Ho-ho-holidays are here! It’s hard to avoid the fact that they’re quite different than usual. Perhaps we’re still eating ham, turkey or to-furkey–or over here in my corner of Italy, cappelletti in brodo–but with two people instead of twenty. We’re making toasts over Zoom and unwrapping presents with Skype. We’re confined to our houses and neighborhoods (or if we’re not, we really should be).
Yet, if we are in fact unwrapping gifts, are in good health and celebrating with loved one or two, we already have much to be thankful for. Obviously, 2020 has been a rollicking ride that wasn’t always fun or easy. But if not for this year, I wouldn’t have realized or experienced certain things. The following list contains some of my favorite nuggets gleaned from the year that was 2020.
1. Discovering which hand sanitizer I prefer.
Who would’ve known, before 2020, that sanitizer gel consistencies run from that of dinosaur snot to strange-smelling water? Or that some dispensers emit a drought-like trickle that probably wouldn’t even sanitize an ant, while others are more like a frozen yogurt machine that’s gone on the fritz:
2. Elbow bumping grandma.
The elbow bump: once reserved only for chefs and prep cooks who didn’t want to shake your un-sanitized hand and then fondle a filet mignon. Now, it’s a global, pandemic version of “what’s up?” Of course, it’s also been accepted in Italy, a country with formal and informal versions of every verb (the latter of which shouldn’t be used with someone else’s grandma).
Note: since I moved to Italy, I haven’t actually elbow bumped my nonna, but I’ve elbow bumped plenty of other people’s nonne.
Second note: Both of my actual grandmas have passed away, but I feel they both would’ve been on board. I am the namesake of my spunky Grandma Sylva, who would’ve appreciated the ridiculousness of elbowing your elders. My other five foot nothing grandma was nicknamed G-Diddy. Having already surpassed 80 years of age, and tired after a day of sightseeing in Washington D.C., The Artist Formerly Known as Grandma Elaine jostled through a crowd waiting to board a bus. We watched open-mouthed from the back of the line as she shoved through the crowd onboard, too.
3. Wearing pajama bottoms and a blouse/button up shirt “to work.”
Now that working online is the new black, looking presentable from the waist up is equally in vogue. Some days I don’t even wear pajama bottoms, and nobody is the wiser. Until now, I guess.
4. Feeling like a (grounded) teenager again.
On November 5th, Italy enacted a nationwide, 10 p.m. curfew. I was a teenager the last time I had to rush to get home by 10 p.m. Thanks, 2020, for giving me back the feeling that–as I sprint home at 10:14 with the other super-punctual Italians–I’m about to get yelled at by mom and dad.
Note: If you live in Italy and you haven’t done it already, it’s well worth standing outside with a glass of wine from around 9:55 p.m. to 10:15 p.m. and watching Italians scurry for cover. The eerie calm that descends afterwards might bring back bittersweet memories of the total lockdown we experienced early this year. But that’s where the wine comes in.
5. Adding words like “tampone” to my vocabulary.
Not to be immature (but kind of to be immature), I have 2020 to thank for the eclectic Italian words I’ve added to my cerebral lexicon. Like the word “tampone” (pronounced tom-poh-nay), which isn’t exactly what it sounds. It’s Italian for “swab,” aka the infamous test for Covid-19. I haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet, but my friend said it seemed the nurse was “taking her brain out of her nose.” Apparently, they didn’t take all of it because I got a surprisingly detailed account straight from the source.
Other Italian words that I never thought I’d need to use, in order of frequency: igienizzare (to sanitize), mascherina (mask), zone rose, arancione e gialle (red, orange and yellow zones), coprifuoco (curfew), non consentito (not allowed), consentito (allowed), autocertificazione (self-certification) and congiunti (kin*).
*At the end of the lockdown, a lengthy discussion on “congiunti” arose after the Italian government released yet another official decree regarding the ability to visit them. To this day, I believe, the discussion continues.
The only way to really know what was considered congiunti was to consult the Magic 8 Ball. (For those of you outside the US, it’s a plastic sphere designed to both look like a billiards 8 ball and magically answer all your yes or no questions). Such as:
Is grandma in the “congiunti” category? As I see it, yes.
How about my third cousin twice removed? Better not tell you now.
And what about my friends? Concentrate and ask again.
