Letters from Italy – III

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By LUAN REMIGIO*

Report by a Brazilian student in Lecce, in southern Italy, on local daily life during the coronavirus pandemic

Suddenly I glance at the clock to find out what time it is: I must “down” the garbage, I remember. The house's pantry was assigned the role of a "junk room", housing a variety of things, some left by the owner that have not been used for some time, such as a coffee maker, plastic pots, pans, scales, and even a bed; others such as dusters, brooms and shovels, more recent and sporadically used. There are also four “buckets” destined for selective collection: organic (brown), paper (blue), plastic (yellow) and non-recyclable (grey); metal and glass (green) are just put in the bags and left at the door on the day of collection. I grab the yellow bag to take him downstairs, it's Wednesday, plastic day. With a tissue, I open the apartment door, call the elevator, press the ground floor button, open the building door and leave it on the sidewalk. I always retrace the route with the handkerchief intermediating the contact of my hand with the objects. Upon returning, I go straight to the kitchen bathroom, throw the tissue in the toilet, flush the toilet, then wash my hands. My supplies are low, and I decide to go to the supermarket the next day.

***

I wake up a little late, around ten in the morning. I remember the commitment made the night before and I get to my feet. In the kitchen, I heat the milk, put the mocha on the fire, separate two packets of toast, hazelnut cream with chocolate, and set the table for breakfast with two cups of the same color, a small one for coffee and a large one for breakfast. milk. I spread the cream on four pieces of toast and devour the first packet, enough for my first meal. Not satisfied, I spread the cream over two pieces of toast, chewed and swallowed just as voraciously. I look at the two remaining pieces of toast, I look down at what's left of the milk, and in that instant I realize how difficult it is to control my anxiety. But this time I did it, I think, I get up and leave the table.

Going to the supermarket is something I like. I like to cook, choose and, especially here in Italy, experiment, invent and learn recipes. Since the strictest measures due to covid-19 were adopted, everyone's routine has been affected and so has the way of shopping. Today, most people make larger purchases, not because they fear shortages of supplies, but to leave the house less often in the hope of avoiding contagion. To walk in the streets it is necessary to have a self-certification, especially for those who have to travel from home to work. Anyone can be approached by the police and asked for self-certification, if they are on the street without reason they can pay a fine or even be arrested. Obviously many people do not respect these guidelines, but when you are a foreigner and live next to the “Questura” (Police Station) it does not seem prudent to disrespect them. If you go shopping at the supermarket, they even dispense with the document, but if you are stopped, they tell you to return home right away. The concern of being infected or being infected has led to redoubled attention to cleaning, something that will certainly leave deep marks.

***

While washing my hands, I mentally organize the preparations for my trip to the supermarket: I had already chosen the clothes, all dark so that on the way back I could throw them all together in the washing machine; soap and softener already in depositories; tennis; schoolbag; Shopping list; two large returnable bags; the “tourist bag” where I keep my passport, “permesso di soggiorno”, card and money; pack of tissues; I left my towel in the kitchen bathroom; I prepared a bucket with bleach and tap water; inside a spray bottle, more of the same solution; two cloths. I realized my hands were red under the warm water and my nails were long. I decided, "I'm going to cut my nails before I leave." I asked myself if that wasn't an exaggeration, “no”, I answered almost without finishing the question. On the kitchen sofa, with my legs apart, torso slightly leaning forward and elbows resting on my knees, I began that aseptic ritual. Then, with the right arm stretched out, staring at my nails admiring the work done, my feet, fingers and nails appear, out of focus and slowly gaining clarity. I judge them long and cut them too. Ritual concluded, catharsis achieved, I get dressed and leave towards “Conad” near my temporary home.

Upon arriving, I come across a small queue, common in these times. I wait my turn, go in, select the things that are missing: soap for washing clothes and another for washing dishes; toast, hazelnut cream, macaroni, ragu (tomato sauce with meat), cheese, bread, meats, mayonnaise, onions, tomatoes, nine bottles of water and a few other things. Fortunately they accept the card, I put everything in my bags and three bottles of water in my backpack, the other six in my hand and start the journey back home. I had to stop and switch bags and water bottles a few times trying to compensate for the weight and mitigate the fatigue. With about a hundred meters to go, I stop for the last time, catch my breath, hold the handles of the bags and see how dry my hands are, red and sore from time and frequent washing, “I can’t forget to use moisturizer”, I charge. On the sidewalk of the building I leave my purchases, look for the keys in my pocket, lift my head, look at my image reflected in the glass door of the entrance, and disapprove of that messy, shapeless hair.

I turn the key, go inside, go up eight flights of stairs in the lobby and call the elevator. I get to my floor, go out and get ready to carry out the plan outlined hours earlier. I open and close the apartment door without touching the doorknob, I leave the bags and water at the entrance; I take off my shoes, with them in my hands I go to the kitchen, open the balcony door and leave them there; still in the kitchen, I take my backpack off my back, undress, throw the clothes on the floor, grab my towel and throw everything in the washing machine. Soon after, I go to the bathroom, inert, I let the hot water hit my body believing that it can prevent a possible contagion; the high temperature brings me back, so I wash my hair and scrub every inch of my body as if the force applied to that action was proportional to the cleanliness.

I leave the bathroom, and as I dress I remember the moisturizer “it really helps”, I accept. I dry my hair and go to the kitchen to clean up what was bought. I spray the solution on everything I touched, even with a handkerchief, and on what I didn't touch, like the entrance door handles, and with a dry cloth everything; not forgetting the floor where my clothes were for a few seconds. I take the two bags and the six-bottle box into the kitchen, set them on the floor beside the table, and wipe them down with the bleach solution; I repeat this with each item in the bags, depositing them on the table and then putting them away in the closet. I remember the three bottles and mayonnaise in the backpack, they are disinfected and have the same destination as the rest of the purchases. Just like shopping, bags and backpacks go through the same cleaning process. Finally, I go back to the balcony and clean my shoe. I gather everything that was used and put it in the bucket with water and bleach.

I have lunch and go to bed to rest for a while.

*Luan Remigio Professor at Seduc-PA, PhD student in philosophy at Unifesp and exchange student at the Universidad del Salento, Lecce, Italy

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