In the Time of Coronavirus (5)

Scribacchini in Fuga Virtual meeting

Science Fiction and Good intentions

Day 5

As long as I can buy Sicilian Blood Orange Juice, who cares if the shelves
are empty?

Yesterday morning I went out to have a look around. Fearing the overcrowding, I had no plans to go to the supermarkets, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that 3 out of the 4 supermarkets on the high road, due to the scarce supplies of food and household items, had hardly any customers.  Outside Waitrose I saw a queue of five, but due to the 2 meters social distancing it spread, and whirled around one of the side roads, stretching for quite a while. 

I looked at people’s behaviour and I noticed little changes, if any. Everybody behaved just the same as before, as if nothing had happened. The only difference was that if you came across passers-by on the street, they would jump on the other side of the pavement, sometimes onto the road, at an incredible speed, like magnets of identical polarity. The same happened in shops.  The new customer goes in and remains near the door, waiting for the other customers to finish their purchases. Then the new costumer moves out, even further, and lets the plague-ridden customers out of the shop before they come in. There is no talking, and no looking at people in the eyes. Basically, the same old London, but with the embellishment of masks and keeping two meters apart. I can’t talk for the rest of the city, but in my area everybody is observing the rules by the book. I find that very reassuring. 

On Thursday evening at 8 o’clock the whole of the UK clapped, from their windows and doors, in support of the NHS. I was there too, clapping enthusiastically. Some fireworks were shot into the sky from people’s gardens, with beautiful streaks of purple and yellow. This is all very nice, but I wish that at the next election those faces standing behind glass panes, from lines after lines of terraced houses, will remember not to give 80% of the votes to a party that has been decimating our National Health System for the last 10 years. Just saying it! I also hope that in the future such acts of solidarity will become the norm. For example, we could dance on our doorsteps, or in our sitting rooms every Friday night. 

I’ve also been surprised to see so many messages, from the government, and on social media, encouraging to become acquainted with your neighbours, and help those who need it the most. How you’re supposed to do that and keep your social distancing, I don’t know. If you think that most Londoners don’t know their next-door neighbour, it seems bizarre to suggest that now, that we are home-bound, we should make friends. I know we are living in extraordinary times at the moment, and if someone needs help, we should do our best, but there is no need to be hypocritical about it. I would like to ask a therapist if this behaviour is rational or even normal. I am content with my friends, my books, Netflix, Badminton, learning French and Norwegian, writing, cooking, doing yoga and Tai chi. I think I have lived in London too long for a sudden change of habits. God forbid!

Since the day my home has become a golden prison, I have been doing some workouts. It’s time to rate them. At 9am I’ve been joining the body Coach TV, with Joe Wicks. I managed to jump up and down for 15 minutes. The workouts are aimed at kids, and the speed of the exercises is too much even for Joe, who every now and then has to stop to catch his breath, while he reads the viewers’ messages that appear on the screen. Besides being too fast, it’s also too noisy. Joe talks quicker than he can jump. The video does my head in. Not for me. Let’s move on to Basketball solitaire, with a paper bin. After 5 minutes of ball throwing you will lose 9 calories and do 348 steps. This equals 108 calories, and 4,176 steps in 1 hour. Not bad. My pedometer couldn’t work out how many steps I took while playing badminton. Contrary to basketball solitaire, badminton leaves you gasping for breath. Badminton is the champion with a rating of 5 stars.

Now a few words about the shopping. Eager not to risk it, I opted out for online shopping, only to be told that it might even be more dangerous than going out. A friend of mine who is overly conscious about anything infectious or radioactive, told me that you should leave the purchased food in shopping bags for 72 hours, before you open your packet of dry peanuts. Your items have been touched by people who might be infected, and together with the shopping they could delivered the virus directly to your house. I can’t get my head round that. If I leave my shopping for 72 hours, half of the food will be off. This is finances over health. What shall I do? Risk my health or throw away my money? I think most governments are having the same dilemma right now. 

And to conclude the diatribe I would like to quote the Diary of Samuel Pepys, at the time of the Plague, 1664.

