It’s another of Mr Blue-Shirt’s favourite Italian phrases and means ‘softly, softly’ or ‘little by little’. And that is how we started to emerge from lockdown a couple of weeks ago, blinking against the brilliant early May sun that shone from a sky so clear that looked as if it had been freshly laundered for the occasion and pegged out to dry.
There was a sense of nervous excitement in the warm spring air when I went up to the village, partly to see what was going on, but primarily – after ten weeks of being permitted only to go to the supermarket – just because I could. It really lifted the spirits to see the village with its narrow, cobbled streets and broad market square if not exactly filled with people, then certainly not the ghost town it had seemed for so long. Everyone was masked, most were gloved and all kept a safe distance from one another, but this did nothing to diminish people’s clear delight at being able to have a good (if slightly muffled) natter with their neighbours, buy local cheeses and cured meats from the market which had just started running again, or simply sit on a bench and watch the world go by. But while this gave a comforting sense of near-normality, I didn’t need to look far to see that we weren’t there yet. The shutters on the primary school were still tightly closed, the hairdresser’s still showed no sign of life, the pizzeria still had a sign on its heavy wooden doors saying ‘closed until further notice’, and the normally buzzing Caffé del Teatro that is pretty much the beating heart of the village stood in sepulchral silence in the corner of the square.
We had started making progress, though, as from that day there has followed a long string of ‘firsts’, each ridiculously mundane in itself, but collectively all somehow laden with symbolism and significance.
- My first trip to the cash machine since the end of February.
- The first time we heard cars passing the house after dark.
- My first adrenaline-fuelled, proper run beyond sight of the house, and Mr Blue-Shirt’s first lung-busting bike ride to the coast.
- The first time we left the house together in over ten weeks.
- Our first time outside the confines of the comune.
- My first cold call, from an unrecognised number in Naples.
- Our first time on a dual carriageway.
- The first time I bought something other than food.
- The first time I actually needed to check for traffic before pulling off the drive.
- The first time in nearly three months that we filled the car – and paid fourteen Euros less for the pleasure.
- The first time a student on Zoom could answer the question ‘what did you do at the weekend?’ with something other than ‘nothing’ – and I saw tears in the eyes of the achingly cool teenager who told me she had visited her grandma.
There will be many more ‘firsts’ from tomorrow, too, when the government will lift another huge raft of restrictions, partly in response to growing public pressure, but also because the data are looking sufficiently encouraging. The daily new infection rate is back down in the hundreds, daily fatalities are consistently below two hundred, the percentage of positive tests is well into single figures and still falling, and the number of people officially ‘discharged/recovered’ is now almost double the number of those ‘currently testing positive’. So with an ‘R-rate’ of 0.65 for confirmed cases, rising to 0.95 if suspected cases are included, Prime Minister Conte and his team feel confident enough to allow people to travel more or less freely within their home region with no further need to carry a document stating the reason for travel. That said, this ‘autocertificazione’ will still be required to travel from one region to another, which for at least the next fortnight will be permitted only for work, health or ‘urgent need’. Visiting friends as well as family will be permitted, although large congregations, parties and events will still be banned. While gyms, spas and swimming pools will have to stay closed, all remaining shops as well as hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons, and even bars and restaurants (but no buffets) will be able to open – provided they have strict social distancing and hygiene measures in place, of course.
So the highlight of the coming week will undoubtedly be going into the village for the simple but unaccustomed pleasure of having breakfast at the newly re-opened Caffé del Teatro. It will be all masks and gloves and plexi-glass screens, of course, and we won’t be able to greet Simeone the owner and Cecilia his right-hand woman in the traditional Italian way. But an elbow bump and a wave will at least be a start. We are getting there. Piano, piano…
Daily data courtesy of Corriere della Sera: https://www.corriere.it/salute/20_febbraio_25/coronavirus-mappa-contagio-italia-6ed25c54-57e3-11ea-a2d7-f1bec9902bd3.shtml