It was on February 21 when I unknowingly moved to the Italian countryside to hide from the Corona virus. At the time, this was not my plan because I was involved in other activities. I spoke with some friends and students about the probability of the Corona Virus traveling slowly through Italy. Although I had wondered if the virus could negatively affect the Italian export of cheese and groceries, it was clear that I and others did not really believe that the virus would leave much of a mark.
That same day, I heard that there had been an outbreak in the Lombardy region, sixteen confirmed cases! However, most people thought it could be contained. There was no way the Corona Virus would reach the Piedmont region, I thought. Most people ruled out this possibility, and many even went to both work and school with cold and flu symptoms that resembled COVID-19. I suspected, telling myself that it must have been all in my head.
Then Piero told me that it would be better not to take the usual train to Borgomanero because the infections were increasing and it would be a bit risky. Thinking that prevention was better than cure, I agreed to travel with him by car. Little did he know that he would only return to Novara once to collect whatever items were necessary to get through the month! From then on, he would be glued to television news in addition to Internet news, which would come from sources around the world, as he was interested in a wide variety of points of view.
Not long after, everyone in Italy would have to stay home so as not to infect others or catch the virus. People could only go out to buy necessary food, visit the pharmacy, pay a bill, or eat and drink at a local cafe or bar. The Gattico-Veruno villagers began to walk through the countryside in pairs if they lived together in the same houses. For a short period, it was nice to see people around, returning to nature rather than traveling to neighboring cities for entertainment. When we saw the grim news about Corona virus victims, we stopped going out, and soon the government required everyone to submit a ‘self-certification’, stating the exact reasons for leaving their homes or leaving their yards.
Despite my heartbreak, the day finally came to venture outside again, just to pay rent in America. I had called the owner to get an extension, but the operator who answered had no idea what had been going on in Italy. They needed that rent money right away, not knowing that the virus would soon reach the United States as well. It seemed like I existed in a sci-fi movie, and my article on why people loved zombie movies became more relevant to my mood.
Armed with a “self-certification”, hand sanitizer and breathing masks, we went outside. There were few people around. First, I tried to get money from the bank that was closed. Then I tried two ATMs that were not working. Still hoping, Piero and I went to the local post office in Gattico-Veruno, where a friendly young man, possibly in his forties, came out to help me use the ATM that still refused 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 who waited, following the national decree to keep spaces between us. One of the employees in their fifties and sixties looked grumpy, probably because it was unfair that he had to work when most of the others were home. It was certainly risky for him to be there. Both employees said that the Internet was not working properly and that there was no way of knowing how long we would have to wait. They recommended that we go to another post office.
Discouraged once more, Piero and I went to the neighboring town of Bogogno, a cute little town that reminded me of a De Chirico painting because there wasn’t a soul around. I couldn’t help but think about how I would like to stay there for an extended period. Too bad the virus has invaded the country, making it impossible for tourists to enjoy such magnificent beauty! How is it possible that such a small village could be exposed to a harmful virus? I asked myself. If only God, who is represented in countless churches throughout Italy, would hear our prayers!
Inside the Bogogno post office, I found a kind woman in her sixties who was smart enough to wear latex gloves to handle money. He was working behind a glass partition with a small hole at the bottom through which cash, debit cards, and papers could be passed. Maybe she was relieved that I was wearing gloves and a mask too. She handled the transaction efficiently while having a lovely conversation with me. I was amazed at how he was able to provide excellent and friendly service without wasting time. I did not forget to wish him health and safety, although one hesitates to say things that some Italians might understand to bring bad luck.
As I was leaving the post office, a stranger was about to enter. He was moving so fast, without a mask, that I jumped back in fear of contagion. When he realized that we had to keep our distance, he also distanced himself. Piero was waiting for me outside in the distance as required by law. Hurriedly, Piero and I returned to the car, thinking that it was a shame not to be able to enjoy such a charming town.
We don’t stop anywhere you can remember on our way back to Gattico-Veruno. I just took a deep breath and looked for the police who could question us. It seemed that spring had begun as there were many flowers adorning the houses and gardens. The landscape seemed serene as the dark and vicious Corona Virus lurked somewhere, unbeknownst to us.