This is not how I imagined I would be spending the first few months of life in Italy. I moved back to Milan in January after several stints in the city to pursue a career in the luxury fashion industry. This was going to be a year of new opportunities and new challenges, but instead those plans have been put on hold as the world comes to terms with the unprecedented situation we are currently experiencing. I’m writing this from my Milanese bunker on day 12 of the government-imposed lockdown put in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 which has been tearing through Italy like wildfire.
I was having dinner with friends on the Saturday of Milan Fashion Week when an email arrived saying that, due to the outbreak, the business school in Milan where I had just started my Masters would be closed until further notice. Next came the message from the Giorgio Armani team to say Armani had decided to hold his autumn/winter 20-2021 show behind closed doors. Yet, while the fashion crowd decamped to Paris for the final leg of the shows, the Milanese continued to spill onto the pavements outside aperitivo bars. The government-backed hashtag #Milanononsiferma – ‘Milan doesn’t stop’ – appeared all over Instagram. Apocalyptic headlines in foreign newspapers described Milan as deserted while, in reality, life here seemed to carry on as normal.
Fast forward to two Saturdays later, and the city was on full lockdown, with people unable to leave the house without a permit except for essential trips to buy food or collect medication. My phone has been constantly buzzing with worried friends and relatives around the world kindly checking in and begging me to come home. But I found myself wanting to stay put, staying true to the commitment I made to give living in Milan a go – to face the music and not abandon the community that welcomed me with open arms.
Suddenly this vibrant city that I was so used to seeing buzzing with life was forced to pause for a moment of crisis. But while the economic ramifications have been disastrous and many are faced with the unthinkable tragedy of losing loved ones, the city is taking time to reflect. The blaring car horns have been replaced by birdsong, the sky is no longer thick with pollution, fish are returning to the canals, and the people of Italy are singing. Every evening, people across the country are singing in unison from their balconies, filling the streets with heartfelt renditions of the Italian national anthem or Volare. Even more poignant have been the scheduled rounds of applause for the emergency services and healthcare workers who are risking their lives working non-stop to save others. Hearing peals of grateful applause echo around the city from strangers to other strangers is one of the most moving things I’ve ever been fortunate enough to witness.
People across the country are singing in unison from their balconies
The Italians have embraced the lockdown and looked fear square in the eyes with admirable aplomb. Rather than drawing the curtains and wallowing in the dark, they are as impassioned as ever. Balconies across Italy have become a place for coming together, for dancing, for chatting with neighbours, for exchanging food with elderly friends across the parapets, for flying the Italian Tricolore flag emblazoned with the words ‘andrà tutto bene’; all will be well. Galvanised by the powerful social media campaign started by Italian influencer Chiara Ferragni and her husband Fedez, thousands have donated money to hospitals across Italy, with over €4 million being donated for a new intensive care unit at Milan’s San Raffaele hospital. Similarly, Giorgio Armani, Miuccia Prada and Donatella Versace have all made staggering donations to local healthcare services. In this time of great uncertainty, it’s uplifting and moving to watch the community come together to support each other and to watch as solidarity and determination overwhelm the fear. While we have been forced to take a physical step back from each other, the sense of community and a united country feels stronger than ever.
A whole Roman neighborhood singing a popular Italian song “Volare” from their balconies and waving at each other. An amazing flash mob to lift the spirit in these crazy times ❤️ #Italy #coronavirus #forzaitalia #roma #flashmob #love pic.twitter.com/xjeZTeO0GO
— Jenna Vehviläinen (@jennavehvi) March 13, 2020
— Nour Jeanbeih (@NJeanbeih4) March 13, 2020
And so, it seems we could all take a leaf out of Italy’s book; instead of panicking and shutting ourselves off from the world, we must come together as a community and collectively ride out the storm. Because we need to find the positives in a difficult situation in order to get through it; we could see the lockdown as a chance to feel grounded, to recalibrate and to enjoy some respite from the incessant routine of busy modern life. When faced with adversity, we must try to make the best of our circumstances and take pleasure in the little things: home-cooked food, great books, films and podcasts, fresh bed linen and hot tea. Treat the next few weeks as an unexpected chance to slow down, catch up on sleep, listen to our bodies and take a well-earned break.
We must take pleasure in the little things: home-cooked food, great books, fresh bed linen and hot tea
So, I’ll be here in Milan for the foreseeable future, singing from the rooftops and hurling slices of banana bread over the balcony to our neighbours and feeling prouder than ever to live in this wonderful country. Obviously, I am one of the lucky ones – I am able to stay at home, pay my bills and I share my apartment with my boyfriend. There is something more comforting going through this with someone by your side, but I’m aware not everyone has the same luxury.
But, it’s during times like these that the Italian way of life really comes into its own: cherish your family, take care of yourself, cook delicious meals, and block out those who scaremonger. When the danger has passed, we will fill the streets once more, we will hold each other close and we will emerge from lockdown stronger and more grateful. But for now, wash your hands, take a deep breath, and stay at home. Andrà tutto bene – all will be well.
How to survive a lockdown:
1. Read a good book – the perfect way to escape and my favourite way to distract myself when I’m feeling stressed
2. Call your mother. Call your grandparents. Reply to all those Whatsapps that have been building up and giving you anxiety. I’ve found the biggest comfort when I’m away from home or feeling panicky about the world is a quick FaceTime with loved ones. We’ve even been organising FaceTime aperitivos with our Milanese friends – who says you can’t enjoy a glass of wine and a catch up during the lockdown?
3. Get some fresh air – going for a quick walk each day is the simplest way to lift your spirits. It goes without saying that you should avoid crowded places, but a dose of fresh air and vitamin D will boost your mood after being cooped up indoors.
4. Don’t stay glued to the news. For me, the sensationalist headlines are the worst part of all this. By all means keep up to date with government and healthcare advice, but don’t torture yourself with constant monitoring of the MailOnline – it will only make you panic. The same goes for triggering social media. Staying at home all day makes it easier than ever to spend hours scrolling through Instagram, which we all know doesn’t do our mental health any good.
5. Instead, try yoga and meditation – there are hundreds of brilliant online yoga tutorials and lots of mediation apps such as Headspace which will help keep you calm.
6. Make your bed each morning. Get up, get dressed and prepare yourself as if you were heading off to the office. I find putting on proper clothes is the easiest way to feel like myself and it motivates me to do something productive with my day, rather than feeling like the days are just rolling into one long pyjama fest.
7. Grow a little garden – anything from a house plant to some flowers on your balcony or a fully-fledged vegetable patch in the garden, seeing new buds grow reminds us that life goes on.
8. Resist the urge to panic-buy – rather than hurling everything in sight into your supermarket trolley, be rational and stock up on only what you need and spare a thought for the elderly or less able who have a greater need.
9. Indulge in self-care. Soak in a hot bath. Throw on a face mask. Watch your favourite film and feel your shoulders gradually start to drop.
From: Harper’s BAZAAR UK