Saluti da Cortona, part III

An update from Cortona, Summer 2020.

I am able to walk from my house to the UGA Cortona campus where I work, usually without encountering another soul, using back streets and this pedestrian alley between the walls of two monasteries. In late May the alley was given its spring mowing by the Comune, which seemed like a good sign of increasing activity – with the DPCM of April 26, we are looking forward to “Phase II” of reopening after the lockdown.

Even though I am the only one working in the Severini School these days, I must follow all the new “anti-contagion protocols” for workplaces. Hence, every morning upon entering the building, I sanitize my hands and sign this register attesting that I took my temperature before leaving home and do not have a fever, nor am I experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19.

With the Phase II reopening, we are now allowed to leave our homes and walk about freely, although we are always required to wear a mask. On Sunday, May 17th, I went on a walk for the first time in two months.

  • Tuscans trapped at home have been busy cleaning up their fields. Everything from beautifully-stacked firewood…
  • … to beautifully laid-out gardens.
  • Local businesses that rely on tourism are suffering. The Locanda i Grifi at Torreone, a restaurant and hotel, seems neglected, and a sign in the door says it is for rent or sale.
  • The pool at the Locanda i Grifi. The hotel has not been reopened for the summer season.

Churches are still not allowed to hold public mass with attendants, but masked worshipers may now enter and pray individually during the day, after sanitizing their hands at the station outside the entrance. Like businesses, churches must designate a door for entry and a door for exit, so as to avoid scrums of people at the threshold. Most Catholic churches already have a wooden bussola (inner door) with the entry door traditionally on the right and the exit door on the left, so all that remains for the church to be compliant with the health regulations is to post the garish yellow signs instructing the faithful to use the doors in the manner in which they have always done. Another sign notifies the public that the regularly-performed masses are being broadcast on Facebook Live, so one can follow along from home.

Grocery stores still have strict limits on the number of people that may enter, so there is usually a line outside the Camucia Coop that stretches all the way down the arcade of the Girasole shopping center. It’s not as bad as it looks; since shoppers are maintaining 1,8 meters (about six feet) of distance between themselves, the line gets stretched out but moves quickly.

June 2 is a big holiday in Italy, the Festa della Repubblica, analogous to the Fourth of July in the U.S. Normally Italians would make a “ponte” out of this day and its nearest weekend, and spend the three or four days out with their families and friends, dining and shopping and socializing. There are usually parades and speeches and public wreath-laying ceremonies on war monuments. This year, with Italy’s borders closed to foreign tourists, there are many fewer visitors in town. A few shops have bravely re-opened, but the cool, rainy weather isn’t helping the mood of resignation to what most are sure will be an unprofitable summer tourist season.

  • Far fewer people than normal during this holiday passeggiata hour.
  • Shops that have been closed for months are reopening.
  • A tourist taking a photo of a Cortona alley is now a rare sight.
  • Marco Molesini, behind his new plexiglas shield at the counter of his enoteca.
  • Bars and restaurants have been closed, but carry-out has allowed some of them to continue working.

A few days later, on June 6, the holiday is over and the weather has improved. Piazza life is picking up, although assembramenti (assemblies of multiple persons) are still prohibited.

A local grocery shop offers home delivery, and displays their growing collection of “Andrà tutto bene” drawings by children. The oft-used hashtag #andràtuttobene has been a rallying cry for Italians during the lockdown.

As part of Phase II, the outdoor markets are allowed to operate again. Cortona’s Saturday market on June 6 had fewer vendors than usual, perhaps because of spacing requirements.

The MAEC museum is open again, as well – good news for Cortona’s tourism. However, anti-contagion regulations to promote social distancing require the museum to mark one of its bathroom sinks off-limits, because it is too close to the other sink and two individuals standing side-by-side to wash their hands might pass the virus. These regulations are in the right spirit – of course measures must be taken to contain the spread of the disease – but I am sometimes overwhelmed by the absurdity of the physical manifestations of this spirit.

The best part of the reopening is being able to eat at Mario’s again! Because of the new spacing requirements for restaurants, his tiny trattoria of five tables is now reduced to three.

When the pool finally reopened at the end of June, little yellow flags had been placed in the lawn to demarcate the boundaries of umbrella-territories. One is only allowed inside the territory one has rented for oneself, and must walk in the narrow paths between the territories. Of course this is impossible to enforce, and little half-naked babies run about on the grass as usual, flags be damned.

A disturbing trend that I first noticed at the outdoor pool – hand-sanitizer is being watered down, probably to save money, possibly because the thick, gooey gel has a tendency to clog in the pump.

New anti-Coronavirus health regulations meet old, deeply-engrained Tuscan frugality: I suspect the hand sanitizer is being watered down, just like the dishsoap. My grandmother would approve.