It was a year ago today that things began to grind to a halt in Italy. Today was the day that Gonzaga pulled the plug on their program, sending home their two hundred American students. Yesterday was our anniversary dinner, which I ate more or less alone as Jason took call after call outside on the sidewalk as the campus administrators in Spoken struggled with the next best step. I moved his pot stickers around on the raku plate with my chopsticks, and when I saw he wasn’t coming back into the restaurant anytime soon, and looked pretty pale, I ate them cold anyway.
Today was the day of my first posts titled Update from Italy. I tied a knot on the end of the tether that connected me to dry land, to sanity, and I held on. And I wrote. And wrote. Many of you know I write every day, bearing eyewitness to the world’s certain destiny. I felt like a Hokusai figure on a beach, watching the ocean race away and knowing with what force the fierce tide would roll back in over all the land, the houses, the people. Hokusai doesn’t do a lot of “After” woodcuts. Their appeal was less. But people lived through the tsunami, or not, and it merits recognition.
Some things here closed down at first, but not everything. This coming weekend was the weekend that seemingly half of Italy took an impromptu ski trip thanks to the cessation of work and business. By next week, the government was dropping the hammer on our national emergency here. The last day of school was a week from today.
Last spring the virus nipped at our heels and chewed on some communities until their fibrous threads hung loose in the news for all to gawk at.
I have to stop and think about that. Last year this time our kids had one more week of normal school before it all closed down. This was our last week of normal life until May 4. We were staring down the barrel of a seven-week, Chinese-style hard lockdown, and we didn’t even know it.
If we had known, we wouldn’t be able to bear it. Maybe it is better that normal life was decapitated in one fell swoop, as though someone had paid the executioner to catch us off guard, like in a Tudor period piece.
The last day the kids were in school was the day I had the unexplained incident that I thought was a cardiac event. There’s only so much stress a body can take. I’ve never considered myself fragile, but day after day of clenched teeth and missed hours of sleep took their toll. Maybe it’s better we had no idea what was coming. We wouldn’t have been able to bear it.
In the coming days I will inventory here what we’ve lost to the pandemic, what we’ve gained from it, what stayed the same in spite of everything. I am a big fan of marking milestones and taking stock. It’s the coin of my realm. That, and list-making.
Thanks to everyone who read my pieces in this space in the last year. Your company meant more to me than you know. I’d like to time travel to this time last year and tell that Monica, on the cusp of global shock, Elizabeth Barrett Browning survived years of being a shut-in; I will tell her, you can cope with a couple of months, you and everyone in the whole sad extroverted Italian culture.