On March 9 we celebrated our 1-year anniversary in Italy. I’ve posted very little about our time here, because we’ve been busy living the bella vita. But now that we’re apartment-bound hiding away from the coronavirus and because we’re getting a massive influx of Facebook messages, Tweets, calls, Skypes, Whatsapps, and emails it makes sense for me to use the blog as information HQ. This way folks can come directly here as opposed to my responding to each person through five different sources. Then, one day when this passes (and it will), I’ll be more diligent about sharing snippets of our adventures.
Allora, we celebrated the 1-year milestone on our terrace overlooking our beautiful town of Bordighera. Bordighera is an alluring seaside town (some call it a village but there are roughly 10,000 residents) in the region of Liguria only a few miles from the French border along the Maritime and Ligurian Alps. They call this region the Riviera di Ponente (West) and also La Riviera dei Fiori (flowers) because the climate lends itself to yearlong blossoms. Even in the (too) hot summer, flowers greet each day with colors so vibrant one has to take her nose to the petals to test their legitimacy. Here along the Ligurian coastline, the calm Mediterranean sea dazzles with a myriad of brilliant aqua hues while washing over the spirit with a calm that inspires adoration.
Roman history is not forgotten upon the beautiful Ligurian coast. 13 B.C., the Via Julia Augusta (where one can hike from the towns of Albenga to Alassio), was built to connect Liguria to Gaul, crossing over Bordighera.
In a modern historical sense, Bordighera is known for its English influence—it is, after all, the home of Italy’s first tennis club. Flocks of Brits, much like migrating birds, once descended upon the town to overwinter. Celebrities and royalty alike came here to escape the winter doldrums and soak up the fresh air and persistent sun. One of the most influential visitors was Clarence Bicknell. A man of many talents, Bicknell was a clergyman who left his ministry and settled in Bordighera becoming a highly respected member of the community. A naturalist, a scholar, a water-colorist, a botanist, a historian, and an explorer among many other pursuits, Bicknell founded, in 1888, Western Liguria’s first museum. The Clarence Bicknell Museum-Library is still well-visited today.
Presently, Bordighera is more of a summer resort for Italians but the winter weekends are teeming with visitors from nearby regions and many have a second home here. We see very few Americans and hear very little English in this part of Italy, and we like that. It’s much easier to immerse ourselves in a culture when we’re forced to speak the language. Italians, much like Mexicans, are eternally forgiving when we butcher their beautiful language. Any feeble attempt is conversely matched by a passionate response of “Brava”. The Italians commend our efforts even if they have little idea what we’re saying…in their language.
In addition to the tourist industry, Bordighera exports flowers, olive oil, and is famously known in Italy for its palm branches used at church during Holy Week at St. Peter’s (Rome) and other churches. Read more about the history of Bordighera here.
Bordighera is famous for composers, poets, writers, and artists who have flocked here for inspiration. One of them was Claude Monet, whose three-week visit in 1884 turned into a three-month stay. In a letter about Bordighera he wrote, “Surrounded by this dazzling light, I find my palette extremely modest”.
We saw some of his work at a high-tech exhibit at the Castello Doria in the charming village of Dolceacqua and also in the Villa Margherita home of Regina Margherita, the Queen of Italy. Here you can see some of the paintings Monet created in Bordighera. In Bordighera, one can follow the Monet trail to see his various sites of inspiration.
Born in 1851 and reigning from 1878-1900, the beloved Regina (Queen) Margherita di Savoia took a liking to Bordighera after coming here for an emotional respite on the heels of an attack on her husband/cousin, Umberto I, in Naples (1879). She was so smitten with the town she returned several times eventually building a home, the Villa Margherita, here. This is where she died on January 4, 1926.
Regina Margherita’s passion for art and culture is reinforced by the private art collection of the Milanese tycoon Angelo Guido Terruzz housed at Villa Margharita.
According to my husband, the most fascinating piece of Regina Margherita history revolves around her affinity for a certain food made of dough, tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, and basil. The story goes that Regina Margherita was visiting Naples with her hubby-cousin, Umberto, when she asked a pizza maker to create something yummy (my word). Not only did the famous pizzamaker, Raffaele Esposito of Pizzeria Brandi, create something deliziosa but he cleverly made it in the colors of the Italian flag. Esposito named the pizza after his queen, Margherita.
