[Ada Fama] Friday, May 22, 2020
One day you find yourself in the middle of thousands of people, all packed in a stadium to watch a match, all screaming, all cheering. Next day a roaring silence.
In a few words, this is the summary of the start of my quarantine, twice as long as the forty days that the name would suggest.
On the 22nd of February I was at the Olympic Stadium in Rome, amidst thousands of fellow fans. Italy was playing against Scotland in the rugby Six Nations League. It was a horrible match, honestly, but no one will remember.
It was a mild Saturday afternoon of the end of February. The stadium was full of Italian and Scottish fans, all mingled, applauding each other’s team’s – few – good actions. And it was all too normal – being squeezed in one square foot, buying beers and toasting, talking to each other.
The bus we took to reach and leave the stadium was even more packed. I must admit – we actually laughed at the idea that someone might start coughing and shouting, ‘I’m positive!’ Going back to that point, I’d say we were trying to exorcise the creeping panic. The first real case in Italy was announced just the morning before, and by that evening there were three more people affected by coronavirus. That Saturday, the 22nd, the cases were booming to tens, but we were not fully realising.
That night I went to a graduation party. It was another round of hugs, toasts and cheering. Coronavirus was hardly mentioned there – the atmosphere was too light to be spoiled.
And the next day there was no conversation that did not involve the virus. The next day there was no Italian that could avoid the matter that was raining over us all, as the cases multiplicated.
The following week can be described as a giant question mark. The Government started to roll out the first ruffled measures – schools and universities closed, leagues stopped, red areas declared, more red areas declared… all Italy declared red.
One day you find yourself talking to a Scottish man whom you don’t know and who is sitting right next to you, and the day after you find yourself locked at home with people you love and you trust – if you are lucky enough –, not willing to see anybody else on earth because you are simply scared. One day you think that loud noise is what you hear in a crowded stadium, and the next day you discover that silence can be even louder.
The silence, indeed, was the most bewildering sensation of the first days. My flat faces on a small square, where teenagers use to gather at evenings (Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…) for a chat, a beer or – to my profound dismay – some trap music. I found myself missing them. I found myself longing for some trap song boosted from a loudspeaker. I’d rather have that forever, as silence was worse. And silence, those days, was practically perfect, terrifying.
The Prime Minister would come up from time to time on television, radio and social networks – wherever – to announce some more restrictive measures. It was frightening: every time a press conference was announced, our hearts would lose a beat.
To fight the silence, the numbness, the concern, random flash mobs popped up everywhere. All the radios united to broadcast at the same time – 11:00 a.m., 20th of March – the national hymn and three of the most representative songs of the Italian culture: ‘Azzurro,’ ‘Nel Blu Dipinto di Blu (Volare),’ ‘La Canzone del Sole.’ It really defeated silence for a handful of minutes. We felt as One Nation.
War bulletins went on and on for weeks. The press conference at 06:00 p.m. with the latest updates was becoming an anguishing, daily appointment. Figures were growing and we were all too shocked to think of a different category other than panic.
Then, when the spring began to blink out of a grey cloudy sky, when birds began to sing carelessly and trees began to bloom, figures began to fall. A feeble light in the thick darkness.
In this feeble light indeed we started to see the aftermath. And the aftermath, we realised, was going to be tough.
It is hard to predict the real consequences of the virus not only on a global scale, but also – and first of all – on our daily lives. Set aside that I personally am neither able nor in a position to do so. Yet, I believe that none of us has escaped the impact of the virus in the first place, and subsequently that of the lockdown measures undertaken by world’s governments.
From what I can tell at this point, at least two aspects of my life have been severely affected.
I am a young lawyer with the dream of becoming a judge. This might seem quite straightforward, but here in Italy becoming a judge is a really winding road. A graduation in law and an exam are not sufficient. You have to take an open competition – which is very… competitive –, but you can enter it only after you’ve followed a number of paths that all imply a great investment of time. In my case, I attended a (very interesting, I have to say it) internship of one year and a half in a court of appeals. Only when you get one of the suitable titles you can enter the competition exam, which is held – at best – once a year. In few words, it takes you ages just to have the change to sit the exam.
That’s not it. After the written part, you’ll have to wait for about ten months for the papers to be marked. If you are good – and/or lucky – enough to get into the 10% of successful candidates, you’ll have to go through an oral exam, which might be scheduled after another 6-8 months. Only at that point, if you are still alive, you might hope to be appointed.
Sounds ridiculous? It is. But that’s not the point. The point is that I entered the competition in June 2019 and I was waiting for the results to come up at the beginning of April. Obviously, the whole procedure has been suspended because of the lockdown measures and to date it has not resumed (we don’t even know when it will). In addition, it is very likely – almost certain – that there will be no written sessions of the competition for this year, given the security issues that gathering around 10,000 people in the same venue involves.
The same problems come with the bar exam, which I took in December 2019. I will not repeat the whole story, it is quite boring and complicated – and crazy, too.
The second aspect I was mentioning is more personal. I am blind and I’ve always taken my condition quite light-heartedly – and I still do, truth be told. However, this whole startling situation forced me to think about one very important thing I’ve never considered accurately: how beautiful it is to trust people.
I walk with a white cane when I’m on my own. Once I know a certain path, I would follow it and reach the place I want to just with the support of my stick. At least I thought so…
The first time I went out during lockdown it was for the near-by-home walk that our Government allowed us. In that moment I realised how unsafe I felt. It crushed on me like a cosmic truth: social distancing was going to be a big problem.
On the one hand, I finally figured out how much I rely on people when I move alone. As I said, I’d normally walk through paths I know pretty well. Still, it is not unlikely for paths to change – street works, cars and all these sorts of nice things make it more complicated. In these situations, knowing you can ask for help – or accept the help that’s being offered to you – is incredibly reassuring. Not with social distancing. With social distancing it’s not just that you cannot ask; it’s that you must also refuse the help that someone might offer (for your own and their safety).
On the other hand, the very concept of keeping social distancing is quite hard to comply with. You have to put in twice the effort you put before on hearing where people around you are and where they are going, and try to avoid them (here, again, for your own and others’ safety). This all makes me dizzy!
Borrowing Queen’s words, ‘It’s a long hard fight to learn to care for each other, to trust in one another right from the start.’ Hopefully, the fight won’t be too long.
For now, all I can say is that I’m glad to hear some trap music again down in the square…
Ada Fama | Rome | May 22, 2020