For today’s Daily Dose of Europe, we’re doing our weekly check-in with our guides all over Europe. This week, Europe continued its gradual reopening. For example, as of May 18, Italians are welcome to “expand their bubbles” and visit with friends. While our European colleagues — like us — are suffering quarantine fatigue, we continue to be impressed by their optimistic attitudes. They’re finding creative and compassionate ways to make the most of their time.
In Southwest England, Paul Guest has been driving an ambulance for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS):
“We are expected to hit our peak in May for our area; it’s been busy enough already up to now. Some people are struggling with the lockdown — I guess it is difficult to have your freedom suspended — but there are those who are choosing to ignore the rules, which quite frankly is very selfish, having seen firsthand how debilitating/devastating the disease can be to someone.
“As Ambulance Crews have nothing in our arsenal will make any difference or if it does it’s negligible. I am definitely looking forward to the day when we can all be free again, and also thin again as wine and chocolate is apparently not a good diet.”
In Istanbul, Lale Sürmen Aran explains how the Turks are looking out for one another:
“Ekmek (bread) is of special importance for us: It sustains life, and the protection of life is sacred. For us, bread is nimet, a blessing sent from God. If a piece of bread accidently falls to the ground, it must be picked up immediately before placing it somewhere higher. Some people even kiss it and put it to their forehead, to further demonstrate their respect for the blessing of God.
“Leftovers are never thrown away; when bread goes stale, it’s made into French toast and breadcrumbs. You often see plastic bags containing old bread hanging off fences along streets or tree branches, so that birds, stray cats, and dogs can be fed.
“We don’t want anyone go a day without this simple blessing. Our way of paying forward with bread is called askıda ekmek — ‘bread on a hook’: In local bakeries, you sometimes notice the owner giving someone a loaf of bread without any money changing hands. At other times, a customer will pay for two loaves of bread but only take one. That customer’s contribution is set aside so that someone in need can come and take a loaf without resorting to begging — allowing them to feed themselves while preserving their dignity.
“With COVID-19, unemployment is skyrocketing and bills are going unpaid. To avoid having our neighbors’ electricity and gas shut off, we are modifying this old tradition to ‘bill on the hook.’ A website operated by Istanbul’s municipal government collects a list of vetted recipients who need help paying their bills.
“Anyone can go online and contribute. So far, anonymous philanthropists have paid for more than 50,000 bills this way.”
In Rome, Virginia Agostinelli writes:
“I have been dedicating a lot of time to the classics, rereading Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. I am amazed by how modern those texts are. I feel deep admiration for Ulysses’ resilience and audacity, and I have a soft spot for Achilles (he has quite a temper but also a good heart). Generally, I spend time on the rooftop terrace of my building. I can see St Peter’s dome quite well and often there are kites in the sky.
“I hope you are well and I look forward to the day when we’ll slowly start traveling with our groups again. A presto!”
In Greece, Maria Sioulas writes:
“We have finally been released from our lockdown. The whole process is going to take a few weeks and will be monitored closely — any increase in infection rate or death rate, and we will be back inside. The death toll so far stands at 160.
“The first things to open were small shops, churches for individual visits (no services yet), and hairdressers, yippee! First stop: a cut and color. The shaggy look really wasn’t good. Social distancing is enforced everywhere, as is the wearing of face masks in enclosed public areas.
“This week, larger retail stores opened, and children taking their high school exams returned to school. Cinemas, gyms, theaters, sports arenas, and facilities remain closed. It’s hoped that restaurants and bars will open in early June. This is a big issue at the moment, as most places will only be at 30 percent capacity due to the distancing rules, so the owners are not happy.
“Greece is also hoping to open up to a limited number of tourists as early as June. Beaches are in the process of ensuring that social distancing is enforced by having far fewer beds and umbrellas, and more showers. Hotels will also undergo radical changes, including having a designated quarantine hotel in all resort areas.
“The country remains positive despite the massive economic toll this is taking. We are looking forward to being able to share a meal in restaurant and raise a glass of wine in a toast to a better and brighter future. Mostly, however, we look forward to welcoming visitors back to our beautiful country.”
In Britain, Charlie Rawson reports that her lockdown has been lifted by writing poetry. She explains, “I believe it is such an important time to document, especially for future generations who will unpick the challenges we are facing, and try to understand the wider ramifications of this crisis.” Here’s one of Charlie’s poems:
The Pause Between
The first cancellation of many;
a birthday, lunch and rugby.
