Part 5 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

Some medical stories talked about proning patients as a way to delay use of ventilators. It reminds me of an article I read a few weeks ago about Germany having good outcomes using supplemental oxygen, rather than ventilators, and of the photos of Italian patients lying on their bellies.

Italy mourns entire families. People who are slightly sick are sent home to recuperate … in a multi-generation household, it puts too many at risk. I think Italy should take a page from Spain’s playbook … and have mildly ill people stay in hotels which are now traveler-free. Many lives could be saved. In my opinion. But it would be a hard sell in a country where family … Sunday lunch at nonna … is everything.

The two-week turned ten-week lockdown ended.

May 4th … Italy begins slowly, cautiously, nervously to re-open. While we must still stay in our region, we can exercise now in the park and visit “family” … but stay home as much as possible.

The Prime Minister uses the word, congiunto, which is vaguely defined and … being Italy … broadly interpreted. Some say it means anyone with whom you have an affectionate relationship, like a mistress [winking / not winking]. Giovanna thinks it’s immediate family, not siblings or cousins … and does not include going to one’s vacation home under any circumstances (which is disappointing, because her vacation home is next to us). Daniela says it means any family. But it doesn’t matter. My geographically-closest relative lives in Geneva.

Virtually nothing has changed for me, but I feel a burden lifted.

I can now go beyond my own comune which is 5 miles east … and drive 5 miles west to the larger grocery store and pharmacy where everyone knows my name.

I go nowhere.

After lots of reading and research, I made sourdough starter.

Paolo can now come over with his tractor, and I call to ask when he can till our soil so I can start planting. A day later, he arrives. The bags of organic fertilizer are too heavy for me, so he distributes the pellets. Up and back, up and back. Soon the soil is soft and fluffy and ready. That afternoon, I went to the plant store. Tomatoes … zucchini … eggplant … cucumbers … lettuce … And I counted how many flowers I need, smaller and bigger. I also bought new gloves. Within a few hours, everything is in the ground and watered. I ignore all advice … no deep holes, no extra fertilizer, no big ring around each zucchini plant. I simply plant. I have words of encouragement, with a different message for each genus. And I write a story called WELCOME TOMATOES.

No driving means no air pollution, and we have another crystal clear day … I can see across the valley, with the hills carved by alluvian activity millenia ago, vibrant in a variety of springtime greens. Individual cypress trees, houses, a telephone pole. I imagine seeing Petra’s house …

For my birthday, I venture to Petra’s. In her sun-filled yard, we drink champagne, eat her delicious homemade lasagna, enjoy my homemade cream cheese-filled brownies. I feel lucky, fortunate, blessed to be able to go out to celebrate. I don’t tell my American friends, who are still staying home.

The USA is chaotic. The numbers are surging, estimates increasing. Why isn’t everyone masking? Italians are acting responsibly … for now. Let’s see how that goes as beaches open. There’s nervousness in the air … and even the few who feel the risk is exaggerated, comply.

States re-open … numbers are mixed. But I know it will be 2 to 4 weeks before serious cases go to the hospital.

David’s cousin Gail sends him a few homemade masks. Padding in David’s suitcases … full of California pinot nero and Trader Joe’s almond butter.

My gate won’t open. I have the barrel key to open it manually, but it doesn’t work. Quarantine is over and I’m literally locked down. I WhatsApp our electrician … and he says he’ll come over around lunchtime. At least the pedestrian gate works. I hand him the black key … even he can’t get it to work. He’ll call the local store that sells the unit to explain the problem, then I should phone to set up an appointment. They ask that I WhatsApp a photo of the error displayed on the “brain.” The two sons arrive the next day. After struggling, they get the black key to work. After testing, re-testing, more testing the gate … success. But in two days, it stops again. The next visit includes dad. Some fiddling, some adjusting … success. By the way, dad says before they leave, the law has changed and you have to make two adjustments to your gate. One — the gaps between the bars are too wide, and a hand or finger could get caught as the gate moves, causing injury… so you need to add some mesh. Va bene, I say, except there … as I point to the area that the kitties use as an entrance/exit. Two — even though the gate has an automatic sensor to stop, a person in its path could be hurt if the gate bumps them … so now the edge needs a special cushion. Oioi. That’s one oi for each fix.

The piazza is closed to cars. They are measuring and painting white squares on the cobblestones. That afternoon on the news, I see the mayor describing the idea, and an acquaintance is in the background.

