Scenes of Solitude Amidst Italy’s Coronavirus Crisis

Reaching for my camera and reportage…

In the often overwhelming heaviness of Italy’s coronavirus crisis, it has been far too easy for me to shut down. You know, like a deer in headlights, feeling progressively more helpless as the tidal wave of bad news washes over me. But, why should I step away from chronicling even this with my photography? Art is meant to reflect the full gamut of the human experience, from dark to light.

Living in a time like none other.

With the pain of staggering coronavirus deaths and new cases, I convince myself that I will never forget what we’re going through. But, then again, I know myself, and I know human nature. When we can feel reasonably safe again we’ll probably run for the comfort of the familiar and anchor ourselves in the conditioned lives that we know so well. Anything but having to make peace with that scary place called the unknown. Just so you know, as I write this I’m preaching to myself. I’m admonishing myself to NOT forget and instead to look for how this pandemic can snap me out of any measure of sleepwalking through life. And, lastly, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to reflect on what truly makes my soul sing, and what helps it find rest. It’s probably not in all the busyness of coming and going.

Scenes of solitude.

I unpacked my camera gear and parked myself at the large bank of windows on our fourth-floor flat in the city center of Treviso. As I waited for people to enter a profoundly empty set, I realized how so many of us are having to make sense of prolonged isolation during Italy’s coronavirus crisis and strictly-enforced home lockdown.

I chose this post’s feature image above for its many-layered messages. An Italian woman, fashionably attired (some things just can’t be relaxed!) walks past a newsstand devoid of customers. A barren tree’s long dark shadow stretches across the ground behind her. A message board displaying the daily headlines says that local deaths have exceeded one hundred. But, there’s a glimmer of hope: a subhead touts that new infections are dropping (“in calo”).

A profound sense of solitude and space during Italy's Coronavirus Crisis

We swim in isolation like never before.

The above intersection outside our window is normally abuzz with people and traffic, well past midnight and well before the first light of day. It feels like forever that life has made this dramatic turn. I have to remind myself that it was just three weeks ago when, just on the other side of this street, at least a dozen people were congregating and having drinks at a small bar. This was just before the government had to flex its muscles and put out stronger stay-at-home edicts. And, only now do we cautiously hope the extreme measures are paying off.

People who are hunkered down with family members or partners at least have a small measure of social interaction. But, even so, only one family member is supposed to be outside of the house at any given time and only for absolutely essential tasks.

Police Vigilance in Italy's Coronavirus Crisis

The vigilance of police is on display.

I see the frequent rounds of police and carabinieri. They’re quick to stop and ask people to state a legitimate reason for being out. A specific legal self-declaration (which a person better be able to back up) is required for people who are not clearly walking a dog or coming or going to the grocery store or pharmacy.

Fines are hefty, from a few hundred euro to a few thousand, plus jail time and a criminal record if the infraction is clear and intentional. For my American friends who haven’t experienced what might be called a temporary “police state,” this is what it takes to get Italy’s coronavirus crisis under control. Read the NYT article about how the Italian government had to stiffen up their measures, eliminating things like outdoor exercise. Still, people have been “furbo” (crafty) in trying to dodge the restrictions. Think fake dog on stiff leashes, for example.

Even protected to the hilt this woman sports spashes of color during Italy's coronavirus crisis

A splash of color amidst Italy’s coronavirus crisis.

This woman has donned her gloves and her mask, and she is heading to the grocery store just meters ahead. She passes long-shuttered businesses on a lonely trek. But, even in such a somber scene, her coat is adorned with brilliantly-colored buttons. I see it is a reminder to not forget the elements that make us smile, even in the face of tragedy.

And, finally, a companion at my window…

Yes, grappa. Nardini is considered by many to be one of Italy’s best. Amazon.it delivered it. Yes, they deliver alcohol, Grazie Dio!

Lest you think that Jed has been boozing it up in his window while taking photos of the somber scenes outside, rest assured I limit myself to a solitary shot after lunch or dinner. Besides, a little digestivo can help oil the wheels of creativity every so slightly. These days I need all the help I can get!

