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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

In my day...

Two Older Ladies in Lecce

I am not old. I can't start saying that. If I do, then for the next 50 years (hopefully), I will be uttering the same phrase. However, I am old enough to say that I remember how things were living in Rome over a decade ago. When I first came to Rome in 2000, I lived in the area known as Trastevere, and at that time, it was really the heart of traditional Rome: cobble-stoned streets, laundry hanging in the windows, fresh bread baking in the forni (bakeries)  and the local laundromat to do your wash. Undoubtedly, you've seen these classic Italian pictures on postcards and the like.

No one spoke English. As a nascent Italian speaker testing out my two and a half years of college Italian on real Italians, this wasn't always an easy thing. I remember going into a local shop not knowing the word for tape and instead trying to describe it in Italian. My description must have been stellar because she pointed me to a sponge, maxi pads and, though closer, glue. We reverted to walking around the store together trying to find this mystery item. Finally, I saw it and picked it up. "Ah!", the store owner said, "Scotch!" Of course...

This was not an isolated incident of banal errands being at times excruciatingly difficult. Nonetheless, I loved it. I loved breaking out my wobbly, holey Italian and testing out the rigor of my two year training. I loved completing phrases that people actually understood. I loved living in a different language, a different culture, a different pace of life, a different way of being.

If you know Trastevere now, you know that the Trastevere of my memory is a very different place than it is today. Trastevere has, in a way, become the most "American", or at least foreign, place in Rome. The three American universities have tripled in student body size in 10 years- thereby, tripling the amount of student apartments necessary and even the amount of building space for classes. Local business has changed to cater to this new wave, modernizing many if not most of the restaurants, bars and stores in the area- adding to the trend of Friends Cafe (the one modern, American-type, odd-ball bar that existed when I was there) with Good Cafe, Bir & Fud and T-Bone station.

I have always found the trend ironic that the more people travel to a place to presumably get of their norm, the more places change to accommodate the travellers (who I suppose miss their norm).

When I came to Italy, I had no intention to resume my "norm". So the rise of fast food chains like Subway, shopping malls and American-style breakfasts at restaurants always makes me a little nostalgic- the "back in my day" mentality of admittedly "older" people.

All this is to explain why my trip to Puglia was so poignant for me. Like day trips to small towns outside of Rome, my trip to Puglia was a reminder of the Italy I knew when I came 12 years ago: few English speakers, restaurants without menus, cities that aren't overrun and therefore are still polite to tourists...

A post about Puglia will follow (obviously).