After quite some time, I find myself staring at a blinking cursor at the top of a blank page – at a loss for words.
The end-of-winter sun splashes empty sidewalks usually bustling with tourists being herded from one landmark to the other. The chatter and honking, hallmarks of a typical day are gone, replaced by a prevalent silence pierced occasionally by the scream of a seagull hunting for scraps. The laughter has turned nervous and the warm embraces we are used to exchanging are gone.
This is the new normal in Rome. Italy is grappling with yet another pestilence in its multi-millennial existence, but it’s been a while and few are around to recall what it was like the last time we went through this kind of pandemic.
Instead of keeping calm and finding a way forward together as a country, as a continent and as global citizens, there is finger pointing, closed borders, quarantine and hysteria. The media first and foremost and the politicians not far behind have created so much panic and confusion that “gut feelings” have replaced what was once “expert opinions”.
How and why have we gotten to this point? The most appropriate comparison is watching an own goal trickling slowly into the net as the keeper desperately scrambles to recover the ball only to push it faster and farther into their own net.
And so here we are, sitting at home with our kids forced to learn from behind a computer screen and the luckier ones amongst us working from home, if working at all. It does not really matter whether or not Italians as a whole are disciplined enough to stay put and sacrifice their love of “la dolce vita” to try and shore up this virulence. The country is at a mental tipping point.
I can only speak for Rome, at the moment, but can only imagine that each country and city is dealing with this situation in their own way. There are those that will deny it is happening until its gone, those that will point fingers to deflect attention from their own contribution to the spread, those who will continue to insist it is not a problem because they feel it in their gut and those that have been able to contain and mitigate by any means possible.
I have my own opinion, as do we all, but it is too late for opinions. It is time to beat this virus and the accompanying mass hysteria that has brought healthcare and economy to its knees. Stay at home whenever possible and wash your hands diligently. There is really not much else to add. For once let us all be responsible for the health and safety of those around us.
Is this the moment to come to Italy, no. I say this as one who works in travel and hospitality, so you may think I’m crazy, but I assure you that I am not. There is no point in pretending that everything is alright. The country and its economy are devastated. There will be more people who get sick. There will be store closures and layoffs. There will be very hard times, but we have been here before, many times, we will roll up our sleeves and pick up the pieces. We will need to help those less fortunate, when the dust clears. We will pick them up too and we will replenish the shelves, repair the windows, fix the lights and open our doors to welcome the world back in because that is what Italy and Italians do best. Everybody wants to cook like us, design like us, drive like us, create like us, invent like us and enjoy life like us. We are the life of the party and everybody wants an invitation, so do not frett, we will be back very soon to continue making all of you incredibly envious.