LESLIE MCBRIDE WILE
Forget everything I wrote earlier about getting accustomed to leaving the house with protective gear. I feel the way one does around the end of January–weary of arming myself against a harsh environment every time I step out the door. Although now instead of boots, coat, scarf, hat, and gloves it’s the requisite documents, mask and gloves, wipes, hand sanitizer. And in Fase Due I find it’s also important to bring plenty of patience, compassion, tolerance, and good humor. I had to ask a gentleman not to stand so close behind me in line the other day, and a lady not only cut the line in front of me but tossed a rude remark my way when I protested. This is most unusual behavior in these parts, possibly due to a sense of insecurity as people leave the safety of their homes to mix in public places that are less empty but more constrained.
Perhaps some feel uneasy because it is not in their nature to form a line. Italians tend to move about in groups, at least two abreast. When they stand and wait, they cluster so they can see each other, converse, argue, make a joke. In single file none of this is possible—how can you talk with someone who’s standing behind you? Whereas I was trained from kindergarten to form a line, they are not conditioned to standing alone. Hence the need for more patience, compassion, tolerance. We are all feeling our way, passo a passo, (step by step) in Phase Two and it’s making some of us nervous and uncharacteristically aggressive.
Thirty thousand Italians have died of the virus. To try and make that real, I imagine all of Mondovì deserted, its surrounding villages emptied, everyone for miles around simply vanished.
Our farmers’ market re-opened last week, and I went down yesterday to survey the scene and do a bit of shopping. I waited a few minutes in line to enter the market piazza, which was cordoned all around with red and white plastic tape and patrolled by uniformed Vigili, or municipal police. Once inside I saw more people than I’ve seen in one place for more than two months, everyone in masks (by law) and most going briskly about their shopping. It’s always common to wait for service at the various stalls–mostly one or two farmers handle a small crowd of customers–but the distanza di sicurrezza makes it more difficult to tell whose turn is next. Some vendors had taped off 1-meter blocks on the floor for people to stand in, which was helpful, and the largest vendor actually had an elaborate arrangement of lanes like you see in banks and airports. Somehow I found all this sadder than lockdown; the normally bustling market—stalls piled high and side by side, crowded tables outside every bar, women exchanging kisses and gossip, knots of men in passionate discussion of football or politics—distanced, subdued, unnaturally contained. The police were awfully nice, I thought–they directed people calmly and kindly, conveying helpfulness instead of militant control.
As I walked back to my car the River Ellero caught my eye, lifted my heart; its bright waters rushing through the center of town reminded me all this will pass.
Later my husband and I went to a vivaio (garden center) to buy fresh annuals to fill our outdoor pots and window boxes. We waited about 10 minutes to enter, then wandered aisles of flowering plants, herbs, shrubs, and trees, filling a cart. Afterward we stopped back in town for gelato–such a treat after two months! But instead of strolling with our coppette (little cups) we had to take them home, as it’s forbidden to eat in public. So that experience was a bit shadowed too. My husband says life will return to normal eventually, and Italy is so wedded to tradition that he’s probably right. But for now public life seems stilted and a bit fraught.
White flowers abound at this season, in the wild and in the garden, sweetly scented and pollen-rich. The hum of bees anchors all other sounds–birdsong, barking dogs, the whine of chainsaws and string trimmers. In the woods south and west of our house wild dogwood blooms are clustered stars, and elderberry bushes raise creamy umbels skyward. Acacia trees sprout everywhere, their graceful falls of blossom swaying with the slightest breeze. Wild garlic sends up elegant spikes, and even humble ground elder makes itself pretty for a short while. The scent of honey rises from mounds of sweet alyssum.