Part 11 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

And just like that, it’s 2021.

Like previous New Years’ Days, our first dinner included lentils, which Italians believe bring good fortune. I simmered them with tomatoes, then sprinkle the dish with chopped parsley. We also enjoy truffle cheese, at room temperature (of course). A good start to a year that will be … ? … ! … even more unknown than any year before. Even the surreal one called 2020.

It’s a Friday … time for my FB “Foods Friday” post … and shabbat. I have only lit the candles once. I baked challah for the first time, using local chestnut honey. It was as delicious as it was beautiful … and it’s my post for the day.

January’s weather is like December’s, but rainier.

On Befana, everyone in my Zumba groups sent witch memes. Italy will be a yellow zone until the end of the week, Orange over the weekend … then a decision will be made. In a few days, it was decided Tuscany would be Yellow. We knew it would be day-to-day.

Yellow meant that David could go to the golf course. The ultimate social distancing sport if you avoid the locker room. And the 19th green. He bought a new bag of feline food for the cats at the course. It’s sentimental for us … it’s where we met our Bailame.

In an abundance of caution, we ordered face shields … 100 grams of prevention is worth a kilo of cure. 9.95 for one, 16.95 for two. They’ll be delivered Thursday.

But we were more excited to see the news when we wake up! Rev. Warnock had won his Senatorial race … Ossoff has the lead in his race.

But there is no time to celebrate. Within hours, Washington, D.C., erupts. January 6th.

Sedition /sɪˈdɪʃ(ə)n/ noun, conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.

Insurrectionˌ/ɪnsəˈrɛkʃ(ə)n/ noun, a violent uprising against an authority or government.

We watch … transfixed, stunned, speechless … our country on the brink, rioters directed by a mad wannabe king, defacing the halls of democracy. Reinforcements finally arrive to disperse the unruly mob … night settles over the unsteady city …

More videos emerge. More stories from inside. It’s worse than those original images. Five people have died.

A week later, Congress impeaches the imposter, the instigator, the interloper in the Oval Office. Twitter and Facebook and YouTube ban he who shall remain nameless, he who shall remain shameless. Tension was high everywhere … I waited with high anxiety. One week until inauguration.

I followed the Covid numbers, trying to find a good indicator of the spread in Italy. I have long looked at the positivity rate … watching it creep up slowly in the autumn. Past 5%, toward double digits, into the low teens now. It hovers, dipping every so often, only to raise again. Petra said that Italy counted new infections and re-tests together (since people need two negative tests in a row to return to work) … meaning the new infection rate was actually higher. But we are still in Yellow.

January 20th. I cried when Kamala was sworn in. At 11.45 a.m. ET, Joe Biden is sworn in. Hallelujah! Either Leonard Cohen’s song or Handel’s Messiah. I exhale, and feel the nation exhale, too.

On February 1, I can legally drive our ID.3. Technically, the Polo, too, had been verboten, but nobody notices a plain white car (so … shhh … I’ve been behind the wheel). The electric car is sweet … smooth, steady, and silent. Even the interior colors can be changed. I kept that excitement for another day.

The R-naught (another measurement being monitored by officials) in Tuscany rose above 1, so we went back into Orange. Not a surprise … especially as I saw that even our local cases rise, not just cities. The positivity rate was still too high. The English variant was in Umbria … and soon it appeared in Chiusi, a town in the southern corner of Tuscany nearest to Umbria. And did I hear about a new variant from Nigeria appearing in Napoli? So far, it was a one-time mention ………

There was a 3.1 earthquake … with its epicenter in a hamlet that’s walking distance from our home. Oioi. We weren’t at home, but I felt it … David did not.

I’m trying to bake more non-sweet things. With sourdough “discard” available every couple days, I baked pretzels. Not official pretzels … I take my beloved tarelli dough (which is also boiled, then baked) and form it into … my beloved pretzels. Some are even covered in dark chocolate.

I emailed a letter to various U.S. cabinet secretaries suggesting that Americans living abroad be vaccinated at the same time military members and embassy employees got their vaccinations. I wrote to the Italian Minister of Health … telling him to speed up vaccinations, because 1 million people a month for 60 million citizens will take, duh, 60 months. (I don’t use the word “duh” [wink].) For the first shot. And forget that crazy idea for colorful kiosks as the place to get vaccinations … (I don’t ask if they were designed by somebody’s sister-in-law [wink]) … think big and set up sites at all the soccer venues around the country. I even looked up whether the plural of stadium was stadiums or stadia. (Both.)

In the midst of all this, David was trying to get a new phone. The phone company, in typical Italian fashion, was frozen … and nobody could buy a newly-released Samsung Galaxy S21. After several weeks of trying … to the frustration of Beatrice (the owner of the local TIM store) and David … we thought about getting a S20 in my name. But now there is another glitch. TIM wanted a special code number on the back of the blue card, the Tessera Sanitaria. But we don’t have that card because we are not in … are not required to be in … the Italian health care system. This is not the first time Italians are surprised by that … as legal residents, they think we are entitled to the card. “The immigrants who land in Lampedusa get a card,” people tell us. I happened to talk with our car insurance agent, and she agreed that we should have a card.

Go to the administrative office is the advice du jour.

In the past, that office has been less than helpful, and usually is part of the circle that leads to the hospital and then to the smaller office in our comune. But we decided to try.

We were greeted outside by a guy smoking … but he put down the cigarette and took us inside to the correct room. When it’s our turn, the woman at the desk says she recognizes us from when she worked at the hospital. “Laura?,” we say. Sì. We tell her that she was one of the two nice people who worked there … and remind her that we know she speaks some English. Sì.

We told her why we were there. Her eyebrows knit. She confers with the woman at the next desk, who doesn’t know how to answer either. With our documents in hand, they walked into a back room … and a few moments later, another woman and a man came out to talk with us.

The other woman said she recognized us, too, from our comune. Not sure if that will help or hurt. Strangers in a strange land seem to get a lot of attention. We smiled.

We explained again, adding that it seemed to be a TIM requirement … it’s a puzzlement. They talked, they conferred and consulted, confused, returning to the back room. 30-ish minutes and much head-shaking later, Laura returned to her desk. Well let’s try to get you a tessera. David & I exchanged quick glances.

Soon she printed out two pages, saying it was my “booklet” … the doctor can write on page 2 (which seemed strangely limited, but who am I to disagree) … and then a copy of the tessera. A few minutes later … David’s! The Linda immediately took photographs. The actual cards would be mailed to us within 2 weeks. Spoiler alert … they were.

W-O-W.

I sent the photos to Beatrice. That afternoon, David got his new Galaxy S21 Ultra.

… and so it goes …

ORECCHIETTE WITH RADICCHIO AND GORGONZOLA

I make orecchiette … in the world of pasta-making, it’s an easy, forgiving shape.

1 lb. orecchiette
2 heads of radicchio, chopped
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup white wine
6–8 oz. gorgonzola, cut into cubes

- In a frying pan large enough to hold the orecchiette, steam the radicchio until just tender.
- Add the olive oil and garlic … sauté the garlic until golden.
- Reduce the heat to low, and add the wine. Use some of the cooking water to keep the mixture moist.
- Cook the orecchiette in boiling, salted water.
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain the orecchiette.
- Add the orecchiette to the pan … toss. Add the gorgonzola, mix well to coat the orecchiette and radicchio.
- Serve.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.