It is almost a cliché these days to say, thanks to our globalised economy, globalised communications, globalised logistics and globalised travel, that our world has shrunk. And now, thanks to a global pandemic, it has shrunk much more literally than most would have anticipated and anyone would have wished. Our world certainly shrunk a little further last week.
For barely a week, Le Marche had been one of the ten regions in the country in the newly created yellow zone, with few restrictions in addition to those put in place nationally at the start of the month as part of the latest regime of measures to combat the second, tsunami-like wave of Covid 19 infections spreading across the country. Although bars and restaurants had to close at 6pm, all leisure and entertainment venues were shut, secondary schools and universities had to go back online, and a night-time curfew had been introduced, life did otherwise seem to continue largely as normal – or what had been re-defined as normal since the first lockdown was lifted in early June. People still went to work, ran errands, did the shopping, took the kids to school (if they were primary school age, at least), went to Mass, went out for lunch and visited family. True, the daily number of new cases was much higher than during the first wave, but according to the other twenty criteria used by the government to decide which regions should be in which zone, Le Marche was still considered – within context – at low risk.
All that changed at the end of last week – on Friday 13th, in fact – when it was announced not only that Campania and Tuscany would move into the red zone, but that, along with neighbouring Emilia-Romagna and Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the far north-east, Le Marche would move into the orange zone. The catalyst for this was, in part, the relentless rise in new cases across our relatively sparsely populated and largely city-less region. These days, the virus feels much closer and more insidious, and there can be few people left who don’t know someone who has had to quarantine or who has tested positive. Alarming though that rise was becoming, however, it was the proportion of those new cases that were also symptomatic and the corresponding pressure that this risked putting on intensive care capacity that was of greater concern to the authorities. So for the Marchigiani this unwelcome ‘upgrade’ from yellow to orange would mean a total, 24/7, 7/7 closure of all bars and restaurants (takeaway and delivery services excepted) and a ban on movement not only from one region to another, but from one comune to another, except for proven work, study or health reasons and other needs. And of course, the word ‘proven’ means that the self-declaration document would be back (albeit a much more straightforward version of the form we were required to use for every outing the first time around) along with the accompanying document checks by the Carabinieri and increased fines for infractions.
The new restrictions came into force two days later, on a dank and chilly Sunday when, as if to underline the newly narrowed confines of our world, both the mountains and the sea were lost behind a thick curtain of drizzle-laden mist that left even the village hidden from view. It also happened to be my birthday. Having seen the direction in which things were moving – and how fast – Mr Blue-Shirt had already cancelled the dinner, bed and breakfast birthday treat in Umbria he had arranged some weeks earlier. But now even the hastily substituted birthday breakfast in the village and a short trip up to the Cònero peninsular for a long walk along the beach and a slap-up fish lunch in Numana were off, so our own kitchen and dining room were swiftly pressed into service as the best restaurant in town. We used Saturday to dash around supermarkets in Trodica, Sambucheto and Civitanova Marche for ingredients for a birthday meal – all of which Mr Blue-Shirt naturally insisted on cooking – I dusted off the china and glassware we normally only use for Christmas and we agreed we would still dress up as if going out for dinner. Despite the busy-ness and bustle, however, it was hard not to feel slightly miserable and a little hard-done-by. But within the dense November gloom, I did my best to find some perspective and remember how many hundreds of thousands of other people will have spent their birthdays, anniversaries or engagements in lockdown too. And thanks to phone calls, video calls, messages and greetings from family and friends across two continents, I realised that our world had not shrunk quite so much after all. My birthday dinner was delicious too.