THE LAST FLIGHT OUT…. – LIVING UNDER QUARANTINE: LIFE IN THE FAST LANE SLOWS DOWN!

THE LAST FLIGHT OUT….

Just one week ago I was packing my suitcase for what I hoped would be a very fruitful but brief stay in the U.S. I knew it would be a happy one because I’d be in NY and have a ton of friends there but also because my main thrust was being with friends at the Holy See Mission to the United Nations, starting with Archbishop Gabriel Caccia, nuncio and permanent observer to the U.N.

I wrote three columns from NY after my March 10 arrival – one on March 10 and a second on the 11th – so you’d know of my comings and goings, of Vatican news, etc.

On the 12th I wrote a third and very brief entry on my Twitter and Facebook: “Thanks to the confluence of 3 Facebook friends, today I am on last United flight to Rome, arriving tomorrow am. Fiumicino airport to close Monday! More tomorrow!”

When I awoke Wednesday the 11th, I learned that Italy was in what everyone was calling a “lockdown.” I had a full day planned and went through with those plans and also wrote a blog but I kept my eye on all things Italian as emails and tweets and FB messages and news reports began deluging inboxes.

Upon rising on Thursday the 12th, I did something I never do first thing in the morning. I looked at my cell phone and saw messages, include from each of the three people who formed that “confluence of friends.”

For days, I had been messaging Kathy, one of the three, a very good friend in Chicago and newly retired United employee, for updates on United flights (would they or would they not be flying to and from Italy, etc.), especially as she had a good friend in the Newark airport, Gloria. And Gloria’s sister Mary was a good Facebook friend as well!

Kathy had contacted Gloria and given her my flight reservation number. Gloria discovered that the last United flight to Italy from Newark was March 12th. My original return reservation was the 15th but Gloria had the wonderful good sense to put me on the Thursday flight! Her message – and one from Mary – was basically that Gloria awaited my confirmation.

I phoned her so fast to say, “yes, book me!” that the lines had to be burning! Before you know it, I was packing, ran one last errand, contacted my NY friends and then went to the Holy See Mission for lunch. A driver took me to Newark Airport where I finally met Gloria!

I received VIP treatment, checked in and decided to upgrade to Polaris Business class with FF miles and a few dollars! I enjoyed the Polaris lounge and then a wonderful flight back to Rome where one of the attendants, Giselle, had also been on my Tuesday flight to Newark! You knew things were different in the world when the captain, Jeff, came out and had a lovely conversation with each of us (8) in Polaris! Total passengers, including economy, 40!

I saw the captain and crew as we waited for our luggage in Rome. Smiling faces – smiles that were genuine but also had to be forced a bit.

After all, though we hope the situation is only temporary, we all had just been on the last flight out!

LIVING UNDER QUARANTINE: LIFE IN THE FAST LANE SLOWS DOWN!

As noted, I arrived in Italy on Friday, March 13 from the US on United airline’s last flight to Rome for about a month! The extraordinary – many say extreme – anti-coronavirus measures here have turned Rome, major cities and small towns – all of Italy, in fact! – into ghost cities.

It is eerie beyond telling to see every store, restaurant, café and coffee bar shuttered up. It was eerie for me Friday morning to stand at my living room window for several minutes, looking out on one of the busiest streets in Rome, 3 blocks from St Peter’s Square, and see not one living human being in that time. As I write in my office in the back of my apartment, the silence is unbelievable, surreal!

This is what strikes me most every day – the silence. The absence of car horns and the noise of motorbikes, the near absence (this is phenomenal and wonderful at the same time) of ambulance and police car sirens, the strange void of daily chatter of the people who shop and eat and work in the neighorhood or are just passing by on their way to the Vatican. I can always hear voices, though muted, whether I am in my living room that overlooks Via di Porta Cavalleggeri or in my office at the back of the house that overlooks a small street that is basically for parking, not through traffic.

If you do see someone on the street these days, they better have a good reason to be out according to the Interior Ministry. In fact, I just downloaded a form from the ministry that we must carry with us at all times if we move from our residence. I was alerted to this by a very talkative taxi driver (wearing a mask and using gloves) who accompanied me home from the airport. He was filled with information and I was so appreciative!
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If I want to go to the grocery store or the pharmacy, I may do so but 1. it must be in my neighborhood (I cannot go to the center of Rome), and 2. I must have this form filled out with my name, where I was born, where I live (complete street address) and where I am going (complete address). I must also carry personal ID. You are basically not allowed to deviate, that is, if say you are going from your home to the grocery store, that’s it – no additions. No frivolous visits to Rome parks, for example.

On this ministerial form I must say that my trip (in case you must go somewhere by car or bus or even train), or my movement within the neighborhood are determined by one of the four reasons the form gives:
1. a proven work-related need,
2. a situation of necessity (food, medicine and, I believe, the bank),
3. health reasons (a doctor’s visit),
4. you are returning to your own home or habitation (if, for example, you were in Rome when the government issued its decree and you had to return home to Florence).

As of now the businesses that may open include markets (though not outdoor markets, I am told), pharmacies, mini-markets, newsstands, banks and ATMs (clean the surface or wear gloves!), and tobacco stores. The latter actually service a lot of needs. In addition to selling cigarettes, lottery tickets, candy and gum, souvenirs and a host of small items, you can buy bus tickets, have your monthly bus pass updated, purchase phone cards or add money to your phone if you have a pay as you go as I do.

Thank the Lord the tobacco store adjacent to the entrance to our building was open as I had to refill my cell phone by March 14 or it would have turned off. I had tried to do the automatic refill online but the phone company’s site was down! And this just hours after I got home! My phone refills occur the 14th of every month. The tobacco shop owner Vittorio allowed only one person in at a time (we have to keep the government-mandated distance of three feet or one meter) and he too was wearing a mask and gloves.

I am happy to have the phone but not at all happy that my satellite is out! Friday was a very quiet day as I unpacked and worked on ”Vatican Insider” and wrote a blog. I so wanted to turn the TV on and have news but limited myself to searching online.

My only time out so far has been Saturday morning when I refilled my phone and then went 50 feet to a mini-market for some purchases. The fellow there had gloves but no mask. My contact with people has been totally limited since Friday, when I exited the taxi, to those 6 or 7 minutes on Saturday.

I may need groceries toward the weekend. Our doorman Carlo, through his mask, told me that market hours were the usual ones but that they allow people in one at a time and clients must always keep a meter distance from the person in front of them. Waiting in line also requires the one-meter distance between people. I will wear gloves and will have a mask in my purse.

I asked Carlo about the satellite as this is centralized in our building. He said it was down and the Vatican had sent someone to fix it. It is now 7 pm Monday and I still have no satellite. Frankly, that is a bit difficult for me!

I did discover Saturday morning that I could change the source on my TV remote from satellite to TV and thus I have access to Italian television and Italy’s equivalent of FoxNews, etc. I also discovered to my great surprise that I could watch one of my favorite channels – HGTV – even though it is in Italian. Has been fun!

How am I doing? How is quarantine affecting me? Is there growth, change, introspection? Are there challenges and new perspectives in quarantine?

Come back tomorrow! I’ve taken enough of your precious time today.

God sit on your shoulder! And mine!