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My neighborhood in quarantine times

Ela Vasilescu
Mar 11 · 4 min read
Ela Vasilescu — Coffee in the garden, while my people play in the background

To the rest of the world: ‘You are us two weeks ago.’

A few hours after I published this article two days ago, Italy has decided for a national lockdown. Most of us expected it; some of us wanted it. I spoke to some friends and family across the borders. When I answered their questions about our situation, they all had the same reaction: ‘It sounds like an apocalyptic movie scenario.’ In reality, it’s not; at least not for us.

So what does the lockdown look like, and what does it mean for our everyday lives?

We can leave our homes only for serious reasons. Those could be a trip to the pharmacy, to the supermarket to buy supplies, to work (for those who can’t work from home). There are police checks on the streets and forms to fill out if we cross our city’s borders; going to other neighborhoods it’s also advised against, and meeting friends for dinner or playdates are certainly not allowed. In bars, there are strict rules about keeping one’s distance from others, and in the supermarket, only a few people can go in at once, the rest have to patiently wait outside until it’s their turn to go in.

My neighborhood is quiet. The weather is perfect, the sun shines over the empty streets, and if it wasn’t for the occasional cars passing, you could swear the neighborhood is abandoned. I watch from the balcony two of my neighbors chatting from a safe distance. The atmosphere is a serene one, of acceptance. I can see around ten people in front of the pharmacy. For someone who has been a resident of this country for more than ten years, I know that the Italian way of life, which involves a lot of touching, hugs, kisses, talking in each other’s face, took a big hit. But most people follow the rules, which is comforting to watch.

For us, as a family, the new rules didn’t change much. I’m a writer, thus I spend most of my time as a hermit anyway. We help our daughter with her school work in the morning. We are among the lucky ones who benefit from a private garden, so we can spend some time outside and play with our seven-year-old. We took out all the forgotten board games from their boxes, and we play music loud. We dance. There is a lot of laughter in our house now.

When the lights go out in the evening, and our daughter is sleeping, we worry. We worry because, as freelancers, we lost most of our work. We worry because we know we won’t recover easily. We worry because there are still people who don’t take the rules seriously. Then we look at each other and smile because we know that as long as we are healthy, we can keep going.

We look at the rest of Europe and beyond, and we know the other countries are us two weeks ago. We understand your dismissal and jokes around this whole thing. Italy has done it as well. We understand you may think you are young and healthy, and you will overcome the situation easily. But this is not about that.

Two weeks ago, my family and I based our decisions on official numbers, and we kept our calm, taking each day as it came. We watched people panicking and running away from the country, or their regions (as if that would have helped), or people who were in complete denial saying the virus doesn’t exist. Very few of us made up a category of people who stayed informed, followed the rules as they came, made decisions without falling in either one of the above categories. We applauded the government’s decisions and cringed at people when they left their children with the most fragile ones now, the grandparents, to continue to go to work. I watched my fellow countrywomen and men trying to escape this country, without the slightest idea of why or of what they are doing; running to their home country where the medical system is nonexistent; running to their elderly relatives not understanding that they are signing their death sentence; running from quarantine thinking they can escape it.

I still believe reason and kindness will help everyone overcome this. For those of you who live in Italy, respect the imposed rules. Your coffee time at the bar, your dinners with friends, your outings of any kind will come back soon enough. Check-in with your loved ones, advise your elderly to stay home. Take this time as an opportunity to connect with your own little family, to work on those things you never had time to, to clean the house thoroughly like you always said you want to but never came around to it.

For those of you outside the borders, jokes are encouraged as long as you understand the numbers will only rise in your own country. Make informed decisions, don’t panic, but don’t dismiss the facts. Living in fear and being cautious are two distinct things. Quarantine is not pleasant for most, but is it better to deny everything all together? Is it better to watch your grandparents or parents risking their health? Don’t stockpile. This is not the apocalypse, but it is a time when we should think of others as well. Take what you need, not more. Don’t empty the pharmacies or the market just because you are scared.

Maybe this is just the flu. Maybe this is all a big joke. But isn’t it funny how human beings show their true colors in times of crisis? Isn’t it funny how now we are left stripped of our masks? Who do you want to be when you are left exposed?

Ela Vasilescu

Written by

Story Hunter/Writer based in Florence, Italy

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