It was February 21 when I unknowingly relocated to the Italian countryside to hideout from the Corona Virus. At the time, this hadn’t been my plan because I was engaged in other activities. I had spoken with some friends and students about the likelihood that the Corona Virus would slowly travel across Italy. Although I had questioned whether the virus could impact Italian exportation of cheese and comestibles negatively, it was clear that I and others didn’t really believe the virus would leave much of a mark.
That same day, I heard there had been an outbreak in the Lombardy region, sixteen confirmed cases! Yet, most people thought it could be contained. There was no way that the Corona Virus would reach the Piedmont region, I thought. Most people dismissed this possibility, and many even went both to work and to school with cold and flu-like symptoms that resembled COVID-19. I was suspicious, telling myself that it must have been all in my head.
Then Piero told me I would be better off not taking the usual train to Borgomanero because infections were rising and it would be a little risky. Thinking that I was better safe than sorry, I agreed to travel with him by car. Little did I know that I would only return once to Novara to pick up the items that were necessary to get through the month! From then onward, I would be glued to the TV news in addition to the Internet news, which would arrive from sources across the world as I was interested in a wide variety of viewpoints.
Not long afterward, everyone in Italy would be required to stay home so as not to infect others or catch the virus. People could only go out to buy necessary food, to visit the pharmacy, to pay a bill, or to eat and drink at a local coffee shop or bar. Villagers in Gattico-Veruno began to get out for countryside walks in pairs if they resided together in the same homes. For a brief period, it was nice to see people out and about, returning to nature rather than travelling to neighboring towns for entertainment. As we saw the gloomy news about the victims of Corona Virus, we stopped going outside, and soon the government required everyone to produce an ‘auto-certification’, stating their exact reasons for exiting their homes or leaving their yards.
Despite my angst, the day eventually arrived to venture outdoors again, just to pay rent in America. I had called the proprietor to get an extension, but the operator who answered was clueless about all that had been happening in Italy. They needed that rent money immediately, not knowing that the virus would soon arrive in the States, too. It seemed like I existed in a sci-fi film, and my article about why people loved zombie movies became more relevant to my state of mind.
Armed with an ‘auto-certification’, hand sanitizer, and respirator masks, we hazarded out into the sunny open air. Few people were around. First, I tried to get money from the bank that was closed. Then I tried two ATM machines that weren’t working. Still hopeful, Piero and I went to the local post office in Gattico-Veruno where a kind young man, possibly in his forties, came out to help me use the ATM machine that was still refusing to accept my card. Next, I wanted to load an Italian debit card inside the post office.
There was another masked woman in line who feared contamination. We were the only ones waiting, following the national decree to keep space between one another. One of the clerks in his late fifties to mid-sixties seemed grumpy, probably because it was unfair that he had to work when most others were at home. It was certainly risky for him to be there. Both of the clerks said that the internet was not working correctly, and there was no telling how long we would have to wait. They recommended that we go to another post office.
Discouraged once again, Piero and I went to the neighboring village of Bogogno, a cute little town that reminded me of a painting by de Chirico because there wasn’t a soul around. I couldn’t help think about how I would like to stay there for an extended period. Too bad it was that the virus had invaded the country, making it impossible for tourists to enjoy such magnificent beauty! How could it be that such a small village could be exposed to a harmful virus? I asked myself. If only God, who is represented in countless churches across Italy, heard our prayers!
Inside the Bogogno post office, I found a gracious woman in her mid-sixties who was wise enough to wear latex gloves to handle money. She was working behind a glass partition with a little hole at the bottom through which cash, debit cards, and papers could be passed back and forth. Maybe she was relieved that I, too, was wearing gloves and a mask. She efficiently took care of the transaction while carrying on a delightful conversation with me. I was amazed by the way she could provide excellent, friendly service while not wasting time. I didn’t forget to wish her health and safety although one hesitates to say such things that might be understood by some Italians to bring bad luck.
As I exited the post office, a stranger was about to enter. He was moving so fast, without a mask, that I jumped back for fear of contagion. When he realized that we had to keep a distance, he also distanced himself. Piero was waiting for me outdoors in the distance as was required by law. Hastily, Piero and I made our way back to the car, me thinking what a shame it was not to be able to enjoy such a delightful village.
We did not stop anywhere that I can recall on our way back to Gattico-Veruno. I just took a deep breath and looked for police that might question us. It seemed spring had begun as there were plenty of flowers adorning the houses and gardens. The landscape looked serene while the dark, heinous Corona Virus lurked somewhere out there, unbeknownst to us.