Update from Italy: Dreaming of Freedom

Quarantined bird wondering where she might fly to anyway. Photo by Irina Blok on Unsplash

On day fifty-something here of a strict quarantine in Italy, I find myself wondering, what will I feel like on May 4? When we went into lockdown in Italy it was still winter, and here we are, summer solstice less than two months away. the sky stays blue well after eight in the evening, the light slanting through our windows. The days of autocertificazioni will be gone, but face masks in public will be mandatory. Perhaps the police and drones will still be out, maybe issuing citations for no face mask / improper face mask.

Maybe it will feel like that scene in “History of the World,” in the Bastille, where freedom comes and the decrepit prisoner ‘releases’ the birds … throwing the lifeless carcasses through the window bars. “Fly, fly!” This image has come to mind often for me in the past weeks.

I’ve been in this apartment so long I won’t know where to go if the doors open. Funny how that happens so fast. How we get used to limitations and boundaries. And I say this fully admitting that our situation is privileged. We have a lawful immigration status and lawful employment. We are in a safe home with access to green things and fresh air. We are healthy. We can access excellent healthcare. We have savings. We are continuing to work – in fact, Jason has been working overtime since the end of February, trying to manage budget and staffing for multiple pandemic scenarios and recovery models. My work dipped down, but is coming back up now. I suspect there will be plenty of legal immigration work for qualifying emigrants outbound to Italy in 2021 and 2022.

“What will really change for us after May 4?” Jason asked again. I don’t know. Probably not much. Won’t be riding the bus. Won’t be doing any unnecessary shopping. Might take more walks around town or up to Fiesole or San Miniato, with a face mask on, as previously mentioned. Would like to ride my bike around town. Won’t be frequenting social events. No dinners or drinks out. No coffee out. (Reminds me I’d better work on my home court cappuccino game – it is weak.) Actually, a one-hour walk per day would be really, really nice. Maybe I will get some velcro weights.

But I was thinking last night and today about the converse of freedoms we have given up. What are the freedoms we experienced in this two-month period, aside from no-guilt wine with lunch? (I am considering these points from a perspective of economic and cultural privilege. I recognize that.) Our family has gained emotional freedom. The freedom from the tyranny of the daily schedule and the weekly schedule, of bedtimes and school start times and school pickup and office hours. Yes, we’re home all day, but our days became more cogent. We found an emotional rhythm with our children that was difficult to maintain during pre-quarantine weekdays when we ran pillar to post, Monday through Friday. It is easy to see why Victor was frustrated or Eleanor was upset, when those things happened, and to help them back to a greater equilibrium. It is lovely to see one or both of them wake up in a good mood, get themselves dressed, make their beds, get their own breakfast and vitamin. This is freedom to a parent. That we can start our morning without a running start.

What else? I have more freedom than ever before to write, and to make art. This is huge. People who told me to squeeze it into ten- or fifteen-minute window every day didn’t seem to take into consideration how stressed and compressed I was before and after said window. It’s hard to turn the creative tap on and off at will. I’m a person, not a robot. The creative plot has to be cultivated.

And finally, the joy in preparing and eating good food together that we made ourselves. Taking the time to look in the fridge and to ask ourselves, what would be nourishing right now? What do I want to prepare? What can I prepare for tomorrow, or use up now? I feel this is an activity that was quickly marginalized in modern life C19.

I’m no Pollyanna, trying to create a narrative of survival or recovery. This willful realist wants to value the situation for what it is. Yes, some freedoms were lost in the past two months, but some were also found, and I want to recognize and name those. It’s a balancing act. You win some, you lose some. You regain some, you lose the other ones. Maybe. Maybe I will mostly stay in my nest to do my part to help manage the global public health. I am happy to make that choice. Also, and more importantly, our kids are not returning to anything that looks like a schoolday until September, so …. I am home. Safe at home.