Month: May 2020

Milan in the Time of Coronavirus: Back to Life, Back to a New Normality

The heavy footsteps of the secondino (prison guard) gradually grew louder. We waited tentatively as each plod brought him closer to the door. We heard the key turn once, turn twice and thrice as we clung together with baited breath. On the fourth turn, the door swung open. Hooray! We can all go out to play again.

Yes, on Monday 18th May, life went back to a new normality here in Milan.

Shops, restaurants and bars, hairdressers, beauty salons and barbers, churches, synagogues and mosques, have all been given the green light to reopen. Gyms and swimming pools are still under lock and key until May 25th, and cinemas and theatres until June 15th. I’m not clear on what the situation is with art galleries; while some of the smaller ones are by appointment only, most, such as Mudec and Fondazione Prada, remain shut, although I note Pirelli HangarBicocca opens on May 23rd. Museums, libraries, exhibition centres and archaeological sites are gradually opening as and when they see fit.

Giorgio Gori at the barbers

Giorgio Gori, Mayor of Bergamo Alta at the barbers on Monday 18th May

There’s a general sense of joy and trepidation. On one hand, the entire region is a wash with palpable pops of ecstasy as people make appointments with their hairdressers and barbers. Giorgio Gori, mayor of Bergamo Alta (the upper city of Bergamo) put before and after photos on his Instragam account and A, my Monday morning student, was positively beaming, talking about her hairdresser, “I know him, that’s why he’s given me an appointment on Wednesday morning”. I could feel her excitement through the screen, “I can give up anything,” she continued with fixed determination, “but my hairdresser, no”. Looking and feeling good is an integral part of life here.

On the other hand, shops and restaurants need to adapt to social distancing rules. This could involve anything from limiting parking spaces to control the number of shoppers in shopping malls, to using perspex dividers at dining tables in restaurants. Additionally, as one restaurant manager mentioned on the news on Monday, restaurants are tailoring their menus to be fast and affordable.

Personally, I’m not ready to eat in a restaurant yet or even go for an aperitivo (buffet style aperitivi aren’t allowed yet), although if I passed a good gelateria or pizzeria – both to take out – I’d succumb wholeheartedly, no worries at all. The palatable pleasure would soothe any paranoid thoughts I had.

In terms of work, I’m still teaching online via Zoom and Skype. I’d love this to be the case throughout the summer, mainly because I’d be able to travel and work simultaneously. Meanwhile, people used to traveling to work and spending the best part of their day in windowless rooms or looking over office dividers have already started settling into a new normality. Tech, pharma and financial employees – everyone is saying the same thing – a couple of days in the office and the rest at home please. I can only see this as a good thing. For the environment it would lead to less traffic and therefore less pollution; for staff, less transport fees, less stress and more time to get work done; for companies, less rent to pay for office space. Smart working (the English term used here to mean working from home, although the true sense of the word is slightly different) and hot desking  (sharing an office desk on a rota system) are all part of the new normality – let’s hope so anyway.

The Italian architect Stefano Boeri, well known for his eco-friendly Bosco Verticale or Vertical Forest (two skyscrapers comprised of residential apartments with 20,000 plants and 800 trees, which absorb 30 tons of C02 per year), said something very interesting recently. He said, “Returning to a normality, which, in and of itself, holds the causes of this tragedy, would be collective suicide.” and “we must do everything possible to avoid a peaceful return to a normality which produces the situation we now find ourselves in.” He refers to studies showing how air pollution and the quality of air in cities is one of the contributing factors that spread the virus. He’s right, simply whinging about the smog, noise pollution and stress of city living over a Starbucks coffee must be a thing of yesternormality. Today’s normality is about pioneering eco and human friendly methods of living in cities or, if you’re so inclined, moving to the country while maintaining your fast paced job. Quality living in the city, a city job in the country – it’s all possible, we just need to be imaginative and assertive.

Tomorrow I’m picking up a bike that N’s daughter is kindly lending me, it’s my new form of transport. I haven’t ridden a bike since 1994, when I was on holiday in the Chitwan National Park in Nepal. Yep, it’s back to life here, back to a new normality. And now, back to the board for a quick game of scrabble before my next lesson.





