Next Tuesday, 2nd June, is a public holiday. La Festa della Repubblica celebrates the day in 1946 on which the people decided in a national referendum to abolish the monarchy in favour of a republic – but more of that another time. And so with my classes on Monday ‘making the bridge’ – the custom of taking an extra day off when public holidays fall on a Thursday or a Tuesday, I find myself with a welcome pause in proceedings, and an opportunity for repose and reflection as Italy prepares to take a big step forward.
For the last month Italy has cautiously been easing its stringent coronavirus restrictions, enabling the country to edge week by week towards some semblance of normality, while at the same time keeping a close eye on The Curve, the R-value, the economy, and on public sentiment. And it seems, so far, that Prime Minister Conte’s has succeeded in performing this delicate juggling act on a tightrope. Despite the easing of restrictions, the daily infection rate has continued to fall and is now around five hundred, while the daily death rate now hovers around one hundred or fewer and the critical R-value is around 0.5 or lower across nearly all of the country. Lombardia, however, remains a worrying exception with an R-value only just below the magic 1.0, and consistently accounts for half of all daily new cases and daily fatalities. So this hot-spot notwithstanding, the government has confirmed it will be relaxing restrictions further from 3rd June. More facilities and services can open, and some (small) events can take place – all still subject to tight social distancing rules, however, and only as long as masks and gloves are worn. But probably the biggest change is the lifting of all remaining domestic travel restrictions, allowing unlimited inter-regional movement, and even permitting international travel between a small number of mainly EU countries. And it is this above all that makes it feel as if we have turned a crucial corner, and that the focus is at last shifting from crisis management to recovery – in every sense of the word.
Seven weeks ago, when the short Easter break gave some respite from the uncertainty, fear and anxiety that then reigned, I shared the words of Irish poet-philospher, John O’Donoghue who spoke of the ‘fresh pastures of promise’ (This is the time to be slow – Easter in the time of Coronavirus ). Back then those pastures truly were just a distant dream, but today it looks as if we might after all be able to take our first tentative steps in their welcoming verdancy, where ‘the air will be kind and blushed with beginning’. So in that spirit of hopefulness and recovery, I leave you today with the closing lines of ‘Still I Rise’ by the African-American civil rights activist and poet, Maya Angelou.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.