10 March 2020
It was never my intention to stay in touch. Six weeks in Italy and I wanted to disconnect, to fully immerse myself in this place where I had never been. I wanted to discover new things, things I had read about, things which I had a sense or feeling for but couldn’t explain, couldn’t yet articulate.
Everyone who knows me well understood. I have always been this way. In years past, when I returned from a trip abroad, it would take some time for me to reengage. Always struggling with the excitement of those who greeted me, wanting to hear everything, to share my stories, to show my photos. I needed silence for a bit—sometimes even days—before I could return to my animated self. Of course, this was all before cell phones and internet, and video chat was only something used on The Jetsons. My last big trip abroad was to Ethiopia in 2011 for four weeks. I sent a few emails to folks states-side, updating them on the nonprofit work in which I was engaged, but photos and Facebook? I grimaced at the thought of it. And this time I had all but given up Facebook a few months ago. But then the coronavirus hit.
At the end of February, just days away from my departure, the questions began: Are you still going? The question seemed ridiculous. Of course, I was still going. From the very beginning, seven months prior, I was pretty clear that I would only travel in the south (with one small exception to the southern part of Umbria for maybe two days). Yes, there is so much beauty and history to see up north. And that would have to wait. This trip wasn’t about the art. This trip was about really being in Italy. Not always on the go, skimming the surface, seeing as much as I could. Instead, I wanted to really get a feel for the place. And hopefully, have time to write. Besides, the coronavirus was up north. How wise I was (thought I, rather smugly) that my travel plans had never included the north.
In the last two weeks before departure I was almost out of my skin ready to go. This time, exactly at this time, was when I needed to be there. I knew that somehow. Rationally, I figured March and April would be off-season for tourists and the weather would be pretty good. And theoretically it would give me time to prepare: to research, save money, and learn the language (the latter of which I did not do, alas.) More than that, I just had a feeling. Now, I would call it intuition. But earlier, it was just a sense. So when I lost my job in October and several friends suggested I go to Italy then, I declined. It wasn’t the right time.
And then came the coronavirus. And Italy became the third highest rate of infection around the globe. And still I came. My only concession was this: I would use WhatsApp to stay in touch with my family and closest friends and I would post a little on Facebook. And ok, for those who used neither, I would even send an email or two to assure I was okay. And then the day before I left, (a lot of ‘and’s to this process!) I acquiesced a bit more: I contacted AT&T to set up International Passport plan that allowed for unlimited texting. But AT&T failed me as soon as I reached Toronto, so I purchased a TIM card immediately upon landing in Rome. I thought I had my bases covered. I thought all of this was not that big of a deal.
I was wrong. At least about the virus. Six days in Italy and everything moved so quickly. By the morning of the seventh day, everything would be different. Very, very, different.