Coronavirus: Italy’s united front against a common foe
PUBLISHED: 09:00 27 March 2020
NABIL ZOUHIR, who is locked down in Florence, assesses the morale of the nation – and describes the small moments helping hold neighbourhoods together.
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In Italy we are in the vanguard of a very long war of attrition against coronavirus. Having been engaged in this battle for longer than other Europeans, we now understand that no sudden moment of shock and awe is going to defeat the enemy. We are engaged in a very drawn-out, deadly, campaign.
Like the rest of Florence – indeed, the rest of Italy – I am now in my third week of lockdown. In terms of morale, the country seems to be doing OK. That wonderful communal singing – with people joining in from their own balconies – that has been doing the rounds on Twitter is certainly helping. But the daily announcements of the rising death toll is still the ritual that most grips the nation.
Wherever possible, people are trying to find a way to carry on their lives, even if it is only in a virtual world. I am a student and now ‘attend’ my lectures via a live video call with my professor. I also try to fill my time with more reading and writing.
It is said that we never kill time, but that time kills us. Nonetheless, it is a precious commodity. If I have a message to those in the UK who are a little behind us Italians in terms of learning to live in lockdown, it is that it is possible to come to a modus vivendi in these challenging times.
Going for groceries is now a surreal experience. I went to the supermarket around 9am the other day so that – I thought – I’d be almost the only one. Silly me. There was a queue going down to the parking lot. I kept in line for 45 minutes before getting in only to find I had completely forgotten what I was there for.
Thirty minutes later, I was finally done and headed to the only open cashier. From there I could see the faces of those waiting in line to get in: even behind the mandatory face masks, I could see in their eyes the clear message ‘please leave something for us’.
Italians feel a sense of responsibility for each other. But – whatever our politics – I think most also feel warmly towards the authorities and officials.
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As soon as I drove out of the store car park, I was stopped at a roadblock. A polite policeman wearing gloves, sunglasses and face mask asked for the documentation in which I must declare my reasons for being out of my home.
These are draconian measures – in a country that has had an unhappy history of living beneath a draconian regime – but I think they are broadly accepted. We know there is inconvenience, but we believe it is justified.
There is no resentment against the state, that I can detect. I think that is clear from the communal singing. To be fair, this is not unprecedented. Even during wartime people here used music and chants to lift their spirits.
In my neighbourhood we’ve taken things a bit further. A DJ friend who has no parties to attend agreed I could use my family’s balcony to broadcast to the surrounding homes, as he did his DJ stuff remotely.
I sent out some WhatsApp invites to the whole neighbourhood and by 6pm we were all standing on our balconies waiting for the party to start.
We really had the best time of our lives that evening – and got some useful exercise too.
Seeing other people being in the same situation – but smiling and having fun – felt truly heartwarming.
After an hour, the music stopped, we gave the DJ a round of applause, sang the national anthem and headed back into our homes for dinner.
These moments are important because we all accept how close the danger is. There are people I am close to who have lost those they love. Soon no doubt we will all know someone or, quite possibly, fall victim to the virus ourselves.
But being in the middle of this dreadful battle does at least give you a deep bond with those who are facing the enemy alongside you.
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