Daily Dose of Europe: Guide Reports, Week 8 — Italy Emerges from Lockdown

For today’s Daily Dose of Europe, we’re getting the scoop straight from our European friends. Like most of the US, much of Europe is still in some version of lockdown…but things are slowly opening up. This installment of our weekly guide reports roundup offers a look at Europe emerging from its cocoon.

In Spain, Jorge Román sent us some stunning photos of the annual patio decorating festival in Córdoba — a treasured late-spring tradition that is still happening amidst the pandemic:

In Scotland, James Macletchie posted the poetic essay “A Dream in a New World,” with gorgeous photographs from the Outer Hebrides, and his thoughts on self-isolation.

In Bulgaria, Stefan Bozadzhiev has been leading “virtual tours” around Sofia. Here’s a sample:

And here in Seattle, Sarah Murdoch has been teaching cooking lessons and interviewing our guides across Europe on her “Adventures with Sarah” Facebook page.

In Orvieto, Italy, David Tordi is staying busy with his musical act, Bartender. On Saturday (May 9), at 7:30 p.m. Italy time (that’s 10:30 a.m. on the West Coast, 1:30 p.m. on the East Coast), they will be premiering a new song that they recorded on their most recent visit to Seattle. The band will be available live to talk about the new song and answer questions:

But the big theme this week was “Italy Emerges from Lockdown.” As of May 4, Italy entered Phase 2 — the first step toward a gradual re-opening. For the first time in more than 50 days, Italians are allowed to leave their homes to go for a walk or visit a park (while maintaining social distance and wearing masks).

On her blog, Lisa’s Dolce ItaliaLisa Anderson has written beautiful posts about weathering lockdown in Piedmont. Here’s an excerpt:

“Tomorrow is beginning of the path to freedom, fase due, Phase 2, after this long quarantine. The first thing we will be allowed to do is walk again…fare due passi. Those of you who never lost the right to take walks probably can’t imagine what this is like and I would encourage you to go 600 feet from home in every possible direction just to see what this space feels like.”

In Verona, Italy, Sarah Corfield wrote this account of being an explorer in her own city:

“I’m an American who’s been living in Verona for the last seven years. For me, Verona has the perfect combination of what I love about Italy. H.V. Morton called it “elegant, dignified, and beautiful” when he wrote A Traveler in Italy in the 1960s, and I completely agree today. I love living in a city where history is all around me, from Roman times to more recent periods.

“With new permission to exercise within my own municipality, I headed for the hills with two friends, wearing our masks and being careful to stay at least six feet apart.

“Our walk started at the walls around the city that were originally built in the 13th century. As you walk along the walls, you realize that some parts are made from very distinct shapes of stone that interlock perfectly together. This is from a reinforcement made by the Austrian Habsburgs in the 19th century. As the Habsburgs developed Verona into an important military city, they not only reinforced the walls, but also constructed many forts in these hills to protect the city from the threat of invasion — first from the French and then from the newly formed Italian kingdom. These fortresses remain, in various states of abandonment or restoration.

“As I got further out from the city, I thought of how the wondrous landscape I was immersed in would remind most people of Tuscany with its vineyards, olive trees, and tall cypresses, magnificently growing on gently sloping hills. And now it’s clearly spring, with warmer temperatures for several weeks now, everything is GREEN!

“After my three-hour walk, I was back in my neighborhood of Veronetta, located across the river from the historic center and known mostly for its laid-back atmosphere and the university that’s located here. Since late February, we haven’t seen any students around since the university was closed for the virus emergency. Everything has been quieter, except for the birds and neighbors chatting from their balconies.

“One of the buildings in Veronetta that was magnificently restored just five years ago is now used by the economics and law departments of the university. This was originally built by the Austrians in 1863 — but not as a fort. It was a massive military bakery and grain storage facility that provided up to 50,000 troops with daily bread as they fought to ward off the new Italian kingdom from entering the city. In the basement is an exhibition with some of the old breadmaking machines and historic photos from the era.

“You can’t visit the complex now. It’s closed due to the COVID-19 emergency. But it will reopen one day, just like all the other more familiar sights in Verona: Juliet’s balcony, the Roman Theater, and our grand Roman amphitheater, the Arena, which has been hosting opera performances since 1913. If you’d like to check out what’s going on in Verona, you can view the city’s webcams. You might not see much more than a few pigeons at the moment. But sooner or later, tourists will return. I know we all are looking forward to the day when we can plan our next tour. Let’s stay positive and embrace what we can experience and learn virtually about our dream destinations in the meantime!”