It’s no surprise Scott would weave his way around the world landing in a town famous for Margherita pizza. I, on the other hand, drool for the local vegan fare, farinata, made out of ceci (chickpeas).
The Crown Virus
From the crown of Regina we arrive to the present day crown virus, corona being a Latin word meaning crown. With the coronavirus lurking outside the door and with the whole country in quarantine, we’re growing increasingly familiar with the inside of our apartment. The dog park is closed (as of today) and walking the dog could result in a stop by the police requesting a form, an auto-autorizzazione (self-authorization) detailing our reasons for being out. The following is my account dating back to February 15.
A Timeline of Coronavirus Events
Only slightly over a month ago, this coronavirus was a problem in China and we were blissfully going about our daily lives – riding the bus, riding the train, riding our bikes. We’re moving this spring, so we were looking at apartments to rent, going in and out of real estate offices (there’s no Craigslist here for apartment hunters) and opening doors and pressing elevator buttons. Shaking hands. We walked into the grocery store and unabashedly handled things. We took pens from grocery clerks and signed our names not thinking about the 100 other people who held the pen that day (admittedly, I have thought about that my entire adult life but rarely acted on it). We walked into the bakery and exchanged cash. We went to the ATM and touched the keypad. We touched the keypad at the train station. We touched our faces. We shook more hands and kissed our friends when we saw them in the street. We let strangers pet Stella and hug her and kiss on her. We pet other people’s dogs. It’s such a thrill to see how much Italians love dogs. We laughed. We ate out. We walked along the seaside. We watched children playing. Life was good. No, life was excellent.
As the news was ramping up across the globe, I was feeling more cautious and sanitizing my hands before and after entering any public places. But there was still an element of disbelief. There’s no way something so dramatic could happen in the modern western world. Not in the EU, which has some of the best healthcare on the planet. We will be fine. Everyone will be fine. Everything is okay.
Three cases were diagnosed on February 15 in Italy. Three people. Not a big deal for those of us who don’t know those people. Anyway, it’s not like people were keeling over. Friends were visiting from the US, and we were having a blast exploring Bordighera and Roquebrune Cap Martin, a little town in nearby France. Trains, cafes, restaurants, we did it all. Not once did I think I was risking my life.
That number, three, remained the same until the 19th then it became four people on the 20th. Still, they were in Lombardia or Veneto. Not here. Not in our secure little bubble. We were fine.
On February 21st there were now 21 cases. Still, no one was dying. We were fine. Everything was okay. Then Carnevale in Venice was canceled. This is when I ran into a friend and she explained why she wasn’t kissing. You know there’s a problem when Italians stop kissing. This is the most affectionate culture ever and kissing happens on both cheeks. No more kissing. A curious relief washed over. Was it foreshadowing? Probably not. Liguria is nowhere near Venice. Everything’s okay. People are simply taking precautions. Precaution is good during flu season.
That afternoon, we grabbed our bikes and took the train to Taggia D’Arma and rode the beautiful bike path (pista ciclabile) through the charming Italian villages of Riva Ligure, Santo Stefano al Mare, and San Lorenzo al Mare. Obviously, no silly virus was holding us back.
On February 23 when the caseload reached 157, eleven towns in Lombardy and Veneto were placed under quarantine. Two people had died. This seemed like a drastic move. Sure, 157 people is a lot but not out of millions who live in that area. Right? We were fine in Liguria. It must be because of the cold weather up in Lombardia. Everybody gets the “flu” when it’s cold. We all get through it. We will be fine.
Then the leaders of our region (Liguria) made a proactive decision given the proximity of the Ligurian region to the neighboring regions where there were outbreaks of COVID-19: An order was made public with drastic measures which were applicable from Monday, February 24, 2020, and until midnight March 1, 2020:
- suspension of all public events of any kind
- suspension of participation in recreational and sports activities
- suspension of educational services for children and schools of all levels, as well as attendance of school, university and vocational training activities and education and vocational training courses
- suspension of all educational trips, both at home and abroad
- suspension of the opening to the public of museums and other institutes and places of culture and libraries
- suspension of public assistance without prejudice to that relating to the health professions.”
