Dispatch 1: My Chinese Laundry in Milan’s Coronavirus Shutdown Week

At the beginning of this third week of February 2020 in Milan, where the increasing numbers of Italian coronavirus infections are updated every hour, my Chinese laundry has closed its doors. Its rolling shutters are at half mast, barring entry.

The sign taped to the glass says that the employees haven’t been to China nor have they had contact with anyone who has been there recently. Nevertheless, they are staying closed for business until further notice in order to guarantee people’s health and peace of mind. This outbreak in Milan is not their fault; but the sign suggests that there are some who would blame them.

The newspapers state that 007-virus sleuths are trying to understand how the disease was transmitted. Who is at fault? Officials of all stripes–the public at large–want to know. So far, the answers have eluded detection but it seems that the person designated Patient 1 is a local. I hope he, like my launderers, isn’t scapegoated. It’s bad being sick enough to be admitted to the ICU without having the weight of the entire Italian Coronavirus Outbreak placed on your shoulders.

Meanwhile, inside, the proprietor sits with her back to the window, dressed in a suit, her shiny black hair pulled into a pony tail. She’s always fastidious about her appearance. Today is no exception. I can hear the radio playing Chinese pop music. It’s soothing; soft yet somewhat upbeat, a young voice crooning. The lights are on. She’s at her sewing machine but she isn’t sewing. Her worktable is bare. She’s not ironing, nor hemming jeans, nor fixing a zipper, nor buttonholing a jacket. She’s sitting, listening, staring at the back wall, thinking, her hands folded in front of her.

I rap on the glass. I have a bag with a sweater in it that needs dry cleaning.

She turns, shakes her head, points to the sign, and then goes back to contemplation. She’s trying to give the impression of business as usual, but her machines aren’t working here in the heart of heartless COVID-19 territory.

3 thoughts on “Dispatch 1: My Chinese Laundry in Milan’s Coronavirus Shutdown Week

    1. It’s having unexpected effects everywhere. There are also teachers (among others) who are freelance who won’t be earning their keep this week since schools have shut down. I met a woman in the park who is a costume designer for a small theater and since shows this week and the next have been canceled she won’t be paid.
      The government has decided to postpone bills and taxes due for those areas that are locked down (in the red zone–not Milan), but they aren’t handing out any sort of relief payment so people will have to try to survive without income. This reminds me of when the Federal government shut down in the US over budget issues (there was that weeks-long standoff between Congress and the President) and government employees were left without a paycheck for quite a while.

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