Update from Italy: Various Coping Skills

Victor’s Tuesday afternoon, minus the mini trampoline. But I bet this cat would have liked that. Photo by yerling villalobos on Unsplash

We’re on day whatever of the lockdwn in Italy. For people who are still asking, no, we can’t have picnics, no, we can’t go on runs, no, we can’t go to the park. We must wear masks outside. We can now all get one free mask per day at the pharmacy, 30 days at a time. We can go outside to get groceries or to go to the pharmacy. We can take trash and recycling out under the watchful eye of bull-horned cops and buzzing drones. So, yes, that is very relaxing. It is, in fact, just like a picnic in the park. Thank you!

Everyone has their different coping strategies. Victor (age 8), for example, has been sitting in a box on the mini-trampoline. When he is fortunate, he and his best friend get to have conference calls via WhatsApp about farts and being covered in poo. Who knows! They just imagine what life would be like if this would happen. I really don’t think he and his bestie are gonna get to horse around again in person in school until 2021 at the soonest.

Eleanor (age 5) seems to be unable to keep up with her sick dollies. Every dollie has a temperature. This is very serious. Her bedroom looks like an ICU, dollies swaddled with binkies and thermometers. “Mommy, please take this baby. She has a very high feeber.” I look at the toy thermometer. She has pushed the little red notch up to 120F. “That is a very high feeber,” I say solemnly. “What are we going to do for this baby?” She hands me a pink plastic bowl that contains plastic celery, a plastic tomato, and a plastic mass of green peas that looks a lot like frog eggs. “Feed her this.” Well, ok, as you say, Dr. Eleanor. This is the child who used to treat her babies with nuclear medicine when she was two, repurposing the scanner on her cash register as a sort of radiotherapy wand. I did as I was told and did not argue.

Jason (age 46) poked his head into our room today as I was trying to wrap up an afternoon meeting that had become more farcical than I had expected due to the vagaries of Zoom and cross-cultural communication. “I can do some yoga?” he said. “Can you do some yoga soon?” I was floored. We have been doing yoga in the mornings on our big rug, but usually I am the one dragging him to the mat, saying”It’ll be good for you! Let’s go.” He called back from the kitchen, “I like the ones that make me feel taller; my neck sounds like an organ grinder’s delight.” Then he dropped our last carton of eggs, breaking all three on the floor. The stress is everywhere.

What am I doing? Scrapping for time to write, baking and cooking up a storm, focusing on low-cal feature plates like oeufs à la mayonnaise and the famous “hot dog sandwich.” Working when I can fit an hour in here or there. Putting away seasonal clothes and precision-creasing t-shirts as though I still worked on the floor at the Gap. Making grandmotherly remarks about the the current humid weather versus the wisdom and/or necessity of doing laundry at this time. Sorting out my current reading by various categories: philology, stuff in Italian, classics I will read sooner or later.

True story: when I was studying abroad in Spain (age 19), and the modern languages department was closed for the day in observance of the patron saint of philology, I thought it was a typo. Surely they mean philosophy. (St Jerome or St Gotteschalk? I just looked it up. Maybe the thirteenth-century Catalonian philologist San Raimundo?)

Italy seems to have a handle on things at the moment, health-wise. I feel safe here, but I would also really like to go outside. But I understand why I can’t go outside. I know that it’s complicated. However, I’m not going to stage some maniac protest. Italy has recorded 25,000 deaths to date, but that number is likely to go up as public records sift through the death certificates from 2020 and compare them to year-over-year mortality. Deaths in Tuscany are under 700, and total cases are under 9,000, which is amazing, considering the ish has been going down here for 8 to 9 weeks. Our actions are saving lives. I appreciate this. And yet, I have a little boy who is bouncing in a cardboard box, a little girl whose contagious baby hospital is out of control, and a husband who asks me to do yoga before dinner. And I am using an astrolabe to decide whether I want to do laundry or not.

So, yes, that is very relaxing. It is, in fact, just like a picnic in the park. Thank you!