Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Smart working and cabin fever

I haven’t left the apartment since Tuesday 10th March, that’s one week today. N (my flatmate) has been in longer, poor love. Cabin fever – it comes in waves, then goes. Last Friday morning was the worst to date, but there’s lots of balconies in the apartment so for that I’m thankful. Balcony flash mobs are brilliant, they defo add a touch of solidarity and reassurance, reassurance that we’re not alone in this completely unexpected, life-changing experience.

That said, the week flew by. Like most people here, I’ve started “smart working”. On Wednesday I gave my first online classes “at” Liceo musicale G. Verdi high school, using Weschool and Zoom. One class (5A) was on James Joyce’s Ulysses. I spoke about it for 45 minutes even though I’ve never read the entire novel in one straight go. I read the first 50 odd pages in my late teens, then a couple of 100 pages in my 20s and so on. I’m not even sure I’ve actually read the whole book, but still, it’s one of my favorites of all time.

This Wednesday I’ll be talking about Molly’s inner monologue to the same class, “my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes”.

Bloom was schmoozing her too of course, getting round her. When was the last time I schmoozed and was schmoozed? Not with any of my Tinder dates, that’s for sure.

On Thursday I had four privates, two guys and two women, all via Skype. They were quite good but the last guy was lamenting his fate with the English language. “If you want to be a rocket scientist, you need to study,” I pointed out, “so why do you think you should somehow automatically be able to speak excellent English without studying it?” “Because we didn’t have to ‘learn’ our native language,” he replied. I feel the same about learning Italian – as much as I want to be fluent right here, right now, each new word, new colloquial phrase, new idiom is a conscious addition. I wish it wasn’t, I wish they would just all roll off the tip of my tongue, but it takes effort and commitment.

The weekend rolled in and rolled out. What did I do? Watched Netflix, the news, did my exercise routine, cooked and on Sunday I got an online supermarket order through. It took me two hours of non-stop, steel-determination clicking, clicking, clicking. I kept getting messages saying your bill can’t be calculated right now due to this item or that item. I just deleted the item and tried to replace it – at least for the first 20 goes – then I ignored the message and kept clicking anyway. Eventually, at 2:00 AM I got the “procedere” (proceed) screen – joy. It’s arriving on the 31st March – the first available delivery date.

While my students seem to be getting on fine – they are all with their families, and everyone I speak to online is hanging in there, and on the whole, so am I and N, pent up tension comes to the surface every now and then. In fact I had a little bit of an outburst with N this morning about picking up some ‘Kosher for Passover’ groceries. She’s very observant and it’s very important to her. She put in an order at the kosher shop and she wanted me to go and collect it which was no bother at all but I needed an autocertificazione, a form you must carry with you when you go outside stating why you are outside and that you don’t have the Coronavirus. I thought she wanted me to go there and then, and I didn’t have the form ready. Turns out the order won’t be ready for another couple of days and I’ve now completed and downloaded the form to my phone so we’re all set.

Meanwhile I’ve just spoken to J, “How are you?” I asked, “I’m stressed” he said and painted a very bleak picture of the next twelve months. “I’ve asked my aunt if I can have her house in Bologna, I’m going there with a few friends and I’m going to get loads of supplies in.”

“Can I come?”

“Only if I can make love to you every day.”

“OK,” I replied, and then, feeling a little excited, read him the quote above.

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