“On hearing ill rumour that Londoners may soon be urged into their lodgings by Her Majesty’s men, I looked upon the street to see a gaggle of striplings making fair merry, and no doubt spreading the plague well about. Not a care had these rogues for the health of their elders!” 

Some things never change!

Cronache di una clausura (4): Vedere gente e Fare cose

davIeri sera, tutti alla finestra per un applauso collettivo e sincronico in onore del sistema sanitario nazionale, l’NHS. Tutti, si fa per dire.

Verso le 20 ho sentito un rombo di tamburi e un fragore metallico provenire dalla strada, proprio fuori dalla mia stanza. Una famiglia di cinque persone, genitori e tre bambini, tutti vestiti di sari indiani, suonava le percussioni quasi sulla soglia di casa, un tamburo a testa. Erano entusiasti, e facevano cenno, a noi che guardavamo da dietro i vetri, di venire fuori, di allungare i colli di struzzo. E così qualcuno ha iniziato ad affacciarsi da finestre sporadiche, accompagnando il complesso familiare con le mani. Dietro persiane abbassate, i più timidi inviavano fischi di incoraggiamento, di quelli che si fanno ficcando tutte le dita in bocca, alla faccia del virus, e ogni tanto il clacson di un’auto in transito comunicava la sua adesione.  E a quel punto ho aperto la finestra e mi sono unita anch’io. Continua a leggere “Cronache di una clausura (4): Vedere gente e Fare cose”

In the Time of Coronavirus (4)

Me, in my torture chamber

Day 4 – The quiet before the storm

Today I am feeling good. The sun is dancing through the leaves and I am looking at this forced stay-at-home measures with fresh eyes. The next two weeks (maybe more) could be the most relaxing time of my life. A time when I’ll be able to do what I like without feeling guilty. I can read for hours lying on the sofa, on the floor, on the kitchen table. I don’t even have to answer the door, as I am self-isolating for the good of this country and my own. I started the day with a plan, some exercise to keep fit. I opted for basketball and badminton. It’s amazing what one can do in an enclosed space if you put your mind to it. 

A big hurray for the internet, without it the numbers of suicide would go up massively. Let’s be honest, we are not new to home segregation. Binging on Netflix series, while stuffing yourself is probably the most common pastime for many singletons and couples in London. After a week at work, Londoners are too tired, not just to go out, but to walk from one room to the next, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to have more than one room. Going out is an uphill battle: choosing your outfit, the Borough, the best-cheaper-trendier restaurant. Asking your friends if they are free, and when. Can you find the energy? In these hard times, we have been exonerated from such an obligation. No more socializing. Isn’t it wonderful? It’s like being a hermit without having to climb to the top of the mountain. And now that we are all hermits, there is no judging introverts and weirdos, who prefer to stay at home with their stuffed toys. Is so liberating. 

While I write –trying to catch any ideas that come my way, before they fly away for ever like butterflies– I am taking part in a virtual queue. The screen says, ‘The queue is over an hour long’, and below it reads, ‘You can leave now and lose your place in the queue.’ No kidding! If you want to do online shopping, you have to queue up. It feels almost real, but you don’t need to wear a mask, or fear nasty Covid, jumping from one customer to the next, and coming your way. 

I did my online shopping almost 2 weeks ago. Yes, that’s how long it takes to get your groceries in the time of Coronavirus. But I forgot a few things, and I wanted to add them to my order. Non-dairy spread. Gloves. Toilet paper. ‘Sorry, you can’t add any toilet paper,’ says the virtual assistant, ‘you have already reached the limit.’ The limit is 9 toilet rolls. Damn! I was really hoping to get 24. I can’t go through roll paper hunting again. I add a second bag of nuts, but this is not allowed either. ‘Naughty, says the assistant,’ and pulls out its tongue. I try to add a second can of chickpeas. ‘Naughty,’ says the assistant again, and tries to lick my face. ‘Go away.’ I scream, ‘You, nasty piece of supermarket screen and coronavirus carrier.’ 