On February 25, the number of positive coronavirus cases doubled to 323. That was a big jump but probably only because they were doing a lot of testing. The Italian government has been highly transparent about information and testing. They were not denying people testing. The rumor was that Italy had so many more cases because the other countries weren’t diligent about testing. Is this true? I don’t know. Anyway, sure 323 people with this strange virus is sad, but it’s not threatening life as we know it. Besides, only six people died. They were probably super old or had multiple underlying conditions anyway, right?
See all testing data here: Italy as of the writing of this blog (March 20th) has conducted 148,657 tests. China has conducted 320,000 tests. The US? 21,105.
On Facebook, I was posting about plastic waste and pollinators. That’s where my focus of concern rested.
February 26 – the first case was reported in Liguria.
As of the night of Feb 26, there were 16 cases in the Ligurian Region – all in one town about 45 minutes from where we live. They were a group of tourists from the highly impacted region “red zone” of Lombardia. They were all quarantined to one or two hotels. No problem. Keep them together in one place, we’ll be fine. It doesn’t matter they spent the last few days or maybe a week exploring or eating at restaurants or drinking at cafes. They’re quarantined now, so we’re good.
There are 4500 homes owned in Bordighera by people from Northern Italy – in the areas impacted by the coronavirus. The mayor tasked the police to contact each one of them to see if they’ve come into town and/or to tell them not to come into town. If they came to town they were required to announce their presence and to follow a 14-day self-quarantine. Supposedly they were under surveillance meaning medical professionals were checking in with them to see if they developed symptoms.
Just to be on the safe side, Scott and I made a list of things that we could possibly need for 30 days in case this thing got out of hand. For the next four days, we walked to the various stores in town purchasing items (mostly food but also vitamins, other supplements to combat the flu, and a 2-month supply of dog food) to stockpile. Wine. QuarWINEtine.
On February 27, the number of diagnosed cases doubled again to 655. Twelve people had died. Social media was lighting up in Italy. Some were panicking and others were intentionally going out to bars with friends as a sort of F-U to any stupid virus.
I wonder how many grandparents were sacrificed because of indignant righteousness.
Italians aren’t taking this crisis without some wine and jokes, because there were only 889 cases and 17 deaths. Out of 60 million people, those are still fairly low numbers. Giusto?
I started smacking Scott every time he touched his face.
On this day, there were 1128 cases and 21 deaths. A friend shared an illuminating article from a doctor who suggested stocking up. We were already prepared, but for what? Is Winter coming? From our perch, this problem doesn’t impact our community.
The Chinese government made the decision to ban the consumption of wild animals. I thought to myself, “Is this a silver lining to an unfortunate situation? Will the masses recognize the inhumane treatment of animals in wet markets and make sweeping changes?”
I had no idea what was about to happen.
On March 3, we rode the bus to meet with our rental agent. There was a guy sitting in the row in front of us on the other side (I made Scott go to the very back so that nobody was coughing behind us) who was clearly sick – coughing, runny nose, etc. I mean, he had a cold or maybe the flu. I doubt it was “the virus”. I watched him touch his face several times, he wiped his runny nose with his hands, and then he held onto the back of the seat that was in front of him. Ewwwwwww….Not touching anything and practically losing our balance as the bus stopped, we doused our hands in sanitizer the second we got off.
Then it dawned on me that in the age of coronavirus, irresponsible behaviors – someone who is mishandling a cold – could be deadly for someone else.
We decided to walk home. Four miles. Once there, I wiped down the phone, my bag, the keys, and our sunglasses too. We showered. Separately.
Italy closes schools until March 15. There are 3089 cases and 80 deaths.
An American doctor in Rome shares her insights and compares the Italian healthcare system to that of the US. Hint: Italy shines. I applaud Italy for how efficiently leaders are tackling the coronavirus issues.
“Testing is free, preliminary results are available and public within hours, anyone who needs to stay home gets paid sick leave, and under the Italian National Health Service nobody pays a penny for doctors, Emergency Rooms, or intensive care.”
There are 3858 cases and 107 deaths. We’re hearing more about the difficulties hospitals are experiencing in the “red zones”.
