Greetings from Mondovì: Humanity vs Virus



Monday, 23 March 2020

Today the Italian government issued a revised form of the auto-dichiarazione (self-declaration) we must all carry when we leave our homes.  The new model requires additional details of the bearer’s identity and specific points of origin and destination of one’s movements.  It states in no uncertain terms that one is aware of the full extent of penalties for circulating unnecessarily.  Once this might have seemed excessive to me as an American but as a resident of Italy I find it rational and reassuring.  Naturally the new form is followed quickly by a meme: the Italian Encyclopedia of the Self-Declaration, vol 1, 2020.  This is a self-deprecating joke, a gentle jab at the labyrinthine legal system and the Italian obsession with facts, information, and exhaustive detail that often threatens to obscure clear understanding of most any core concept or area of knowledge.

Our friends who split their time between England and Italy arrived Saturday evening via trains and a rented car; now they are under quarantine in their home on the opposite slope of our valley.  They know several people in England who either have the virus or suspect they have recovered from it.  Somehow this is comforting, having close knowledge of non-celebrity survivors is proof that the virus can be defeated, that fear, suffering, and loss are not the whole story.

A couple of audio clips making the rounds on WhatsApp are purported to originate from medical professionals in Asia who have cared for virus patients and performed autopsies on the dead.  The information is alarmingly graphic: by the time one has a fever the disease has already begun to shred the lungs; a more effective measure is to hold a deep breath for 10 seconds.  If this causes no discomfort, you’re still okay.  The virus attaches to hair, skin, and clothing; strip immediately after returning from outdoors, shower thoroughly and wash everything you were wearing.  If this isn’t possible hang clothing in direct sunlight.  The virus thrives in the mucous membranes but cannot survive stomach acids; drink every 15 minutes to clear your mouth and throat.  I’ve asked my brother, a semi-retired pulmonologist in Washington State, for a reality check but he’s a bit busy with a houseful of restless 20-somethings and a new job consulting for a pulmonology clinic.

Tuesday, 24 March

It’s either Day Five or Six of our quarantine period.  My husband arrived Mondovì station last Thursday at 9:30 am and we came directly home, so I count from there.  Our life is mostly tranquil and relaxing as we settle into being at home together after a long separation.  Except for being confined to the house, our property and immediate environs, there’s not much outside of the ordinary.

Except that we take our temperatures morning and evening so I can report them to a young woman who telephones each day from the health service.  We monitor ourselves for any sign of illness.  We take a deep breath and hold it for 10 seconds; supposedly an early indicator of infection is an inability to do this without discomfort.  So we do it throughout the day.  We drink liquids—water, herbal teas—conscientiously.  We check for diminished sense of smell or taste—another of the virus’s bag of tricky symptoms.

Except that the Red Cross delivered groceries to our front gate yesterday.  I telephoned at 9:00 am and read my shopping list to a volunteer.  Other volunteers did our shopping in a local supermarket.  Around 3:00 pm another volunteer called to say the delivery was on its way; she told me the total so I could put cash into an envelope.  Minutes later two young women in head-to-toe bright red protective suits (Ebola suits, they’re called in Sierra Leone) and white face masks arrived in a Red Cross vehicle, unloaded our order outside the gate and collected the envelope I’d left in our post box.  We exchanged greetings and heartfelt good wishes across a careful distance.

Except for those few things, most of which feel like support and compassionate care, everything seems normal.  Which of course it is not.  As soon as either of us opens email or a news feed the clamor of a world in turmoil invades our warm domestic circle.  We consume only as much news as absolutely necessary.  We see that numbers of new cases and of deaths are slowing in Italy since last Sunday.  It’s too early to call this a definite downturn but seems worthy of cautious optimism.  One source says that in Korea and Thailand, where the crisis seemed to have passed and normal activity had resumed, more cases are now being detected.  This thing is a devil.

Wednesday, 25 March

This morning light snow is falling, big lazy flakes drifting down to melt away on contact with earth or object.  My husband and I have breakfast, beat the NY Times crossword, clean both fireplaces.  Yesterday we sunned ourselves on the terrace, today we’ll be fireside.  Together we prepare and eat lunch, then bundle up for a quick march around our prato (meadow), just for a bit of air.  Now he’s downstairs playing electric piano and I’m upstairs in the studio, writing to you.

Our mercato contadino (farmer’s market) is suspended for the duration of the public health emergency. But in a happy confluence of ancient tradition and contemporary technology, from 31 March we will be able to buy online from our favorite zero-kilometro growers.  The terms are these: order from at least two vendors for a total of at least 20 euros.  Orders will be delivered to homes throughout Mondovì and some of its surrounding villages.  I’m very pleased, not only that I will be able to have the produce I prefer, but that our farmers have found a way to preserve their livelihoods.  This feels like one small victory, humanity over virus.