In his home in Bologna, Alessandro Armaroli has waited for the coronavirus pandemic to pass while looking for silver linings. “Perhaps, hopefully, it will bring something good,” he said. Armaroli is a lawyer, but since all of Italy was put under lockdown on March 10, he has hardly spent any time in his office or in court—he works from home, reading, getting informed and studying trials.
“I thought of Don Abbondio’s broomstick,” he said, quoting a character from Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed, a priest that finds that his persecutor has died of the plague. He quotes: “This plague has been a great scourge, but it has also been a broomstick, sweeping away some characters that […] we couldn’t get rid of.”
These are dissonant times in Italy. Since the beginning of the lockdown, cities have been so calm that you can hear birds hum or bicycles creak, a calm punctuated only by residents clapping their hands or singing on their balconies to raise their spirits. But a traumatic war on the disease rages in the hospitals. Patients are in situations so dire that doctors are saying that they, themselves, hope not to die. Medical staff scramble to free up more ICU beds every day, but no matter their efforts, the number of infected patients hospitalized each day means that “there is always the same number of beds available” at the end of the day, one doctor told me, discouraged. In some towns in Lombardy, the region where Milan sits and where I live and work, so many people have lost their lives that funeral parlors say they are at breaking point and priests have decided to let bells knell only once a day to shield communities from too much trauma.
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