Hand washing becomes cool again.
Today: 4636 total cases and 148 deaths
Learning to use my elbows to open doors and flick light switches in the common areas of our apartment building.
Today: 5883 total cases and 197 deaths in Italy
Looking suspiciously at people in public who have the sniffles, I think, “Are you the one that will get me sick?”
In the early morning hours of Sunday, March 8, Prime Minister Conte took extraordinary action and locked down the red zones in the north until April 3 putting a quarter of the Italian population in quarantine. Relief, because I heard about folks from the north coming to our region. Now they had to stay put, right?
Wrong. Somehow news of the impending lockdown leaked the day before and 20,000 people rushed to the trains and their cars to flee the north to descend upon every other region in the country. Some of those regions had no cases but now do. Governors of other regions were telling them to go back – to not bring their infections to places that were not yet impacted. The south especially was pleading for them to turn back, because the healthcare system in the poorer south is not nearly as developed as it is in the richer north.
A triage tent was set up in front of our hospital to accommodate suspected Covid-19 cases. It was a precautionary measure. I was relieved to see how proactive our mayor has been despite the eerie fact he was gearing up for impact.
Governors and police officers and medical professionals are getting sick now.
The term “Social Distancing” or distanza sociale is trending.
A doctor in the red zone wrote a heartfelt and sobering message about the importance of staying home. Con le nostre azioni influenziamo la vita e la morte di molte persone/With our actions we influence the life and death of many people. This is a must-read for folks to understand the gravity of the impact on hospitals.
7375 cases and 235 deaths today. Feeling sad.
On March 9, we learned that some Italians are not so good at following the rules, so Conte announced that the entire country was in lock-down starting March 10. Shops would stay open. Bars and restaurants could stay open until 6:00 PM. No worries. We’re ready. We’ll make the best of it.
That night I developed a very sore throat and spent the next few days wondering if I was going to end up on a respirator.
On March 10, there was a vehicle going through the neighborhood broadcasting for people to stay inside. That went on for a couple of days. It was..strange. If we go outside, we now need a form, like a permit, stating our reasons for being out.
There are travel restrictions throughout Italy. We’re not to leave our town.
10,149 people have been diagnosed. 463 dead.
Suddenly I am longing for a month ago. My thoughts are all over the place. Like, how much does that vendor at the wet market in Wuhan China (where this all started) make in a year? Is it the equivalent of $1000? $2000? I’m curious because whatever the amount, it could not possibly compare to bringing the world economy to its knees. It could never make up for the loss and grief. Will the wild animal trade stop for real?
Too many people in the US think this is a hoax. Feeling nervous for my friends and family. This day out of all of them felt the most chaotic and confusing.
12,462 cases and 631 deaths
Quarantine rules tighten up. All nonessential businesses closed. The government unveils a 25 billion euro rescue plan to help families struggling with financial losses.
These are the new rules. Apparently, throughout the country, the masses are waking up to how dire this situation is. “Message Received.”
The mayor of Bordighera is trying to close down all the stores.
Italian public health experts plead to the rest of the world to pay attention. Italy closes down all stores, bars, and restaurants except for food shops and pharmacies. The US imposes a travel ban from most European countries.
Prime Minister Conte said: “Just a few days ago I asked you to change your habits and stay at home, and you have responded in an extraordinary way. You are making enormous sacrifices, I know that’s not easy, but these are making a great and precious contribution to the country. The whole world is watching us, especially watching the number of cases.”
The world is warned about getting accustomed to a long war. Is anyone outside of China and Italy listening?
There are 15,113 cases and 827 deaths. The quiet streets are simultaneously eery and calming.
17,660 cases and 1016 deaths
With all nonessential businesses closed, Italian workers wonder how they’re going to pay the bills.
Italians try to lift one another up with a campaign for Andrà Tutto Bene. Everything will be okay. Feeling 💜 for this incredible country and her beautiful people.
21,147 total cases and 1441 total deaths
The mayor of Bordighera, Vittorio Ingenito, closes down the lungomare to stop people from walking along the sea.
Feeling almost normal today. Well, quarantine normal not pre-crisis normal. Living in a country where we aren’t fluent in the language adds a challenge to news-gathering, but that challenge gives us the opportunity to not immerse ourselves in scary local news. I’ve found The Local Italy to be a valuable source of useful information and important updates.
