These are strange and surreal times and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (not such a bad idea) you probably already know that the entire nation of Italy is under lockdown in an attempt to contain the coronavirus, Covid-19. Things change every day, with new regulations, new realities, new travel bans, new closures, every single day.
The current situation on the 13th of March is this: Florence is deserted as citizens are encouraged to stay home until April 3rd. No school. No gatherings of any sort, not even Sunday lunch with nonna or coffee with a friend. All non-essential shops have been closed, including restaurants, hairdressers, clubs, gyms and bars. Even parks will be locked and closed to the public. Open, though, are all food shops, supermarkets, newsagents, chemists, petrol stations, banks, post office. So there’s no need to stockpile. You can buy food, or a lightbulb, or, yes, toilet paper – there is plenty of that and no need to fight over it.
It may sound extreme but I have enormous respect for how the Italian government is handling this global pandemic, their decisions to just make everyone stop. And wait. And I’m amazed at how everyone is responding, encouraging each other to do it for the community, for their elders and the more fragile. This has been so heartening. There are even hashtags (of course there are hashtags), #iorestoacasa (I’m staying at home) and #andratuttobene (“everything will be ok”, where you’ll see a plethora of rainbow paintings by children). And don’t forget Nonna Rossetta, who is handing out the best advice for everyone on how to behave during the pandemic. I love her so much.
So really, we are absolutely fine — we have everything we need, no need to stockpile food as you can pop to the shops anytime, we can go for walks, or light the pizza oven for homemade pizza. I feel it’s rather like August in Florence when there’s the mass exodus to the seaside and Florentine shops and restaurants close for a good part of the month. The streets are empty, it’s too hot to go outside much and no friends are around — we are always the only ones, it seems, to be foolish enough to have to stay in Florence over the summer and have to be inventive to entertain each other! So we are well-practiced at this.
For us, personally, I feel these are days that we really needed. To learn how to slow down, and sit still for a moment. An overtired, overworked husband has been saying all he wants is some days off at home, to rest and spend time with his family (he got his birthday wish, yesterday). So for us, it’s the perfect opportunity to do all those things that get put off for being “too busy”: writing letters, pottering about at home, spring cleaning (perfect time for it), fixing old clothes, cooking projects (I made these bomboloni again and I highly suggest you try the soup below) and revisiting old books, or books I still haven’t opened! Catching up with old friends over the phone. While we aren’t encouraged to go in the car anywhere if we can help it (you have to carry a certificate with you anywhere you go to show to police who’ll stop you to ask where you’re going and if it’s absolutely necessary), we did take a beautiful walk through the woods just 15 minutes from our house and it may just have been one of the best things I’ve done all year so far.
I know we are extremely lucky, though. We live in a beautiful bubble, right on our hilltop neighbourhood of Settignano, where everyone knows each other (and it’s not the only time that this has been the preferred setting for avoiding a pandemic. Boccaccio set his fourteenth century Decameron here, which starts with a group of 10 friends telling stories to each other on a villa on the hill above Florence to pass the time away while the Plague ravages the country).
When we feel stuck, we have an entire olive grove next to the house the kids can run around in. Meanwhile, the news today is that in the centre of Florence, even parks are closing and being policed because it seems it’s too hard to keep bands of teenagers away from each other. We are also lucky because, as a family, we have been longing to be together, and to have Marco at home in the evenings these days is my daughter’s dream come true. But I know there are many others in situations where they are not going to find it easy to be together. Or where staying at home in lockdown is not a desirable, or even safe, option (the national anti-violence number is 1522). Or where it might just be downright lonely. Add to that stress (the stress of losing a job, or not knowing if you’ll have one to come back to), and some worry or anxiety — my heart goes out to the many people who will be suffering through this lockdown simply because of the situation it is enforcing upon them. I know I’m lucky.
Another thing that does break my heart is knowing how this is absolutely crushing Florence (like many cities in Italy that rely on tourism), I don’t know anyone not affected directly financially by this. It will be so hard for businesses to pick themselves up after this, many closed well before last night’s new decree shutting down non-essential shops, some are not sure when or how they will reopen. One thing I can say is that many have already faced this challenge by thinking outside the square and many businesses that have to remain closed are offering home delivery (which for now is allowed but I realise at the rate things are changing here, this could change too). This could be particularly useful for people who cannot leave the house for health reasons (for example if they are elderly, or are already sick — with or without coronavirus, if you have a fever you have to stay at home — and cannot buy basic groceries or cook).
I for one am hoping to support as many of my favourite places as I can during this difficult time and while I have been posting updates on stories, someone rightly suggested a round-up — I will keep this updated during this crazy lockdown period!
Some Florentine businesses offering delivery during the Lockdown:
Trattoria Burde: They just posted a photo of a mountain of crumbed braciole about to be fried and cooked in tomato sauce. Home delivery: 055 317206
Todo Modo Libri: A bookshop that happens to have an excellent wine bar. While they are closed during the lockdown, they are offering home delivery of books and wine (is there any better combination?). Email firstname.lastname@example.org or contact them via instagram @todomodolibri or phone 055.239.9110.
