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Locked down but not out in Italy

Singing from the balconies! One nice thing about this crisis ... solidarity! “Guess you’re not living like a tourist anymore,” was the funny, truthful and somewhat gut-wrenching message of a friend the day the lockdown in Italy began. Today is day 6. My beloved Italia has been hit hard with the COVID19 epidemic. With the second largest elderly population in the world, the epidemic has meant a disproportionate amount of deaths in the country. So though I haven’t been worried about contracting it myself, this isn’t about me or someone like me who, if contracted it would probably have a sucky couple of weeks and then recover. It is about if someone like me contracted it and then spread it to a person with a complicated health history or an elderly person with a weakened immune system. Eerily orderly: Lines for the grocery store, each person one meter apart In a country with no concept (and no physical room really) for personal space, and in a city with reproachable hygie


Photo Credit: John Devine
It is getting harder and harder to say. I suppose this betrays my traveler lifestyle; yet, though I have a gypsy soul, I don’t have a gypsy heart.

My heart doesn’t relocate as easily. Pieces of it get stuck in people I have met, cities I have lived in and apartments that I have made home.

I am not the quintessential gypsy who lives out of a suitcase, ready to leave at any minute. I don’t think of it as 4 walls that keep the rain out. Instead, with each new place, I assess my surroundings, rearrange it into something that fits me better, add a few little sticks, strings or other frills that reflect my personality and make my nest. If the nest gets knocked down, I make a new one. So, I haven’t accepted mobility and stopped trying to make some new dorm, apartment, house or condo feel like home. I just rebuild the nest in whatever tree I fly to.

And now I find myself once again in the familiar situation of gathering up all my things to pack and move elsewhere.

This used to be something I did with great ease. My suitcases may have been overloaded, overweight and ready to split the zippers open, but my mental state was orderly and ready to go. Now, my packing habits are perfected, neat and tidy, but my emotions are busting at the seams. I can’t say I blame them. I haven’t given them much of a break.

Since I was 18, I have moved from Baltimore to Atlanta (dorm 1) to Baltimore to Paris to Baltimore back to Atlanta (dorm 2) back to Baltimore back to Atlanta (apartment 1) to Baltimore to Rome (apartment 1) to Rome (apartment 2) to Baltimore to Atlanta (apartment 2) to Baltimore to Rome (apartment 3 and 4) to Leipzig to Frankfurt to Baltimore to Rome (apartments 5,6,7,8 and 9) to Baltimore to Chicago. That is 26 moves. And this is not just “packing up for a weekend trip” type moves- this is “pack up virtually every utilitarian item you own and the occasional non-essential, sentimental piece just to make the next place seem a little familiar” type.

26 substantial, life-defining moves in 12 years averages out to 2.16 moves per year since I was 18 years old. And this does not mention roommates. I have lived with 21 different people. Except for one of those (my very first roommate ever who was the textbook embodiment of the worst roommate imaginable), I have adored living with each and every one of these other 20 people. They were, and still are, my very good friends.

It cannot be denied though that it takes certain adjustments to living with new people- learning what rooms must desperately be kept clean, what NOT to eat from the refrigerator, who is ok with sharing coffee and who isn’t, who doesn’t drink coffee and hates the smell, who is ok with dishes in the sink and who will push you out the window because of it. There is definitely a period of adaptation necessary with any new roommate to work out the kinks of living together. I have had 21 periods of adaptation.

So when I start getting pangs in my chest at the thought of putting away my two favorite essential, non-essential items (frames and sheets), of having my knowledge of the metro system, the cute coffee house locations, the bubble tea shop and the grocery store with a stock of good spices, chic peas and espresso become futile … I cut myself a bit of a break. With 26 pieces missing, I am starting to feel the gaps in my heart.


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