“It’s a question of how to kill boredom,” he told The Washington Post when the dough was rising. “Every day.”
Italy was the first among Western countries to impose a lockdown related to the novel coronavirus, and in the early days of those measures, Italians tried to dress it up with ritual, coming to their balconies, singing with their neighbors. But the singing didn’t last. Nearly four weeks into Italy’s lockdown, the mood has darkened. The isolation has deepened, simultaneously but separately, within the walls of one Italian apartment after the next.
Lodigiani, a 50-year-old flight attendant for Alitalia, previously spent more nights in hotel rooms than in his one-bedroom apartment. He used to consider his home a comfortable rest point between trips. “You do the laundry, and the next day you have a trip to Tel Aviv,” he told The Post in conversations that took place on voice and video calls, as did all the interviews for this article. The time in motion, he said, made him feel alive.
But amid the coronavirus outbreak, the airline canceled flights and cleared his schedule. He has spent nearly four weeks staring at the same views of the same empty Roman street. It is a static life, like nothing he has experienced before. Yet he has learned that being trapped in one place during a crisis can feel different by the day, based on anything — the news or the thoughts rolling through his mind. It is a “roller coaster,” he said, inside of 800 square feet.
“It’s surreal,” Lodigiani said. “I am at home, in my own apartment, which I consider my safe base. But I also feel lost.”
He has left his building only twice, to buy groceries. On the most recent occasion, he saw shoppers lining up outside the store — talking to nobody, wearing masks and eyeing the others suspiciously. Seeing them, Lodigiani said, he felt “totally alone.”
What has made him most concerned of all, though, is his parents, both in their late 70s, who live in northern Italy. When Lodigiani saw images on the news of military trucks outside a Bergamo hospital, hauling away the dead, he thought about what might happen if his parents became infected. He wouldn’t be able to catch a flight or a train. In that scenario, would he see them again?
“I was shaking, I was so nervous,” Lodigiani said.
He has decided to cope by watching less news and calling his family two or three times a day. He also plans small things to pass the time, things he enjoys, because otherwise his home feels like a “cage.” Which is why on this afternoon he was in the kitchen, shaping dough into a loaf, putting it in a 375-degree oven. When it was finished, he took out a knife and cut the bread in half. One portion went into the freezer, to be used on another day of lockdown.
One-bedroom apartment, Treviso
The apartment buzzer sounded, and Edvige Pessato knew who it was — her nephew. He came inside and said hello, but he didn’t come too close to her. He kept his mask on. He was there to run a few errands, like picking up groceries and cigarettes. Pessato reminded him to also buy Italy’s version of a TV Guide. Her nephew said okay. Then he was gone.
Pessato, 77, lives in a small, second-floor apartment in the northern city of Treviso. Her husband died young, and she long ago became accustomed to some version of loneliness — nights when it was just her and the TV.
But until the coronavirus, she’d had a social life. She had friends at a nearby nursing home. Most days, she would go there for several hours. She would have a 7-euro lunch, play cards and talk.
The nursing home, though, banned visitors even before the government lockdown, and it has so far managed to avoid infections. For nearly four weeks, Pessato has seen nobody aside from her nephew. She has been smoking a little more and sleeping a little less. In the mornings, she watches Mass on TV2000, Italy’s Catholic broadcasting network. In the afternoons, she watches the news. Sometimes, in between, she turns the television to the music-only channels, just so there is some sound.
“I like opera,” she said.
She has wanted to go to the cemetery, but those trips, too, are banned. Instead, one morning three weeks into the lockdown, she took out a notebook and imagined the headstones of loved ones. She began writing names, pausing at each one to think.
“I visualized Mama,” Pessato said. “I visualized Papa. I told them how much I loved them.”
She wrote a diary entry — beginning, “Hello, everyone” — that described her hopes for the country and her memories of childhood, including being quarantined with scarlet fever. Later, she joined a video conference put together by a Catholic charity. Most of the participants visible on her Samsung tablet were younger, but like her they were stuck inside, craving human contact.
