To Rome, With Love (From A New Yorker)

Rome PandemicAs I was going out today to buy fish at a local market on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, of course donning a mask and gloves, due to the corona virus, there was already a line outside stretching half way around the block, as we distanced ourselves six feet from one another.

The man behind me was wearing a N95 mask so I asked him how or where he got it. He reported he was Italian, from Venice, but living in NYC and had gotten the masks in Italy. He was personable and we began to chat from six feet away. It was the first time that I ever tried to speak Italian with a mask covering my nose and mouth. He even understood my muffled Italian which was flattering and said “you speak Italian well,” the phrase all the Italians used to tell me when I lived in Rome, knowing full well that I didn’t. But it passed the time until we could enter the store to buy food.

I moved alone to Rome, Italy many years ago, when I tried to change my life and desperately needed an adventure. Even though it’s been many years since then, Rome continues to remain in my heart and soul. Fortunately, I still have friends who live there. I think about them every day especially since the corona virus hit Italy so hard.

Italy was unprepared for such a disaster (as were we, in the USA).  After the north of Italy was struck so hard, and the exceedingly efficient medical system could not keep up with all the people who ended up in their emergency rooms, with tremendous numbers of people ultimately dying from covid-19, the entire country was quarantined. The Italians could not leave their homes except with a pass to go to the grocery store or pharmacy or to walk a dog.

Italians are a social society, and part of their very exitance and DNA is to be with their friends in groups to socialize. They are also more of a touchy-feely culture than we are.  In those respects, I cannot imagine how difficult it has been for my friends to be shut in at home. One friend, whose elderly mother lives one block away, has not been able to see her since the quarantine. Another friend lives with her over 90-year-old mother and I know how stressed my friend must be every time she goes out to buy food, to not bring home the corona virus to her mother.

My life in Manhattan now revolves around taking my wonderful dog, Dea out to get exercise in Riverside Park. The truth is going to Riverside Park for our walk is for both of us. I am someone who used to go to the gym every day so it is intrinsic to my own mental health to get out. Dea and I walk two miles in the morning and two miles in the later afternoon. At this point after wearing a mask for so many weeks, I am much more used to it even though at the end of our walk there are 48 steps to go up from the river to the sidewalk and going up the stairs makes it even more difficult to breathe through the mask and I sometimes hyperventilate.

I feel bad for Dea because she only has me for stimulation now. I don’t know where all of her great doggie girl and boyfriends have gone. Unfortunately, the only dog that we recognize, whenever we go out, no matter what time, is a white German Shepheard, who wears a much-needed muzzle. This dog appears to dislike most dogs as it behaves more like a grizzly bear, riding high up on its back legs and roaring in the most ferocious manner whenever she sees Dea, my small, mini black poodle, even from blocks away.  We stay away from the other dogs in the park because we don’t know them and the new report says to keep dogs away from other dogs, just like with people. Therefore, I am “it” now for Dea.

As necessary as our walks are for both Dea and me, it is also filled with anxiety due to the many runners who do not wear masks and who are oblivious to those around them as they run straight ahead, exhaling puffs of hot air, never shirting course so that they would not be breathing on me, from one foot away. I must admit that under my mask I may be saying not such nice things about these runners.

It makes me lament because I am a native New Yorker, born and bred in Manhattan having lived here all my life except for the almost three years that I lived in Rome, Italy. Before the corona virus hit us so hard in NYC, it never felt like people were this selfish before. It now feels as if certain people do not care about the safety of others the way one would hope, by simply covering their nose and mouth as they come too close to you.  I try to get their attention to move a little to the left or the right if I am unable to do so, and they don’t, sometimes giving me the finger or saying a curse word.

But conversely, I have been shouting out to the other runners who do wear face coverings and thanking them profusely for doing so. It feels so good to be able to thank people for the littlest gestures in these most difficult of times.

I have heard that Italy may begin to open up more of the country from May 4th. I am hopeful that my friends in Rome may be able to get out, at least a little more, as certain stores and agencies may be reopening, as long as they are able to continue to social distance. I think they are doing the social distancing much better than we are in NYC.

Whenever New York gets to that point, and whenever in the future  I am able to resume my dating life, I know that if I find out that the potential date is a runner or a biker, my priority will be to ask him, “do you wear a face covering or mask when you exercise?” If the answer is no, I think I will move on to the next.


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