A shot of grappa both calms and fortifies me as I watch the world come to a standstill outside my window during Italy's coronavirus crisis.

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!

25 Comments

  1. lynn cureton May 28, 2020 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Jed, I always enjoy your pictures and paintings, as well as your wonderful commentaries! Stay safe and enjoy all the beauty that Italy offers!

  2. M. E, Bilisnansky McMorrow April 2, 2020 at 6:15 pm - Reply

    You touch upon something I have been very aware of these past few weeks alone in my studio…. Time is warped somehow. It seems this is forever, that it has always been this way… Grocery store lines with masks covering smiles (if there are any), an almost giddy anticipation of “what might they have on the shelves today?” and “how can I plan a week of menus on what I find so I won’t have to do this again?” Being Italian, I always shopped as my grandmother did, one day at a time. That is a thing of the past now. Stay healthy and keep documenting so we DON’T forget!

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 7:10 pm - Reply

      Yes, indeed. Time is warped and we are swimming in unfamiliar waters. To not see the beauty of faces and expressions is a necessary loss, I guess, as we find our way out of this crisis. We try to plan in a way that doesn’t require us to return to the queue and to the exhausting experience of keeping one’s mask secure while maintaining vigilance of one’s “airspace” at the same time. But, I’m experiencing incredible graciousness and patience. Yes, let’s not forget. Stay safe!

  3. Chip Meeks April 1, 2020 at 8:20 pm - Reply

    Jed,
    Stay safe, keep writing, shooting pictures and painting. The end of this will pass, and we’ll be able to step back and see what you have done.
    Oh, and sipping grappa!!
    Chip

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:36 am - Reply

      Will do, Chip. Loads more stories to tell. Hopefully, not coronavirus dominated! Loving the comforting warmth of my grappa! Jed

  4. Elizabeth Wholey April 1, 2020 at 7:21 pm - Reply

    Cin cin Jed! Sending love from San Francisco!

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:37 am - Reply

      Right back at you my dear friend! Stay safe and let’s hope it won’t be too long before we’re back at Nestor together having incredible pizza and toasting that we’ve survived this rocky, rocky road. xoxox Jed

  5. Sharon Davis April 1, 2020 at 7:00 pm - Reply

    Hope your well Jed!!!

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:39 am - Reply

      We’re hanging tough. Cabin fever strikes frequently but we’re quick to remember that staying put for as long as necessary is the best preventive medicine. You too, Sharon, I hope you’re well and staying safe!

  6. angela paladino April 1, 2020 at 6:17 pm - Reply

    I adore you. Sending you and your’s peace. Thank you for your posts. They are very important to me.

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:40 am - Reply

      And, I adore your always uplifting and encouraging messages! Thank you, thank you, thank you. xoxox Jed

  7. Christine Montgomery April 1, 2020 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    Jed, thank you for sharing these insights. I see my thoughts, expressed more elegantly and succinctly, reflected in yours; and I feel more a part of the humanity I don’t get to see these days. Stay well!

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:43 am - Reply

      I always love hearing from you, Christine. A crisis like this really can help us rediscover our connectedness and humanity. I’ve been overwhelmed and buoyed by the outpouring of messages and supports like yours. Stay safe and well! xoxox Jed

  8. Peggi Davis April 1, 2020 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Hi Jed. I was thinking about writing this very thing in the stories I have been posting on Facebook bIt still doesn’t seem teal to me. I dont know if I am in denial or what. They are telling us in the US that it will peak here April 15 and deaths could go as high as 400 a day v s our current total of 400. So scary. Take care and stay well. Peggi

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:48 am - Reply

      Hi Peggi, I keep going back in time to two-to-three weeks ago when the reality was just starting to settle in. I resisted. My brain just didn’t know how to compute something so foreign to my experience. Stay safe, stay hopeful in spite of the rising storm on your shores. We in Italy think we’re finally seeing a leveling out and drop in new cases (but deaths are still high and will lag in the curve). Thankfully, I’m hearing from our friends here a desire to stay vigilant and not relax. I think we all know the risk of heading out of lockdown too soon and a second wave. Great hearing from you. xoxox Jed

  9. Malcolm OHara April 1, 2020 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    I am so sorry to report that not enough was done to stop the spread of the SARS-Cov-2 virus here in The States. I thank you and appreciate your efforts to help us “get the picture” of what was and is happening in Italy.

