Quarantined


I have always been convinced the re-opening of schools to be merely an ideological issue; now more than even. After fruitless months spent discussing about the employment of one-seater desks with wheels or the right safe distances between students or teachers, which were shortened day after day to stuff them all in “safety” in the classrooms, we have found ourselves in the front line unprotected, unprepared and even without the famous wheeled one-seater desks, which have now been confined to mere urban legend, as we have never seen one of them in flesh and blood.

Of course, the show had to go on, and it did, backed by the propagandistic ministerial cry of war : “schools are safe“. I often wonder, how vital it is to hold important offices nowadays, to be a good story teller rather than displaying skill and training.They are mostly pretenders and liars, who have the nerve to charm that majority of dummies who wish to be lulled by a nice story with a happy end.

Yet, it is hard to keep telling the same fairy tale when the witch, who was believed dead or almost dead is back in the saddle, as after only a couple of weeks from the reopening of schools the figures about Covid-19 transmission started to increase rapidly. So, if the Minister of Education wanted to keep her point, it was crucial to find somebody else to blame – this is rule number one for a good, shrewd politician – so the fault fell on the Minister of Transports. Hence, the story was thus upgraded: “schools are safe, but transports are not. Covid transmission happens on buses and trains because distances are not respected, while we do respect them in schools“.

As a consequence of these remarks, endless tv squabbles followed, but the theme actually sounded more like the chicken and the egg debate. Those who might get infected on buses and trains, then come to school, in fact. Once in, we provide them with masks, which are readily thrown away as soon as they cross the school gate, but even if we invite our students to sanitize their hands and be seated, they are not statues and naturally break the rules as soon as you turn your back or you realize that those at home need to ask a question or have lost their connections. I cannot watch them all. Hence, despite everybody’s good will and efforts, it is impossible to guarantee that the virus is not transmitted in schools, but quite the opposite.

Indeed, I have to say that since our first school day, the feeling of being exposed to the virus has became so palpable, that we have all felt the urgent need to take more precautions than the protocols suggested. Despite all our efforts, pretty soon some of my colleagues started to go missing one after the other, only to discover afterwards that they had been quarantined along with their classes.The net was closing on me, I could feel it. “Only one will remain” I used to say jokingly to a colleague of mine, quoting Highlander, but unfortunately I could not boast to be the last one to survive, as yesterday after a long, brave battle I fell and was quarantined, as one of my students was found positive to his first Covid test. I’ll be back to work in a couple of weeks, ready to be quarantined again as soon as I bump into another positive case or get infected myself.

Since this situation was easily predictable, I cannot help but wonder why we haven’t been able to take the appropriate measures in six months. The school is open, the Minister claims it as her success, but she pretends not to realize that in the classrooms and along the aisles education cannot be found anywhere. Why we haven’t treasured on-line learning  experience, especially for high schools and universities, and invested in technology, bandwidth, for instance, rather than disclaiming it entirely, truly I cannot say. The only answer I can give is that keeping the on-line learning option would have meant admitting that the pandemic was not over and the return to normal was not imminent, and god knows what could happen when a country is not told a good fairy tale before going to sleep.

 

En Plein Air

How long had we been looking forward to May 4th, the day of the lockdown ease in Italy? Two months. A long time indeed. What shall I remember most of this period? The singing on the balcony every evening at 6.00pm right after watching the daily bulletin of Covid-19 victims or the frightening number on my scale as the result the absurd amount of food I have swallowed in these months, mostly carbs – and I can distictly see them all deposited right here 😱- ? Now that I am thinking about it, I have to say that my time has been spent in the company of screens mostly, whether it was that for smart working/on line lessons or the tv screen. I have watched the 200 and more episodes of “How I  met your mother” (brilliant), four seasons of “How to get away with murder” (super), “Unorthodox”(great), 3 seasons of Versailles (legendary, oops this is the Barney in me speaking) and there must be something I am missing for sure. For the first time in my life I have showed no interest at all for clothes or shoes, as I have been wearing mostly the same stuff, actually, I look rather shabby, I dare say.

My husband Mr Run has suffered these lazy days much more than me. He is an active sort of man, who is used to running 70 km per week at least and driving 100 to go to work and back every day. His very last purchase the day right before the lockdown had been another shining pair of running shoes, the same pair he decided to wear the morning of May 4th. It was 6.30 a.m. . “I am off to run to the pinewood” he whispered to me, as I was was still slumbering. “Let’s hope he comes back with a good provision of endorphines” I thought, and I went back to sleep.

The latest ordinance had set runners free, but what about non-runners like me? Well, all the other people were left with a dilemma to solve before attempting to quit home:  what does “congiunti” mean? We were allowed to go to the supermarket, like before, but now the exciting news was that we could also pay a visit to our “congiunti” . What a peculiar choice of word, we all thought!  “Congiunti”! The English word “relatives” could be the equivalent translation, but it not exactly so, as if they had actually meant “relatives”, they would have chosen a more clear word for the Italian speaking world as “parenti”. We instictively understood that they had employed the word “congiunti” as a limititation to the number of “parenti”/relatives one may have, as if they meant close relatives only. But how close? After having looked up into many dictionaries and followed learned debates, I haven’t actually understood what makes you downgrade from the status of “congiunto” to that of a simple “parente”, but all I needed to know was that in case somebody had stopped me, “congiunto” should have been the most advisable term to use.

Once “en plein air”, the world around me is not exactly as friendly as I expected. You feel the presence of the unseen enemy and like me anybody else. First of all I notice that we are all wearing far too heavy clothes for the season. It is full spring and quite warm, “we have missed the best part of it” I think with a certain disappointment. Behind their masks I barely recognize the people I know. Everybody casts suspicious glances, all distanced, all distressed, watching their backs if someone gets too close and ready to “bark” in case they really do. With the majority of shops closed, even if we were allowed, strolling around is not that tempting. There is no sign of joy around me and I feel a kind of uncomfortable. I realize that my pace is getting faster than usual among the shelves of the supermarket. It is as if I felt the urge of doing quickly my errands and…..going home.  It may sound strange, but this is what I truly wished that coveted 4th of May: going back home, where I feel at ease, where I feel protected.

Once safely on my couch, where I can confess to have spent half of this couple of months, I couldn’t help but wonder how this quarantine had turned me into something T.S. Eliot would call: a “dull root”. Our longed freedom has actually a bitter taste. It is more frightening rather than exciting and despite the call to life represented by this beautiful May ( April in the poem), most of us prefer to remain rooted at home. “Ain’t you going to run this morning, love ?” No” Mr Run grunts,” not today ” and turns his back. He doesn’t want to admit it, but he has become a “dull root” too.