I check out and go. The food is enough. It’s actually too much. I won’t probably be able to eat it. But this is panic buying in very small quantities, one of everything, even things that I don’t normally eat. I didn’t get any wine. Drinking in these crazy circumstances is not a good idea, you might feel cocky after a few glasses, and leave the house. And what are you going to say to the policeman in the police van asking where you’re going, when only have three choices? Pharmacy, supermarket, and walking around your block. I wish I could borrow my neighbour’s dog. He is over 70, at risk, and keeps taking his dog out, like he has always done, at least 4 or 5 times a day. Why does he do that?

Just before this weird nightmare started, for some strange and unknown reason, I went to the library, borrowed a book entitled “The Krakow Ghetto Pharmacy” by Tadensz Pankiewicz, and I started reading it. It couldn’t have been more appropriate. The book is a chronicle of the last years, months, and days in the Krakow Ghetto, from the initial isolation to the deportations and liquidation. It’s an historical and brilliant piece of work. Although, we are not in a ghetto and we are not being liquidated, we are experiencing a life-threatening situation all the same, and the feeling of something ominous endangering our life feels very real. 

People in the Ghetto showed an incredible sense of calm, and dignity. Nobody cried or begged for mercy. How are we going to react?

The Earl of Home’s

A conservative peer, the Earl of Home’s, came up with an unusual idea. Referring to the lack of food in the supermarkets he suggested that people (he really meant plebe but an adviser stopped him from using such a word) should eat grey squirrels. Grey not red. The grey squirrels are foreign squirrels, imported over a century ago from America, and hated by the majority of the British population for having decimated the local, prettier, smaller, and cuter red squirrels. Not that they actually killed or ate the locals, they just took their food, and maybe their houses. Apart from stating the obvious, like, how do you catch a squirrel? I have never heard of such nonsense. It really shows what conservatives think of the rest of us. Talk soon, and take care. 

La mia parte sul coronavirus

Has the coronavirus brought back the nation-state?

(Extract from Social Europe, Article by Jan Zielonka) 

The coronavirus crisis has remade the case for public authority—but that can only work in a complex network of multi-level governance.

Jan Zielonka

From Madrid to Paris, Berlin to Warsaw, the nation-state seems to be experiencing a striking renaissance. Borders are back, and with them national selfishness. Each national government is focusing on its own people, and each claims to be better prepared to fight the crisis than its neighbours.

Virtually overnight, national capitals have effectively reclaimed sovereignty from the European Union without asking either their own people or Brussels for permission. They are practically ruling by decree in a war-style fashion. We are at war, declared the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and he sent armed units on to the streets to police the draconian orders. Other leaders have more or less followed suit.

The coronavirus outbreak seems to be reversing the course of history. Gone is globalisation and European integration. Back is the heroic struggle of states for national survival.

The return-of-the-state scenario sounds familiar, but it is misleading. The coronavirus has indeed shown the need for public authority to deal with the emergency, but this authority is partly at the state level, partly at the local level and partly at the European one.

Continua a leggere “La mia parte sul coronavirus”

Cronache di una clausura (3): Isolamenti


E se anche noi umani stessimo per fare un upgrade? Non un cambiamento clamoroso, come il salto di specie del Covid19, ma il suggello di una mutazione che era già in atto da tempo. L’homo sapiens trasmutato in homo casalingo, quello che lavora e si diverte dentro la propria abitazione, e che durante la sua vita interagisce solo con chi vive sotto il suo stesso tetto (ove applicabile). Sullo sfondo di questa nuova umanità, il contrasto netto tra un mondo virtuale affollatissimo e ricco di scelte, e un mondo reale che combacia con i quattro muri di casa. Continua a leggere “Cronache di una clausura (3): Isolamenti”

Cronache di una clausura (2): critical mass

La mia coinquilina lavora molto e adesso anche più del normale. Urrà per Michela e tutti gli psicologi!

Da oggi questo timetable è entrato a parte della mia vita. Una delle mie due coinquiline, Michela, lavora come psicologa e già dalla settimana scorsa riceve i suoi pazienti nella nostra living room – li riceve, ovviamente, in maniera virtuale, su Skype. Vietato entrare in soggiorno, dunque, dal lunedì al venerdì, negli orari indicati. Continua a leggere “Cronache di una clausura (2): critical mass”

In the Time of Coronavirus (3)

Ferraris and Mao’s little red book


I don’t feel so cheerful anymore. I woke up with a ‘good morning panic attack’ a jolt, a start, and a pounding heart.

