Italian Diary: View from a Cold December


Like many people throughout the world this year, we have had what would easily be said to be a unique, once-in-a-lifetime end of the year holidays. Most of Italy has been in a strict lockdown for ten days and there is at least another week of it to go. Police have been out on the roadways, in force, checking people’s forms justifying their movement and heavily fining people without masks and without a reason to be driving around.

There have been none of the usual robust and well-attended concerts by local or visiting musicians in grand traditional theatres with their classic, red velvet curtains and upholstery and curved private boxes. There has been virtually no socializing. Dinners out are impossible. We did manage a marvelous mid-afternoon meal in our favorite local place, as the owner was gracious enough to serve us despite the place being otherwise entirely empty. We have seen no friends other than brief encounters at the front door, with small seasonal gifts exchanged. While we don’t have a big Italian family, Italians we know with big families are not seeing each other as they have in the past over lengthy, boisterous lunches.

Before the winter season came into full swing we learned that a third person we knew died from COVID. Over the past two years, we have eaten at the family’s house, met their children, and many of their friends. He was a well-known physician in the region and I am sure his repeated exposure to high risks finally took its toll. As with so many tragic deaths, holding a funeral was out of the question; we could not express our sympathies to his wife and daughters. We found a way to get them flowers and that was pretty much the extent of it. So it has been a sad and dreary period.

Despite all that, we have been very fortunate to remain healthy. We have done so by basically staying put, making occasional forays to markets for comestibles and dry goods. Both restaurants in our village have delivered wonderful meals upon request; we always give them an additional amount for the effort. We have occasionally seen one close friend; he works on repairs to our house so he has a legitimate reason to be out and about. It is obvious when he comes over to do work that we are all starved for human conversation. We make sure he has a good long break and we take it with him over coffee.

The food-gathering trips also provide us with a way of maintaining some social contact. We know most of the owners and employees and we often run into friends inside. I think we have chatted with people while standing in aisles holding fruit or condiments more than I can ever recall doing. Its quite touching and revealing to realize how much all of us need to be with other people. As the saying goes, “You don’t truly appreciate something until it’s gone.”

The enormous spikes in infection and death rates that occurred in October, after the vacation season was over, have thankfully been coming back down as a result of limitations on social gatherings and the enforcement of masking rules. The next step is the distribution of a vaccine. That will happen through the National Health Service, but it hasn’t started yet. As with other countries, medical personal and first responders will receive it first. Then, likely, elderly citizens. Although there is a modest ant-vax movement in Italy, it doesn’t seem to feed itself on fantastical conspiracy theories about Bill Gates’ plans for world domination, 5G towers, and nefarious nanotechnologies. Since Italians appreciate their medical system, they trust their doctors to offer sound advice. We certainly trust our local dotteressa. 

At home, we are not just watching movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime, although we do a lot of that as well. I have found a source of more unusual, out of the mainstream films. I am plowing through a big stack of books, and am working on a new book of my own. I’m continuing to work with the editor of my current book-in-progress, although he recently informed me that he is bedridden with a fever and a severe cough. We both hope it is just a typical winter flu.

Meanwhile my skills in setting up and engaging in zoom calls have become refined. And I have learned to enjoy concerts and theatrical productions on-line. Unlike live showings, it is possible to see the performers close-up. Some performances are so expertly staged for small-screen viewing that they have given me goose bumps. Ironically, it took a global pandemic for people to figure out a new art form.

As I write this, it is snowing and very gusty outside; the shutters framing each window are lightly banging against the solid masonry walls. We are warm. We feel safe. We are well. And we know we are more fortunate than many people in the world. We will get through this, together and separately.

Wherever you are, I wish you all “Buone Feste!”

Mark Hinshaw
Mark Hinshaw
Mark Hinshaw is a retired architect and city planner who lived in Seattle for more than 40 years. For 12 years he had a regular column on architecture for The Seattle Times and later was a frequent contributor to Crosscut. He now lives in a small hill town in Italy.


  1. Mark, enjoy the leavening spirit of your posts. Reminds me of living in central Mexico for awhile during the Vietnam war. The value of perspective. In your case, geographic and poetic. Thanks.

  2. Mark, sounds like you choose your new well and that you have made many friends. Both of you are probably fluent in Italian now.
    So far COVID hasn’t come to the Florentine. Everyone is masked and following the guidelines.
    We are healthy but COVID spooked. I really enjoy reading your posts!
    Happy New Year!

  3. Mark, a well-written story as usual. I am impressed with the degree of Italian citizen compliance with the “rules”. Certainly not the case in the U.S. or in Central Mexico where we live. The virus is on the increase here to which we have become even more vigilant if that is possible – staying at home and leaving the house only when absolutely necessary. We send our best to you both, hoping that 2021 will bring positive change.


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