but as of last week, the delivery window has been continually booked and so we have had to make the trip to the supermarket in person once a week. The city of Florence is also delivering groceries for free to the elderly to assist those most in need and at risk.
I am quite impressed with our meal planning though as I stretch out our foods for the week and then we have leftover meals where each person can choose their favourite leftover food.
Trying to keep some kind of routine has kept us somewhat sane even though we are getting up later than usual. I’m trying to go to bed at a respectable hour but once the boys are asleep, we catch up on the news, watch the programs that we want to watch, have an adult conversation and basically enjoy a bit of tranquillity. My husband, Emiliano works in freight and logistics and so he has been going to the office a few days each week. We have one desk in the house and so we share it and the kitchen table with Matteo when he is also doing his homework. The one advantage to me not having the same work commitments as a few weeks ago is that I can occupy the boys more while Emi is working. Whatever things I am working on like my blog, magazine and planning for whatever work I will do when this is all over seems like just a hobby and not a priority now as it’s not bringing in any money.
I have cleaned and tidied our pantry, linen cupboard, bookshelf and office space. Today we disinfected the floors and surfaces, changed all our bed-linen and I am on top of the ironing for the first time ever. We have played card games as a family and had discussions about how fortunate we are to have a house, food and hot & clean water. I wonder about the homeless and the guys from Senegal and Morocco – where have they gone and how are they managing without the small amount of money they used to make each day?
I look back at an Instagram post from the 14th of March where I wrote,
“View from my bedroom window. I haven’t posted
anything here in my feed all week – I was in a bit of a rut the first few days
as was depressed about all my work being cancelled, as well as a bit anxious
and scared of the unknown. I was unmotivated to do anything even though I suddenly
had so much time on my hands. I’ll be honest and admit that I have cried a few
times this week, hiding it from the boys who tip-toed into my room the other
day when I was having a moment and then proceeded to smother me with kisses and
hugs which really did make everything much better!
We got organised though with our shopping and I have probably never been so on top of my meal planning as this last week. Yesterday I decided to de-clutter the house and have already gone through 3 rooms and got rid of so much excess – @mariekondo would be proud!
We aren’t supposed to go out at all unless it’s to buy food, go to the pharmacy, bank, post-office or work. I’ve personally never been so happy to throw out the rubbish!
Yesterday 250 people died in Italy, today 175 and so let’s pray the number continues to go down. At the moment there are over 17,000 people infected with #covid_19 in Italy but there are also many recovering. The Italians are very civilised at the supermarket and when doing the shopping with everybody respecting the 1mt distance they must keep from each other which is reassuring as I don’t think I could handle the panic-buying hysteria that I have seen happening in other countries.
I imagine when this is all over, how much pleasure we will take from meeting our friends for a simple coffee or aperitivo – I can’t wait to hug everyone and I’m sure each and every one of us will appreciate the little things so much more.”
To think that in just two weeks, the numbers have escalated so much is so shocking! Yesterday Italy reported 919 deaths – in one day! – bringing the total now to 9,134* and the total number of people infected is 86,498* making us wonder how many people are positive for the virus that haven’t even been tested? Thankfully also 10,950* people have recovered and the numbers of infected seem to be decreasing. Every night at 6pm, Italy listens to the Civil Protection live report broadcasting the daily numbers of newly infected, recovered and most tragically, the number of deaths for that day. I hold my breath praying for the numbers to be less than the day before but sadly this only happened last week for 2 days in a row before the numbers went up again. I pray for all the families who have lost loved ones and couldn’t farewell them properly. I pray for the medical staff who must feel like they are going in to fight a hopeless battle each day and I pray for the day when they can start to recover from this unexpected war as I can’t imagine the mental toll this pandemic is taking on their health.
*numbers recorded on the 27th March. Below image is the count updated on the 28th March.
Looking at how quickly the virus spread here in Italy makes my heart fill with despair when I see people in the US, UK & Australia who don’t seem to understand the serious nature of this virus and are continuing to mix in close proximity with others. Even though Italy has such high numbers, I am happy to be here where I do feel safe and feel that the nation, as a whole, is following the rules which will hopefully start to see more positive results in the next few weeks. Even though my twin sister is in Rome and I can’t see her, at least we can talk every day and compare notes about what we are going through. I can’t wait to see her again and even though I was hopeful that we would be celebrating our birthday together on the 23rd April as we usually do with lunch in Florence, now I am beginning to think that that won’t be happening this year but we will focus on the fact we are healthy and toast each other from afar.
I am happy to be at the start of Spring and cannot wait to feel the heat of the Summer sun. I also cannot wait to walk along a beach and take a dive in the ocean. I can’t wait to hug my friends and family whom I have missed so much this past month and I can’t wait to go for a long run-up to Piazzale Michelangelo where I can admire my beautiful city below.
I have received so many beautiful messages from not only friends but also strangers, people that I have never met but thanks to social media have chosen to follow me and get their daily dose of Tuscany. It’s been hard to post during this time and so I have been much more active on stories, chronicling our daily life and how we are coping in our tiny apartment with two young boys. Many have said to me that I am coping so well and I probably have to credit the boys for that. I feel that I must keep a positive and happy outlook for them as I don’t want them to suffer from any added anxiety at their age. I will admit it’s hard. I am someone who is used to being alone a lot and to now find myself surrounded 24/7 by my husband and kids does have its moments but I am learning to breathe deeply and that it’s ok if I want to have an afternoon nap or hide under the covers with my iPad, Netflix and headphones! And while I despair for my loss of work, I know that I am not alone as millions across the globe are finding themselves out of work with bills piling up daily.
The other night as I was putting the boys to bed, I said to them, “when you boys have children of your own, you’ll tell them about the time you couldn’t go to school and how everything was closed and you couldn’t even go outside! They’ll look at you with wonder and probably think that school being closed was pretty cool, but you’ll hopefully tell them that you actually missed school and even though it was a strange and scary time, afterwards, the world changed for the better after this virus known as Covid-19 became the first pandemic that you and your parents had ever experienced.”
NOTE : The featured image for this post was taken before Florence was placed on lockdown by Mollie Pritchett.
To read more about what Florence is going through during this Coronavirus lockdown, please take a look at the Girl in Florence blog written by my friend Georgette Jupe Pradier.
Watch an interview with local doctor Dr Kerr to answer some questions you might have about how you are affected, filmed two weeks ago by award-winning, former BBC videographer in Florence, Kirsten Hills.