Pessato read the group her diary entry. She could feel herself choking up as the video call ended, and afterward, she had what she called a “liberating” cry. The TV was off. The radio was off. It had been months since she had cried like that.
“The loneliness,” she said. “I could touch it with my hand.”
Two-bedroom apartment, Rome
At 8 a.m., starting another day of lockdown, Stefano Di Lorenzo logged on to his computer. Di Lorenzo, 58, is a telecom company employee, troubleshooting network problems, and his job has become busier with more people making calls and using WiFi. On this morning, there were network crashes in the Lombardy region, the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak.
But Di Lorenzo was far away from the epicenter.
He was in Rome, working from home. And more specifically, he was in the kitchen of a 970-square foot apartment, where something or somebody was making noise in almost every room.
In one bedroom, his 27-year-old son was taking university courses. In the second bedroom, one of his twin 16-year-old daughters was taking her high school classes via Skype. In the living room, where the twins sleep on a pullout bed at night, his other daughter was engaged in her classes, too. Di Lorenzo was looking at page after page of computer code, trying to solve Lombardy’s problems, but he could also hear a high school teacher talking about law and math. Soon he looked up and his daughters were right there in the kitchen — getting yogurt, getting juice, returning the empty glasses.
“Every room you go to, you find somebody,” Di Lorenzo said. “Finding the ability to concentrate is quite hard.”
The family had long planned to move somewhere more spacious, but other options seemed too costly, and in normal times they were all out the door anyway by midmorning. Now, though, Di Lorenzo no longer goes to the office, nor to the gym on the way home. The store where his wife works has closed temporarily. And so they are five people together, all the time.
“It’s 18 square meters per person, if you do the math,” he said — about 200 square feet.
There have been downsides — many — to being so close together. But Di Lorenzo has also started to notice things about his family. He realized, from hearing his daughters on the phone, that their circle of friends had changed. It took some prodding, but one night they explained what had happened: about a party, thrown by some friends, that had made them uncomfortable, and where people were using heavy drugs. At the time of the party, Di Lorenzo hadn’t noticed anything amiss — just his daughters coming home, saying nothing.
“For years, I wasn’t very present at home, and I could have given more,” Di Lorenzo said. “In normal times, talking to your own family members becomes the last thing you do. Now, it has become the first. It’s one of the only good things to come out of this.”
Two-bedroom apartment, Syracuse
The day started in a blur. Antonino Interdonato had gone to bed at 5 a.m. and awoke two hours later. He made himself coffee, walked little loops in his apartment, and decided against breakfast. Cutting out meals is one of the ways he is trying to get by now.
Things had been hard even before the virus arrived. Interdonato, 55, lives in the Sicilian town of Syracuse, where the unemployment rate had been 20 percent. He hasn’t had a stable job since the 2008 financial crisis. But with some under-the-table construction work — taking 100 euros here, 150 euros there — plus welfare checks, he could support his daughters, ages 19 and 21.
Now, though, his income is zero; it has been for weeks. He can’t afford to pay the utilities, let alone the subsidized rent. On April 27, his car insurance is set to expire. He won’t be able to renew it.
“One feels like nothing,” he said. “Like nothing.”
This time has been different from his previous periods of unemployment. This time, people can’t even go outside to relax.
“From my window,” he said, “I can only see loneliness.”
The virus scares him. Surely it is dangerous enough to merit an economic shutdown, he thinks. One day this past week, he was in an elevator with a neighbor who told him she was in quarantine. Interdonato had no idea if she was sick, no picture of the circumstances, but when he returned to his apartment, he put his clothes in the laundry and washed the mask he had been wearing with bleach.
Interdonato doesn’t think he is getting sick. But mentally, he has felt far from normal. His daughters have talked about taking a family trip to the beach, like they did when their mother was alive, sticking a tent in the sand for a weekend. They mused that it might be possible by May.
But Interdonato, when he tried to think about life in the next few months, couldn’t even imagine it. Could he find a job? Could he pay the rent? Would everybody be okay?
“I cannot even think,” he said. “I don’t know what decisions to make. [My daughters] talk about what they should do once it’s over. But how will we get to the summer?”