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JOURNAL FROM THE CITY

Me, Italy, and the Corona Disaster Now

“Journal from the City” is a report on the city by Chignitta contributors around the world.
In this issue, we will look back again at the “lockdown” caused by COVID-19 which we first faced in the spring of 2020, from each city.

Yuko Hosaka, an urban planning planner, wrote about her life in the state of Abruzzo in central Italy, going back to before Corona. Since I’ve known her, I’ve impressed with her sense of balance, intelligence, flexibility, and relentless desire for food. She has been involved in community revitalization projects all over Japan and is a hands-on person who has set up her base of operations in the local community. This attitude probably originates from her experiences in Italy. The COVI-19 started right after she put down roots in Italy, a country of her inspiration. (Junko Sasanuki)

Yuko Hosaka

Urban planning consultant.
Based in Osaka and Abruzzo since 2002 after studying in Abruzzo, she works for rebranding of the region mainly in the Kansai region as an urban planning consultant.  She launched ABRUZZO PIÙ in 2009, which is a website introducing the province and sometimes gives lectures, columns and coordination.
https://abruzzo.jp/

■ Me, Italia and COVID-19

Ever since my first trip to Italy when I was 20 years old, I had dreamed of one day living in Italy. After graduating from university, I worked for three years at an urban planning office in Osaka while saving up money to get a ticket to study abroad for one year.
I wanted to live in Italy without Japanese people, so I decided to study in Abruzzo as recommended by an Italian from Abruzzo whom I met by chance.

The town of Chieti in Abruzzo, which I had heard was “only a couple of hours away from Rome” and “a shopping district nearby”, was a completely provincial city, rather rural and without the glamour of Italy that I thought. Even the roundabout in front of the station was not paved at that time, I think, because I remember the bus left me and my large luggage at the bus stop.

I was planning to live alone, but because my language skills were not good enough, I lived with a family that the school arranged for me for the first three months. I am very grateful to my host family for taking in a complete stranger, an Asian who could not even speak the language, and carefully teaching me how to live. Still, I really wanted to live by myself, and with the help of my family, I was finally able to start living in a renovated apartment in a small house.

A pave narrow path of Abruzzo

My first apartment in Abruzzo

The landlords of this apartment were Mario and Anna Maria. Mario seemed to have decided the day I first visited the house that “I like her. I would rent it to her”, and from then on, they surrounded me with their great love, sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh, as if I were their real daughter.
The landlord, Mario and Anna Maria lived in a house next to the apartment where I rented. They were already living on a pension, and their life was very simple. Mario would wake up early in the morning, make himself a cup of espresso with four teaspoons of sugar, and drink it up before going out to the fields. He would return home around ten o’clock, fill his belly with wine and bread with sausage or ham, and return to the fields. Just before noon, his wife, Anna Maria, who used to run a hand-made pasta shop, starts making pasta in a hurry. Mario wants to eat tomato pasta every day of the year, 365 days a year, and the homemade tomato sauce she made and stored in the summer is indispensable. When lunch is ready, Anna Maria calls out to Mario from the window in a loud voice, “Lunch is ready. When Mario comes back from the fields with his harvest of vegetables and freshly laid eggs, he joins his son and grandchildren who have returned from the factory for lunch. After a short nap, he goes back to the fields, and in the evening, after a simple meal of ham and cheese, he goes to bed. Then, Anna Maria spends her time alone doing mending and ironing while watching her favorite TV.

I was welcomed into their daily life. Whenever they called me over the balcony, I would rush to their house and eat the same food that they ate. While I was lounging around with a full stomach, they were telling me all kinds of stories.

Mario always said that he was really happy, that there was nothing more he wanted, and that he wanted to live this life as long as possible, to the age of 120 if possible, and savor it. These words quickly penetrated into me who liked changes, was over-consumption and hectic schedule in Japan. There is a saying, “Knowing what is enough,” and here I felt that I am fulfilled even without the shiny catchy things that I was dying for in Japan. And I found myself lacking knowledge and experience in many of the ways of life after graduating from college and entering the workforce.

