Thursday, 23rd of April
I’d only wanted to live abroad for about six months to a year. It felt like a shame not to use the languages I’d learnt at university and I typically stressed out too much that this would be my last opportunity to do so. I am from Wales, I studied Italian and German in London at UCL and for the past 11 months, I have been living on my own in a studio in Milan, while working as a Copy Editor for the fashion brand Bally. The whole purpose of living abroad was to turn all of the dull, boring and monotonous parts of daily life—going to the supermarket, commuting, the 9-5—into something new, wonderful, strange and exciting on top of the weekends feeling like a constant holiday abroad. Lockdown takes all of that away and here I am, it may as well be in our old house Finsbury Park in London or at home, in the Welsh valleys. Perhaps it would be better if it was.
First breakthrough of the day – I managed to make it into Lidl! I thought I’d wander past to stretch the now severely under-stretched legs and instead of the usual queue snaking its way around the carpark there were only about ten people waiting, so join the queue I did and about 20 minutes later I was in!
Second breakthrough of the day – Lidl had compost! Bought two big bags along with a load of nuts in an attempt to move my snacking away from the all-too-common full choco bar. Lugged it all home.
In the carpark some crazed man was shouting from his car about the “blood” of Italians and how the state is controlling us all or something. Everyone’s reaction was comforting – it’s good to know that also here in Milan people ignore these looneys by just blankly staring at their shoes.
I hadn’t really seen any anguish or disruption during the past six weeks or more of lockdown. Everyone has been incredibly law-abiding and patient and generally proving the negative Italian stereotypes of being loud and argumentative wrong – good on ‘em! But this fella shouting (the definition of fervently) struck me as an image I’ll come to associate with this period in my life, in the same way that I’ll never forget the man who passed by our front garden the day of the Brexit result. He turned to us and he wouldn’t have said, “This is the worst day of my life” and we wouldn’t all have sat there in silence, each one of us clearly choking down the urge to burst into hot, wet tears.
I got back from Lidl and planted radish seed into one of the window boxes, wildflower seed into some old butter bean cans and I managed to buy a geranium from the Carrefour for the other window box. I listened to Plantasia by Mort Garson as I potted and planted like the cliché I am but it was lovely, with the hot air coming in, the windows wide open.
Opened a bottle of Weiss beer from Lidl at around 16:00, one with a champagne-like cork. Drank that whilst listening to Yanis Varoufakis talk about the need for a universal basic income and kept on drinking. I realised at around 20:00 that I’d been sitting around without a shirt on in that ultimate male privilege and pleasure of revelling in one’s own filth. Then sat bobbing about to The Age of Love and Babylon Can’t Roll and Tame Impala.
Friday, 24th of April
It’s Rosa’s birthday today which of course makes me sad. I wished her a happy birthday over WhatsApp and she replied that she’s enjoyed the extra love she’s receiving because of the lockdown. I hope she’s OK. I know just how much she cares about birthdays (in particular others’) and puts a lot of pressure on herself to make it a good day. I’m sure Cariad, her flatmate in Glasgow, will make sure her day is full of surprises. I don’t have that privilege anymore.
I went to the bakery at lunch and I was struck by how lucky I am to live here in Italy, despite how down on its luck Italy might feel right now. Walking down the street with the glorious sun picking out each bloom bursting from every window box, the church lit up at the end of the street. Being here during this time has given me such an appreciation for this country and my relationship with Italy can only be lifelong now.
Work was dull but lovely and is making for a comforting routine.
Saturday, 25th of April
I had a dream that I was back in Mum and Dad’s house but all I could do was look around at every surface I’d touched and think I was contaminating the place with the virus so I left. I definitely am very worried about them both.
I continued my quarantine-hobby and got back on the skateboard! I’m pleased that I did buy a skateboard because wobbling up and down the car park in front of my window does feel at least a bit like venturing outside -- no lockdown rules broken though. I pretended to be a pro and listened to Crystal Castles as I rolled from one end to the other. My kickturns are coming together but I can sense the fear I still have from falling the other week. Let’s see if I have the perseverance to carry on.
Oana inspired me to look into using onion skins as a dye because she used them on her amazing Easter eggs. And what do ya know, onion skins are a natural dye! So French onion soup it will be for me this week and I’ve already got a bag ready to fill with skins ready for boiling and dying.
This lockdown time has made me think (more than I usually do, urgh!) about a four-day week and universal basic income and what people would do with these things. It’s difficult to know exactly because there hasn’t been the option to just lounge on a beach, go on long weekends somewhere or get horrifically drunk at a nightclub from Thursday to Sunday. But both the four-day working week and the universal basic income have to be the future a civilised, developed and fair world should strive for. Would I have taken up gardening, (the idea of) natural dying or skateboarding if these were thoughts which occur after a long week of work or if I had no work and had to keep plumbing away as a bartender or waiter or some other job just to pay the rent? Not with as much enthusiasm for sure. Surely a four-day week will see all of that money that the Italian nonnas tuck away going into the economy through retail, tourism, hospitality etc.? But then you just look at the utter morons in America who are protesting to get back to work so that they can continue to be under paid, over worked and all for unpaid holidays and no healthcare. Yes, protest to get that back why don’t you rather than question why your government has left you with no support during the lockdown. A few states have allowed hairdressers, nail salons and tattoo parlours to go back to work which surely just means these businesses will no longer receive government support and still have no customers and as such, no income. Daft. But you can’t blame the people too much, it’s years of pre-defined capitalist ideals packaged as “national identity” to unite a country the size of god-knows-how-many Europes. Daft.
