By Christine De Melo

The prime minister of Italy declared the entire country a “zona rossa” (red zone). Two days later, all non-essential businesses were forced to close and we were put on lock down. Overnight, my husband and I were cast in a real life dystopian movie.

I’m a first generation Luso-American, born and raised in a blue-collar city in Massachusetts. I obtained my art history degree from UMASS Dartmouth after working a decade in retail sales. Three years later, I was coordinating educational tour programs throughout Italy.

I moved to Florence in 2007. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever live here. I worked as a museum guide and then I began writing full time in 2015. My husband is a public health specialist who consults for a US government health agency. Despite being accustomed to working from home, this quarantine has had a profound impact on us both.

In thirteen years, I have never seen Florence so empty. It’s unsettling. At night, the eerie silence is pierced by ambulance sirens and medical helicopters. A few nights ago, one of those ambulances stopped on our street. Two EMTs in hazmat suits escorted a woman to the hospital. We watched the surreal scene from our balcony.

Although we are staying positive and signing on the balconies, sometimes we cry when we are alone. The Italian healthcare system, which is the best in Europe, is extremely strained right now. Military has stepped in to help hard-hit areas process the large number of deceased.

Flashback to February. We were aware of COVID19 sweeping through China and leaking into Europe. We knew it had reached Italy, but we never expected it to hit us like a tsunami.

The only places currently open are alimentari (butcher shops, bakeries, produce vendors), supermarkets, and pharmacies. What's more, we need an official document and a residency card / ID to go to the grocery store. It must be the one closest to your home, and you cannot wander into a neighbouring city. No loitering in public, no group gathering, no strolling the streets or going to your friend's home for dinner. No socialising. Flaunting these regulations may lead to an arrest and a hefty fine.

The economy in European cities that rely on tourism will suffer tremendous losses. Florence is no exception. I fear that many businesses here will not recover.

There’s nothing like a crisis to make you reassess your life and your values. We’ve been on lock down for nearly three weeks. My house has never been so clean and organised. Although I am an avid reader, I’m reading more than usual and loving it. Also, zero distractions means that I am writing a lot. I specialise in historical fiction set in Italy, but I also write paranormal and fantasy. I am working on two novels simultaneously: one set in 16th century Venice, and the other in 17th century Naples.

My appreciation has deepened for doctors, nurses, police officers, EMTs, farmers, utility workers, truck drivers, cashiers, etc. It’s not the star athletes and celebrities who hold society together in times like these, it’s the “everyday heroes” who risk their own health and safety to serve us. When this is over, I hope people remember to given them the respect and appreciation they deserve.

On a positive note, Mother Nature is heaving a big sigh of relief. Smog, a problem here in Florence, has subsided. The sediment in Venetian canals have settled to the point that they gleam crystal clear beneath the sun. Deer, rabbits, wild boar, and ducks are venturing into cities.

Lock down has brought my husband and I closer together. We have more time to cook, watch videos, chit chat, hang out with a cocktail on the balcony. It’s also made us realize how little we really need. Maybe this will kill rabid consumerism, and force manufacturing companies to ban planned obsolescence. From now on, I want to purchase fewer, better quality things that last a long time.

 

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Life in lockdown. Womankind approached its community to write about life in lockdown around the globe, notably a three-day diary of everyday life under the threat of COVID-19. Womankind is publishing these stories freely to show how the pandemic is affecting women from all over the globe - from New York, to Barcelona to Glastonbury.

 

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