Virtual Italy: Loving the Bel Paese From Afar
On March 10, Italy became the first democratic country since World War II to impose a nationwide lockdown. Now, five weeks later, there is a growing sense that the worst may have passed. Italian officials have announced that the number of new COVID-19 infections has plateaued. To ensure that these numbers keep going down, everyone is urged to stay indoors as much as possible. Not so easy to do when flowers bloom and the spring sunshine entices you to go outside!
Italy’s 60 million residents have mostly adapted to these new rules but long walks, restaurant meals, and trips out of town aren’t expected to be part of normal life again any time soon. And since Easter weekend is traditionally the start of the tourist season, what does this mean for those planning an Italian vacation in 2020?
The Situation as it is Now
All tourist sites in Italy are closed, as are museums, cultural venues, cafes, restaurants, public parks, cinemas, theaters and most stores (supermarkets, food shops and pharmacies being the only exceptions). Residents of certain regions, like Tuscany, are required to wear face masks whenever they go out.
On April 14th, an “intermediate phase” of the lockdown went into effect. Book stores, children’s clothing shops, stationery stores, opticians, laundromats and hotels were allowed to reopen. Hotel doesn’t mean tourists, though. The decree makes it clear that tourism in all parts of the Italian peninsula is forbidden. Only those who must travel for reasons of public utility, or to guarantee essential services, can stay in a hotel.
What will “Phase Two” Bring?
Medical experts have said that daily new infections would need to slow to almost zero percent before “phase two” of the lockdown could begin. Monday May 4th is the target date. Further, as yet unspecified, retail and industrial categories will be allowed to reopen on a regional basis, as long as the region’s infection rate is practically zero.
Monday June 1st is the date many people are anxiously awaiting. That’s when restaurants, cafes and pizzerias can reopen their doors; the craving for a hot-from-the-oven pizza margherita is extreme! Not just for home delivery but for table service. The exact rules haven’t been defined, but tables must be set up 1.8-2 meters apart.
Sweet Music & Crystal Clear Canals in Venice
Since virtual travel to Italy is the only kind left, the world-famous La Fenice Theater in Venice has started bringing music to people’s homes. The theater posts a concert every day on its YouTube channel. Here you’ll find operas by Antonio Vivaldi, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, and the Dafne Quartet performing Beethoven, live streamed in an empty concert hall on March 4th.
And who knew this global pandemic would bring with it some unexpected, but positive, side effects? Satellite images show just how much the air over Italy has purified during the lockdown. Back on the ground, Venetians have noted how the city’s canals have turned clear as glass since boat traffic was halted due to the coronavirus. How amazing to see fish and swans swimming in these waters!
Easter with the Pope & Raphael in Rome
Lockdown measures forbid all public gatherings so Pope Francis celebrated Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, assisted by only a handful of attendants. The traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (“To the City and to the World”) blessing followed. Last year, an estimated 70,000 faithful crammed into St. Peter’s Square to receive the pope’s blessing. This year the square was empty.
Pope Francis shares his premises at the Vatican with great Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonado da Vinci. A video tour of Raphael’s Vatican apartments is a fine way to commemorate the painter in the 500th anniversary year of his death.
Easter at the Epicenter
A third of Italy’s total coronavirus cases are in Lombardy. The suffering here is overwhelming.
On Easter Sunday, the iconic Tuscan tenor Andrea Bocelli was invited by the city and cathedral of Milan to give a solo performance in the Duomo. His concert “Music For Hope” is an eloquent message of love and healing for Italy and the world.
Foreign artists love Italy just as much as home-grown ones do. Rocker Peter Gabriel took a film made of his September 2010 appearance at the ancient Roman Arena di Verona and reposted it on his website. He asks that viewers donate money to the Civil Protection or the Italian Red Cross to fight the coronavirus.
Everything Will Be Alright
Andrà tutto bene—everything will be alright—is the encouraging meme on the Internet, or painted on rainbow-decorated signs and banners all over the country. Italy has been through worse in its 3,000-year history and will survive COVID-19, too. When the world is ready to travel again, the Bel Paese will be there to welcome you with open arms!