Part 4 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

The 30 days of April seemed to linger ...

Finally, Italian numbers are going down … the next day as well. Officials said it would be like this … plateau, then decline.

Yet the restrictions are tightened … more factories are closed … and they announce that over 70,000 people got tickets for breaking the rules. The fines are increased from 400 euros to 3,000 euros. Now we have to watch the south, they caution … and I remember the images of Milanese rushing to train stations on the eve of the lockdown. I’m expecting the quarantine to be extended … my friends are, too. But it’s better to be safe than sedated in I.C.U.

I read articles about what various countries are doing or not doing. Cases, deaths … new epicenter in Spain, testing in Germany, drive-through places in South Korea, Q scanners in China. I knew we’d never open before Pasqua … if Italians have big family meals and go to church that Sunday, it would put more people at risk.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta says cpap machines might help before a ventilator is needed … I tell David.

The washing machine decided to stop mid-cycle. E5 meant it wasn’t draining … clean the filter. It was easy to open the hatch at the front and untwist the knob. I found a hose and buckets, but that was too awkward. Lots of towels later, I restarted the machine. E5. WTF? Was it because I didn’t unplug it to “reset” the brain. It was a Sunday. Of course. Now the clothes … still too wet for the dryer … went on the rack. Then I WhatsApped our plumber. I’d done all the right stuff … write to the tech tomorrow, he said. The tech said I had done all the right stuff, and asked if the little wheel at the back of the drain could spin. When I said yes, he thought it could be the drainage tube in the wall. But he didn’t live in my comune so couldn’t come over … but the plumber did live here. The plumber guided me through the next steps and we confirmed that the trap was clean. The bad news was that he can’t leave his home unless it’s an emergency. And Linda’s first world problem is not an emergency. Cora thought I could DIY it … saying she had saved 100 euros … but I had decided I’d rather handwash stuff for a couple weeks. Then the miracle happened. The tech called and said he could come by in the afternoon. With an extra-long tool, he was able to extract an embedded glob of gunk. The washer worked! First load … towels.

I have only 5 kgs. of flour, and suddenly worry 11 pounds isn’t enough. Butter should be replenished, too (though plenty of recipes don’t need any). If my sanity is linked to the oven, it’s worth a nervous, neurotic trip to the grocery store.

Congress passes the bill to provide monetary aid to Americans and businesses. Governors continue to plead for equipment … health care workers lament the ongoing lack of PPE … the number of sick people and deaths increase around the country … citizens sew masks and distillers make hand sanitizer. In the USA and around the world.

I talk with assorted friends every day. Practicing my Italian … maintaining a connection.

Being retired, days can get blurry … but pilates and zumba keep us focused. Without those daily activities, it’s even harder … and everyone feels it. Maybe this is what it was like in the Renaissance … when the church bell announced 12.00 noon and going to Mass on Sunday was the only variation from the others.

Every cough is a cause for concern. Is it seasonal or symptomatic? A little hypochondria is a good thing. I ordered a pulse oximeter.

Italy’s numbers went up … deaths the highest ever at 969. The government acknowledged the lockdown might be extended if we’re not at the peak. Italian TV showed il Papà at the Vatican … a lone figure dressed in white, sitting in a chair in the middle of the Piazza, an expanse of shimmering wet pavement. It was … quiet, reflective, awesome.

Time is compressed … days drift slowly, hour by hour. Time is expanding … moving from Monday to Thursday in the blink of an eye. How are both possible?

I haven’t liked crowds for a long time. Maneuvering through Costco requires a cart … just to keep people from being too close. I can do the theatre or a sporting event where people go to their assigned seats, but I’m too anxious for the mass mingling of “stadium seating” … just a fancy name for a mach pit, except nobody is passed around like an hors d’oeuvres. Now I won’t want a group bigger than a grocery store … a small grocery store.

I need to venture out to the grocery store. It used to be grab-the-keys-and-go. Now it’s … Purell, wipes, gloves, credit card in pocket (so I don’t need to touch my wallet), scarf. The line was shorter, but the same quiet. I was able to buy everything on my list except … whole wheat flour. An employee even looked in the back. He said they expected the next day. Yes, I could call. No, they couldn’t hold any for me.

