An Italian coronadiary – days 17 and 18

Snow at San Polino

In which Katia Nussbaum's son manages to track down face masks, everyone feels paranoid, and she and her husband meet in the vineyard. Click on the Katia's diary tag for earlier entries. Last entry tomorrow.

Day 17: 26 March 2020

So this morning I wake up to snow! Not much, but patchily white over the fields. I don’t think enough to damage the plants unduly.

One of the best wines was the Brunello 2004, and I clearly remember that it snowed in April. There was an abundant crop that year, and it was considered a stunning vintage.

So we’ll wait and see, and find out what happens. Luckily all the vines are now tied! Like reaching the end of a long, long voyage. A marathon of perseverance.

Because of the snow, Migena (Avni’s young sister-in-law) has not come in, but Tini (her husband, below) arrives at around 10 am bringing two loaves of bread she has freshly baked. What a sweetheart!! Yum, bread, butter and honey .

Tini at San Polino

BTW important editorial correction: no one here at any point has been in quarantine (obligatory, as a potential positive). We have been in self-isolation (advisory, to be careful) in varying degrees, Daniel (total), for two weeks, from when he came back from the US, Gigi (total) since he’s had flu, and me, for my cough, although this has proved extremely complicated.

It is hard because San Polino is both a working farm and a home. It is practically impossible to separate the two, farm/home; indivisible, and equally impossible to separate living and work zones.

For example, the office leads off the sitting room and is next to the bedroom. We all use the kitchen together, and we usually all eat lunch together at the kitchen table. It’s one of my favourite moments of the day. It’s when we taste our wines and take decisions together, and make plans for the winery.

Someone we have recently started to work with recently gave me some advice, saying he would be happier to see us working more as an enterprise, and less as a homey-farm.

I know what he means but don’t think we can; and what’s more I don’t know if we want to.

We work as a team, and only in this way can we be successful . The San Polino winery, I suppose, has become more a ‘life-style’ than a job: family, friendship, work, economy, social life, stimulation ­– all rolled into one. In and out of each other’s lives. It is only in this way that we can enjoy our work.

So by midday Daniel is scolding me. Properly. My cough has not gone and he says I must isolate myself further. He is right but I have been trying my best.

Not good enough he says.

How dull. The last time I can remember hanging around alone, vacantly looking out of windows, was when the children were little. But I must accept that I have to keep myself to myself and suppose I’ll just have to cope.

Which brings us to a different yet connected subject: ears.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that ears are very useful.

Not just for hearing, but for glasses, and now also for face masks.

Daniel has just returned from buying face masks. ‘Man the Hunter’. An ingenious act of cunning and bravery.

Getting them was quite complicated, as almost everything is these days. It involved:

  1. Finding a place that sold them (rare).
  2. Ringing the Carabinieri to find out if we are allowed to go, the shop in question being in a separate municipality.
  3. Downloading a form and printing it out.
  4. Filling out the form and signing it, stamping it with the company stamp, stating the motive for being out of the house and area of residence.
  5. Asking the personnel of the shop in question to send us an email saying that we were going there to buy face masks, as evidence.
  6. Receiving the email.
  7. Coming back with the face masks and the invoice as evidence.
  8. €18 for a pack of 5 face masks. Not bad.

Not nearly as much as tulips in Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, but I fear face masks will soon be getting more expensive. Even now they are very hard to find.

Giulio has been ringing me today from London. I can see he feels a bit unsettled by all the changes, as I can well understand. He has a wonderful idea for his dissertation (UCL Geo Sciences). He would like to make a flora biodiversity mapping app, using San Polino as a case study. That sounds brilliant, the idea akin to Gigi’s project in the Brazilian Amazon many years ago. Or work on the issue of agriculture and mycorrhizal networks!! Yes. Even better.

What else? Not very inspired today, perhaps it’s the weather.

Daniel is preparing an order of wine for the Ontario wine monopoly (LCBO).

Avni and Gigi are in the winery (socially distanced).

I call Ruthi (my aunt in Israel), she is well, as is Shilgy, her very old, long-haired, white cat. She is pleased to chat, and so am I.

Jono sends me a wonderful sketch of a porcupine. I think he’s using it as inspiration for his Endangered Pieces furniture collection, though I don’t think it will make a comfortable chair.

Jono's porcupine

Maybe for unwanted guests : ‘So pleased to see you, do sit down!’

And then I look at the news.

Oh, no. No. No. We see that coronavirus contagion has increased again today in Italy. We thought, hoped, wished and believed it was lessening, it had seemed that way. How very very sad. Bad bad bad news.

When and how will this all end?

The news also says that BJ has decided not to access ventilators through the EU. Wow! Strong feelings about Brit capability. Where will he get them from?

8 pm: The working day ends, when Daniel goes off, and then Avni. I close the hens up for the night. Feed the dogs and come upstairs. The wood stove is making the room beautifully warm.

A phone call. My brother. My sister in Germany, a nurse, is under pressure to return to the wards to help with the COVID-19 emergency. The trouble is that our mum (87) is with her.