Mario, Anna-Maria and the writer

■ Then, the COVID-19 outbreak

By the time my one-year visa expired and I left Abruzzo, I had a place to come back to. Undoubtedly, that’s why I have continued to come back to Abruzzo, and now, 18 years later, I can proudly say that this is my second home. Unfortunately, Mario, who had said he would live to be 120 years old, died of a heart attack two years ago while working in the fields. His family was saddened to be left behind so suddenly, but it was a little comforting to think that he might have had a happy end.
About a year before he passed away, Ennio, my current partner, appeared in front of me. Mario and his family quickly became friends with Ennio, who works as a salaried employee but also grows vegetables in his garden, keeps animals, and makes tomato sauce and olive oil. The first night I introduced Ennio to Mario, he was in a good mood and happy the whole time. As it turned out, that was the last time I saw Mario, but I was really glad that night happened.

After meeting Ennio, I started to live in two places, Abruzzo and Osaka, where I used to go back to my hometown at most. At the end of last year, I spent Christmas and New Year’s in Abruzzo with my parents from Japan, I started making plans to buy a car and renovate my house in order to further prepare my life in Abruzzo.

Then, COVID-19 appeared.

When I returned to Japan in February, I still underestimated the situation and planned to go back to Abruzzo right away in April. However, in March, a pandemic broke out in Italy, and a lockdown was quickly put in place. I remember the inexplicable increase in the number of infected people, and the only thing I could felt was how terrifying it was.

The Abruzzo region is located in the south-central part of Italy, so although it did not see the rapid increase in the number of infected people that we saw in Lombardy, the situation in terms of medical care was not as solid as in other regional cities, and I can see the faces of my friends who are doctors and nurses who suddenly found themselves working on the front lines of Corona.

■ “andrà tutto bene” – it’s going to be all right

The “lockdown” in Italy was very different from the restrictions on going out in Japan, where the military and police were on standby and patrolling throughout the town, checking in detail what people were doing and where they were going. At the only bar that was allowed to operate, the positions of customers were marked. Their daily greetings of kissing and hugging, and their love of chatting, were all taken away from them.
At the time of the strictest restrictions, they were not even allowed to cross the border between cities, towns, and villages, and were required to fill out and bring with them a prescribed certificate to go shopping.
During this time of the year, which coincided with Easter, many religious events and festivals that had not been canceled even during the world wars were forced to be canceled. Nevertheless, the Italians sought to connect with each other by singing the same songs and playing the same instruments at the same time and place. The message “andrà tutto bene” (it’s going to be all right) became a watchword of encouragement, which is typical of these slightly optimistic people.
And when we got through the long and dark spring lockdown, I felt that I saw the underlying strength of the Italians.

Ennio repaired the rocking chair he had been putting off during the lockdown, planted summer vegetables, and still had time to build a pavilion in the garden. She made a lot of my favorite stewed tomato sauce with the tomatoes she harvested and bottled it for me to eat one day when I came back. At times like this, I feel the strength of people who touch the soil every day and make the things they eat with their own hands.
Anna Maria started again making tomato sauce with her daughter and grandchildren. She had stopped doing it since Mario left. She says that she has more time for her family and that they are taking better care of each other than ever before.

A year has passed since we started to see the words “coronavirus” every day. Unfortunately, this virus is still raging around the world and continues to threaten our daily lives.
Even when we think we’ve contained it, we feel like we’re about to be hit by another pandemic wave, and the economic and medical challenges weigh heavily on us.

Nevertheless, Ennio was positive when he said, “I think Italians have changed a bit after the spring lockdown. I used to think that Italians were rather self-centered, but now that we share the common goal of things getting back to normal, I think we have more respect for rules, others, and nature than ever before.”
Isn’t this an expression of our feeling that we will get through this phase together?
 With this positive change as my hope, I want to cherish every day until the day I can hug the people I love in the land again.

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