Part 8 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

September started with much cooler temperatures … including the words “I’m cold.” The change in temperature, like clockwork as the month starts, is still a surprise to this Los Angeles girl who grew up with the hot weather continuing late in the month.

A few days later, the weather improved … warm, sunny days and cool, easy-to-sleep nights. But the skies seemed hazier than usual. The ophthalmologist says my eyes are irritated because the flowers are still blooming in the too warm weather. A weather map shows it could be smoke from a distant fire. California Oregon Washington.

The temperature change prompted the kitties to come home for dinner … and then stay happy, safe, sleeping inside. Treats from mom-and-dad’s dinner and a soft bed beat a night of hunting for a possible mouse.

One night, about a mile from home, David narrowly averted a collision with a speeding black Audi … he swerved onto the grass, but was unable to avoid the low retaining wall on the right. Skimming the wall, driver’s airbag deployed. David walked away, uninjured. Thank G-d. We went to the body shop the next day … one headlight dangling like The Terminator’s eye, the passenger door jammed shut, rear axle broken. We needed to wait a couple days to decide the Jetta’s final fate. Fewer than 100,000 miles … does anyone need a diesel motor? It was scraped … rottamare … and will be crushed, Goldfinger-style.

Schools in Italy re-open mid-month.

By early October, the cases are inching up, but not nearly as bad as France and Spain and England. The number of tests are up, too, so the infection rate is around 1.5%. 800 … 900 … 1,100 … 1,500 … 1,900. Then to 2,500 and 2,800. Now the rate is 2%. I check every day.

THE LAKERS WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP! They were a team of destiny … the saddest destiny. Kobe and Gianna died in January, a portend of how bad this year would become.

The pilates and zumba conundrum continues … in the studio with no ventilation.

In 2020 … HVAC meets HEPA.

I’ve sent the owner/teacher color-coded charts and articles about aerosols. Aerosols … which Barbara told me … warned me! … about in March. Attention must be paid. The girl who does zumba in a sweater … !! … isn’t advocating for cold air, just fresh air. But Italians live in fear of un colpo d’aria … a puff of air that touches their necks, thus leading to a sore throat or a mysterious malady called congestione (a stomach ache so severe that women retreat to their fainting couches).

One afternoon, during Pilates, the conversation went like this:

THEM: It’s too breezy, let’s close the [west] door.
ME: No!
THEM: But with it open, we’ll get a sore throat.
ME: With it closed, we’ll get Covid.

It stayed open. Girls 0 … The Linda 1.

On an overcast day, the zumba teacher announced in the WhatsApp group that she’d be wearing a sweatshirt during class … thus warning participants that the doors would be open. Score 2 for The Linda.

Masks continue to be mandatory, inside and outside. Basically, everywhere except your own home. My friend Cora mentioned that Italy may begin closing gyms. Maybe I won’t have to be a diva … but it wouldn’t be the first time I’m called a b!tch [wink]. David & I stopped going. The next week, all the gyms close.

By mid-October, I was on “panettone patrol.” With Halloween merely a minor candy holiday and no Thanksgiving to slow the pace, the beloved Christmas treat will soon appear on grocery store shelves.

And we voted. We had planned to take our ballots to the American Consulate in Florence … so they’d be returned to the USA in the Diplomatic Pouch (I like saying, “we voted by Diplomatic Pouch”) … but the Supervisor of Elections said we can return them by fax. Yeah! Petra’s machine didn’t want to cooperate, but another kind friend sent them. I confirmed receipt for both ballots on the website. Yeah!

Sanja Gupta warned us … exponential. And Italy’s numbers don’t just rise, they soar. Alarmingly, the positivity rate is jumping … from 1.6% to 2.5%. To 5,500 to 5,700.

7,332. A national record.

Then 4.7%, Three new cases in our comune, three new cases in the nearby town. The PM mentions that there might be a lockdown over the Christmas-to-Epiphany holidays. Still two months away, and I know that’s what will happen. There will be no Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve … no gifts around the tree with nonna … no midnight kisses on New Year’s Eve … no old man dressing as a witch on January 6th …

Panettone!