Caffe Desiderio: Our favourite local bistro here in Settignano are offering home delivery of their delicious meals (they suggest their chicken liver terrine and their fresh pasta such as cappellacci filled with ricotta and chicory – see instagram for their latest!). Place your order before 12pm, 055.697687
Le Volpi e L’Uva: Selected, small wine producers from Italy and France. Delivery from 11am to 6pm, email email@example.com (and they even ship overseas).
S.Forno: The best bakery in town is ready to deliver to your home fresh bread, schiacciata, milk, biscotti and cakes — servicing the areas between Porta San Frediano to Piazza Santa Felicita’, Piazza della Calza and Piazza Tasso. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 055.239.8580 (I’m considering hiding in the janitor’s closet, Elaine Benes style).
C.bio: Fabio Picchi’s beautiful bottega is open for businesses, selling organic produce, his signature bread, deli goods and more but they will also deliver — even if all you need is a bottle of milk! 055.247.9271
Il Carduccio: This vegetarian cafe while closed is offering home delivery of vegetables, dairy products, pasta, chocolate, biscuits, grissini, olive oil, vinegar, coffee, organic and biodynamic wines — all the good things, even their extracts and smoothies! Free delivery of orders over 25 euro.
I recommend checking any business’s social media directly to get the full/updated picture.
Also check this post by Girl in Florence on how to support Florence.
Right now remember the focus is on health, on staying at home to stop the spread of the virus, particularly to Italy’s large elderly population who are the ones at risk. Everyone, every business, is taking things one day at a time. We need patience. Italy will bounce back, and she will be waiting with open arms.
I’ll leave you with the recipe for my current favourite, comforting chicken soup and an excerpt of this really important, passionate message from an infectious disease specialist in Toronto, you can (and should) read the full post here.
“I am not scared of Covid-19. I am concerned about the implications of a novel infectious agent that has spread the world over and continues to find new footholds in different soil. I am rightly concerned for the welfare of those who are elderly, in frail health or disenfranchised who stand to suffer mostly, and disproportionately, at the hands of this new scourge. But I am not scared of Covid-19.
“What I am scared about is the loss of reason and wave of fear that has induced the masses of society into a spellbinding spiral of panic, stockpiling obscene quantities of anything that could fill a bomb shelter adequately in a post-apocalyptic world.
“But mostly, I’m scared about what message we are telling our kids when faced with a threat. Instead of reason, rationality, openmindedness and altruism, we are telling them to panic, be fearful, suspicious, reactionary and self-interested.
“Covid-19 is nowhere near over. It will be coming to a city, a hospital, a friend, even a family member near you at some point. Expect it. Stop waiting to be surprised further. The fact is the virus itself will not likely do much harm when it arrives. But our own behaviors and “fight for yourself above all else” attitude could prove disastrous.
“I implore you all. Temper fear with reason, panic with patience and uncertainty with education. We have an opportunity to learn a great deal about health hygiene and limiting the spread of innumerable transmissible diseases in our society. Let’s meet this challenge together in the best spirit of compassion for others, patience, and above all, an unfailing effort to seek truth, facts and knowledge as opposed to conjecture, speculation and catastrophizing.
“Facts not fear. Clean hands. Open hearts. Our children will thank us for it.”
— Dr Abdu Sharkawy
Chicken, fennel and farro soup
Here’s that soup I mentioned a while ago – it’s comforting, nourishing, delicate and that hint of lemon makes it even refreshing. To make now and perhaps freeze for later. It doesn’t take much effort, you just have to stick around so it’s perfect for when you’re pottering about the house, and then it really just does all the work on its own. I used two marylands which are the thigh and drumstick that I cut out of a whole chicken, they cook in the soup creating their own stock — you only really need the meat from one maryland for the soup itself, the rest I shredded and will use in some chicken sandwiches tomorrow. You can also leave out the chicken for a meat-free version and substitute with chickpeas, cannellini or other beans (if using tinned, add them right at the end with the greens).
- 1 leek or small onion, finely sliced
- 1 clove of garlic, whole but squashed
- 1/2 fennel bulb (or 1 whole if small), thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 60ml (1/4 cup) white wine (or water)
- 1-2 fresh or dried bay leaves
- 1-2 chicken marylands, whole
- Handful of chopped green vegetables, optional (this is lovely with just fennel but if you want to up the greens, do; I added 1 small young zucchini and a few leaves of chard)
- Handful of parsley or other fresh herbs such as thyme or oregano, chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Handful of farro (or rice or barley)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Place the leek, garlic, fennel and olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot. Add a good pinch of salt. Over medium heat, cook stirring occasionally until the leek is limp and the garlic is fragrant, about 10-15 minutes. It’s important not to let anything brown, but if you spy some browning happening earlier, add a splash of wine or water to the pot and let it simmer away for 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and marylands, then pour in enough water to cover them. Cover with a lid and let simmer on the lowest heat until the meat begins to pull away from the bone, about 1 hour. About halfway through, add the farro to the pot.
Remove the marylands and let them cool slightly on a chopping board before pulling off the meat and shredding it. While you’re doing that, throw in the greens and let them cook for about 10 minutes. Adjust your seasoning – I quite like a lot of pepper in this – and finish with the juice from a lemon and fresh herbs.