    There will be many things to learn as we get used to the new New World. Like why our younger population was so willing to give up liberty and privacy in return for a smart device that connected them to enormous knowledge which they tend to ignore when it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. And why Some people, of all ages, can’t seem to figure out when to listen to science over political rhetoric. It seems to me that if we are to have a bright future we are simply going to need to be smart! Oh my! How do we get from here to there?

    Keep up the great work. We are really enjoying how you craft words and photographs.

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Malcolm, you are the best! Thank you for your encouragement. I’m curious to hear what sociologists and psychologists will say in retrospect about how we all responded to this crisis and why much of humanity can be so thick-headed in not assimilating the scientific facts and acting expeditiously. I’m interested in understanding why we too often persist in wishful thinking. I’ve learned from my own psychological and emotional journey. So many times I’ve felt myself resist and say “This can’t be!” But, it is a new, harsh reality, and I hope we accelerate our learning curve! You and Cindy stay safe and well. We miss you!

  10. Stephanie April 1, 2020 at 3:23 pm - Reply

    I can’t imagine what you are going through. I’ve gotten so use to being by myself out here in the country. Now I have a huge list before I go to the store for groceries and necessities. And then, I have to beg Louie to let me go. It’s still pretty safe in SD, but there are some folks not doing their part. Hang in there! Love you to pieces!

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 12:00 pm - Reply

      My dear friend, I think about you in SD a LOT. When I do, I think about our rural home in the hills in Umbria and how I would give anything to be able to take even a small stroll up and down our beautiful rocky driveway. We have our “drill” now for when one of us goes to the grocery. It’s exhausting, but I’m glad to see all the distancing and protective measures in place. Sure, I wait in a line (at least two meters spaced apart) for half an hour, waiting for one of the six people allowed in at a given time to checkout, but I don’t worry so much now. I come home, peel off my shoes and surgical gloves at the front door, put groceries away, and then wash the one face mask given per household by our the comune of Treviso. Love you to pieces, too! xoxox Jed

  11. Kathryn Smith April 1, 2020 at 2:05 pm - Reply

    Oh, Jed, these images say so much, and your explanations are even more enlightening. Bless your creativity. As you have been warning us, only now are we fully appreciating what is upon us. The scenes in hot spots like New York are heart-rending. Keep writing! Stay well.

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      I’ll keep at it, Kathryn. Momma Liz is somewhere cheering me on. I think she trained me well to use my artistic voice! You stay well and safe. Lots of love, Jed

  12. Robin April 1, 2020 at 1:43 pm - Reply

    Lovely post Jed. Glad to hear you are safe. XXO R & M

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 12:02 pm - Reply

      Grazie, Robin. Always good to hear from you. I hope you’re both doing well! xoxox Jed

  13. Beth April 1, 2020 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    Jed,
    Maybe I can try your recommendation of Nardini, one of Italy’s best! Oh, but only if this health hazard moves on and we can start our normal lives again! Take care! I’ll write again!

    Beth Skinner Zuercher

    • Jed April 2, 2020 at 12:07 pm - Reply

      Hi Beth, it can be a bit like rocket fuel if you haven’t had grappa. But I love it. I first had grappa over twenty years ago at a restaurant in Florence. A man at a neighboring table with whom I was talking offered me a caffe corretto, or “corrected coffee.” That a shot of espresso with a shot of grappa (or another digestivo). I still make my own caffe corretto at home, but I do the straight shots when I want something to sip slowly after a big meal! Let’s pray we’ll surmount this crisis with wisdom and a focus on the long term! xoxox Jed

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