Saturday, May 29, 2021


 "It's been too long", wrote a kind reader of this blog in a message to me last month and it's true - it has been over a year since I last posted here. The reason? The pandemic, mostly. I did not bake bread every day, though I continued to cook, I did not follow an exciting exercise régime online and, though I kept in touch with friends, I did not spend hours on Zoom or Skype. I spent most of my time scrolling through the news, hoping, day after day, to see a hopeful headline and, as you will all know, it was months before one appeared. Yes, last summer in Italy we felt that we could breathe and life returned, for a while, to something resembling normality but the respite was short-lived.  

Then came the autumn and we found ourselves in lockdown after lockdown, all over again. None of these was as strict, or felt as oppressive, as that first long lockdown that began in March 2020, but the restrictions and the uncertainty from week to week and even from day to day began to get everybody down. Italy was again divided into zones, with red zones having the most restrictions, orange ones some and yellow zones fewer, with the white zone, the one we all long for, seeming impossibly far away. 

Non se ne può più - "We can't stand it any more" was the sentence I heard everywhere from Easter onwards and indeed I do not think we could have. Sicily at last became a yellow zone last week, which means that bars and restaurants can open in their outside space and the hated curfew has been moved to 11pm. It had been so sad, in recent months, to pass my local bar and see no one sitting on its terrace and to witness the accompanying silence of what is, in normal times, a joyful and welcoming place. That is why it has been such a pleasure, this week, to be able to enjoy a gelato and an aperitivo there again.

I don't think it is understood by government that small local bars can be much more than places of refreshment: For many people who live alone, they are a point of social contact and I know that if I did not appear at mine for a coffee in the morning, they would worry about me and there would be a good chance of someone quickly coming to find me if I fell, or worse, at home. It makes me feel generally safer.

My dog, who has kept me going and provided the affection and cuddles I have so missed over the past fifteen months, is happy to be patted and spoken to on our walks again and she, like me, senses that the heaviness in the atmosphere has lifted.  

"I'm under here, mummy!"

I am pleased and grateful to be able to say that I have received my first vaccine. I know that this alone will not guarantee my safety but compared to how I felt a year ago, it has made a tremendous difference. You will all know the story of how, at the beginning of this year, Italy seemed to be doing very well and was even ahead of some other countries in its vaccination plan. Then it all fell apart when the promised quantities of doses from more than one company did not arrive in the EU as expected, for reasons that are not yet clear. I think many of us became very frightened again then and it was a bleak time. But the country has made great progress following this setback, not without difficulty, frustration and tears, and it seems to me that most of us feel very cautiously optimistic.

Anything that disrupts our routines, the things we take for granted, is hugely stressful and it is usually not  until it happens that we realise this. But it is not only routine that punctuates our lives -  collective celebrations or, sadly, mourning, festivals, public anniversaries and other events also play their part and of course they are missed. Almost every year since I have lived in Sicily (sixteen years on June 2nd, Republic Day) I have attended the lovely Infiorata in Noto to see the "carpet of flowers" which is always on show during the third weekend of May. As I've written here before, such events take place in several parts of Italy and in other Catholic countries and the most likely reason for their origin is simply a desire to create something beautiful for God. And I'm sure that God, like the rest of us, could do with gazing upon some beauty in this situation. Last year the carpet was created but only shown online and this solution had to be repeated this year. Its theme in 2021 was a homage to Dante and the famous words,

e quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle - and thus we came out to see the stars again

were spelled out in flowers.

Non se ne può più has never seemed more true and the words of the father of the Italian language have expressed the hope of everyone, all over the world.

Image from Quotidiano di Ragusa

I'll try not to leave it so long between posts from now on!


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