I dreamt of Baby Libario. Who he? I’ve never heard of such a name. I fear that we’ll all die. My sister, my mother and I. And we’ll have a joined funeral, except that we are in two separate countries, and funerals are not allowed anyway. Three coffins in three empty rooms. This is how I imagine it.

Does anyone suffer from funeral anxiety? Do you ever think that your funeral might be a flop? Will it be strictly by invitations, or open to everybody. I suppose it all depends on the type of person you are. But sometimes people live and die in different fashions. Whatever happens I still demand to have my epitaph engraved: “Morta dalle risate”.* Continua a leggere “In the Time of Coronavirus (3)”

In the Time of Coronavirus (2)


This morning I started my day with cross buns and strawberry jam; after that I rushed to the supermarket again. It was still closed. I queued up for 10 minutes before being allowed in. I had my hopes crushed as soon as I saw the empty bread shelves, what chance did I have to find some toilet paper? None, I suppose. And so, it was. Stacks of white napkins, all nicely lined up, smiled at me. They were pretending to be toilet paper but didn’t fool me. ‘Sorry napkins, I already have kitchen rolls, no offence, but they are a bit cheaper and stronger than you. Goodbye’. By stocking toilet paper shelves with napkins, are supermarkets trying to convince consumers that napkins and toilet rolls are the same things, just shaped differently? I leave, and on my way out I ask the manager when he thinks they will restock toilet rolls; he is angry, doesn’t like my question, ‘We don’t know, sorry. Maybe later.’ He walks off and I can hear him saying, ‘Everybody asks me the same question’. I turn around and shout, ‘Sorry!’. Sorry for what? Is it my fault if the UK is suffering from imaginary diarrhoea?  

A friend of mine said to me that we are going to see the Dunkirk spirit again. I haven’t seen much of that around. I would even content myself with some Tenerife or Costa del Sol spirit. Everybody seems crossed, annoyed, irritated. I can see a speech bubble on top of their heads which reads, ‘Where are all the things I have always taken for granted?’  I don’t know but why are you taking it out on other people? If this is a war we must remain on the same side, instead of fighting each other, otherwise we are going to lose. In a society that has taken pride in selfishness, greed, and looking after number one, a sudden change is obviously not going to be expected any day soon. It will take time. But how much time? The virus will bring the worst out of everybody before we can turn the tide.

Where are the things I have always taken for granted?!?!?!?

The good thing is that the pandemic is highlighting all the things that are wrong with our society. The overstretched NHS, the gig economy with no safety nets for people, the lack of stability, and long-term planning for a big chunk of the population that has lived a day-to-day existence for many years without any support from the government, or anybody giving a monkey’s about it. Now, we will be forced to confront those issues. It was about time too.

Of course, it’s tempting to remain at home and guarding your castle from the letter box. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if during this apocalyptic crisis, people could organize themselves and make redundant a government that is almost absent anyway. I have heard of several initiatives, such as apps that help you keep in touch with your neighbours, if you need them or they need you. I have heard of older people who have adopted a cooking rota, one day each, and leave the meal outside their neighbours’ door. These are good initiatives. I hope that most of us will get involved. 

While I ponder on social, political, and philosophical questions I receive updates from museums, supermarkets, restaurants, Amazon, and my doctor who is now offering telephones appointments only. I hope my dentist is not going to do the same. Not that I’m planning to see him any time soon, but I am paranoid in case a tooth brakes or a crown falls out. 

Of all the emails I’ve received one tempts me the most. Online dancing lessons. What a good idea. I can dance at home, and no partner is required. Life is getting better and better every day in our crazy virtual reality. 

