An Italian coronadiary – days 1 and 2

Katia Nussbaum and dogs in vineyard

4 November 2021 As part of our Throwback Thursday series we are republishing the first instalment of the lockdown diary by Katia Nussbaum that uplifted and entertained many of us during some of the worst days of the pandemic in 2020. You will be reading more by Katia, and by our 2021 writing competition winner Chris Howard, next week.

23 March 2020 Katia Nussbaum of San Polino in Montalcino, whose challenging article Biodynamics – new approach needed? we published last year, begins here a very personal day-by-day account of living in lockdown in Italy. We will be publishing her daily updates. Katia is pictured here with her dogs Bessie and Layla.

Day 1: 10 March 2020

Yesterday midnight was lockdown. I heard the news, prime minister Conte talking on the TV, and something went ‘thud’ in my solar plexus.

It was all the stories we’d heard about the War, the State, being told what to do by a leader. And I for one have never heard that before. So no going out, only with a self-signed permission to go to work or for essentials. It can be downloaded from the internet and printed.

For days I had been walking around as if in a dream, feeling stupid and fuzzy. I had been going to bed late, around 2 am, which for me is quite out of the ordinary. The Sky dish was broken due to strong winds, so at that point no television news.

I read philosophy and it was a way of understanding the craziness of the world.

Then came the rumours, and the deaths. And here at our home in San Polino we looked at each other and asked ‘Is this really happening?’ And it was surreal because the plants were budding, the birds chirping. The hens still needed to be fed, Bessie our border collie went on heat. And this sinister virus was swooping down, in and around, backing us up against the wall.

The mantra became ‘I wash my hands for you’. Solidarity, very commendable. And so socialising becomes anti-social, the collective takes priority over the individual.

Today my son Daniel came back from the US and I hugged him, forgetting that it is now forbidden.

Long days of fuzzy stupidity, of no work, have given me time to think … for the first time in years! And strangely this rebirth of thought and time was given to me by the Coronavirus.

It felt like Christmas, but without Christmas, when something is different, the feeling is there, a static energy, something different in the air, which come upon you as moments of strange euphoria, total panic and claustrophobic frustration.

Today I started groggily because after Conte’s speech last night I couldn’t sleep, my mind in overdrive.

Then the day took a different turn. Avni’s [close collaborator and managerial assistant at San Polino] grandmother had died, in Albania. I felt so sorry because all her grandchildren are in Italy. They needed to be there to dig her grave by hand, to bury her with love.

I spent the best part of the afternoon and evening looking for tickets for five people: air/sea/bus ... no way.

So here is Coronavirus. This is our new world. And it feels inexplicable, outrageous, yet you cannot get angry with a virus, so where does the rage go?

In the meantime Shani (my step-daughter) phones. I’m so pleased for her, she has sold her house.

Eva (my sister, who lives in Germany) rings, with stuff to do with my mother, who lives in London. Then Giulio (my son) calls as he needs some money for his university (UCL) field trip. Eva writes a message: call Ruthi (our aunt in Israel), she is all alone. I talk to her. I talk to a friend in Bologna.

I go into to the winery to finish some of the work Avni has had to leave, hoping to go to Albania tomorrow. I wash the pump, close the barrique, clean the top of one of the barrels and close up.

I call a neighbouring winery where we store most of our bottled wine. Tomorrow I want to use their labelling machine to prepare an order for Poland. A torrent, not a flood, from the owner, who has had 90% of bookings cancelled by agritourist holidaymakers due to stay with them. Shani rings again regarding her house, a friend rings about her puppy’s infected anal glands (...), Maya (my bonus-daughter in Denmark*) rings to ask how things are. Too much, too confused, too worried, I have a headache, so finally I go to bed with an aspirin.

*Katia explains: 'A bonus-daughter is a lovely generous Danish concept meaning a luckily acquired daughter. Maya is the sister of my step-daughter Shani but has a different father.'

Day 2: 11 March 2020

The crazy day starts at 07.42 when I get a call from Avni, who has been up since 3 am. He asks me to check flights from Albania via London. This takes until 11.46 with conversations on all sides. Gatwick info, Paris, Albanian embassy in Rome, Italian embassy in Tirana. Italy is effectively closed. Bizarre, unreal but horribly true.

Finally we find an Alitalia flight and his brother will leave on Saturday morning from Fiumicino. Alone.

I made an inspired and delicious lunch and then didn’t do much else.

Daniel hung a squeezy bottle of alcohol next to the front door for us to use as hand sanitiser when we come in and go out.

The day has been sunny. In the flowering cover crops – multi floreale biodiversità – sown between the vines, there are yellow butterflies and black bees, and fluttering springtime flies hovering over the purple, white and yellow petals, pictured above and below.

San Polino cover crop

I went to my office but just couldn’t face anything so instead I took a walk. Down to the small lake at the bottom of our lane in the valley, with the dogs Bessie  and Layla. I talked on the phone with Maya, who told me something about planned school closures in Denmark and how childcare would be organised.

I then had a very long business chat with Tony, our importer. Lots to think about.

When I got back home I heard that COVID-19 had been formally designated a pandemic by the World Health Organisation.

It turns out that no guidelines have been given in the UK or in Germany.

I rang my mum in London and told her that any guests have to wash their hands: categorically. I tried to make her understand that this is real.

Apparently, a group of Chinese doctors bringing face masks and ventilators are coming to Italy. It appears that South Korea is winning the race against the virus, but they do 3,000 swabs a day. In Italy I hear they do only 836.

Dan has a sore throat and has self-isolated in the flat next door, where he eats, while coming to work during the day...