Sunday, 26th of April
Gosh this skateboarding malarkey is intense! I can only go about 20 minutes and then the nerves and adrenaline get too much. But I’ll be back out again shortly. I finally nailed my kickturns, even doing them when rolling pretty fast. I still need to do a full turn around the car park and then I’ll be super satisfied!
Whilst skateboarding is a super sociable thing if you want it to be, I think these first few days of learning are bound to be quite solitary for everyone–-who wants someone watching on as you fall over when rolling at a grand speed of snail-per-hour? The levels of determination and perseverance and the relatively quick learning curve leading to little pops of satisfaction is what quarantine days have been calling out for. We’ll see how long that continues.
Spoke with Nick and Zoe who both seemed fine and then called Scott who was making his way through a bottle of whisky and proceeded to gather all of the bottles of alcohol tucked away in his house. He took a picture and sent it to me and I couldn’t help but laugh at the six bottles of prosecco, the two litre glass bottles of scrumpy cider, the random flavoured gins. All in all it was over 40 bottles! Very strange. It sounds like it could be quite a dark time for him in his little corner of Ammanford in Wales but we both cheered each other up last night for sure!
Monday, 27th of AprilAn uneventful working day. The milestone moment of the day is the time when I can get up, take my eyes away from any screens and start chopping and slicing and stirring and scraping. I made a fennel stew, all lemony and flecked with pepper, mopped up with buttery bread. I ate it down listening to Greta Gerwig talking about the writing of Little Women and then it was gone. All eaten up..
I sat down and looked at the kitchen top laid out like a Vermeer still life; the green and white from three quarters of a leafy fennel bulb providing the perfect backdrop to a ruddy-yellow lemon sliced in two. It made me sad not to have someone else to share it with. To share the chopping, the frantic boiling, the delighted eating and the 20 or 30 minutes after a meal where you sit back and relax and do nothing but idly chat and feel crumpled and louche and warm. I don’t miss people very much at all during this lockdown but I miss people everyday when it’s dinner time—a time Rosa and I made to be shared and celebrated and to be totally ours.
I began tearing up writing that last sentence but was quickly interrupted by a video call from Loti and Morg. I’m sure they wouldn’t have been able to see the tears in my eyes and I soon forgot it by chatting with them, even though I couldn’t hear them well over the dodgy connection.
Thursday, 30th of April
I’ve just finished watching Why Does Herr R. Run Amok? By Fassbinder. Was für ein Film! Annoyingly I was distracted looking at my phone during the one scene where Herr R. does run amok. It was really shocking. You see why he does finally snap throughout the film—societal pressures, the mundanity of grown-up life, of grown-up conversation. It was super inspiring; one I’ll definitely return to and goes alongside Angst essen Seele auf and The Marriage of Maria Braun as reasons why I need to see all of Fassbinder’s films.
The mundanity of grown-up life couldn’t be a topic more fitting, although the mundanity playing out in the four walls of my apartment is only holding back the extraordinary state of the outside world. Grown-up life was fine over the last two days since my last diary entry. All of the deadlines and plans and schedules of work fell crumbling around us but at least in the comfort of my own home I can just make another cup of tea and never fully by exposed to the panic going on with the rest of the team.
And there lies my central take-away from the lockdown. More than missing my friends—which I do of course, mostly those here in Milan, seeing and chatting with them every day or heading for long drinks in the warm evening. I see and speak to Zoe, Nick, Oana and Scott more than I would normally so that’s great—I fear going back into the office. The pandora’s box has opened and the rules of everyday life look less appealing to return to. Going back to the normal rules of freedom and interaction are welcome, necessary and feeling well overdue, but to 09:00-18:00 stuck behind a desk five days a week? What does that mean? It meant very little before but now? And I’m the one who enjoys his job, has been grateful for it during this time as something fulfilling and engaging. I am still quite doubtful as to whether this crisis will lead to the massive socio-political change people are predicting, but something needs to happen.
Now, in Milan
After a strict 2 month lockdown, Italy’s lockdown rules have started to relax at the beginning of May. The first time where we were allowed to head-out into the parks and wander will always stick with me. I closed my work laptop as soon as 18:00 arrived and went to Parco Lambro. What was really striking was how people were out and about but not in the usual post-work head-down rush home, but instead they were wandering, aimless but to soak it all up. The park was warm and golden and just joyful. Caution was still there I suppose (seeing images of people in the UK without a mask is still really jarring to me) but it didn’t feel edgy or tense. It was a city breathing out and a long, fresh breath back in.
Bars and restaurants will slowly start opening with plastic barriers between people and we will be able to meet up with affeti stabili, close ones. Mid-May, all shops have reopened although the office won't open until the end of June at the earliest. Suits me just fine; as long as I can meet up with friends in the evening and head out into the country on the weekend then I’m good for now. Tonight, I’ll be meeting up with friends for the first time to surprise Jackson on his birthday. It won’t be normal at all but I am really looking forward to drinking vino and eating ham, mozzarella and grissini with everyone—even at a few meters apart.
On my furlough day I cycled along the navigli canal to the north of Milan until I reached the small town of Gorgonzola. It was a lovely, sunny ride through green open fields. Gorgonzola was exactly what I want from Italy; terracotta rooves, tall church towers, small cobbled streets. But everything was quiet and closed. The place seemed tired. Nowhere was open to buy the town’s delicious cheese. But it’s made me look forward to when that time comes.