Milan in the time of Coronavirus: Lazy and Slovenly or Emancipated?

Milan in the Time of Coronavirus

My Lock down Look

Putting mascara on is a big deal these days, as is doing my brows, shaving my legs and filing my nails. As for my hairbrush – thing of the past. On Sat night I had a virtual date. He looked great, prepped as if we were really meeting in person, wearing a lovely white shirt and even a splash of aftershave, as he told me. I was in the same clothes I’d been wearing all day and slept in the night before, propped up in bed with nothing on my face but a pair of glasses. I’ve never been the full coverage type, but usually a lick of mascara and a dab of blusher are my go-tos, like wearing knickers I’d feel a bit naked without them. But not this time, in fact I felt totally comfortable, relaxed and confident.

It’s not that I don’t care, it just feels so liberating, as if I’m shedding layers of “shoulds”. I should do this, I should do that, wear this, wear that, eat this, drink that – all these “shoulds” – they’re falling away, and there’s so much more room without them, as if my life were a garden that I’ve spent the last couple of months de-weeding. Ah, freedom and space for new plants to grow that are much more to my liking.

My mental state and physical appearance are not the only things that are changing. I’ve let the reigns go on time too. On Friday, for example, I clean forgot about two English lessons: one at 10:00 and one at 17:00. It wasn’t until 17:30 that I remembered about both of them. I logged into Skype and saw the message from my 17:00 student. At 17:12 she’d written “OK, we will re-schedule this session! Have a nice weekend” followed by a smiley face. “I’m soooo sorry,” I wrote back, “my fault completely”. Then I remembered the 10:00 lesson. “Scusami Tracey, I can’t make our lesson tomorrow,” he’d written the day before. “No worries,” I wrote back, “I completely forgot about it myself”. Again, it’s not that I didn’t care (I’m genuinely fond of my students and enjoy teaching them), but it was as if I knew I could let myself off the hook this time and the heavy thud of “Oh f*ck, I’ve completely blanked on my lessons today” wasn’t there and I felt really glad about that too as I merrily popped open a bottle of Prosecco and went back to playing scrabble.

Time in general has taken on a whole new dimension too and I think that’s what’s confusing me. The days are flying by, but time itself feels more spacious, more expansive. Little things like picking up my pace as I near the metro so I don’t miss the next train, even though there’s always one after that, waiting impatiently for the green man to cross the road, for the elevator, to pay at the supermarket, at the bar for my espresso, all these moments in time – they were quite stressful for me now that I think about it.

Saying that, I’m double checking my calendar more than usual this week. It’s my brother’s birthday today, haven’t forgotten that thankfully and have already called him. I’ve also got a couple of lessons this afternoon, the first one at 15:00 so I’ve set my alarm clock at 14:45 just to be on the safe side.

And bar my regular lessons, I’m not sure what the rest of the week holds (that feels good too). I’ve been enjoying my chats on Cat Back Chat with Seanie – a live radio show organised by HC in Kilkenny, Ireland. Love speaking on it and love listening to other guests too. It usually airs Monday to Friday every evening.

I’ve also been checking out the Italian property market and I kid you not when I say there’s houses on the market here for 1 euro. It’s an interesting situation and there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye obviously, but basically there are many little villages and medieval hamlets in Italy that are so depopulated they are literally becoming ghost towns as old people die and young people move to cities or other countries. So there’s a huge incentive to repopulate these places, plus now with Covid-19 and lots of Italian people themselves wanting to get out of built-up city areas – I think it’s an interesting situation. I’ll write a post about it soon (whenever that may be) and will also talk about it next time I’m on Cat Back Chat.

Off now for another game of scrabble and then a possible trip to Carrefour supermarket. Won’t be wearing make-up, but will have the mask on. Wonder what it’s going to be like when we’re not all wearing masks and communicating through screens. Boh (who knows?), but right now it feels like emancipation.