On May 18th, we enter the next phase. More offices open … not that I’m going anywhere.

Paolo mowed the … jungle … so it now resembles a lawn. The lions and tigers in the family have to adjust their hunting style … and now I can see them, rather than just a pattern of grass moving mysteriously.

Piero comes over to check on the crops, nodding in approval. He asked for twist ties to tie-up tomatoes, so I went into the shed. And I see Snatchito, lying on the floor. Snatchito … our naughty name for a stray Tom … has tiger stripes of dark and light gray. He had been a suitor of Allegra. Then Betelgeuse. And Aurora. He had appeared last week, meowing loudly, despite our being a vagina-free zone. He isn’t moving. He. Is. Dead. “Piero!” I shout as I hurry into the yard. “Sì sì, è morto.” Piero picks him up by the tail, and carries him into the yard. With a couple of strong, man-of-the-earth moves, he has dug a hole. In goes Snatchito. A moment later, he is buried. I was shocked, then sad, then proud that a feral cat knew in his final days, he could find peace in our yard.

The PM moves up the opening date for restaurants and bars, as well as salons. I thought the 2-week intervals made sense, to watch the numbers, to be cautious, but (clearly) nobody asked me. The EU borders will open June 3 … though the next day, they (and by “they” I mean Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland) postpone it until June 15. The EU giveth — a $500 billion aid package … and the EU taketh away — no tourists.

In the piazza … on the first evening out … I see the newly-painted white squares. Smallest in one corner, getting medium and large as the design moves to the far corner.

It’s the first aperitivo with Petra since the eve of our lockdown in early March.

Prosecco.

I guess that’s our “bubble” … the idea that you can visit one other family. That’s fine with me … I’m trying to stay safe.

People all wear masks … it’s mandatory (as it should be!). Of the scofflaws, older men seem more inclined to have it under their nose. I try to indicate they need to cover their nose, too … with limited success. People seem generally relaxed. There’s gel near every doorway … gloves have always been “encouraged” in the produce section of the grocery store, and now they are at every entrance, too. Andiamo in avanti.

I go to the big grocery store. Carts are outside … gel and gloves, inside. I can steer with my elbows [wink]. My routine is (1) retrieve the Salvatempo (scanner to read bar codes so I can do express check-out) and put it into the slot on the cart or into my neoprene shopping bag … (2) generous gel … (3) two gloves which now stick to my hands, rather than slide off with every movement … (4) shop.

For checking out, I’ve adapted a clean hand/dirty hand technique. I use this for decorating baked goods … borrowed, with pride, from the candymaker at Farmer’s Market in Los Angeles who deftly rolls a ball of filling in one hand, then gently tosses it to her chocolate-covered hand to finish the confection. So … my gloved hand is “dirty,” the other, carefully ungloved, is “clean.” I use the touchpad with the gloved hand while the clean hand removes my credit card, then the dirty hand signs. If necessary, I re-glove. Once finished, I carefully remove and discard the gloves. Then gel! I have clean hands when I enter the car.

The minute I walk back into the house, I wash my hands. The method I adopted back in March is still operative … bags on the tile floor while I remove items one-by-one to wipe and put on the counter.

Italy sells wipes only in purse-size packets (I know, right?) and I’ve used all the ones I brought from the USA … so now it’s paper towels and spray cleaner with bleach. I still wash my hands whenever I touch something or think I might have touched something. Then I relax.

Before the month ends, George Floyd is murdered. 8 minutes and 46 seconds that changed the world. Despite my good, well-rounded education, it wasn’t as thorough as I thought. I do more reading, and am more and more saddened, shocked, appalled, angry about what has been happening in plain sight since 1619.

… and so it goes …

SPAGHETTI WITH ZUCCHINI AND PECORINO

2–3 medium zucchini, sliced into rings
Olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 oz. white wine
1 lb. spaghetti
1 cup pecorino, grated … plus more for grating

- In a frying pan large enough to hold the pasta, sauté the zucchini until it is starting to get brown.
- Add the garlic, plus salt and pepper (to taste). Sauté over low heat … you want the zucchini a nice golden brown and the garlic barely golden.
- In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the spaghetti until barely al dente.
- When the zucchini and garlic are browned, lower the heat, and add the wine.
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking water, then drain the spaghetti.
- Add the spaghetti into the frying pan … toss well. Sprinkle the pecorino over the frying pan. Continue tossing, adding pasta cooking water to keep moist.
- Serve with additional pecorino.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.