Home US On Lockdown in Rome: A Preview of American Life in 11 Days

On Lockdown in Rome: A Preview of American Life in 11 Days

The turning point, for me at least, came when I learned that someone real, someone on the fringe of my immediate circle, was in mortal danger. It was the 70-year-old father of a friend of a friend. He died. But the scariest and saddest thing is how he died: alone, in an intensive care unit, with no chance to say goodbye to his loved ones. For now, funerals are also prohibited. That is how one dies in the time of the coronavirus. This is the most terrible thing.

When you hear stories like that, you start following the rules. You are suddenly ready to stay home. You wear your mask, and you don’t feel like making jokes about the virus. You get depressed.

Certainly, after a while, you get used to the lockdown. A kind of Stockholm syndrome sets in, and I find myself thinking that quarantine is not that bad. Maybe it’s just denial, maybe I don’t want to accept that my lifestyle—our lifestyle—has so thoroughly changed. Something that didn’t happen in response to terrorism, for example. This is the first great event for my generation (I was born in 1974) that forces all of us to adapt to new rules.

As a freelance writer, I say to myself that the lockdown doesn’t change much from before. I stay in my pajamas all day, as before, plus there is the cancellation of all social activities. No more endless dinner parties or pointless meetings. It’s so relieving.

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This week, for example, I was invited to a reading where I was supposed to introduce the novel of a colleague of mine. I should have read it, prepared meaningful questions, praised the book (which is completely dumb), and been ready to appear in public, something that makes me nervous every time. Canceled. Cancellato has became to me the most beautiful word in the Italian dictionary. Not Ti amo or pizza. Canceled.


Still, especially for people like me who already work from home, going outside becomes an obsession. So it is with the greatest joy that I join my friend for this stroll disguised as a run. We make sure to keep the right distance (one meter apart, according to the rules). We have to yell a bit, due to the distance and because of the scarf covering her mouth.

As in the Bay Area, the subject of real estate inevitably comes up. “The question is: quarantine with terrace or without?” she says abruptly as we stride along dressed in our improbable runners’ clothes.

She is looking for a bigger space, and she tells me she just saw an 860-square-foot flat here in the neighborhood. With no balconies. “But I finally realized that an outdoor space is essential,” she goes on. For the first time she is living with her fiancée, who is from Naples, and the fiancée happened to be here in Rome for a visit just when the country was put under lockdown. So, according to the new rules, if she goes back to Naples she won’t be able to leave home for who knows how long. So she has decided to stay in Rome.

It’s a story playing out among many couples in Italy right now. Unpredicted move-ins. New families. Will their children be called the coronaboomers? We go on talking about housing. Surely they need more space: a terrace definitely helps. In Rome, when you are looking for a house to buy, the agent will tell you that “a terrace is an extra room,” due to the mild climate, but now that room is increasingly valuable. Every extra space becomes precious especially if you have a tiny house like mine.

Romans organized as a flash mob sing “Azzurro” from their balconies on Saturday, March 14.Photograph: Stefano Montesi/Corbis/Getty Images
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