LESLIE MCBRIDE WILE
Suddenly we’re all in la zona rossa—the red zone—together. The Italian government has taken the extraordinary measure of restricting movement of people throughout the country. Permits to travel between towns are available online, from law enforcement, and (so I’ve heard) at police checkpoints on public roads. The four valid reasons for travel are: a proven need to work; “necessary situations;” reasons of health; or to return to one’s home, domicile, or lodgings. For the first, one also has to have a certificate from one’s employer. Permit holders are encouraged to carry one copy on their person and a second in their motor vehicle. This is the most tangible sign yet of the changes to our social landscape since 21 February, when the first case of COVID-19 appeared in Italy.
In a way this makes the whole situation simpler; Italians are well accustomed to bureaucratic controls, forms, permits, paperwork. Yesterday when we were still outside even la zona arancione, the orange zone, we thought and behaved almost normally and kept to many of our routines True, schools have been closed in Mondovì since 24 February, holy Masses suspended, public meetings and festivals cancelled, visiting hours at hospitals and nursing homes restricted, even admittance to the emergency room subject to pre-triage in a tent outside the hospital. But bars and restaurants were open as usual; supermarkets, farmers’ markets, pharmacies, banks, and shops of all sorts kept regular hours and received customers. Outside the two designated zones of contagion, we inhabited a grey area that allowed some room for personal choice and judgement. We constrained our lives and ourselves in small ways, gradually, over a period of weeks (no greeting with kisses, no trips to the supermarket with the whole family in tow) and we adapted to a kind of normalcy. Daily reports of new cases of COVID-19 and a rising death toll were alarming but they were not happening here.
That is gone now. Now the carabinieri are posted along the roads, asking to see travel permits, and nobody messes with the carabinieri. When they get involved, things are serious. I left our house this morning for the regular Tuesday farmers’ market in Breo (the lower town and commercial center of Mondovì) and stopped in the pharmacy in Piazza (the medieval upper town) on my way home. The market was sparse—some vendors were missing and shoppers were few. Absent were the usual clusters of people chatting together; everyone seemed intent on shopping and returning home, limiting their exposure. The line for service at the pharmacy was outside the door; two pharmacists in protective masks (the first I’ve seen here) served clients while we waited patiently under the portico, maintaining one careful meter’s distance apart. I didn’t leave Mondovì proper so I had no contact with the authorities, but I have no doubt if I had tried, for instance, to travel the 4 km to our bank in Vicoforte, I would have been turned back.
I hope this works. Here in the north our healthcare system is fairly strong, but I understand southern Italy is not so well-ordered, organized, equipped. If the virus should swamp hospitals throughout the country it would be a real disaster, and I wonder who would be able to come to our aid. It seems to me the virus will be with us all for some time, working its way around the globe. If this works, Italy may serve as a model for other countries to follow. I don’t want to think about what may happen otherwise.
Piemontese are sturdy, sensible people, not given to displays of emotion. They are hard-working, familiy-centered, no-nonsense people who like to eat and drink well, walk in their beloved mountains, and tend their gardens and orchards. They won’t panic and they will follow instructions, especially now the carabinieri are enforcing them. So I’m hopeful today because I trust our neighbors and friends will act in good faith and do their best to help Mondovì, Piemonte, and Italy to turn back the outbreak.