The bread at that store is horrible, inedible. So I bake … pizza scima and Irish soda bread and piadina. No leavening, baking soda, baking powder. We don’t need no stinkin’ yeast.

The lockdown was extended to Easter. Within 24 hours, it was changed to the next day, Easter Monday … Pasquetta is also a holiday here.

But we all think the lockdown will continue until the end of April. May 1 is another holiday … and gatherings must be avoided.

Masks will be mandatory, and will be available at pharmacies. Plastic gloves, too … with an instruction to take them off before getting into the car. There will be lots of tossed gloves everywhere. David & I wear different sizes … 2 boxes in the cars.

The comune delivered masks … two for each of us. I asked the delivery woman my questions. Yes, I could wear a home-made mask … yes plastic gloves that one can buy at the grocery or pharmacy. But nothing is official yet. These are steps when … the hounds are unleashed. (My term, not hers [wink].) More masks, two each, appear in the mailbox.

David ordered two handmade masks from an online boutique.

I’m reading articles, lots of science-related articles all day … with the TV in the background. Sometimes entertainment, rather than non-stop news. Without DSL or fiber, streaming is virtually impossible. During one 20-minute Zoom, there were 2 drop offs. Often SNL Cold Open on YouTube has buffering …

I have no hot water. It’s Friday and a holiday … but to me, that’s an emergency. I took a photo of the caldaia and WhatsApped it to the technician … a term I use loosely (his name is withheld to protect the lazy). He’s the son of our neighbor, Piero, so I didn’t feel guilty. He calls right away. He asks me to look at the dial … it’s pointing to 0, which indicates no water in the system. Turn the black knob, he says. It’s easy to access amongst the spider webs, and in short order, the water level is back to normal. I turn the On/Off switch. But still … no hot water.

LINDA: Shall I push the “Reset” button?
TECH: No, that’s not necessary. Tomorrow morning, call the office, and explain the problem.
LINDA: Are you sure about the Reset?
TECH: No, that won’t do anything.

I set my alarm for the next morning … and at 8.30, I called. The man is very nice, but isn’t sure anyone can come by today … but Monday morning at the latest. Vabbè. That means okay-but-I’m-still-sort-of-screwed. A couple of hours later, another tech Simone appears at the gate. He looks at the caldaia, turns the On/Off switch, and … presses the Reset button. Ta … I have hot water. I stare at Simone in disbelief … my hero! I tell him about his lazy associate, shaming him by name … he shakes his head.

I should be reading books (not just stories). And sewing. Studying Spanish. Teaching myself piano. We don’t have a piano.

My yeast doesn’t proof … appropriately over Passover … and then I buy the wrong stuff at the grocery store (the package says “for pizza,” but the back says “instantly”). So I’m capturing the wild yeast … and sourdough is underway.

The lockdown is extended through May 3. Another 3 weeks. A few days later, the government announced that in Lazio, bookstores and children’s clothing shops will re-open on a trial basis … few customers at a time, hand sanitizer available. But Lombardy, with the most cases and the most deaths, will keep restrictions tight. I wonder what Tuscany will do, what the provincia of Florence will decide. I hope I’ll be able to venture out of my little comune … I want to go to the larger town, equally close, with its better grocery store.

The USA is going crazy … I know I made the right decision to leave when I did. I hope that David will leave California … and importantly, enter Italy … and finally be home. Within a few days, David forwards a new email from Lufthansa with updated flight information. Mid-May.

… and so it goes …

LITTA’S CAKE

This is one of my mom’s very few recipes. She called it gleichgewicht kuchen. “They say” that the number of cherry pits on your plate tells how many pieces of cake you can eat [wink].

6 oz. butter, at room temperature
3 oz. (¼ cup + 2 Tbl.) sugar
3 eggs
1–½ cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Grated peel from ½ lemon
1 oz. (2 Tbl.) lemon juice
1 cup cherries, pitted

- Preheat the oven to 350° F (170°C). Butter and flour a 9-inch round false-bottom cake pan.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, 1 at a time.
- Stir the baking powder into the flour. In 2 portions, blend in the flour mixture into the batter, alternating with the lemon peel-lemon juice (in 1 portion).
- Fold in the cherries.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake for 20–25 minutes, until done.
- Serve at any temperature.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.