How Italy has been finding something good about itself even in this time of tragedy
Living in Italy at the time of coronavirus is one strange experience. Unused to see our routines and freedom thwarted to this extent, some of us have been finding it hard to stay home and follow the rules.
“That’s because you Italians lack discipline and don’t like to be told what to do:” well, not really. My best friend is a doctor in Nice, South of France, and she told me the French are having the same problem.
It’s just one can’t be ready to something like this. And while it’s true that being asked to stay home with free streaming services (many companies have been offering them throughout the lockdown period), free books (publishing houses also offer free ebooks) and a lot of ways to chat with friends and families anyway (thank you, technology), being unable to see and touch the people you love is surreal.
But you know, we are resourceful people, in the end. Our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have fought two world wars and many of us have been brought up by them: we have resilience in our DNA and we’ll make it through.
There are a few things we didn’t expect from this beginning-of-quarantine period, though, as we didn’t expect anything positive could come out of it. However, it did.
When Italy calls, Italians answer proudly
The first thing Italy at the time of coronavirus understood is that its people know how to be a community. Known for having a penchant for criticizing everything and playing too much the victim, Italians found themselves pretty much united in giving support to each other and — mostly — also to the Government. The Government…Mind, of course they could do better, I wouldn’t be Italian if I didn’t write it, but we found unity and a heightened sense of civic respect for our institutions during the first month of the crisis.
Yes, borders could have been closed earlier and yes, compulsory quarantine should have been imposed since the beginning for everyone returning from China, but we’ll discuss about the mistakes when the emergency is gone. Right now, we need to be a community and we’ve been managing pretty well.
The weakest are our responsibility and we need to protect them
It is known that Covid-19 is particularly dangerous for the elderly and for those with weak immune systems and serious pathologies: in other words, the scoundrel goes after the weakest people in our society.
The “that’s ok, I am young and healthy so I won’t get it” attitude lasted for a while, but soon we began realizing we all had at couple of people we loved within those “at risk” categories: parents, grandparents, friends… we all knew and loved someone that could be harmed by Covid-19. And so, after the first week of disbelief, when Italians kept pretending nothing was happening — an attitude that presented itself virtually in every country during the first days of the epidemic — we accepted that protecting the weakest was our duty. And so… the old fashioned “my neighborhood is my family” frame of mind typical of old fashioned, rural Italy returned: young people doing the shopping for their elderly neighbors who, in turn, cook lasagne for them, because “have you eaten enough sweetheart, you need to keep your strength up.”
Children calling their parents two or three times a day, realizing how much they miss them and how, when danger is great, we all return children a bit and want to be with them.
Old friends just deciding it’s time to check on each other, rekindling relationships that once were important, but may have stayed dormant for years: and it’s all genuine, it’s all real.
National pride can be a beautiful thing
Before we went on lockdown, we Italians experienced something we had never quite experienced before, at least people my generation (I was born in the late ’70s): we became personae non gratae. With the Chinese, we became Covid-19’s “great spreaders” and our presence was more or less officially unwelcome everywhere. That put a lot of things in perspective: our perception of the the “unwanted,” the tragedy of those Italians of the past who migrated to other countries and endured seclusion and discrimination. Mind, modern, Covid-19 induced fear-of-the-Italian is nothing compared to all that, and we are well aware of it, but it certainly helped us put a lot into perspective. And that’s always a plus.
Seeing our country in danger, seeing it on its knees like that, touched what one could only call national pride, but the good, healthy, wholesome type, free from all sort of dangerous populist nationalism. We all rediscovered a connection with our ancestry, with our land, with our flag. We stopped complaining about our leading class, our Prime Minister, our President, because right now we have a duty, a civic duty as Italians, to stick together and to support each other.
And so the tricolor came out of windows somewhere but, especially, our national anthem turned into our number one hit: last week, when the “go to the window and sing for Italy” flash mob was organized, no one really thought it would have turned out that way: whole city blocks, each person on their balcony or at their window, singing the Inno di Mameli. If there were musicians, they provided accompaniment, if there were professional singers, they lead the choir. And where there were only common people, it worked just as well, and it was just as meaningful: it was 60 million people saying to each other “we are here, don’t feel alone,” and saying to Italy “we love belonging to you.”
Italy at the time of coronavirus has its heroes, too
Last but not least, these difficult times brought us also some positive examples of integrity, love and strength. The whole world knows about Captain Brave, Gennaro Arma, the Captain of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, whose story made the headlines everywhere: embodiment of some of the best traits not only of the Italian people, but of humanity in general (courage, strength, compassion and a cool head in a situation of danger), Arma became a symbol to be proud of, a sort of popular hero for this beginning of 2020.
But those we truly consider special and to whom we are most grateful are our nurses and doctors. Italy at the time of coronavirus is a country that understood the courage and professionalism healthcare practitioners must have to do their job. Some call them heroes, but they unanimously say we shouldn’t do that: they are professionals, they do their job and their job is to save lives, as simple as that. But let me tell you something: our doctors have been working in war conditions, they have little PPE, they do double shifts, many of them are isolated from their families because they are afraid of bringing home the virus. These people deserve all of our respect, all of our appreciation. They don’t want to be called heroes, but in this moment of tremendous fear, their professionalism and commitment to caring is outstanding, moving.
They may not be heroes, but they are pretty damn close to be.
Italy at the time of coronavirus: a country that may be rediscovering its best side
In times like these, Italy rediscovers its best characteristics: a big heart, sense of community, a healthy pride in its culture, respect for those who’ve been helping us. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of discomfort and fear — those are many, everyday — nor that every citizen behaves like that: in the end, if all Italians followed the rules properly and showed civic respect for the community, it’s likely contagion wouldn’t have spread at such speed and with such magnitude. But again, this isn’t the time to argue, it’s the time to be united and supportive, also towards our institutions. Everything else is a problem for after the emergency.