City dwellers in apartment buildings in Milan thank their stars they have balconies, especially now, in the time of COVID.
I know I thank mine.
Our balcony juts out into the sky from our fourth floor kitchen and is where we water our jasmine in the morning, clip a leaf of sage while making dinner (thanking the plant for its magnanimity) at night, and, in between, sunbathe, hang laundry, brush the dog or, lately, sing, play music or clap to celebrate our heroic doctors. These latter activities depend on the day and the mood of the country. Sometimes, a very lucky few of us, even move our exercise bikes out onto the balcony.
If we do move our bike onto the balcony and ride, it feels almost, if not quite, like we’re in the country. If we ignore the facade on the other side of the courtyard, and concentrate on our jasmine and the lily we bought for Easter, and the geraniums, we can almost fool ourselves. We imagine we’re tooling through a garden nestled amongst hills and dales. We can feel the wind in our hair, the smell of magnolia inflating our lungs. It’s almost as good as the real thing.
Our balcony isn’t the Cadillac of balconies, in case you’re wondering. It’s more like a little FIAT: modest in size (3 square meters or 33 square feet), but it lets us get the jobs noted above done. It has a blue tile floor inherited from the previous owner, brown wrought iron railings that could use a touch up, and a couple of lines for laundry strung overhead. The jasmine occupies the right side—our balcony-mate for over twenty years. Window boxes in front hold geraniums and purple flowers, the name of which is a mystery. On the left, an exuberant olive tree grows, wildly throwing new branches out overnight. One thing I wish: that our balcony was big enough to hold a table where we could sit and eat our evening meal together while the starlings swoop. A lantern lit with a candle swaying from the laundry lines overhead while we eat and sip wine would also be nice. But we can’t have everything.
We’ve always liked our garden in the sky, but we really appreciate it now that we’re going upon our sixth week of quarantine. The days are lengthening and warming and spring is blooming and parks and trips to the country are off limits. Since we can’t have everything, we’re inhabiting what we have.
Here’s our schedule:
Chris sits outside on his three legged camping stool at 12:00 and has breakfast–a cup of espresso and a cookie. Now, in the time of COVID, he sleeps until midday–there’s not much going on earlier, except his mother and father scurrying around, disinfecting and cleaning. He sips his coffee and waits for lunch, sunning himself. He might brush the dog or tend to our plants, plucking off dead leaves, or shoring the sage plant up. Bare-chested, he’s also usually working on his tan.
We have lunch–something easy–leftovers or canned beans with olive oil or some pasta with zucchini. Whatever’s on hand is good. Today we splurged: defrosted pumpkin from our in-laws’ vegetable patch, fried and then stewed in tomato sauce, with some homemade bread. It’s not much, but it feels like it.
After lunch, it’s my turn outside. I fold up Chris’s stool–the balcony is only 33 square feet after all–and wheel out the bike. I have a good hour before the sun hides behind another building and there’s no direct light anymore. I pedal, imagine I’m going somewhere, get a glass of water, pedal some more.
Then it’s my husband’s turn. He doesn’t like to be in the sun. He’s content to read the paper or one of his books in the shade. He’ll also prop his feet up on the edge of the pot holding the olive tree and sometimes doze. It’s not much, but he says it reminds him that good things can be small and that small things can be good.
It appears we’re not the only ones to be making full use of our square footage in the sky. Today, a glorious day, I was out walking the dog and looked up. Neighbors up and down the street were sitting in the sun, reading, laughing, and listening to music. One kid was even jumping rope.
This quarantine is dragging on. Tonight the Prime Minister said we have three more weeks at least to go. We’ll take it one day at a time. At least in Milan many of us have balconies. They will make life easier. And for that we are thankful.