6. Thinking someone missing the bottom half of their face was attractive.
Many of us may have read or heard about a study in which it was determined that the most conventionally attractive people are those with symmetrical features. What the study did not address, however, was how attractive someone was whose potentially symmetrical features were obscured by an N95 mask.
To illustrate my point, I will refer to a game I call Real Life Tinder. This pastime follows the same super complex, character-building rules as the Tinder app (swipe left if you think the person isn’t hot and right if you think they are). The only difference with Real Life Tinder is that you have to say “left” or “right” to your friend while you suck down a Campari Spritz.
My friend Anna and I have been playing Real Life Tinder for some time. Then along came 2020 and a third category was born: Covid Cute aka Corona Right. Meaning who really knows, but I would swipe right on that person who just walked by. Even though his/her face is basically a crap shoot under that sexy mask.
So thank you, 2020, for showing me that perhaps I’m not as superficial as I thought I was. After all, I’m now willing to give somebody a chance based on half of their face.
7. Realizing how much I fiddle with my own face.
While writing this blog, I have fondled my face seventeen times. I have brushed my unruly hair out of my eyes thrice. I almost picked my nose once but decided to get up for a Kleenex. I’m not sure why this data is important, but I wouldn’t have been aware of it before this year. So… thanks.
8. Learning how to open anything on earth without touching it.
If ever there was an Olympic sport based on making it through the day without making skin to object contact, I would be a gold medalist. I’ve become adept at opening train doors by pressing the button with my bike lock key. Or using the old foot-in-the-door move to sneak into any and all bathrooms. Or employing a purse strap to pull the door open when a foot doesn’t cut it. I have even begun carrying my own pen so as not to contaminate myself with the writing utensils of others. At least I can say that my ingenuity is alive and well after a whole year of these shenanigans.
9. Feeling like a total rebel for doing really un-rebellious shit.
Leaving your courtyard. Going on a walk. Returning to the grocery store. Heading out for a bike ride. Dropping your mask on the ground in front of a cop car. Shaking someone’s hand. Flirting with disaster (aka standing less than a meter away from a total stranger). If you have done any of these things in 2020 (especially in Italy in early spring), you are officially a total rebel! How does it feel, badass??
10. Reaching ecstasy upon taking out the trash and/or compost.
Speaking of experiencing emotions you never thought you’d feel while doing certain tasks. I never imagined the highlight of my day might be when I took out the trash or compost (the latter of which, in Italian, is called “organico“). In fact, this moment was so laughably poignant that I wrote a blog about it earlier this year.
11. Being happy to be very overdressed.
Due to the fact that my newest apartment is a cave, I often walk outside bundled for Antarctica in January. Upon exiting, I find blue skies and sunshine. However, overdressing has served me well because although the weather has chilled, the Covid-induced lines haven’t. At least in Italy, we must still wait outside to enter the pharmacy, bookstore or tabacchi (which sells everything from Amazon gift cards to batteries and bus tickets).
A pleasant side effect of all this loitering is that I’m slightly better at answering messages right when I receive them. My phone is also clear of all unnecessary contacts, blurry photos and unused apps. Furthermore, I can tell you exactly how many steps there are in front of the Duomo and that at any given moment in downtown Faenza, bikes outnumber pigeons approximately four to one.
12. Burning so many extra calories.
The distance from my house to the Faenza train station is one kilometer. According to a fitness website where I plugged in a few critical numbers, I burn 32 calories in half a kilometer (about six to seven minutes of walking). I bring all this to your attention because that is approximately the time it takes me to realize I forgot my damn mask at home.
We can suppose that I forget my mask at least once every two days, half a kilometer from my house (a conservative guess on both counts). Therefore, having divided 365 in half, I walked 183 extra kilometers this year accounting for the back and forth. In total that’s 11,712 excess calories (or about 100 spritzes, which I certainly drank this year). I guess, let’s call it even.
In just a few days, the calendar will relinquish its hold on 2020 and 2021 will be upon us. As a collective, I think we’re hoping that substituting a one for the zero will bring about drastic positive change–even as we realize that there’s still a long road ahead.
Here’s to hoping it’s paved with a few more extra calories burned, a lot more unexpected human ingenuity and the ability to laugh at whatever else this era throws at us. And here’s to knowing that, with the right state of mind, 2021 will happen for us, instead of to us.
Buone feste and happy holidays!