It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (part 2)

Whereas yesterday it was all about ‘the worst of times’ in coronavirus-stricken Italy, today it is all about ‘the best of times’, for even under lockdown there have been many positives to hang onto amid the fear and gloom.

First of all, in a country where family and community mean everything, there is an almost palpable sense of solidarity and selflessness. While many Italians tend to regard the state with some degree of scepticism if not suspicion, there has been little opposition to or defiance of the government’s stringent quarantine measures. Indeed, a poll earlier this week indicated an 89% approval rating, and, more importantly, people are observing them with good grace.

In our local supermarket, for instance, customers diligently observe the required one-metre gap between people with sombre courtesy and patient stoicism, waiting until one shopper has finished at a particular shelf before approaching to make their choice, then beckoning the next shopper forward when they are done. There is no sense of panic, no over-filled trolleys, no empty shelves. Instead of the ‘every man for themselves’, ‘I’m all right, Jack’ attitude on display elsewhere, here the overriding sense is that ‘we are all in this together’, that ‘together we can crack this’.

That same spirit of togetherness and solidarity has characterised my working week as well. All my colleagues and I – an international team of some fifteen teachers – have been working remotely from home, going the extra mile to provide online lessons to our students. Learning to use unfamiliar software at breakneck speed has been a massive challenge for us all, but we have managed it – largely thanks to the entire team’s generosity, patience, support, friendship and good humour, which have truly been a shining light in these dark days.  And I am certain that we are just one of tens of thousands of companies across the country where this same spirit of cooperation is in evidence, with everyone pulling together to keep their respective ships afloat.

In fact, that spirit of solidarity, coupled with a kind of defiant optimism, is spreading throughout the country faster than the coronavirus itself. From Turin to Palermo, people have been combatting the isolation and boredom of quarantine by taking to their balconies and conducting spontaneous bursts of community singing. Folks songs, pop songs, patriotic songs – anything to lift the spirits that that everyone can join in with, even if that means using saucepan lids as cymbals or cooking pots as drums. Amateur DJs have set up their equipment on their balconies and blasted music across the rooftops for their neighbours to dance to in their sitting rooms. Elsewhere a lone trumpeter played the national anthem from his tiny balcony and ended up with his neighbours producing a rendition of the rousing Inno di Mameli as rowdy and impassioned as anything you are likely to hear on the terraces at San Siro or the Stadio Olimpico. And having realised the power of the flash mob, people are now harnessing it to raise funds for their embattled and under-resourced local hospitals, with sums of €50,000 being donated in a matter of hours in several locations in the south. But spreading more quickly than anything else, though, is the slogan “tutto andrà bene” – everything will be all right. Children from one end of the country are leaving it on sticky notes in windows, accompanying it with paintings of rainbows on posters taped to front doors, and decorated with love hearts and smileys on homemade banners hung from balconies.

And so in these fear-filled ‘worst of times,’ with all these simple yet powerful expressions of unity and hope, you can’t help feeling that it is somehow also ‘the best of times’.



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