Update from Italy: Day 19 of the Florentine Quarantine

Photo by Lefteris kallergis on Unsplash

My name is Monica; for those of you just joining, I live in Florence, Italy, with my husband and our two young children. We’ll all four American, but Italian at heart, and profoundly Latin in our souls, for reasons of history, passion, education, and experience. Jason and I have lived abroad, off and on, both pre- and post-couplehood, since 1993 and more times than we can count, stretching our horizons, in globally healthier times, well beyond a lone undergraduate study abroad program. We love Italy yet consider ourselves global citizens, humanitarians at heart, dedicated to humanistic pursuits, along with the distillation and literary expression of Lessons Learned, whether Dante and Boccaccio or Isak Dinesen and Rebecca West.

I am musing over a rebrand after our numbers turn, as we’ll lose our couplet. Suggestions welcome. Day 20, still not funny comes to mind.

Farm Wife is doing well. Yesterday, after seeing to daily chores of dishes, lunch, and laundry, she darned four items of clothing, taught Eleanor some more basic ironing and sewing skills, creating miniature vestments for assorted unclad stuffed animals (the masterpiece that is Pooh’s new red t-shirt should still be featured on my Instagram feed to the right, if you look.) Jason had a stretch of work and conference calls from four to eight-thirty, so I was on for dinner also. Out of our freezer emerged some suitable spinach à sauter and a pizza to customize with sliced hotdogs for the kids. We have produce from Jason’s midweek run, so out came four potatoes, scrubbed and cut into a passable French fry format. And look! a modest tagliata to grill and share! oh bliss that Jason scooped one up. I would really like some mayonnaise, I said to Jason. No, it’s too much, he countered. Save the eggs, it uses too many eggs. Initially I acquiesced, but as he disappeared into our room and shut the door for a fourth meeting, I skated around on the internet and found a mayonnaise hack that used a modest amount of ingredients. (Five egg yolks, on the other hand? are you kidding? who does that? is this hollandaise or mayo?) I confess here I am an inveterate mayo lover. I attribute this to my time in France. (But I loved Miracle Whip on cheese burgers as a child, so perhaps I was a deracinated french palate seeking its motherland. Learning about actual mayonnaise in France was parallel to my margarine versus butter epiphany at twenty or so, along with crème fraiche, mon Dieu, why did no one ever tell me about this before. It was like seeing for the first time the beauty of UW campus.) I halved the mayonnaise recipe and whipped it up (substituting a drop red wine vinegar, using mostly vegetable oil with a splash of olive oil, and dicing and tossing in a half-clove of fresh garlic), and it came out gorgeous in a minute, just like the recipe promised. The chips emerged from the oven soft on the inside, crisp at the tips. The assembled dinner of tagliata, sautéed spinach, fresh chips, and mayo, all washed down with a bottle of reliable red wine, was an incredible morale booster. I would never eat like that every day, but de temps en temps, why not return with my tastebuds to meals in France that form yet the stuff of my dreams.

And that pantry crumb cake has given us such pleasure. Please make it, if you haven’t yet, if you, like me, are always soothed by baking. It also adapts well to vegan kitchens (mashed bananas for egg and coconut oil for butter). I used blueberry jam for the fruit, and had the kids crack the rest of our Italian local pecans for the topping. Make some cake, and savor it with a cup of coffee or tea. I’ve got eight servings of it in the freezer for the next week. Next time I am going to make it with crushed peanuts and Nutella for the full-on Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup effect.

So, here, on Day 19 of our humanitarian house arrest, I feel – hesitantly – that I might have hit a bit of a stride. Take care of yourself and your family first. Do what comforts you. Is it a simple meal? Fresh laundry? a card game? A short yoga class, or a bounce on a trampoline, or a dance video with that adorable Aussie? Mix up screen time with manual tasks. Busy hands, happy heart, my farm wife will tell you. I have given her a managerial promotion so that she is now directly overseeing Miss Anxiety. Farm Wife is really task oriented so Miss Anxiety does not get much of an opportunity to talk back or complain about the opportunity for promotions in this office.

I said it weeks ago, but I will repeat here: this is a long game, and managing anxiety, fear, obsession, compulsion, depression, and the rest of it is the lion’s share of the strategy. Ask your family members at the start of each day, and throughout the day, how they’re doing. Limit news and social media. Yield and permit vexatious spirits to pass.

I expect us to be under humanitarian house arrest for most, if not all, of April, and possibly into May. I will be shocked if the kids go back to school. Many schools in the U.S. are already announcing they will not return this school year. Covid-19 is going to own all of us until we have a vaccine and immunity is on the rise, but it’s going to be a slog to get there. Medical experts have said we should all plan to shelter in place perhaps multiple times this year to protect our populations, our healthcare, our hospitals, our people. Even when this initial quarantine is lifted, I fully expect another to be enacted again this year. And maybe we will look back and laugh at how easy the first quarantine was, how innocent we were. We complained so much, I imagine people saying, but it was by far the easiest of the six.

It gives me great pleasure to talk about these small things here. We all saw the numbers yesterday out of Italy and Spain and NYC. My global network is humming as friends from everywhere have been checking in, as much to ask me how we’re doing as to report how they are in China, Japan, India, throughout Europe, in Africa, all over the Americas. More than one friend told me they broke down and cried for the first time in the last twenty-four hours. Please, take care of yourselves. The majority of us will get through this, but it is going to take some strategy and strength. Be gentle. Be kind. Go easy.