Part 12 of
THE YEAR OF LIVING COVID-ANGEROUSLY

March marches forward. I had vaccine envy as more and more of my American friends were announcing first shot, second shot … plans to travel in the summer.

I checked the Lufthansa app, then United … and Delta, which flies from Pisa without a stop in Europe. The flights were limited, but not outrageously expensive. Los Angeles would be the best place, staying again at Barbara’s executive apartment during the CDC-required quarantine … waiting 21 or 28 days between doses … a couple more days for possible side effects. Pre-flight swab tests, of course, but we could transit through Germany without delay? Would the L.A. quarantine be enforced? Could we get dose 1 during that period? Those were some of our questions. More worrisome … could we return to Italy? A call to the Consulate was easy, but the people enforcing the rules at the various borders might not accept that answer. With requirements and regulations changing so frequently, we were … hesitant.

Italians talked about vaccinations in the spring. If that were true, would it make sense to fly to California … for a 6-week trip? Friends wouldn’t want to see us. We’ll spend the money if there are delays in Italy or problems getting in the queue.

Restaurants can offer delivery or take-away, and young people seem to prefer the latter … then hang around chatting, rather than going home to eat. Officials are concerned since cases have been rising in this age group. Yet nobody mentions all the old men who gather outside their favorite bar … then hang around chatting. Old men … notorious for their mask-below-the-nose demographic.

Tuscany remains Orange. For now. Cases started to surge. Of course. Sadly, I can say … been there, done that. The British variant (later to be renamed Alpha) is here. There’s another brief mention of two cases of that Nigerian variant in Naples, but it’s a below-the-crease story. Hopefully just a blip. I told myself it’s just a blip. And one case of the Indian variant (aka Delta) in the Veneto. Another blip.

Or not.

The entire vaccination rollout, anemic at best, was now in meltdown … use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine was paused. Italy hopes 70% of the adult population will be vaccinated by June or July … or September. That’s a big difference. I’m happy at home, and won’t be going anywhere until two weeks after my second shot.

I honed my message to the White House. I “Contact the President” every few days … balancing an “it never hurts to ask” with “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” tone … to suggest that Americans abroad get vaccinations when troops and State Department personnel get shots. (When we did get our shots, I wrote with an update … and a general thank you.)

Tuscany, along with the rest of Italy, is a red zone over Easter and Pasquetta, the Monday afterwards. They want to reduce family gatherings, reduce the spread. But they soon announced that Tuscany will stay Red through at least April 20.

On a food-related topic, a girlfriend told me about a farmer who raises cattle less than a kilometer from our home. “Between your house and mine,” she said. I had given up beef in January 2020 … not for health reasons, but to protest industrial farming. I’d eat it at a friend’s home (to avoid being considered a finicky b!tch), but not buy it. One small step … change starts with one small step. But local beef … grass-fed … small farmer. That IS the way to eat. Plus we’d be supporting a local business. Filipo, the rancher, said he’d let me know when some was available … a month or so.

The vaccination registration site … where one registers to, eventually, make an appointment for the jab … hasn’t been updated in 5 days. The three 80-somethings I know haven’t gotten a shot … only my friend with an autoimmune disease got her first dose. Daniela’s elerly mom is getting her shot “tomorrow.” We could drive to the tiny country of San Marino, a 90-minute drive away … pay 100 euros … get the Sputnik V vaccine. Or go to the bigger country of Serbia, where one can choose the product.

Vaccinations are still slow, despite promises to triple the daily rate. AstraZeneca gets reinstated … doses of Johnson & Johnson are arriving. But as someone who used to suffer from migraines, the idea of something that constricts blood vessels in the brain isn’t comforting. But there are 3 vaccines, so I don’t feel that I’m being unreasonable to say ix-nay on that accine-vay. Even though nobody here speaks Pig Latin.