24,747 total cases (3590 new cases today) and 1809 total deaths.
For a week, I’ve been thinking about how surreal this situation is, but with each passing day, it becomes more real. Every day we read about the struggles hospitals are having and about how people are dying without family by their side. There are no funerals because there are no public gatherings. The sick go to the hospital alone. They die alone.
We hear ambulance sirens throughout the day. I realize this virus continues to redefine the notion of “normal.”
The brilliant soul of the Italians is shining through in various ways – a national applause today in a show of solidarity for our healthcare workers, and musicians have taken to their balconies to lift people’s spirits. Stella never misses a party, so she grabbed her squeaky toy and joined in.
27,980 total cases (3233 new cases) and 1441 total deaths.
There were 357 fewer cases today than yesterday. Have we reached the peak? Is the lockdown working? Do we see light on the horizon?
Husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers are being admitted to hospitals without their loved ones and are dying alone. This Reuters article will wrench your heart, so only read it if you think the coronavirus is a hoax or if you don’t see the need to distanza sociale.
There are still people in the US who think this is a hoax or that it’s just like the flu. Throughout the day my emotions fluctuate between hope that my adopted country is reaching the inflection point, deep worry for my home country, and anguish for all who are scared and suffering.
On March 17, local leaders had to impose additional rules because some people are still fleeing the north and others are still trying to get beach time. Surprisingly even here in Italia, in the midst of this hell, there are some who are breaking the rules and potentially putting other lives at risk. Sicily had to cut off connections from the mainland to stop people from coming.
Total caseload is 31,506. There were 3526 additional cases today. Hopes quashed. Two thousand five hundred and three people have died. Discouraged.
Went to bed and awoke with anxiety because we need to pick up some things at the store in a couple of days. I spent a sleepless night working out a plan to minimize the risk.
We’re now living this nightmare literally here in Italy and vicariously in the US as we watch, from a distance, an impending train wreck. It’s like the US is tethered to train tracks, and the train is coming from off in the distance with the horn blaring, but the two potential heroes are too busy arguing about the size and speed of the train to cut the ties and free America from the impending wreckage.
I know there are some people in my life who think I’m being a drama queen.
I hope they’re right.
35,713 cases in Italy. Two thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight people have died.
The US reached 9261 cases. This is where Italy was on March 9. The lag was originally about 12 days. Then it was 11 days. Then it was 10 days for about a week. Today the US is 8 days behind Italy. Now we need the US to wake up and get working on flattening the curve. Read more about that here.
Here’s a spreadsheet that shows the cases in China, Italy, and the US. I’ll figure out a way to get this on a google doc so folks can see the regular updates. There was a considerable change in the data just in the last couple of hours, so I took a screenshot and posted it below. I’ve checked out about six different sites and have found WorldoMeter to be the one that stays most up-to-date.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
1) These figures don’t represent the thousands of people who are in Italian hospitals. This is the real problem -despite our excellent healthcare system, it’s being crushed and overrun by the cases. Doctors and nurses are getting sick, now about 8% of northern healthcare workers, reducing the number of people who can help the critically ill. A few prominent doctors have died. We are running out of respirators and other essential medical equipment. This is why the curve must be flattened. This is why isolation is essential.
2) Look at when Wuhan and Hubei were locked-down – January 23 when there were 830 cases.
3) Italy locked down the “red zones” when there were only 157 cases (February 23).
4) Italy announced a national lockdown on March 9 when we had 9172 cases. The lockdown began on March 10.
5) San Francisco Bay area locked-down on March 15 when there were already 500+ cases in CA. CA issued a state-wide shelter in place on March 20 with 1085 cases.
