I wake with a start because my roommate’s Cristina’s daughter (Irene) is singing at the top of her lungs like she does when she’s overjoyed, which thankfully is most of the time. I’m also thrilled because it must be Saturday as on weekdays I get up as early as an afternoon shadow and Irene’s gone to school. But then my phone tells me it’s Wednesday. It’s always kind of Wednesday.
Time is different without the familiar should do’s (gym, return that shirt that’s too small) and have to’s (bank, post office, cell phone store). It’s a reminder that time is a human construct and if something like time can so morph so drastically, what else could?
As I mentioned before, I largely view this experience as a kind of absurd adventure. Falling into depression would be easy as news pours in from slightly further north of doctors and nurses dying, graveyards at capacity and relatives unable to enter hospitals to say goodbye to loved ones. But we can’t give up the hope that it will end, even if life afterwards may behave like time and appear quite divergent than before.
By noon I’ve taught about three hours of online classes to adorable Chinese kids, the most spastic of whom still manage to complete the lesson and utter a respectful goodbye. I grin thinking of the unruly Italian kids I’ve attempted to teach as they talk over me and each other. The younger ones climb desks like monkeys and the older ones still wouldn’t be interested in my lessons even if I released real-life monkeys into the classroom.
I’ve got a wee break before the next wave of “does he like bread?” and “she rides a horse” so I go out to lizard on the sunny patio. Rumors of a cold front make me savor that sultry space even more than I know I should since some of my friends are relegated to houses without patios. Others have controlling drones flying overhead when they take out the trash.
We’ve also got a small grassy courtyard below where I linger in the afternoons atop a blanket to edit my book in the fresh air. Profound gratitude is what emerges now and for all the right things: a healthy body, great roommates, grass, cat company, a cozy shelter, freedom of thought and expression and refreshed, more genuine contact with others.
I’m also thankful that we can still receive deliveries of fresh fruit and vegetables. Cristina orders by phone and then the delivery human arrives masked and gloved and leaves our organic bounty downstairs. We throw money off the balcony like a boomerang that doesn’t come back and chat from way more than a meter apart and off he goes.
Now everything has shut down except necessary businesses (grocery stores, post offices, pharmacies and banks). At night the deep silence reminds me of diving into a pool by myself. Underwater the rest of the world melts away and you feel a strange, otherworldly solitude that you know and hope won’t last forever.
Here in Italy we’re nearing the 40 day mark that will lend legitimacy to the Italian-born word “quarantine,” originally quaranta giorni (40 days). It began in the 14th century in Venice where arriving ships were kept at bay for 40 days to protect the city from plague epidemics.
I imagine one salty Venetian soldier must have turned to the other:
Salty Sailor one: Ahoy, capitano, eccolo! There’s land.
Capitano: You said that yesterday.
Salty Sailor two, in passing: What day is it good sirs?
Salty Sailor one: Wednesday?
Right now I’ve got that ship-outside-of Venice feeling because I see the city all right but who knows when I can disembark. I’m not alone judging from my neighbors who yell at each other from their respective balconies:
Neighbor one (who happens to be the county assessor): Do you even remember when we could sit in the center and have a coffee?
Neighbor two (who happens to be crotchety as hell): I don’t remember ever having a coffee with you.
New ordinances in our region on March 16th prohibited us from doing a lot more than sipping caffè macchiato in centro. Now we’re relegated to 150 meters of our houses, whatever that is. In places like Bologna, folks can traverse 300 meters outside of their homes and there are rumors that elsewhere people can stroll. But that might be an Italian quarantine version of an urban legend.
Parks are also closed off with evil peppermint tape and we could be slapped with up to a 3000 euro fine for trouncing about without a damn good reason. Grocery stores in our region are now buttoned up on Sundays which means absolutely nothing is open. I’ve renamed Sunday National Go Stand in The Middle of The Nearest (Literally Within 150 Meters) Road Just Because. But of course, the challenge is remembering when NGSitMoTN(LW150M)RJB day is….
But who needs outside when there is so much delicious absurdity at hand? One of my favorite pastimes is trying to remember when I took my last shower. Occasionally I truly study myself in the mirror (as makeup, earrings and blow dryers gather dust) and think holy shit, it really seems like I combed my hair with a porkchop.
Showers are kind of pointless because when I get out all warm and squeaky, I put the same clothes back on. By “clothes” I mean pajamas. One feisty afternoon I’ll spice it up with an actual shirt, but I’ll have just finished yoga and what’s the point of putting on actual pants these days?
I’ve also distracted myself by trying out what people call a “schedule.” Typically any semblance of “same” makes me want to vomit so I guess a worldwide plague, house arrest and an economic shutdown was all it took. Or perhaps it’s that the rhythm I’ve created literally follows the beat of my drum. I write and edit daily and I exercise every other day a.k.a. run stairs, do yoga or circle the courtyard like a bored sheep. I’ve taken to hitting the hay before midnight on “weekdays,” if I can remember when they are. I keep late nights and Netflix binges for “weekends” so they retain a feeling of “specialness.” It strikes me it might be hard to relinquish this once “real” life returns…
Another absurdity is how often the word “surreal” weasels into my conversations. For example, when Cri and I were polishing off a surreally delectable bottle of wine around dusk awhile back and we noticed a police van crisscrossing the neighborhood. The van had flashing blue lights and was blaring a surreal message: “Stay in your houses, do not leave your houses…”
“Are we in some sort of surreal film?” I asked Cri.
Some days really are broken up by the riveting discovery that one of the gelaterie is delivering gelato. Or by putting on jeans. Or by a camper cleaning day that turns into raccettone (beach tennis, in this case without a beach).
But mostly it’s like this: at some point I’ll notice I’ve been watching the same episode of “100 Humans” for two hours straight. I’ll slither off the couch to make a coffee but in the kitchen the clock will explain that it’s dinnertime.
“You know your pajamas have like 81 stains on them?” Cristina might ask because anybody would if they saw my pajamas these days.
“Well I probably haven’t changed them since last Wednesday,” I’d say.
And Cristina would reply, “Sylva, today is Friday.”
And that brings me right back to where I started this post: on a random Wednesday. Or was it?