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Coronavirus quarantine: a letter from Rome

Later afternoon sunlight strikes a portable stereo in Rome. (Maria Dirce Rebecchini/YJI)

Dear friends,

With the global pandemic raging in Rome, I decided to use Youth Journalism International as a platform to reach as many people as possible to share what I’m learning about codvid-19 and how my personal life has changed.

As I’m writing, I’m sipping my cappuccino and stretching my legs on a white coffee table. I’m thinking of my next assignment for tomorrow’s online class and what to make for lunch. Pesto? Always pesto.

On a typical Friday afternoon like today, I would usually hear cars honking, trams chugging and motorcycles swerving. Today, I can only hear the birds chirping or an occasional rustling of the trees. These are the sounds that I wake up to and go to sleep to every day.

I look up at the sky: clear blue, just like last week. No clouds in sight. I can see trees blossoming and I can smell spring.

Actually, I remind myself, that spring has arrived on the calendar and on the streets of Rome. My gaze drifts towards the empty streets and I stand completely still. The world feels completely still next to me. Time has stopped.

I wished I could have yelled out to spring and asked for it to slow down, just for a couple months, just until the quarantine is over. But spring just doesn’t care. It does its own thing. It makes it skies bluer and leaves greener without a care in the world.

Oh well. Let’s get on with it. I went into the kitchen to sort out the groceries. There wasn’t any more room in the fridge or in the cupboards. We’re all stocked up. I gave up on the shopping bags. I left them on the ground and pushed them to a corner of the kitchen with last week’s bags.

As I made lunch, I planned out my day. The prospect of spending five hours on my computer makes me roll my eyes. I boiled some water. What else? Oh yeah, I have a paper due for my English class. I have to work on that today after my terrace workout.

The water bubbled over from the pan. Damn! I lowered the fire and threw in some spaghetti.

That evening I turned on the news. The local Italian channel pops up. I felt a pang of hope and I wistfully thought of hearing, “Coronavirus has passed. It’s safe to leave the house.”

I imagined people rushing out of their homes, flooding the streets, seeing their friends and sweethearts again.

But my smile faded as I heard instead, “3,000 new infections in one day, 546 deaths.” I slumped down in the chair and stared at the screen in front of me.

There’s a part of me that wishes I could detach myself completely from the outside world and live in my own bubble. It usually feels that way. But there are moments when the bubble pops and I’m brought back to reality. Watching the news is one of those moments.

Every time I watch the news I feel an overwhelming sense of patriotism and love for my country. I admire the optimism of the broadcast messages and the bravery of the doctors and nurses. On the other hand, I think just how difficult Italy’s situation will be in the future and I can sense my country is on its hands and knees.

The frustration of the quarantine gets to me and I feel powerless and alone. My friends feel just like me, and after each Skype session we think about ways to connect people and make people feel hopeful again. It’s not easy.

My favorite time of the day eventually arrived. At 6 p.m. I grabbed my stereo and rushed to the balcony.

I found an outlet, plugged it in and turned the volume up to the max so that my music synchronises with everybody else’s in the neighbourhood.

Domenico Modugno’s song “Volare” echoes off of every building, rooftop and chimney.

I leaned over and peeked into my neighbor’s windows to see them dancing together and smiling back at me, their Italian flags billowing in the wind.

In this moment, Italy’s invincible and united.

Maria Dirce Rebecchini is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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