This morning Scott went to the store to pick up a few things. Our quarantine is going to be extended, and it feels safer to shop now than when the announcement is made. I prepared him for battle with the only tools we had: gloves and a scarf for over his face. He wore clothes he doesn’t need for a few days. The pen was in his pocket (I may never again use a store’s pen for signing a credit card slip), hand sanitizer and the bags. I walked him down to the gate so that I could open up the doors without his contaminating his gloves before getting to the store. He put the cold stuff in a cloth bag and everything else in the big, sturdy, reusable bag. When he came home, he stood in the hall and disrobed leaving both bags and his clothes in the hall. He went directly to the shower, and I suited up to pull everything out of the “cold” bag. I wiped it all down with an alcohol-laden rag. I took the cloth bag and his clothes and put them immediately in the washer. I washed my hands thoroughly. The big bag, a day later is still sitting full of groceries decontaminating until tomorrow.
Note to others: One big benefit of a cloth reusable bag – throw that baby in the washer after every shopping trip. The germs do not stay long on cloth, but they could stay many hours on plastic. (Tip from Scott: “the scarf is a very, very bad idea. Make a mask, any mask.”)
Today Italy had an additional 5322 cases and another 427 deaths. The total death count has surpassed China – 3405 people have died and 2500 are in critical condition.
It’s 5:30 PM here. The data comes out between 6:00 and 6:30. Every night up until three nights ago, I was hopeful. Each evening my hope has been dashed, and yesterday it was a hard fall. There are Italians who are still not following the rules, some even still escaping the north. Just two nights ago there were people sneaking into Bordighera from the north. The police have charged over 50,000 people. Some are risking jail time for risking the lives of others.
It’s 7:00 PM. Today Italy has an additional 5986 cases and 627 deaths.
Kick in the gut.
To Panic or Not to Panic? Summing Things Up for my Friends and Family in the US
I suggest that maybe there’s a middle place where we are very cautious and responsible without setting off our immune systems with harmful amounts of stress. Definitely do not panic. I say this on the heels of a horrible night’s sleep with anxiety swirling around my head. I know there’s at least one person in my life who thinks I’m being an alarmist. I’m looking at the numbers, and the US was about 12 days behind, then 11, then 10 then 9 and now 8. The gap is closing. There’s no need to panic, but there is a big BIG need to take precautions now. There is a big need to isolate to work toward flattening the curve, now. Don’t wait until the panic hits. Be prepared. And if I’m wrong, you can be like, “KENDA. WTH. You were wrong.”
And I will breathe a big sigh of relief.
My goal is to get people to take action. Isolate now and save yourselves later. Stock up and stay home. Plan for 30 days. Yes, you will make sacrifices in the short-term. Yes, it will be inconvenient. Yes, you will probably lose some income. Yes, your children will get frustrated. Yes, you will get frustrated too.
But the alternative is: We continue this perpetual cycle of infection that is not only killing people but that is bringing the global economy to its knees. This is not the time to think only of ourselves, this is the time to recognize we are part of a world community. Your actions matter, so please, act responsibly and help bring this problem to an end.
Let what’s happened here in Italy guide you to making decisions that help bring a swifter close to his chaotic and unfortunate chapter in our collective history.
Then when it passes (and it will), let’s figure out how to put a stop to the disease-ridden wildlife trade that is not only cruel but is the reason for this global disaster.
And also, when it passes (and it will), come visit bella Italia! Stay at family-owned hotels, eat at local restaurants, and buy from mom & pop shopkeepers and street artists, because these people’s livelihoods and dreams are being crushed by this virus.
It’s springtime. I envy the birds every morning as they erupt in song, soaring freely without a care. The bees have arrived too, and they are busily getting to work. I know flowers are blooming, but I can’t go out to see them. Just a month ago, I too, had barely a care in the world. I miss a month ago.
Crisis brings perspective. Perspective aligns priorities. There is no priority greater than health.
Alla vostra salute!
If you have any questions, please write them in the comments below. My next post will share how we prepared for the lockdown and what life is like locked down in Italy. Also, if you notice any glaring mistakes, please tell me. I’m a little overwhelmed at the moment as I’m sure many are.
Feeling nervous? Need to check-in? Have something to share? You’re not alone. Scott and I know exactly where you are in the US. We understand the confusion, the information overload, the vast range of emotions, the differing opinions about the extent and intensity of this crisis, the cognitive dissonance (for some), the fear, the anger, and the sense of disbelief (for those who are aware). Let’s use this space to share and prop one another up. Now breathe. For those who are feeling despair…not every day will feel like today.
Andrà Tutto Bene. 💜