Jono tells me this is his worst nightmare. We will have to find a solution.

Italy: 712 dead.

Under attack for an inane decision, Boris Johnson tries to have us believe that it’s not that he didn’t want to join Europe in the very sensible plan of the unified sourcing of ventilators.

He simply didn’t see the email. It had gone into his spam box, or some such rubbish. Maybe the dog ate it.

Day 18: 27 March 2020

Today starts early. Not as cold as yesterday, though still grey.

Maybe I do have COVID-19, and maybe that is the reason for this cough which will not go away. Daniel has been right to be concerned and I shall obey the rules.

Now we have the wonderful trophy face masks, so I slide  into mine: loop over right ear, then, pop, over left ear, lithely and professionally.

And confident in my hygiene I move into the kitchen, cut up onions, put them on to fry, to make red lentils for lunch to accompany something else, I’m not sure what yet.

I wish I could be tested. Everyone is nervous about me being around, yet feels silly because maybe it’s just paranoia.

Maybe they are paranoid and I have COVID. They are not mutually exclusive concepts.

But there are no tests so we just abide by low-risk behaviour patterns.

At 9 am I ring Jono. He is in bed with a bad cold and can hardly speak. I tell him I will ring Eva, our sister in Freiburg, to explain how we are really not comfortable about her going back to work as a nurse in the hospital. Even (especially) if it’s to help with the current emergency.

He is relieved.

I call Eva and we have a long conversation. She has decided to do all that she can to avoid this scenario. Her case is strong: slipped disc and other issues, plus age, she is 60, plus elderly mother in her care.

I am so relieved she is taking this approach. She is the linchpin of her household and if she were to get ill everything would tumble down.

Phew. One less worry.

Daniel arrives. His car is broken. He calls the mechanic  but he cannot take it down because they work in Buonconvento, a different municipality.

Late morning: Avni arrives and asks me to print out a series of photos for his daughter who is doing a project on Albania:

  • burek
  • stuffed peppers
  • a walnut and honey cake.

I have not yet had breakfast. Face mask on: *pop* over left ear, *twang* over right and head off to the kitchen to eat bread, peanut butter and honey.

Hot off the press is that BJ has the virus. I am not  happy as I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, yet somehow … could this be called karma?

Last night I saw him talking about the new tests which are being developed, to check for antibodies.

Once again weird Boris is using weird imagery. Not a sombrero this time but a pregnancy test.

Perhaps Boris has a lot of experience in pregnancy tests and knows how long they take?

Many people don’t and will wonder what on earth he is talking about.

What takes longer: singing happy birthday, squashing a sombrero or doing a pregnancy test? Or testing for COVID-19 antibodies?

When Daniel tells Avni that his car is broken, the frosty atmosphere between them is broken too; now they can bond.

Their row of three days ago fades, wafting away with the clouds and the morning mist, southwards towards the Monte Amiata.

Daniel heads down to finish the labelling for the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario).

Gigi, feeling fully recovered, is back in the winery with Avni, distanced, yet getting on with decisions for the Brunello 2016 and Riserva 2015. I can’t wait till we can start tasting.

We eat lunch at around 2. Daniel makes pasta with a delicious tomato and sausage sauce, followed by lentils and cauliflower.

Gigi is still in the flat, I sit by the fireplace, Daniel at the kitchen table, and Avni waits until we have finished before coming in.

Afternoon, and I decide to stretch my legs. I feel frustrated by self-isolation. I can’t work in the winery with Avni, can’t help Daniel do the labelling, it’s too cold to work outside, and I’m fed up with the computer.

So I pull on a jacket, scarf and go outside.

I don’t want to come back to the house too soon, so circle up around the vineyards to find carpets of asparagus. The oldies are not allowed out, and no one is picking them. I munch on them raw - what bliss - and coming back towards the house, I call Gigi, and we wander down to the lower vineyards together. It’s the first conversation we’ve had in days, and it’s really nice. I take a photo of him and make stupid sounds and faces to make sure he is smiling.

Gigi on a walk with Katia

Back home, the evening falls. I talk to my mother, and a friend who lives in Spain. I will ring my aunt Ruthi.

Sofia (my daughter-in-law) calls to find out how I am. We chat. It’s tough for her and in her little house in the middle of a field she hasn’t seen anyone for 18 days. She’s a talented artist, but she hasn’t been painting. She’s good at being by herself, but not in circumstances of solitary confinement. I worry about her and don’t know what to do. If lockdown continues we’ll have to think of a solution. She cannot be alone for that amount of time. It’s not healthy.

Tonight I have my first Zoom session booked, for 7.30 pm GMT. If it works I’ll send out emails to our private clients, friends and importers, and anyone I can think of who would like to join in with virtual wine tastings: Wine-Alone-Together-at Home. Just  for fun.

I watch the news  and see that 46 more doctors have contracted COVID-19 in Italy today. 

Again and more: 969!!! people  have died today. Just unbelievably and horribly sad.

Will this come to an end? How? When? Tomorrow will be 19 days since lockdown.