According to Italian law, enacted on the 9th of March, 2020, you are no longer allowed to leave your dwelling, to go out, stroll the streets. No gathering in parks, no chatting with neighbors on street corners or at the local bar (for coffee). Lockdown means lockdown. This is why the recent videos of residents singing from their balconies is going viral. Humans will always find a way to connect. Our spirits are always lifted when we realize we’re not alone.
When you do leave your home, you must fill out the appropriate form and carry it with you, in case you are stopped by the police. The form includes your name, date of birth, where you live, and your telephone number. It states that you are “aware of the criminal consequences in the case of false declarations…” and provides four acceptable reasons for not being at home:
You then must sign, date, and time the form. And, if stopped by police, the policeman will sign it as well.
I returned my rental car within 36 hours after this law went into effect. Clearly, my hopes of driving around nearby towns would not come to fruition. No last-minute drive to Marsala to stock up on wine. There would be no sight-seeing for the foreseeable future. No reason to have a car.
I didn’t have the form on me when I arrived at the Palermo airport. The Avis employees were shocked. Finally, they provided me a blank one and insisted I fill it out before heading “home.” Less than twenty people at the airport. Only two other people were on the train, plus the conductor.
The only people I see out on the streets are those walking their dogs. Plus a few others walking along the dock or beach for exercise. (I think this must apply under either health reasons or situations of necessity.)
Yesterday, after reading about Americans stocking up on toilet paper and hand sanitizer, I decided it was probably a good idea to get more rations, just in case further restrictions were imposed. Ok, honestly, there was also a very tiny fear that Italians might start acting like crazy Americans and begin hoarding / clearing off shelves. Plus, I had run out of cheese, salami, and olives. I was definitely going to need more food!
I left my apartment at 8:30 Saturday morning. An easy stroll down narrow streets in the early sunshine. About ten blocks past laundry already hanging from balconies to a more commercial street with closed restaurants and a few stores. When I reached the butcher (which I hadn’t seen previously), I discovered one person inside and one car on the street waiting. Under the new restrictions, only one person is allowed in a store at a time. Others wait in a line outside for their turn. Lucky for me, the car was waiting for the woman inside. When it was my turn, all I bought was cheese and eggs. Lots of cheese. I tried to give the butcher my re-usable shopping bag that I had brought from home and he panicked. “No! No!” he said as my bag touched the top of the glass case. I froze and apologized. “Mi dispiace,” I said. I’m sorry. To which he responded, “Va bene. Ma polizia, la polizia.” It’s okay, but the police, the police. What did he mean? My Italian is too poor for me to understand or to ask for clarification.
My next stop was one door over for more vegetables and more fresh basil. The old woman who runs the shop was clearly surprised to see me again. Her eyebrows raised over her face mask and she nodded. Next door the bakery was open! Yay!! Gluten be damned, I wasn’t going to miss this chance to stock up on baked goods. First, I bought three croissants and then I just started pointing at things. I filled an entire bag with cookies and croissants.
A few more blocks and I found the same grocery store I had previously visited, where I purchased more supplies: canned tuna, capers, tea, boxed wine, chocolate, and body lotion. This shop owner recognized me as well and was very friendly, even offering me a slice of cheese to taste before buying. Such a small gesture, one we not only take for granted but expect in the States. Here, it took me by surprised. I swear I could feel my heart expand and I fumbled to express a few thoughts in Italian, more than the standard “Grazie.”
In all, I saw maybe twelve people during my entire excursion. There was no one on the streets. Only two cars drove by. Everyone now wears gloves and a mask. Luckily, I have a few with me (the gloves I wash with soap and water when I return home, dry them, and reuse). It would be disrespectful to not wear these things, I think. Even if we are at safe distances, even if we’re told face masks don’t really work. I don’t want to be the rude foreigner perceived as spreading the disease.
Which is why I was so taken aback this morning when the only Italian I know who follows me on Instagram responded to my last post by writing, “Respect the country.”
The apartment where I am staying is in a small coastal town outside of Palermo. Normally, it is filled with tourists or Italians on holiday. The building has five apartments, all of which are empty, except mine. I have a balcony that looks out at the water. It is beautiful. I truly am fortunate to have landed here.
And, I am accustomed to exercise. To walking and dancing. Sunshine is beautiful through the windows. On the balcony, it comes with cool wind. I think the best thing would be to walk a bit along the water. Go see the boats docked below. I text my landlord (residing in Palermo) and he says okay. “Yes, exercise is important. Just don’t stay out too long, stay away from other people, and make sure to bring the completed form.”
So I do this. I walk down to the water. Not to the boats, but nearby to a stretch of rocks completely abandoned. I am alone to eat my oranges and listen to the waves. Eventually I lie down to feel the sun on my face.
It is this photo I take and post on Instagram. Me lying in the sun. With a note that says “I’m technically not supposed to be there, lockdown really does mean lockdown.”
And this morning I awake to the response, “Respect the country.”
This post is my response. This post is my way of sharing what things are really like here, apart from the great posts you see on social media of people singing from their balconies. Truly, I am so grateful to be here at this time. I intend to follow the law and stay put. I also intend to keep enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.
And keeping eating oranges.
Now if only I had a dog.