Saluti da Cortona

We’ve received dozens of messages from our friends and the UGA Cortona family, urgently asking for news about how this much-beloved city is faring in the time of the Coronavirus.

Of all the regions in Italy, Tuscany currently has the fifth highest number of infections. As of the April 5 video update by Cortona’s sindaco Luciano Meoni, posted on the Comune’s Facebook page , there are currently 14 positive cases in the Comune di Cortona. There have been two deaths so far, an 89-year old woman from Cortona, and the very first positive case, a man from Foiano della Chiana, who died yesterday.

The availability of information in Italy is very good. Every afternoon the Protezione Civile releases data from the previous 24 hours, broken down by region. The major news outlets in Italy, such as La Repubblica and Corriere della Sera, publish charts daily.

Everyone in Italy is under quarantine, and has been so since March 9, when the national government announced the “#Iorestoacasa” decree, which asked people to stay at home and practice social distancing.

Since then, other decrees have been issued that have gradually tightened the restrictions. On March 11, all restaurants, bars, and businesses were closed nationwide (can you imagine Cortona without Bar Signorelli, Bar Sport, Caffè Tuscher, or Ristorante Tonino?), on March 18 all parks and public green spaces in Cortona were closed, and on March 22, the national decree now called “Chiudi Italia” shut down even more businesses and factories, all but those that are deemed absolutely essential.

Schools were closed in early March, and will not reopen this academic year. The weekly markets in Camucia and Cortona have been suspended, as have the monthly antique markets. Cortona’s post office is closed, although mail delivery is still taking place. Courier companies are delivering packages (and hiring more workers). One of the banks in Cortona is open every day, another has cut back to three days a week, by appointment only. Trash pickup continues, although the city dump is closed.

The Molesini grocery and enoteca are open (remember that wine is considered “food” in Italy, so Marco’s wineshop is “essential’!). So far, there have been no food shortages, nor runs on toilet paper, thank goodness – everyone is being very civil, and civic-minded. Franca, Barbara, and Caterina still work behind the deli at Molesini, but with masks and gloves. Etta and Giuliano are well, but now work behind a plexiglas screen they have installed at the checkout counter. We must wait in line outside the store, and enter a few at a time, always one meter apart. There is now black and yellow striped tape on the floor, marking out one-meter increments, to ensure that people maintain the proper distance from one another.

Roberto, Nunziatina, and Marco are also well and working very hard at the Picciafuochi Frutta e Verdura, and their relatively new gastronomia next door. Both they and the Molesini family are swamped with requests for home delivery, as fewer people are doing their shopping in person now.

The ferramenta (hardware stores) are considered essential, so the Ricci brothers are keeping their business open. Instead of ordering an expensive custom-made plexiglas screen, as the pharmacy and grocery have done, they made their own out of broom handles, masking tape, and clear sheet plastic that they already had in the shop!

Currently, we must remain in our homes unless our work has been deemed essential. We may leave our homes only to get “necessaries” from the few open shops (groceries, pharmaceuticals, tobacco, newspapers) or obtain medical care. We are also allowed to take a brief foray outdoors for exercise, as long as we stay within 200 meters of our homes. The local police patrol the streets and check our autocertificazione, a document we must fill out and carry with us, stating the reason that we are outside of our home. If the authorities find our reason for movement insubstantial, they can fine us up to €5000, or arrest us.

Two days ago, a new decree by the governor of Tuscany mandated that everyone must wear a mask when outside of their home, so today every resident of Cortona was issued two surgical masks. This was the scene in Piazza della Repubblica this morning, as masks were handed out to residents. The line stretched down Via Nazionale, as authorities enforced the “one meter between individuals” rule:

These measures may sound drastic, and we all chafe a little under them… but the fact is, shutting down the country is working. Today’s numbers show only 880 new cases nationwide, which means the spread is slowing.

Source: Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

The economic impact has been, and is going to be, devastating for this community. On many of the shuttered shops on Via Nazionale there are already some “business for sale” signs, and we fear there may eventually be many more as it looks likely that the summer tourism and wedding season will be seriously compromised. Many associated with these industries are now sitting at home, out of work.

Fortunately, Italy’s social welfare system is generous; unfortunately, prior to this crisis, the country was already struggling to afford care for the waves of immigrants that have been arriving recently. The Comune, in partnership with the Caritas, is now distributing food packages to needy families; food drives at local grocery stores have been organized by the Caritas Parrocchiale Santuario Santa Maria delle Grazie al Calcinaio di Cortona, and community fundraisers have been initiated by private individuals.

The Cortonesi are doing what they can to keep their spirits up, and keep themselves entertained and sane while locked indoors. The MAEC museum broadcasts regularly on Facebook, with the hashtag #MuseiChiusiMuseiAperti – museum staff read books about history and archaeology for children, or they give a tour and mini-lecture for adults about objects in the museum. The Comune is sponsoring these videos as part of a series of online events under the banner, “Cultura Live – Pillole di Cultura ai tempi del Coronavirus”.

You may have heard about the Coronavirus flash mobs, Italian-style, in which patriotic individuals filled with feelings of solidarity broadcast the Italian national anthem from a window or balcony, causing the spontaneous appearance of their rallied neighbors at their own windows and balconies. We have our own version here in Cortona, too – every day at noon and 6:00 pm, an unknown individual or individuals broadcast first the national anthem, and then a variety of their personal classic rock favorites for at least a quarter of an hour.

And then there is the hopeful “andrà tutto bene” movement, represented in real life by children’s artwork displayed on doors and balconies, and found on social media at the hashtag #andratuttobene.

“Everything will be fine”… indeed, we are all hoping it will.