“Miss, this is hard, bruv.”
Was the message a friend of mine back in London received last week while teaching online. The poor scamp’s mock anguish betrays a similar dogged cheeriness to that I’ve seen from my own students here in Naples, who are now old hands at remote learning, having been out of school for over a month.
Like their British counterparts, they are digitally native – a dial-up modem probably as unimaginable to them as a caning was to young me – but their calm compliance with the new educational normal offers hope to teachers and parents everywhere. As long as the internet holds up.
Italy has become the Covid-Cassandra of Europe, but one thing rarely mentioned is the effect millions of people simultaneously online is having on the country’s digital infrastructure. On Sunday, before a sobering televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made a plea to Netflix and Amazon to reduce HD-streaming to allow more people uninterrupted access to the web.
Internet is essential to the 21st century quarantine, as are consistent food supplies. So far, both have held steady, and supermarkets have managed to avoid the pillaged shelves seen in the UK. There’s still plenty of toilet roll, though flour is harder to come by: Italians want to be able to make their own pasta if shit gets really serious.
Priests have begun giving mass over megaphone and our street’s balcony singer comes out at six every evening like a well-groomed cuckoo clock. Conveniently, he has a new record out, proving there’s nothing like a crisis for selling a bit of escapism. Local weed dealers know this, too, and their encrypted marketing boils down to: “Buy in bulk and buy now.”
We’re now entering day 15 of confinement here in Naples. After initial fears of nationwide meltdown (the lockdown decree led to several prison riots) people seem to have settled into a routine. This includes me and my roommate Antonio, whose sardonic appraisals of how long restive neighbours will last before cracking keep me amused. Looking out the window the other day he muttered, “looks like they’ve bought a dog on Amazon just so they can go outside.”
Our meals are enhanced by the abundance of good produce and wine found in the shops below. But I desperately miss going out to eat. We’ve made a list of restaurants we’re going to visit as soon as all this is over, whenever that is.
As one of my pupils reminded me the other day, this is not World War II, when Neapolitans suffered mass starvation, or the plague, whose repeated visitations inspired the construction of numerous “plague towers”, but people, often living in small apartments with older relatives, are scared.
I only moved here five weeks ago, the culmination of many years spent dreaming of living in Italy – suffice to say, this wasn’t exactly how I pictured it. As the crisis began to escalate in late February, the overriding sense was still one of overreaction. Many thought that the severity of the Italian situation was down to the nation’s fondness for tactility and aperitivos, but the speed with which this epidemic has become a pandemic has proved this disastrously wrong.
The unwitting ease with which coronavirus is caught and transmitted, as well as the massive variation in its victim’s symptoms, are what have made it so insidious. If Italy is indeed two weeks ahead of the UK, and I can offer any advice from the future, it’s that, though it might be hard, staying inside now will save lives later.
This is not a drill, bruv.