In Siena, Anna Piperato explains how Phase 2 is just the first step of a much longer and more complicated recovery ahead:

“Things are changing a bit here in Italy as we enter into Phase 2. The next decree will be issued on 18 May, which should include a provision for the reopening of museums. However, we guides have been utterly forgotten about and we have no idea if we can lead small tours (say 1-5 people) in those museums, or even offer walking tours where social distancing would be much easier to uphold. I need to figure out how to earn a living because I am receiving no support from the government. Being an independent contractor always comes with risks, but I did think that paying into Social Security for 25 years and now paying into the Italian State would provide me with a bit of assistance, but no. ‘Oh, just teach online,’ they say, but it’s hard to find paying work! Still, I shall not give up. I’m taking an online art history course and have started a YouTube channel (and am finally learning how to use iMovie!). If you are interested, here is my latest coronavirus update:

In Rome, Nina Bernardo sent us this uplifting story of venturing out for the first time in 55 days:

“On Monday in Italy we were allowed our first taste of freedom. After 55 days of a very strict lockdown I went and walked along the banks of the Tiber. The sky was blue and the vegetation seemed wilder than I remembered it. As I walked, I passed cyclists and runners and instead of the usual sadness, oppression, and sometimes fear that I perceived standing in line at the supermarket (my only forays into the outdoors until then), as I walked there seemed to be joy and liberation in the air.

“Today I met a very good friend and we walked through the center (keeping our social distance). I live alone and seeing someone I love dearly up close, talking (not via a screen), being stimulated by the outdoors, speaking to people we passed and sharing our perceptions was revitalizing and for the first time since all of this started I felt hope. The world is bigger than the walls of my apartment. I want to explore that world again.”

And in Rome, Francesca Caruso wrote this beautiful essay (entitled “The Longest Journey Begins with the First Step”) about how, when you’ve been locked inside for weeks, a visit to a park is high adventure:

“May 4 has arrived, Phase 2 has begun, and we are finally allowed to walk in the park for exercise. We still cannot see our friends and it is not clear whether we can go downtown for a stroll, but after more than 50 days alone at home, I will take what I can get. I went to the Parco della Caffarella, over 300 acres of public green area, part of the Regional Park of the Appia Antica.

“I leave the concrete and the asphalt, the straight lines and right angles of the city that have been my fixed view for the last 50 days, and I walk into the park. It’s in a valley and it feels like plunging into the sea to swim. At every step knots unravel, the oppressiveness that has been lodged in my chest, gray and thick like fog, dissolves. My senses take over and they feel newly minted, sharp, polished, and eager. I am alive, I am here, and what I am feeling is unmistakably joy.

“Everything calls to me: the tender green of Spring, the enamel quality of Rome’s cloudless blue sky, the bright red of the poppies, the oily sleekness of a starling’s feathers. I walk in the tall grass and marvel at how it whips at my ankles (why had I never noticed that?).

“And the sounds: the melodious warbling of a blackbird, the buzzing of the bees, the ‘singing’ of a rooster from the nearby farm (that’s what they do in Italian — they ‘sing’), a flock of sheep crossing a little bridge over a brook, their hooves against the loose wooden planks, snippets of conversation, a child passing on a bike: Ciao pecora come stai oggi? (‘Hello sheep, how are you doing today?’) And: Mamma! Mi ha risposto, hai sentito? (‘Mom! She answered me, did you hear that?’)

“A couple walks by, wearing masks but holding hands, my mind races to my loved ones, so far away right now, to my partner on the other side of the world: When will I hold his hand again? But then my mind comes back and settles into the moment. I need to be here, now.

“What does this first walk really feel like? It feels like cold spring water when one is parched. What is it though? Is it Nature, the scale of its beauty and power that don’t even acknowledge what has turned our lives upside down? Yes, but what it is really about today, for me, is moving in a shared space, a space made up and lived in by others: trees, birds, and people. Not the space of my apartment that speaks just about me and my solitude, that looks like the inside of my mind and nothing else. I recovered a sense of community, of belonging to something more vast not just than me, but vaster and more powerful than the hardship of this moment.

“And as I walk in the park, I realize too that that is exactly what I miss about guiding: offering Rome, its complex beauty and resilience as a place we can all share in and connect with. And Rome is there, always there, like the trees and the sky, and one of these days we will be able to feel her embrace again.”