LESLIE MCBRIDE WILE
Here’s a new month in the new year, but I can’t escape a recurring sense of déjà vu, of experience spiralling back upon itself. It feels as if the same full moon has been rising all week, sailing high overhead night after night, disturbing my sleep. Almost any day of the week might be any other, except for the trash pick-up rotation and Sundays when we call Mom. And of course tomorrow is Groundhog Day . . .
Last year at this time I was planning a visit to my husband in Sierra Leone, where he was working and living. It would be my third visit so I knew that February weather is pleasant in west Africa, dry and sunny and not very hot. Two weeks in my husband’s flat at Lumley Beach would make a nice change. Except I had begun to hear reports about a highly contagious new virus, and suddenly a long journey by train, air, and water seemed unwise. I stopped planning and paid closer attention to NPR and BBC for details of the developing story. This year, news about COVID variants and border closings is only slightly less alarming in its familiarity. One year on we are still mostly homebound, limiting our exposure to others, still wearing masks in public, avoiding crowds and indoor seating. Déjà vu. Groundhog Day.
Italy is going through a rough patch, with the government in disarray and its pandemic response simultaneously stalled and running counter to conventional wisdom in most of the rest of the European Union. Let’s take one crisis at a time: The prime minister resigned after part of the parliamentary coalition government withdrew its support for his leadership. Then the president ordered coalition parties to discuss forming a new government, and it appears we may soon have a new prime minister at the helm. Meanwhile, the government remains in a “caretaker” capacity, essentially the same but without power to take substantive action. This is not as disastrous as it might seem to those of us unaccustomed to parliamentary governments comprising multiple political parties; the system isn’t broken, this is more or less how it works. The timing is a problem, though, which brings up the second crisis: vaccinations against COVID-19 are proceeding very slowly even as the government is relaxing restrictions designed to limit the spread of new infections. While France and Germany are tightening containment measures, limiting travel and keeping all but essential services closed, Italy has placed much of the country into a yellow zone, increasing freedom of movement between towns and re-opening bars and restaurants with limitations on seating capacity and hours of operation.
Meanwhile, we do what we need to do. Every January we renew our Italian healthcare coverage–a matter of some paperwork, an online payment, and a brief trip to our local hospital. Last week we had appointments to renew our Italian residence permits at the Questura in the provincial capital, Cuneo. It’s a humbling experience, standing outside the police station with a small crowd of fellow-immigrants, waiting our turn to present documents and verify fingerprints and generally submit to Italian bureaucracy. But once indoors we’re impressed by the humanity of the officers behind glass partitions, their patient kindness, good humor, and respectful treatment of us all, no matter where we were born, how poorly we speak their language, how oddly dressed we might be. This bi-annual ordeal is exhausting, but we genuinely appreciate the people who help us through it.