Living in Rome
Rome is in shutdown. All the shops are closed except for food markets, supermarkets and pharmacies. Bars and restaurants were ordered to shutdown on Wednesday night, and people to stay at home as much as possible.
What is it like to live here? We limit our outings to shopping for food, which we can still find in abondance, walking dogs (if we have a dog) and the odd sanitary walk. The streets of Rome are empty, the shutters closed, the squares deserted, we can now cross lungotevere without paying attention to the red pedestrian light, there is not a single car on the road. Teleworking has become the norm both for parents and school children. We are discovering a new way of life: that of living together following a slower pace. No longer are we exhausted parents rushing home to cook something fast while shouting at our kids to finish their homework and tidy up their room, we do it together. We cook, we clean the house, we do the laundry (each to his/her own ability), we connect online -the kids with their teachers, the parents with their colleagues-, and when we need a breather, we briefly go out or run up and down the stairs in our building as a way of exercising.
Rome has become a ghost town and yet it is beautiful. If we give in to the situation, we begin to appreciate this unusual silence. For the first time in more than half a century, Romans have their city to themselves and despite the stress of the epidemic, they secretly appreciate it. Piazza Navona without the ongoing noise, is stunning especially in the early spring light. The Pantheon on an empty piazza della Rotonda, can finally stand out from its crowded surroundings, majestic as it is from the height of its centuries (we know it has seen it all before). Contemporary Romans have never seen their city like that. Walking around the historic centre, we no longer hear the buzzing sound of scooters and cars driving through, it has become silent. From time to time, we can hear the piano being played in some of the apartments above. It is a peaceful silence, not that of the tragedy of death, but the silence of a recentred life, less hectic and focused on the essential: nourishing oneself, staying well and being together as family and close relatives. Something we have not been taught in our Western society focused on running forward all the time.
Of course the situation is difficult, not to say dire particularly for independent businesses who are stuck in a vicious circle of credit, mortgage and staff to pay. For them, each day that remains closed equates to a strangulation. How long will we last? they ask themselves. They are not sure. If the virus continues to spread, we may witness a cascade of bankruptcies with one small business triggering the fall of another. The winners will be once again the large online retail trade of the likes of Amazon who are still operating. Crises can be beneficial in highlighting what is redundant and how our world is evolving. We know that our economic system based on growth and consumption is no longer sustainable. Even when the global media are publishing alarming reports on crashing stock markets, we have difficulties buying into it, we know the real issue is elsewhere, in the very structure of our economy. In the meantime, we can learn to live without compulsive consumption for a while and do like the Romans: enjoy the unsurpassed beauty of the city and try to learn from this unprecedented situation.