My husband Mark and I traveled to Italy the year we got married. On that whirlwind, eight-day trip, we immersed ourselves in the culture and brought back more than one custom to incorporate into our day-to-day lives. I learned to make espresso and cappuccino from our friend who lived in Naples, we began a quest to find bufala mozzarella as good as the versions made in house at every trattoria in every city we visited (we are still looking) and we embraced the tradition of passeggiata, or taking a stroll after meals. In my first two diary posts, I mentioned the walks Mark and I have been taking each day through our neighborhood in Uptown. Our daily walks have been going on for years and sometimes happen after dinner, sometimes before, but rarely does an evening pass that we don’t get outside and stroll. We of course benefit from it as a form of exercise, but more than anything, we simply enjoy it.
When the news about how badly Italy has been struck by the coronavirus first began to dominate the headlines, passeggiata was the first thing that came to my mind. This beautiful tradition came to a halt as Italians sheltered in place. Now Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, is ranking higher and higher with its number of cases. St. John Parish announced a 6 p.m. curfew beginning 15 minutes from the time I’m writing this post and when I saw that news this morning, my immediate and admittedly selfish thought was that I hope it doesn’t come to that here, or if it does, that it’s later than 6 p.m., because we’ll have to stop our walks. I suppose we could shift them to morning or at lunch, but there’s something about rambling in the evening.
Since the shelter in place order came into effect in New Orleans, we’ve noticed a shift. Couples are out on their porches having a glass of wine after work. Families are playing in their yards or drawing inspirational chalk messages on the sidewalk. People whiz by on their bikes and so many folks are out taking walks or walking their pups. We’ve noted that there are certainly more people out doing these things than before the crisis. Also, we’ve notice, that everyone looks you in the eyes and says hello or waves — all from a safe distance — ever mindful of one another’s 6-to 10-foot invisible boundary.
It’s wonderfully and painfully apparent that we are all are seeking a connection.
This ever social, ever joyful city is starving for community and we are finding it the only way we can right now — outside, together, but apart.
It’s delightful and heartbreaking.
It reminds me of the videos of Italians doing singalongs on their balconies — karaoke-style, acapella and, sometimes, with actual professional opera singers. It’s stunning to watch. If you haven’t viewed any yet, prepare to laugh and to sob.
Videos like that set here in New Orleans have popped up in my Instagram feed. A tech and travel writer friend of mine posted one of the courtyard of her building, in which you can hear music from a trumpet, then when she pans over, a man is on the stairs plucking an upright base to the tune being played by the unseen trumpeter.
Together, but apart.
Our walks have become the highlight of every day. We discuss how we hope people continue spending time outside with their families and neighbors (but without the invisible boundary, because damn I miss handshakes and hugs) once we are no longer sheltering in place. In that one way, we don’t want everything to go back to the way it was before this thing “happened” to us all.
Until then — or unless, God forbid we are ordered to stop — we will continue to porch sit, play, bike and stroll with the rest of New Orleans, and really, the world.
Together, but apart.
The Corona Diaries is a joint project of the Renaissance Publishing Staff. Each week during the series, a different member of our staff will share their day-to-day experiences with working from home, social distancing and the other ups and downs of living through the pandemic.