Cronache di una clausura (1): “You just know”

Fried eggs
“Man with fried egg eyes”-Photo by Steve Niedorf

È successo ieri sera. Stavo seguendo le live news della BBC. Nel mentre, stavo tentando un goffo lavoro a maglia, cominciato grazie a un tutorial di Youtube. Senza alcun preavviso, ho sentito prurito alla gola e il bisogno impellente di tossire. Il pizzicore poi mi ha toccato la punta del naso, insinuandosi nelle narici. Dieci minuti di incredulità e di shock, tra un attacco violento di tosse inframezzato da una successione di starnuti. Continua a leggere “Cronache di una clausura (1): “You just know””

In the Time of Coronavirus (1)


Oggi non devo alzarmi alle 5, non ho lezioni, online, con i dolci bambini cinesi prima delle 11. Che lusso potere dormire sino alle 6! Ma mi giro e rigiro; mi alzo, faccio una tazza di tè e ritorno a letto; prendo il telefonino, controllo tutti i messaggi su WhatsApp, leggo Twitter e le ultime notizie sul giornale. È la solita routine del mattino. Oggi è la giornata giusta per andare a caccia di carta igienica. Mi alzo subito e mi vesto, in modo da uscire per le 7. 

Sono pronta. Apro la porta mettendomi, prima di toccarla, i guanti di pelle, ed esco con un senso di avventura quasi piacevole. La vita è cambiata, non ci sono più file alle fermate dell’autobus. Le strade sono meno affollate, se incroci qualcuno ti guarda e si allontana dall’altre parte del marciapiede. Sono contenta che non mi venga più addosso nessuno, com’è di rigore nelle strade di Londra. Mi diverte quasi, vedere tutti così spaventati e pensierosi. Per loro la vita è cambiata, per me non molto. Lavoravo già da casa, andavo ai supermercati il meno possibile (facevo la spesa online da prima), e molto di rado nei negozi (odio fare lo shopping, anche se adoro abiti, scarpe e borse), con l’unica eccezione di TKMAXX, la brutta copia di un negozio di lusso in svendita permanente. Niente luce accecante, solo lampadine fioche per risparmiare la corrente. 

Entro nel primo supermercato, ma sono in ritardo. Il supermercato apre alle 7 e sono già le 7:15. Vado di corsa nel reparto prodotti per casa, ma le mensole sono vuote. È lo stesso in altri due. Io e altri tre compratori facciamo finto di guardare le mensole con indifferenza, come se non fossimo noi gli unici idioti senza carta igienica. Perché non l’ho comprata una settimana fa, quando ce n’era una montagna alta come l’Everest? Ora sogno di rotolarmi giù dalla cima in mezzo alla carta, con il cagnolino dello stacchetto pubblicitario che mi rincorre. 

Mi ricordo quando lo stile di vita, i film, i programmi televisivi, erano tutti sintonizzati sulla stessa realtà. Ora guardo un film, e penso: guarda hanno la carta igienica, e possono uscire. Wow! Non ha più senso, è come guardare storie di altri mondi. Fantascienza pura. Quello che una volta si vedeva solo nei film apocalittici, tipo persone che uscivano con tute protettive, ora è diventato normale. Siamo passati dal post-moderno al post-realtà. Assieme a Greta Thunberg temevamo un’altra Era Glaciale e invece siamo entrati nell’Era Virale. 

Il senso di avventura, a poco a poco diminuisce. Ma non voglio darmi per vinta. Ci sono ancora delle cose che mi piacciono: poche machine, poco rumore, poca folla, e il senso di soddisfazione che si prova nello scoprire che non avere piano B e neanche piano A è ora normale per tutti. Inoltre, come ho accennato nel mio post precedente, COVID-19 va in Vacanza, essere OCD è il new normal. 

Sembra che tutti siano diventati come me. Se da un lato mi fa sorridere, dall’altro mi spaventa, perché non mi sembra che la stiano prendendo tanto bene, e non capisco il perché. Coraggio gente! Lavarsi le mani cento volte al giorno, e stare a casa a leggere non è poi così male; sempre meglio di morire. 

Certo mi manca il Tai chi, gli amici, i locali, le bevute di prosecco con le tapas, i musei, i cinema, i teatri. Ma ancora è troppo presto per piangerne la perdita. Stranamente, mi adatto facilmente. Inoltre, se tutto ciò significa avere più tempo per scrivere, per me ne vale la pena. Spero solo che potrò continuare a correre nel bosco di fronte casa mia. Chi ci posso mai incontrare là? Cappuccetto rosso?