Part 2 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

David & I were in L.A. I was heading home the next morning … David would stay to recuperate from knee surgery.

Lockdown.

Self-isolation.

New words entered our lexicon. In Italy, restaurants and bars were required to close at 6.00 p.m. In a country that eats dinner at 8.00 p.m., this was huge. Retail shops were encouraged … then required … to close, and images showed the streets getting empty, emptier, emptiest.

LINDA: I’m going to do online check-in for my flight tomorrow.

DAVID: Ok.

My friend Barbara, who owns the apartment where we are staying, came over. She and I went to Trader Joe’s … without worrying … to stock David’s freezer, and add to the dry foods (canned beans, nuts, oatmeal, espresso, jars of tuna) and fridge foods (milk, eggs, cheese) we already had on hand. After dinner, we sat at the table, eating ice cream sandwiches and laughing.

The next day, she and I enjoyed bowls of shrimp pho at SUPERPHO, a Vietnamese restaurant on Sepulveda Boulevard near the airport. Without worrying.

LAX was emptier than I had ever seen it … though the lounge seemed to have the usual number of travelers. I was more cautious than usual, not even touching the small table in front of me. Some cheese (as part of a kitty treat), bottled water, a blueberry-acai smoothie.

I saw only one passenger in a mask … a Caucasian woman, who nervously raised her eyebrows as we waited for the elevator. In my pocket, as usual, were gloves … in case I needed to touch escalator rails or grab bars on the tram.

I had upgraded my ticket to business class, and as soon as I sat down I pulled out the wipes. Arm rests, seat belt buckle, movie screen, remote control, headphones, tray table. There were lots of empty seats. I had opted for the middle section … so I wouldn’t have to climb over a passenger and s/he wouldn’t climb over me. There was nobody next to me, and nobody immediately across the aisle.

Munich was quiet, too … but the lounge had plenty of people. I carefully took my beloved Bavarian pretzels and drank bottled water.

The flight from Munich to Bologna had fewer than 20 passengers. The man next to me smiled as I wiped the arm rests.

When I landed in Bologna, the inspectors took everyone’s temperature. Perfetto, said the agent. Karin and Erwin greeted me warmly. It seems this was one of the only flights that arrived this afternoon. We drove home, chatting about cats and coronavirus … it seemed nicely normal.

Friday, I shopped for perishables. Milk, fruit, and vegetables … pellets for the heat stove … cat food (dry) … the last 2 bottles of sanitizing gel on the shelf. Monday morning, I bought more milk, more fruit and vegetables and root vegetables that keep well … more pellets … more cat food (canned). I put a two-liter container of milk into the freezer, something I hadn’t even thought about since college. I bought fior di latte gelato … a cat-friendly flavor to melt into espresso if the milk was gone.

I sent a message to David’s Italian pulmonologist about getting a pneumonia shot. He agreed … then wrote again that I should wait until all of this is over. And by the way, he added, David should stay in Los Angeles for now.

On Tuesday, Italy announced that the lockdown was expanded to all of Italy, starting the next day. I met Petra, Karin, and Erwin at CASA DEL PROSCIUTTO. Sitting outside, sharing a bottle of wine and a plate of the best prosciutto in the area … before the curfew, before the lockdown. The Before Times. The sun was setting, the river calm on a normal yet abnormal evening. We thought, naïvely, that we could get together the next week at someone’s home for lunch …

Quarantine … from the mid-17th century: from Italian quarantena ‘quaranta giorni [forty days]’, from quaranta ‘forty’.

It was a Wednesday. You had to stay at home … and only leave to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy or for some emergency in your comune. An official form was mandatory, with the threat of a large fine or jail. Neighbor Piero hadn’t heard about the form … and was surprised to learn that he couldn’t go to his favorite bakery for bread since it isn’t in our comune. My neighbor Daniela forwarded me a copy of the form. I printed it, and folded it into my purse.

The risk to go anywhere was too great. We have an account at a pellet distributor in the larger town near us, but I wasn’t allowed to go there. The weather was nice, so I reduced the hours on the pellet stove. If necessary, I can wear an extra layer or turn on the heater in the bedroom or use the fireplace … or (gasp) buy pellets.

David & I talk via WhatsApp once or twice a day. His knee is getting stronger and he’s using fewer pain pills. We are semi-anxious … the virus is more serious for older people and, depending on the news source, we are near or in that group. David recovered from pneumonia last summer and (thank goodness) his lung function is normal; he takes meds … is he at increased risk?

The NBA cancels games … and suddenly everybody pays attention. Governors and mayors are taking things more seriously, and regional or local shutdowns are starting. Day by day, stricter shutdowns. Day by day, the stock market slides.

The non-doctor who heads the American Task Force keeps saying they have an all-of-government approach … but there are no specifics, no reassurances. Lean in, says the Surgeon General, 5 times in one interview. It would be a drinking game … if the consequences weren’t so deadly.

I feel fortunate that we have a nice home with a private yard. And living on a gravel road in the countryside means I can go for a walk without worrying about the form. Many Italians live in apartments, lucky ones have a balcony … some live a few kilometers from an aging parent, but cannot go to that comune to visit … others live alone … or without a pet …

Social distancing.

Flatten the curve.

Is it too early to predict Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year?

Everyone in the USA is buying Purell, toilet paper, and bottled water. Supermarkets have empty shelves … and friends say they wait in line for an hour to check out at Trader Joe’s. Then toilet paper runs out.

I worry about David. Though he has several friends less close by, he doesn’t have a car. I order food at Amazon/Whole Foods … fruit and vegetables, cooked chicken and sausage, bread, cheese, dark chocolate, eggs, coffee. The next morning, I realized I forgot potatoes … so order those, plus assorted snacks to keep up his mood.

Barbara mentions aerosols. I don’t know if it’s from Peter, her E.R. doctor-husband, or her extensive reading. I believe. I keep it in the front of my mind. Over the next months, I will hear the term more and more, see animations of how it spreads.

Shelter in place. A phrase taken from the horror of school shootings, now used for the pandemic.

The number of cases in Italy keeps rising, and sadly, so does the death toll. We’d been told that it would take at least two weeks for the numbers to start coming down … and this is only the first week that the entire country is closed.

There’s a video on Italian TV of a military caravan, a few dozen trucks filled with caskets driving slowly, somberly through the night as the cemeteries fill beyond capacity.

Is it Tuesday or Thursday … two weeks ago, three weeks ago? A T-day, a “t” week, it probably doesn’t matter. And while this twilight zone seems to be going on forever, it’s only a few weeks. It’s still March … I was in Los Angeles in March.

… and so it goes …

CHOCOLATE-ALMOND-COCONUT COOKIES

4 oz. butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1-⅛ cup flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ cup milk chocolate chips
½ cup almonds, coarsely chopped
½ shredded coconut

- Preheat the oven to 350° F (170° C). Line a cookie sheet with a silpat.
- In a large bowl, cream butter … then stir in sugar and brown sugar, followed by the egg.
- Add flour and baking powder, and mix until well blended.
- Fold in the chocolate chips, almonds, and coconut.
- Using two teaspoons, shape and drop onto the cookie sheet.
- Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, until just set.
- Eat at any temperature.
- Makes 24 to 30 cookies.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.