Brindisi, March 10th, 2020
When it all started
It started as a quiet subversion of daily habits.
After the declaration of the state of emergency throughout Italy, the roads appeared deserted even in the southern regions where the risk was very low, just a handful of people infected by province.
Few people with masks and scared looks entered and left the shops on that beautiful March day.
Government instructions were clear: you could only leave the house for reasons of strict necessity: for medical treatments, for work, for “survival”, that is shopping for food.
The population was forbidden to touch, hug and kiss, to leave their own town of residence. All the activities that could be carried out from home – as distance learning or smart working – continued. Also some essential public services. But who knows how many activities were interrupted and for how long.
The planes no longer left. The silence was striking. In that green suburb close to the airport it sounded unnatural.
What struck me most was the loss of the little things I had always taken for granted: hugging my father, for example; exchange kisses on the occasion of my birthday; take a walk without a real destination just to look at the sea.
What about meeting my partner? He lived in another town and seeing each other was now impossible. Until when?
I felt a pang in the stomach. What if either of us got sick? No visiting, no help? And if it became serious? 100 km never felt like a difficult distance, now they were.
It was the first time I really thought of sickness as a real possibility.
Back home, I was welcomed by the usual smiles of my sons.
Ours was a little bubble of positivity.
We left daily news enter only for short updates in the morning and in the evening. The TV was turned off most of the time. Except when PlayStation was turned on, which was, for my standards, way too much.
My sons had reacted in two different yet quite healthy ways: one, the younger – just turned fourteen – had celebrated the closure of the school as a historic event per se, but deplored the fact that homework continued to arrive just the same.
The older one, close to his sixteen birthday, had armed himself with patience and although he suffered from the loss of his social life, seemed serene. Both had hobbies and games to play, they enjoyed all this extra time for themselves.
Turning off TV wasn’t a real novelty for us, but now it was self-defense. The virus was on-air h24. This health crisis had obscured all the other crises, not less dramatic: the bombing of civilians in Syria, the desperate situation of migrants on the Greek border, the exceptional Arctic temperatures.
We had all seen pictures of penguins trotting in the mud instead of slipping elegantly on the pack: the photos had circulated on Facebook but had never found their way to TV news, yet 20 ° in Antarctica was big news. And the violations of fundamental rights perpetrated massively on refugees? What was happening?
Moreover, the United States was shipping 20,000 troops in Europe, the largest deployment of forces in 25 years. Apparently, practicing to lead a convoy across the Atlantic. Could we need a new landing in Normandy or Sicily? Who would invade us: the Russians? the Chinese? For the moment the Americans, although they had promised that they would leave Europe after cleaning training areas.
How could all this make sense in the middle of a pandemic?
Internet was the only source for everything that was not the virus and its consequences, a massive and chaotic source, overflowing with fake. Fake news continued to arrive on every mobile via the WhatsApp groups. I had received maybe ten times the same message telling us to fight infection with hot drinks, as ridiculous as it sounded, most of my contacts had believed and passed it on.
I had spent the last two months organizing big conferences, one was already canceled, the other looked uncertain but we were clinging to the idea that everything would be fine and that the emergency would end soon.
Ironically, our conferences were on democratic global governance, on commons and common values. I smiled at the idea that speaking of democracy with the right of meeting suspended was quite a thing.
By the way, our team knew how much this was contradicting the direction that politics seemed to have taken at the national and the global level. Yet, it was a way to face and counter the narrative, hopefully, to start writing a different one.
And now this virus, quietly, was overwriting on its own, putting on hold globalization, reviving borders and building new ones, even from town to town.
I was feeling like a little lab rat. Italy was a little lab. Our first-class citizenship which allowed us to go everywhere, often visa-free, was now rejected. Closed, each of us in our little towns.
And yet, with the coronavirus declared a global health emergency by WHO, we had further (unnecessary!) evidence that borders were pointless in front of great emergencies, that viruses traveled without documents and that you could find yourself on the wrong side in no time.
Solutions, whatever, needed cooperation, not competition. We were all connected, even more with hugs forbidden.
I had so much to work on, articles and chapters on democracy and citizenship and global governance, but all this thinking was bringing me to the core: oneness. I had to work on oneness, skipping all the intermediate steps.
To be continued…