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My Life on Italy’s Coronavirus Frontlines, and in Quarantine


My wife was worried. Home schooling was hard. The piano teacher bailed. The government wasn’t being clear about whether or not people could go to the park. Also, she thought maybe we were all going to die?

She talked about escaping to the Tuscan hills, “Decameron” style, where her parents had a house, but decided to stay put, and responded with the fortitude of other Italians. She stayed home. She taught handwriting and multiplication tables. She stocked up. She drank a glass of wine with friends during a FaceTime aperitivo.

I got updates about their life during our live-streamed dinners. I listened to cereal sliding out of the box, ceramic bowls clanking, the oven door closing. Elena practiced piano. I told her how good it was coming along.

“Wait, where are you?” she said

“I’m in my jail!” I said.

“No, I mean where’s the phone,” she said.

I had become a disembodied voice. Face-timed flesh.

After midnight, when my stories were put to bed, I’d call back to my parents in New York. My father had a not-minor surgery planned this week and there was no way I could go back home now. They were precisely the age of people I had been quarantined to protect. Still, my mother was weighing whether or not to bring my father to see “Riverdance.” (“Riverdance!”)

Small dry coughs caused me to freeze. I took my temperature a lot. Sometimes I wore my mask alone. As Italy tightened its lockdown, hardly anyone walked on my street and those who did wore masks. When I wasn’t on the phone, all I heard were birds, distant car door slams and conversations from open windows. When even those sounds faded, the city was as quiet as that Alpine mountainside.

As I prepare to leave quarantine, everyone is taking precautions. Claudia and the kids have started wearing masks on the walk over to see me. My mother gave up “Riverdance” and could not visit my father in the recovery room. People all over the world are staying inside.

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