Update from Italy: Day 17 of the Florentine Quarantine

Photo by wilsan u on Unsplash

I turned a corner late yesterday and this morning. Farm wife is back, and staying busy. I cannot control what happens on this planet, but I can see to our tiny solar system here, its four planets and innumerable moons. The wave is cresting and approaching other shores now. Prayer is in order, or ecumenical petitions, or yoga, whatever floats your boat. I know my tombstone will not read, Yea, verily she proclaimed, suffer the little fools to come unto her. But I can promise you I will pray for them, in a creaky half-lotus, belly breathing way.

Maybe it’s time to revive my Tonglin practice from years ago. I did like the idea that my breath, my heart, could serve as some kind of filter for the mucky, leafy pools of the world, that I could take on pain for others and alleviate it. Tonglin’s strong suit is that it is a very physical reminder to first put your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The meditation grounds you. A grounded person is a compassionate person. A compassionate person is a person who can truly help others in a crisis. I am not going to say that I jailed Miss Anxiety and threw away the key, but she’s been put to task, washing and folding and baking up front where I can keep an eye on her. She successfully turned out this cake today, for which every planet in the solar system gave thanks. I have to say, that as Anxiety’s manager, she needs a firm hand, but with the right guidance, her output is superb.

We are halfway through week three of a strict quarantine. Week one: Adjustment. Week two: grudging acceptance. Week three: meltdowns and rebellion. Normally sunny Eleanor (5) has a few crying jags per day, and even Victor (8), whose stoicism rivals that of the great philosopher Seneca, cannot hold his tears back. It is not so much for being locked up in the apartment as for having lost the daily, the weekly routine. I held a Vegas clinic yesterday and taught them how to play Go Fish. I give thanks a dozen times a day for the investment a couple years ago in the mini trampoline. I set the timer for Victor to jump. They have both, in general, gotten much less fussy about getting themselves dressed and undressed, snacked, teeth brushed. Victor’s teacher is getting out classwork pretty routinely, but it has been difficult to manage across the three channels, and it is never enough for him. Eleanor’s preschool has apparently been sending out activity videos, which I just realized yesterday, due to the fact that the WhatsApp group of parents for the school is so noisy that it averages hundreds of messages a day, of Italian children endlessly and blissfully baking cookies, playing, and painting as their parents enforce what seems to me to be an alt reality in quarantine. Maybe this is down to our being American, but we have been very candid with our kids, and we are all living the same reality. We are not trying to hide anything from them. We are openly discussing what’s scary, what’s okay, that we’re safe, what is happening in the city, the country, the world. They seem okay with that. Either of them could probably give a decent, data-based interview right now about the unfolding pandemic.

Jason is struggling the most right now. One might well imagine how events are impacting study abroad. Spring term was shut down on February 25 and the students were sent home, which in hindsight was the absolute right decision. But summer is toast and fall is looking iffy. He’s on the phone most hours of the day, talking with local colleagues and counterparts on the mother ship (SS Gonzaga) in Spokane. It’s one day at a time right now. I still feel we are in the middle of a volcano eruption. I remember, with a strange remove, the days in late February and very early March. How people made fun of me, or took me to task, in those days. Saying I was overreacting, that panic like mine was worse than the viral epidemic, that I somehow wished economic ill on people.

Those were hard days, skittish days, wanting to feel hopeful, yet reading the tea leaves. How we thought that it was going to far to put global travel on a Level 4. That all study abroad programs everywhere should end immediately and the students go home. How I vacillated about an event I had planned for March 7, and how Jason said, on February 27 or 28, don’t cancel it. People will be glad to see other people after this week. How by March 5 schools had been closed, and then that weekend that everyone took their ski trips and road trips and had the nonstop dinner parties and raves until the Italian government dropped the martello on the massive party to which everyone had so been looking forward. I’ll tell you, there is no sadder quarantine than 60 million Italians who can’t leave home, see their friends, go out for an espresso or a spritz, see a football game, or dress up for the evening passeggiata. And I think it will be this way for all of April here. I hope I’m wrong, but I think it is the case.

662 Italians lost today. 6,153 new positive cases.

That’s my executive summary. Time to go review the day’s accomplishments with our direct report, Miss Anxiety.