The Corona Diaries: A Lebanese Expat Quarantined in Italy

March 8, 2020- March 21, 2020

Yesterday, the death toll from the novel coronavirus was announced to be 627 deaths, the biggest day-to-day increase in the country’s four-week epidemic. The total number of deaths in Italy reached 4,032 with the number of active cases now being 37,860 after hitting a high of 47,021 cases.

I am a Lebanese expat living in Rome and as crazy as it sounds, I have decided to stay here in Italy for the lock down. I have decided to stay as not to circulate the disease back home, like everyone mistakenly did at first and thought staying put is the best decision for now to stop the spread of this virus. During these 2 weeks, I was trying my best not to lose my sanity and was keeping busy for the most of it and saw this quarantine as an opportunity for self-improvement rather than confinement .

It is crucial to not let this quarantine consume you and make sure that by staying home you are not only helping yourself but everyone else in the process. Hence, this quarantine has made me realize that no one is special when it comes to a pandemic and no one should assume they are. And by not following the rules, you are just proving how selfish you are and deterring any progress that the collective is managing to do.

How does the lock down look here?

One day during work, I felt everyone was panicked and anxious and I knew that we are not going to be allowed to come to work anymore until further notice. Everything happened very sudden…

At first, Conte, the prime minister, announced a nationwide lockdown, effective the following morning where restaurants and coffee bars would have to close by 6 p.m. local time.

Seeing how people were not being careful or responsible enough and continued on with their normal life routines, Conte announced an even stricter lock down. Now, everything is closed except for grocery stores, pharmacies and tobacco shops. You are only allowed to go out for necessary reasons like for grocery shopping, doctor’s appointment or work reasons. Moreover, travel has been restricted only to emergency and/or necessary reasons where the airline can simply deny you boarding without a good case.

Going out

In order to go out, you have to carry with you a self-declaration document (stating your name, address and reason for movement/travel) along with an ID which the police have the right to check if you are seen on the streets. If you have no important reason (like buying food) to wander around you will be fined. Such strict measures were crucial since people did not follow the rules before.

For example, an Italian man is facing 12 years in prison because he was corona positive but hid his symptoms just to get a rhinoplasty. This guy’s sentence was as harsh because he knew he had the virus and was selfish enough to infect the anesthesiologist, nurse and the doctor.

At the supermarket, only 4 people are allowed to enter and the rest of the people should wait outside while keeping a 1 meter distance from one another. Usually, I go to the supermarket once in every 4 to 5 days just to avoid any prolonged exposure to the virus.

How does it feel?

Going out now to buy food has been one of the weirdest and most uncomfortable things I had to do since the beginning of this year. For example, going down the street people will avoid eye contact with you and would merely run away when they see another person close to them. From living in a social and lively neighborhood, this scene of people running away from each other sounds legit crazy. You can see the fear in everyone’s eyes because everyday the death toll keep rising and rising and we all are feeling a bit threatened.

So what have I been doing all alone at home for 2 weeks in Rome?

  • Staying positive : by neglecting the news or the numbers (as much as possible) and reading educational books and novels instead. It is important to stop obsessing about the news because they will only cause your panic attacks to act up. So, try to avoid the news and propaganda and just focus on yourself. Consider this as a 1 month retreat for self-improvement where you catch up on everything you were not able to do before (like sleep and work) but now have no excuse to miss on anymore.
  • Finally met my neighbors : from the terrace I have been chatting with some neighbors like the good old days which is something I would never have thought of doing before. Also, I am using my terrace to tan, read and have breakfast or coffee.
  • Learning how to cook : by checking out online recipes or just asking your family for recipes (my mom loves it) that you finally have time to try making. Cooking is super fun and it just makes me proud of myself that now, I can finally consume something that I prepared and not Chef Luigi from down the street.
  • Learn how to play an instrument: you can easily purchase a cheap ukulele from amazon like I did and start strumming. YouTube offers a huge number of channels with endless instrument guides to learn from.
  • Watch them documentaries: and series that you always wanted to watch but never could.
  • Call your friends and family members : that you always wanted to catch up/reconnect with. I am now communicating way more with my family members and distant relatives. It feels really good to reconnect with your family members when you were never free to do so before (and felt guilty when you didn’t). It would have been better if I was able to be with them in person but video call is good enough for now (at least you don’t have to send a pigeon in these times).
  • Organize dinner dates and home parties with friends on video call: Yesterday I had a pizza and wine date with my friend Amanda who lives 20 minutes away from me by metro. Sadly, we can’t see each other as it is not allowed by law. It was not the same as a real life hangout but pizza is pizza (YUM!). Also, a lot of DJs are performing live sets on Facebook or Instagram…So make sure to watch out for those.
  • Plant Stuff : I planted my own spring onion plant and it feels amazing to just cut a piece off and add it to my omelette in the morning. You harvest what you sow 😉
  • Home exercise: Staying in shape is especially crucial now knowing that we won’t be exerting any motion for the upcoming days. When I started to feel uncomfortable from eating without exercising, I pushed myself to research simple calorie burning home exercises. It really helped with the mental aspect of being quarantined and motionless.
  • Cheer on your neighbors: or yell “ce la faremo” (we’ll make it ) from your window. Recently my neighbors started putting on a nice DJ set and music which really lifted up my spirits. So, if you can do that,make sure you put on some music and sing out the window. This would put a smile on people’s faces (either because you sound good or look crazy). Anyhow, both reasons are perfectly fine and fun if you are enjoying your time doing so!