Now Johnson & Johnson reports some side effects in four states. I google it … it’s under review in the E.U. due to blood clots. Oy … oioi. But I listened to experts I’ve trusted for the past year … Dr. Jha, Dr. Wen, Dr. Hotez, Dr. Ranney, and of course Dr. Gupta … who say the benefit far outweighs the risk of a very rare blood clot.

I kept checking online registration.

I wrote to David’s Italian pulmonologist, who agreed that David has underlying conditions … and, importantly, said I can use his name on the registration form. Elevata fragilità. And I wrote to my doctor in L.A. about my history of migraines, in the hope that he will provide a letter recommending an mRNA vaccine. His reply said I’m at elevated risk, more than I expected. The pulmonologist agreed to help me, too. I immediately registered. Now we wait for the notification … with the authorization code to make an appointment for dose 1. Troppi steps is the phrase Lorella, our insurance agent, coined years ago. Troppi indeed … with universal health care, everyone should already be registered. [Shrug.] We were especially glad to have our tessera sanitarià.

We watched the trial of George Floyd’s murderer. #blacklivesmatter …

Tuscany is still Red, at least for another week. And then we are Yellow. Only five regions stayed red … including Sardegna, which a few weeks ago was Bianco (no restrictions). Yet nobody saw the island, a place with natural limitations on entry, as a cautionary tale. No Covid restrictions … !! … when cases were low. Now, lo and behold …

I continued to look at various metrics to track the cases. Positivity rate of new tests … daily case number compared with 7-day moving average … R(naught) …. cases per 100,000 population. Not everyone every day, but at least two.

Finally, the vaccination website said that people who have already registered as elevata fragilità can call, will get a call, from the local health office. The Linda calls … but the woman said that somebody will contact me. She says within two weeks, but I don’t want to wait.

I did a screenshot of the website, and put a bright mark next to that relevant paragraph … and WhatsApped it to the pulmonologist. He asks for the contact information for our medico di base (our GP, our PCP, our what’s-the-term-now doctor) … but I have the same numbers he has. I called “our” clinic … the pulmonologist’s local office … and they forwarded the details to the GP. We should hear “within two weeks.” Does that mean the traditional two weeks OR only working days OR contractor-style, non-consecutive days?

The Linda wanted to be proactive, but not piss off the doctors who are helping us. Maybe I’ll call the health office soon … without giving my name … just for an update.

Filipo has beef. It comes pre-selected … 10 kgs. … an assortment of steak, lean burgers, stew-sized cubes, roast beef, “brisket” for braising, ground to be simmered in sauces, quick-cooking filets. All labeled, but some of the Italian cuts were unfamiliar. I’d figure it out as I go along. Most was put in the freezer, but steak was earmarked for tonight’s dinner.

That bistecca … about one-third filet … was fork-tender and flavorful and fabulous! And the next night, burgers … no need to #11-ize them with bacon and cheese … they were perfect with just a grind of pink Himalayan salt and, David’s request, garden tomatoes on the side.

… and so it goes …

PENNE WITH GOAT CHEESE AND ROASTED BEETS

2 large beets … including greens
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
¼ cup white wine
1 lb. penne
6 oz. goat cheese feta
Olive oil

- Roast beets until tender. (If preparing these ahead of time, store overnight in the refrigerator.)
- Peel beets and cut them into cubes/chunks.
- Chop the beet greens. In a frying pan large enough to hold the pasta, steam/sauté the greens in a little water and olive oil. When they are tender, add the garlic.
- When the garlic is just starting to turn golden, add the beets.
- Reduce heat, add the wine. Reduce heat and simmer. Add some pasta cooking liquid if the mixture seems too dry.
- Cook the penne in boiling salted water until barely tender.
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain pasta.
- Add pasta to the frying pan … toss.
- Add the goat cheese … tossing to combine all ingredients. If necessary, add some of the pasta cooking liquid to keep the pasta mixture moist.
- Drizzle some of your favorite olive oil on top … toss again.
- Serve.
Enjoy!

Life … and cooking … in the Tuscan countryside.