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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

Just the Way You Are

This post is for all of you who have ever watched Under the Tuscan Sun or Roman Holiday and coo “I love Italy. It’s so magical there.”

A sunny August weekend and we decide to go to Calabria. Train leaves at 16:39 on a Friday afternoon.  Being even a little cautious/paranoid, I decide 1 hour and 39 minutes is enough to get to the main train station about 5 miles away. I decide to leave at 15:00.

That state of most of Rome's public transportation
15:04: I leave only a few minutes behind schedule and I am quite pleased with myself when right as I step out on the street I catch the bus that cuts out my 15 minute walk uphill.

15:12 I make up my four minutes of delay with this unexpected lift; I walk the rest of the way to the bus stop, passing by a broken down bus on the side of the road.  Uh oh, I think, Bad omen.

15:14 A lady at the stop mentions that she has already been waiting there for 15 minutes. We wait another 15 together and watch as two buses of the other line go by.

15:29. I begin the process of analyzing Rome’s Catch 22: Wait another 15-30 minutes for the current bus (which I can’t afford) or risk it on a potentially quicker but more circuitous route which could also involve a 15-30 minute wait (which I can’t afford).

No bus in sight, we opt for the tram: usually the fastest, most reliable of the mezzi. Except this time. It crawls. It goes at a speed to intentionally catch all the red lights. I realize that this is not just in my head or Murphy’s law. The tram IS intending to catch all the red lights because there is another tram ahead of it that it can’t tail. Two trams one right after another:  the “coffee break” phenomenon of public transport.  No buses come for a very long stretch and then 2 or 3 come together. Why? Because of a collective bus driver coffee break. That’s my personal theory anyway.

15:45 We get to Largo Argentina and I remember something I had noticed in my earlier jaunt in the city: the streets were too quiet. Largo Argentina, a virtual de facto bus terminal, and 10 minutes go by without a single bus.

15:55 Oh crap. Scioppero, I think. A sunny Friday in August: what further explanation could I need for a bus strike?

16:08 The 4th of about 15 buses that are supposed to stop at Largo arrives and it is the one to Termini. As to be expected, it is a rolling sardine can. I see people’s faces smashed up against the windows before seeing the bus number.

Side Note: Living in Rome almost five years now, I have allowed the pugilist in me to go free in this city knowing that I’d never get anywhere otherwise. However, in this case, I know though that no amount of pushing would get me and my luggage on board. Doors barely closing, I nervously watch the bus leave.

16:12 Two more buses go by- neither one full, neither one to termini. Just I am contemplating Plan C, (figuring out if any taxis would be free on the day of a scioppero) the 40 express train to termini comes by and I position myself in the spot that I would be first among the pushers.

16:13 Success! I am one of the lucky few who gets on and has the privilege of being pushed up against the metal pole between 3 male strangers, my foot 1/3 on the ground, 1/3 on someone else’s foot, 1/3 under someone else’s foot.

16:16 I know what heat stroke feels like.

16:22 I think the bus will tip because of the weight.

16:29 I get shoved in the wave of people getting off the bus.

16:34 I push pass the summer masses to get to Termini's Binario (Track) 13.

16:36 On the train! I examine the damages: my once beige pants now stained with black from other people’s shoes, a soaking wet black top, and hair that I put up so I don’t have to realize the extent of its dinginess.

16:39 The train leaves. I sit and think: I had risked heat stroke, dehydration and whatever infectious disease might be caught from close proximity with strangers all to get on a 1920’s train for a five hour  train ride with no air conditioning, no water or food anywhere on board and never mind electrical outlets or internet. And this was first class mind you!

 P.S.  The train stopped 1.5 hours later because car 7 was on fire.  Somehow that only caused a half hour delay…?

Moral of this Story: People who are married will tell you that real love is not loving someone on your big fancy wedding day, or at the romantic dinner on your anniversary. It is not when they give you the fat, shiny ring on your finger or a bouquet of flowers on your birthday. It is waking up in the morning with them when they have come down with a cold, when they have filled your trashcan and maybe bed with Kleenex, when they have a splotchy face from a fever and bloodshot eyes from blowing their nose and ask you to rub Vicks on them.

If you look at a someone during those terrible times and can still say I love you, you have found it.

Italy, you’re a mess, but I love you.