Update from Italy: Day 18 of the Florentine Quarantine

Photo by Olena Sergienko on Unsplash

If I weren’t writing these posts I would, by now, have lost all sense of time. If you are entering into a quarantine period, or have started quarantine and isolation in the last few days, start a journal, or a calendar, or something. If you have kids, start something with them that marks time. Truly by now the days we have been in confinement are more important than the calendar. I find myself wondering if this is what certain segments of Italian society felt like during the ventenne of the 1920s and 1930s, when a certain despot started the calendar over with his first year in power. I asked Jason when an event happened, swearing it was in December or January, when in fact it happened on March 6. (I looked in the listserv archives to verify.) And this morning I tore off and recycled the day-by-day calendar for today; Jason woke up before me and had already tossed Thursday, but today’s date still looked like yesterday to me, or some other past date.

I can see how Behrooz Boochani, an Iranian Kurd, wrote his award-winning novel one WhatsaApp text message at a time while detained in Tasmania. I cried when I first read about him, and was not even yet at the crest of the second wave in the global pandemic. (If you do not know his story, it’s prescient; a Profile in Courage for our times.) I started a new creative writing group on Monday courtesy of Sarah Selecky, a Canadian novelist who does fantastic artistic outreach online for writers and makers. I came across her offerings almost two years ago thanks to Instagram, and they don’t disappoint. I’ve made friends through the groups, and indeed owe the existence of my much-loved and very active international writers’ group (UK, Canada, Italy) to the platform.

I continue to shuffle the deck of my memories, searching for times that felt like this, trying to recover what lessons I might have gained. Images and fleeting feelings from the summer of 2012 floated to mind. We had arrived in Arezzo, Italy, with OU, on a one-year secondment to teach and live as faculty-in-residence for the study abroad program there, and Victor had just turned one. The Tuscan summer was sweltering in the flagstone streets; even in the shade, Victor flushed beet red as soon as we went outside. Chubby Victor then was stil a suckling babe, and teething. What a bloody mess. Literally. What this amounted to for me and Victor was a lot of time alone in the apartment (or hotel, if we had joined Jason on, for example, a jaunt with a passel of students to the even more sweltering urbs of Roma), with minimal air conditioning, and almost no fresh air, waiting for dark. Jason was often out and about, and would bring us back gelato, but Victor with the bleeding gums could not eat the gelato, and my customary state at that time, it is safe to say, was well beyond the simple repair offered by a mini coppetta of gelato. I felt anxious then, cooped up in an apartment or hotel room on my own with a baby who was, at best, demanding company, and not yet conversant. I found a few things online that we watched over and over: one, Pandit Lullaby, which Victor and I both loved and played on endless repeat. It is like yoga for your ears, calming the heart, when you can’t settle enough to meditate but would like to approach something closer to circumspection and release. Two, we watched a lot of “one year in a minute” videos (like this one). I found these calming because they emphasized the passage of time, seasons, and forces beyond oneself. There was a really good one that lasted longer which I was unable to relocate (I clear my history way too often). Finally, the excellent, well-produced videos over at The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows are a balm for the anxious soul that longs to be understood while it fumbles for words. I still sometimes hear the quiet voiceover in my daily life, a sort of Big Lebowski-meets-therapist (meets a Dostoyevsky protagonist) narrating the mundane nonsensical.

Jason and I are both proactively managing stress levels. He even joined me for a yoga video (previously unheard of). We are limiting caffeine and sugar during the day, making meals we enjoy three times a day, and pouring our red wine at night. I am still rationing my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for the 9 PM nightcap (they pair well with scotch). The delineation of various spaces in the apartment for certain functions has helped make cooped-up days a little less frustrating. I made the kids help straighten up their rooms and the adjoining TV room. Victor, who is 8 going on 15, had plenty of complaint to make, but mamma was on a tear and sick of picking her way through piles of toys, cushions, blankets. pillows, books, and general detritus.

I made two mugs of loose lemon tea (à propos no caffeine) for Jason and me this afternoon. I bought the matching cream crockery mugs, featuring a gallo di Chanti, when we first arrived here. Today, for no apparent reason and without warning, one of them hissed and cracked its length vertically when I poured the hot water over the tea ball, opening a fissure through which the lemon tea slowly leaked. Somehow it made its way into the dishwasher anyway, positioned alongside its mate. I pulled them both out to see which was the cracked one. It was first hard to tell, but then clear as day as the fault line materialized in the light. I promptly chucked it, but the metaphor made me shiver.