Reaching far and wide
above the clouds, it is growing quieter.
We are distanced, and the locks have been
turned down as we exhale and fold the laundry.
British Summer Time is here,
swiftly following by April Fools’ Day.
A first birthday comes
and goes — we should have been there.
Inhaling the sights and sounds of Spring
we Zoom in and out of weeks
another Friday another birthday
our first Full Moon was pink!
Drawing our bodies closer to the earth among the oak trees
two meters or six feet.
Lowering to the roadside
evading all eye contact,
the distance is greater now.
The weather forecast doesn’t list ‘inside’,
I’m residing in my own peripheral vision.
Released — one essential hour a day.
My essential tasks have mostly moved into the spare room,
it measures 311cm by 217cm.
We seem to have exchanged depth for time,
and gatherings, although charged, are paper thin.
Breathe in and open your heart.
You have always bent over backwards for me,
and we are so grateful.
Lift your gaze to the sky — full of life;
filled with radiant heat, hot blowy and everywhere,
then immersed in nourishing rain,
we needed that,
Drenched in an exhalation,
pushing back, up and away from the fear of not knowing,
the rain tastes of freedom
as the pathways rest beneath the spattering.
And one day, the 5 o’clock briefing is finally cancelled.
From now on, we define the everyday distance between us;
step forwards, step outside and step towards.
We meet back at the front, where nothing is as it was.
Coming half way only,
with hesitation, we are starting to relearn and relax.
To inhale is to grow taller, gathering the air with us,
And together, we treasure the pause, between this day and the next.
And finally, in Rome, Nina Bernardo sent us this beautiful meditation on what it means to be able to explore her adopted home city…and to reconnect with all of the personal memories that come along with it:
“Last week, when we were first let out, I walked along the banks of the Tiber River listening to the birds and the flowing water. Today I headed into the center to see what Pasquino might have to say about our current state of affairs. He is Rome’s most famous talking statue, and for centuries, Romans have been attaching notes of anonymous satire to him.
“When I arrived, an older couple was reading the material so I sat on the railing and waited. The gentleman turned around with a giant smile on his face and we started chatting. Sicilian by birth but Roman by adoption, he’s been here for 52 years and understands the Roman dialect often used in the pasquinade. I told him I was Roman by adoption, too, but sometimes the nuances of the satire escaped me.
“He shared with me his favorite poem on the board, and we said our goodbyes and went off in opposite directions. As I walked away, I realized how much I had missed these spontaneous interactions under lockdown. When my tour members ask what keeps me in Italy, that is always a point I highlight: It’s so easy to be around people and make connections, however fleeting, and share a moment that can change your day.
“I continued on and made my way to the Trevi Fountain. One of Rome’s most iconic monuments, as a resident of the city I admit I take it for granted. But today I sat for a long time listening to the rush of the water and thought about the countless times I’d been there in the evening with my tour members. I remembered what it was like to share their excitement at seeing it for the first time. ‘Gobsmacked,’ I like to say.
“My first memory of the fountain is actually a photo taken long before I was born. My parents (both born and raised in Italy) came here on their honeymoon in 1968. Well before the throngs of visitors crowded the fountain and police officers patrolled the area, they actually climbed onto it to throw their coins in! This was not allowed back then either, but my uncle, a priest, took the photo — probably reassuring them there was nothing to worry about. I love that photo. They look like slick 1960s film stars. That was during a really prosperous economic time here.
“My next real memory of the fountain came in 1996, when I decided to come live in Italy. Uncle Priest (as we still affectionately refer to him) was assigned to the parish next to the fountain, and I stayed there for two weeks before settling in elsewhere. I spent every evening sitting on the steps of the Trevi marveling at how exotic everything felt to me and excited and scared about my new adventure.
“My final personal stories all involve my family. To avoid the crowds, I’ve taken predawn walks with my nieces when they have visited. Rome is always its most magical in the early hours as the light is changing and the city is slowly coming to life.
“Our last family trip together before my father passed away was in 2016. He was in a wheelchair by then, but insisted on getting close to the basin, so we gingerly assisted him down a few steps. These are all cherished memories. I’m not embarrassed to say that I shed a few tears while sitting there reminiscing. All of the people in my stories were there with me at that moment. As were all the different “me’s”.
“The city is nothing without people, chance encounters, and stories. Neptune takes center stage at Trevi, but all of our memories are part of that place. Including a teary-eyed me on a cloudy May afternoon with only the sound of the rushing water and my thoughts to keep me company.”