We resist the first sighting, waiting for some of our preferred brands to appear. Don’t praise our willpower too quickly. Full disclosure … we prefer to wait for the same panettone, now half-price, that appear on December 27th (since the 26th is St. Stephen’s/Boxing Day).

There is a TV show called “African Voices” … and they do a segment on the singer-songwriter who wrote Jerusalema. It’s pronounced ge-ru-SA-la-MA. I dance every time I see the clips.

And for the first time, we are on Olive Watch … because soon we will need to harvest, whether they have turned black or are still green. Instead of curing or brining them, as we’ve done in the past, the plan is to make olive oil. Our. Olive. Oil. We don’t have enough by ourselves to make it worth the mill fee, so we’ll combine crops with Petra.

She sends a WhatsApp message that we have an appointment at the frantoio on Wednesday at 14.30. We jump into action.

Tuesday is an amazing day! Sunny, but not hot, with grey and white clouds floating overhead, squalls pass through and drop 5 minutes of light rain before the sun returns. If you had told me 15 years ago that I’d be harvesting my olives from my trees in my Tuscan home … during the rain … I’d have laughed. And asked for a hit of your bong.

We have 33 kgs. … about 70 lbs.

Petra and I drove up to the mill about 20 minutes away. As the road curved along the hillside, I commented on a group of stone buildings in the distance, surrounded, like on a postcard, by Tuscan cypress and Roman stone pines. And when we turned onto the driveway, I realize it was the mill.

No stone wheel, no ox … all modern and automated. We have a “small batch” by local standards, but it doesn’t matter. Our. Olive. Oil.

Into the bin, they begin the process. Up conveyor belts where extra leaves and little stems are removed … water bath and visual inspection … crushed … spun … separated from the pulp (is it even called pulp?) … delivered. We have an assortment of 1 and 3 and 5 liters containers, for easy division since we don’t know how much. The green-gold, gold-green elixir arrives out of the spigot … first slowly, then faster. Our. Olive. Oil.

Our share is 4 liters …!

Our. Olive. Oil.

At home, David & I pour it over bread … fettuta … and drizzle it on the last few of our yellow tomatoes. We savored every bite. The next day … salad.

Un. Believably. Good.

While I was at the mill, our car salesman wrote. We’ve been WhatsApping for several days to set a date when we can pick up our new electric car. But … there’s the dreaded word in 2020. Positivo. I type with anxiety, asking when he was exposed. After, he responds … after we got together to sign the final papers. I believe him because we have not been contact-traced. “After” is another good word for 2020. No car tomorrow … Matteo will help … next week. The next day, I called the dealership to schedule the pick-up …

THE DODGERS WIN THE WORLD SERIES! I used to go to games with my dad, watch them on TV with him (I’m thinking of our den … with the wainscoting that served as a ledge for postcards from around the world … as I type this). Our L.A. teams bookend the month with celebrations!

… and so it goes …

PENNE FARFALLE WITH ZUCCHINI, SAUSAGE AND SUN-DRIED TOMATOES

3 to 4 zucchini, halved/quartered and thinly sliced2 cloves of garlic, minced
Olive oil
4 sausage … out of the casings and crumbled OR grilled and cut into small pieces
2 oz. white wine
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 lb. farfalle
Parmigiano … for sprinkling

- In a frying pan that is large enough to hold the pasta, sauté the zucchini in a little olive oil.
- When the zucchini starts to get brown, add the garlic and sausage.
- Cook the farfalle in boiling salted water until barely al dente.
- When the garlic is lightly golden, reduce heat to low, and add the wine and sun-dried tomatoes to the zucchini/sausage mixture.
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking water. Drain the farfalle.
- Add the farfalle to the frying pan. Toss well, and if necessary, add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to keep the pasta/sauce moist.
- Serve with parmigiano.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.