For most of us, this is a very new experience that we probably won’t have again. So, make sure to use this large amount of time to do everything you wanted to do before and grow in the process instead of viewing it as just imprisonment or confinement. Happy thoughts always. Take care*!

*Make sure you follow the correct references on how to protect yourself and your family members/friends against the virus (WHO website is a reliable reference to use).

Rome’s Aventine Keyhole: the most exciting keyhole to peep from!

Wondering why people patiently stand in huge lines to peep through this tiny keyhole? Scroll down to know why!

When you peek through this keyhole, you actually see three countries in your line of of sight:

1. The Vatican City

Image result for the vatican city flag
Vatican City flag

From the key hole you can see St. Peter’s Basilica which lies in the Vatican City. Vatican City is the world’s smallest country, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church, home to the pope, and a trove of iconic art and architecture.

This tiny nation on a hill has all the things you’d expect of a country: its own government, its own laws that are enforced by its own police, its own jail and even its own bank and prints and issues its own license plates.

2. Malta (The Knights of Malta)

The grounds just behind the door belong to the Knights of Malta.

Knights of Malta Flag

The Knights of Malta are a Roman Catholic religious order of crusader knights that originated in Jerusalem in the 11th century. It is the oldest surviving chivalric order in the world and is a sovereign entity under international law.

After having temporarily resided in Messina, Catania, and Ferrara, in 1834 the precursor of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta settled in Rome, and now owns, with extraterritorial status (which means it is Maltese soil), the Magistral Palace in Via Condotti 68 and the Magistral Villa on the Aventine Hill.

3. Italy

The view just beyond the estate is of Rome, Italy.

PHOTO:Scaliger |
Image result for flag of italy
Flag of Italy

Biggest Parks in Rome that can cure your depression

Rome’s monuments and archaic buildings are gorgeous enough. What is even greater and yet more peaceful are the huge green parks that spread all around it!

1. Parco degli Acquedotti

This photogenic park is endless measuring around 240 ha (593 acres). It is just 8 km from the centre of Rome.Towards the South and East of the park crops are still grown and sheep can be found grazing. Partly due to its proximity to Rome’s movie studios at Cinecittà, the park is often used as a film location. Perhaps the most memorable scene is the opening shot of La Dolce Vita where we see a statue of Christ suspended from a helicopter flying along the Aqua Claudia. This place is perfect for picnics, running,cycling and of course walking your dogs.

2. Villa Borghese

Near Flaminio metro stands the beauty of this fairy-tale-like Villa Borghese gardens. These gardens are perfect for a picnic date and some wine and chill. You can also rent a boat to paddle around the temple of Aesculapius where there is a little pond. There is also the Borghese gallery/museum which you can check out but needs a reservation a month or so prior to the visit.

3. Giardino degli Aranci

Giardino degli Aranci, translated to Orange Trees Garden, is about 7,800 square meters and is located on the Aventine Hill. The park offers an excellent view of the city. The garden, as it is today, was designed in 1932 by Raffaele De Vico. A close walking distance from this park is the famous Aventine Keyhole which i’ll be writing a special post about due to its interesting backstory.

4. Villa Doria Pamphili

This Villa is a seventeenth-century villa and the largest landscaped public park in Rome. It is located in the quarter of Monteverde, on the Gianicolo, just outside the Porta San Pancrazio in the ancient walls of Rome where the ancient road of the Via Aurelia commences. This photogenic place has huge landscapes and is perfect for sport activities and family outings. There is just one cafe around, so make sure to get your own supplies before going. Don’t confuse it with the Doria Pamphili gallery which is in Via del corso ( also a great gallery to seek).