Friday, April 10, 2020

Thoughts on Covid 19 and Italy

About four weeks ago, while the economic beating heart of Italy, Lombardy, was facing an extraordinary emergency, dictated by an invisible enemy, hordes of university students and workers who had until then populated the streets of Milan, Brescia, Bergamo, and Crema, were flocking to train stations, bound for their hometowns scattered across the Italian peninsula. Along the boulevards, leaves on the solid, wet branches of trees shook and then languished in sudden gusts of wind while car lights flashed on a black and mournful asphalt. The fear of a novel virus coupled with the uncertainty of a foreseeable cure had driven hundreds of people to the stations, already packed with panicking, masked travelers. All were abandoning their afflicted adoptive cities, and their new homes –the custodians of their dreams. “Sparing no thought for anyone but themselves, large numbers of men and women abandoned their city, their homes, their relatives, their estates and their belongings” (G. Boccaccio, Decameron, Introduction). Masks covered their closed mouths and perhaps the bittersweet smiles, exchanged with those they were leaving behind. Anxiety was palpable and all eyes ventriloquized the sorrow within. The lucky ones who had found a seat, a standing spot, were squeezed like sardines unaware that their detached proximity would be their last physical contact before their quarantine.
Three weeks ago, a 94-year old woman died in my hometown, a remote village in rural Basilicata. Once it had been customary “for the women relatives and neighbors of a dead man to assemble in his house to mourn in the company of the women who had been closest to him […] his body would be taken thence to a church in which he wanted to be buried, being borne on the shoulders of his peers amidst the funeral pomp of candles and dirges” (Ibid.). Now, only a few women gathered to cradle their little hunchbacked neighbor. My sister was one of the nine people who attended the burial rite; no flowers adorned the naked casket, no Mass was celebrated, and no emotion transpired through the masks that covered their faces. Every person stood 6 feet from the next, like pawns on a chessboard, but the queen was gone. All were in checkmate. Woeful chants that once echoed from the cemetery were suppressed and no tears were shed; flowers on the gravestones were dry and only a lizard, solitary and oblivious, basked in the sun near the circle of mourners. No one dared to shoo it away; there was still pity and some humanity left.
Ten days ago, newspapers around the world shared a set of numbers: Italy’s new record for an Olympiad in which nobody had decided to compete. 4,821 new cases and 793 deceased. Italians, trapped in their homes from Bolzano to Lampedusa, had turned off the lights on their balconies and no one was singing. The voices that until then had united neighborhoods and towns during the first days of the lockdown were silenced, no longer resounding like they once had during soccer world championships. The rainbows and various Italian flags fluttering in the March breeze bore the same motto: “andr√† tutto bene” (everything will be all right). And maybe everything will, as long as we stay home and cling to our humanity, if we remain 6 feet from each other and keep an eye on each other. After all “umana cosa √® aver compassione degli afflitti” (It is a human thing to have compassion for the afflicted).
-Written by Professor Marino Forlino, Scripps College Claremont California

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