Dispatch 6—Social Distance in Milan, Italy

Okay, so back to the supermarket soon after the trip on Sunday, but this time it was my turn.

We have enough pasta in the larder to last a couple of weeks, but we’d forgotten the dog food.

My husband had a slight fever–it went up during the night and then back down to normal. No cough, though. No difficulty breathing. It was probably just a garden variety of the flu, we think. Since I have a bum knee, he’s been doing the brunt of the shopping–in the city you’ve got to lift and carry. But he’s been under the weather, so bum knee or not, I went.

I think the supermarket situation is symbolic of Italy today, on Day 1 of Total Lockdown.

At PAM supermarket, today, on Day 1, people waited on line to do their shopping, but they did it on the sidewalk and not in the store. The lines have been moved from the inside, in front of the turnstiles, to the outside. A good idea–it isn’t raining for example, and there’s a cleansing breeze. But what about tomorrow?

The hardcore smokers were happy–they broke out their packs and smoked while waiting. Those of us who didn’t want to breathe in their fumes sidestepped, into the street. There wasn’t traffic, so there wasn’t much risk.

The wait was quick, there were fewer people than usual out and about, shopping.

While I was selecting oranges, a man blew his nose. Three people stopped and frowned. “Sorry,” he said, “allergies.”

“Hope so,” said a man with a goatee. “And clean your hands before you touch anything.” He indicated the freebie wipes on a stand near the eggplant.

At the beginning of this crisis, when the panic buying was in full swing, and before total lockdown, people emptied inventory. Now that they have enough fusilli and penne and TP to last until Easter, the shelves with these items have filled up again. This is good news on Day 1 of Total Lockdown. Refurbishment is still working for some products.

In the first aid section, though, there was no rubbing alcohol, nor the other ingredients necessary to make homemade hand gels. The bleach was back–as were disposable latex gloves. Medical supplies are trickling down, to the average shopper, but piecemeal, not enough.

I have been looking for latex gloves, so I snatched box; it contained 50. It felt good to be able to buy a box of gloves. “Wait until I tell them at home,” I thought, “they’ll be so pleased.” I knew we’d have to use our gloves sparingly. How long would this whole thing will last? As I was thinking these thoughts, trying to decide if I could justify buying two boxes, a lady came by, crowded in (broaching distancing rules) and grabbed three boxes, leaving just two more on the shelf for the next shopper. Hoarding is alive and well, on Day 1 of Total Lockdown, as is a bit of hysteria.

Nonetheless, I came away feeling as if I’d scored really big. I thought about rationing and wars and how staples like butter and sugar were once hard to come by back in the day. I never thought war would erupt so swiftly and change priorities. But here we are.

At the checkout, the manager had instructed the cashiers to sit at alternate registers. I put my items on the conveyer belt. An elderly couple came and stood behind me, not leaving the recommended 1.5 meters between us.

“Step back,” said the cashier. “You need to leave more space.”

“We are leaving space,” said the woman.

“How do you know the people you’re crowding are not sick?” Asked the cashier.

“Oh,” said the woman, startled, jerking back.

The cashier turned to me. “I don’t think you’re sick. It’s just that we’re exposed sitting here. One at a time, and at a distance, thank you very much. Those are our directives.”

She even gave me time, after I’d given her my money, to pack up my shopping bag. Usually, once you’ve paid, the cashier starts ringing up the next person’s shopping who comes charging through, on your heels. No one usually waits for anyone here. So, there’s a measure of restraint on Day 1. But also: suspicion, fear and the hysteria noted above. These are all part of the new concept of social distance.

8 thoughts on “Dispatch 6—Social Distance in Milan, Italy

  1. Hello– Just saw your post and read it out loud to everyone here. I have been trying to keep up with this whole thing as much as possible. Things are starting to get pretty crazy here in the US as well, we are not in quarantine yet, but I have a feeling that it is only a matter of time– There was just recently a cluster of cases about 40 miles away from where I live / where I have my art studio, so it is already really close. You guys hang in there and try to remain positive & healthy. Take care!

    1. You take care too. It’s incredible how quickly it progresses. The important thing, from my experience is to avoid crowds and wash hands!

      1. Thank you– And yes, I know what you mean, it has all happened so quickly! I think the scariest aspect is that a person can go for weeks without showing symptoms. We have all been focused on health over here (Healthy food, supplements, etc.), as well as trying to prepare as much as possible with supplies.

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