Alessandro Sarno reports from Italy as the country looks to life after lockdown.
“God save us” is how I ended my first report for The Tribune on the coronavirus situation in Italy and more specifically in my hometown outside Venice.
It was March 12 and the worst was yet to come. The 6pm press conference of the Civil Protection authority marked the daily appointment everyone waited, anxious to hear about the number of new deaths and cases of infection. We reached a point where deaths were climbing at a rate as high as 1,000 per day.
They were dramatic days, people pumped up by the news, TVs and newspapers showing churches filling up with coffins and military processions taking the corpses to neighbouring regions that had the capability to cremate them.
We were learning everyday of heart breaking stories of elderly dying alone without the comfort of their families for a last goodbye. I can honestly say that during the height of the outbreak we lived in absolute fear, a fear which immobilised the country and people’s thoughts.
We were in a police state desperate to find a way out of a nightmare.
Slowly, the weeks went by and things finally started to improve. The country slowly reopened in phases, little by little, until the beginning of last week which marked an almost full re-opening, even though regulated by hundreds of - in many cases idiotic and contradictory - safety protocols, but that is a whole other subject, an interesting one!
May 18, 2020 D.C. (During Coronavirus) was a very special day, the first time in two-and-a-half months that we were allowed to leave our homes without a specific reason, with no need to justify why we were out and where we were going. It was the day we regained some kind of freedom.
Travel between regions is still restricted until June 2, but I feel lucky since Veneto is one of the most beautiful and diverse regions in Italy. We’ have it all. We can go to Venice, Verona, to the Dolomites, lakes, hills, wineries, historical towns, beaches, you name it. You could vacation in Veneto for a lifetime and not seeing it all.
Monday morning, the 18th I decided to drive to Asolo, a little medieval town perched on the top of a hill, just a short drive from Montebelluna. Asolo is a special place, a place where I always feel like time has stopped running. Asolo is known as the town of the hundred horizons, a favourite of the Queen of England, who visited a couple of times in her younger years. There are a couple of castles, a fountain, a church, a few antique shops and a historical cafe in the centre of the square.
I sat outdoors at the Caffè Centrale and ordered a macchiato, grabbed an international newspaper and took a deep breath of contentedness. It was a lively morning, people were quite laid back, not too many face masks in evidence which made the atmosphere even more relaxed.
An elegant old lady came in to say ‘hi’ to a couple of her friends expressing her excitement about the appointment she’d just had with her hairdresser. Ordinary little things that in the darker times became impossible to do.
Conversations flow and relaxed, people are definitely trying to get back to life B.C. As the week went by my search for normality continued. After the first espresso came a tennis match and then my first dining out with a friend in God knows how long.
We’d heard so many things, so many rules and restrictions for eating out, that I was honestly not so keen on going, but besides waiters wearing masks, some disinfectant at the entrance and a little distancing on the tables it was just fine. I was relieved, dining out was still a pleasure!
At restaurants face masks for patrons are not mandatory. Don’t get me wrong, we are still very cautious and fearful about this invisible enemy which is still out there among us, but we are quickly adapting and learning to live with it.
May 22 - a good news day as in Veneto there are no new cases for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Still, I think the toughest of challenges are ahead of us - the recession and economic crisis that is about to fall upon us.
Closing a country for so long has a huge impact on the economy, and now we are too late to stop what’s coming: we’ve already seen the Gross Domestic Product plunge nine percent in March. We know poverty indirectly cause death around the world. I am worried about what is coming for my country - and for The Bahamas too?
But let’s go back to my regained freedom. I had been craving to go to Venice for so long. While confined at home I had seen on the web images of the empty city, clear waters, silence, octopus and jelly fish swimming along the canals. It was a surreal Venice, quite sad I must say, a city without its people, for as pretty it may be it’s soulless.
Thursday was the perfect day, sunny, warm and breezy, ideal for a day trip to Venice. As soon as we arrived we knew it was going to be an epic day. The city was lively, not crowded though, only a few boats on the water and some ferries. We took a water taxi and navigated the Canal Grande.
Venice was revealing itself to us as never before. No tourists, only locals, just the everyday life unfolding in its little things and acts. The taxi driver told us he had never seen it like this before and that this is the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to enjoy the city only with its residents.
The historical cafes of Piazza San Marco like Harry’s Bar were still closed but the atmosphere was serene, a cautious joy. If it weren’t for people walking with masks we would have forgotten about the coronavirus.
We wandered around the whole morning and enjoyed the most beautiful and peaceful corners. One of my favourite restaurants “Do Forni” just re-opened that day and so we went there for lunch. We were welcomed and told we were the first customers since the reopening and they offered us a glass of Prosecco. It was an unforgettable lunch.
I really hope a positive effect of the pandemic will be to return to a more sustainable tourism, more respectful, conscious and kind. Venetians are showing a great care for their city, it’s so clean and businesses have been freshened up, getting ready for a new beginning. I think that in Nassau it could be the same, this unique time could be a wonderful opportunity to clean up, think forward and show love and care for the city and everyone’s business.
Time to polish and shine, waiting to welcome with enthusiasm the travellers who will return.
I keep following closely the phases updates in The Bahamas and I hope to be able to return soon to finish photographing some more amazing corners of the Exumas Cays for my new upcoming book.