“Dispatch from a Pandemic: Grosseto, Tuscany, Italy” by Claudia Leporatti

corona sam
Sam Schwindt

It will be hard to remember this year for anything but King Corona, the Virus.

I am Italian, but I have lived in Budapest since 2008, working as a journalist and as a tour guide.

I am a wanderer, spending most of my days writing, working or doing sports. I was not made to be quarantined, I am telling you.

“How are you? Are you getting the necessary support?” texts a close friend who knows I struggled with panic attacks and depression in the recent past.

“I am good, really good. Motivated. I think I am meant to be here, now.”

February 28 I flew to Italy for a laser operation to stop being shortsighted. I came to my parents’ place, in Tuscany, Now I see very well without glasses, but I cannot go home to Budapest or leave the my family’s flat. While my eyes were still recovering, in fact, the Italian prime minister declared a quarantine state for our whole country. I decided not to make any attempt to go back to Hungary, and just stick with my parents, here. A few days later, Hungary declared a state of emergency and stopped accepting anybody coming from Italy (with an exception for Hungarians), so, even if I wanted, I wouldn’t be allowed to go back to Budapest.

We are living in Grosseto, a small town in between Rome and our native Florence. Grosseto gathers about 80,000 inhabitants and not the most friendly ones, I must tell you.

In these days, in Italy, we can go out only if we carry with us a written statement declaring that we are aware that leaving the house without a reason of health (we are all trying to figure out what this means, probably just that you can go to the pharmacy), work or necessity, is a felony. I wish I could show that declaration to the other pedestrians who seem to judge me every time I go somewhere.

Going to the supermarket is permitted, but customers have to use the sanitizer and gloves placed next to the entrance and must wait outside until someone leaves.

I am thrty-two. My parents are sixty-eight and seventy-six; being the youngest in the household, I must go out to buy groceries and medicines, at least. I went to the local police department and I was reassured that I can also go for my runs or walks, in isolated places, for my mental health, of course avoiding any contact.

The only interactions, outside, are some scary “Stay home”s yelled by people who are out themselves, and, if you are a woman, comments on the shape of your b-side–the latter being the only trait of Italian mood King Corona didn’t compromise.

This morning from our balcony I see a guy scanning a girl on the other side of the street. “Would you like to go for a dinner, let’s say in one or two months, if restaurant will be reopened by that time?” I imagine he would ask.

“Prior to a Coronavirus test, I might consider,” she would answer, in my head.

Bad times to meet the woman of your dreams. Even if you’d manage to talk, how would get laid, keeping a two-meter distance?

Bringing the trash out, I notice that the few people outside rush to switch sides when someone walks past them. It seems they’d rather go under a car than risk being too close to you.

I go out to buy potatoes, apples, bread and some other items my mum put down on a list. I have my self-signed paper justifying my exit from the house.

I choose to use the small street behind the house to avoid meeting anyone. A gentleman yells at me “Stay at home!” I ignore him, but it scares and bothers me immensely. On a closer inspection, I see that the good man is out himself. Among other things, his admonition distracted me, so much so that I put my shoe on the wreckage of a little dog’s dinner. To clean up my shoes from organic waste, I spend a few seconds on the grass around a tree. This is enough for two other elderly gentlemen to take an interest in me and one scolds me, “Go home.” “Mmm, good-looking girl, tough” comments the other, who could be by grandfather. Theoretically, dear old gentlemen, you should be the ones locked home, since you are more at risk than I am. I have the form, I am going to buy something basic for my family and still, I have to feel  like the stuff I just stepped on? I get home and start unpacking.

Immediately I can’t find my form. “Find it,” my mom tells me. I’m nervous about having my data out there. For some reason that makes me more paranoid than any virus could. With all the respect for King Crown, I go down, in slippers, and as I retrace my steps, fantasizing about a possible conversation with the police.

I should have filled out another form, declaring that I am out looking for the form that I just lost. As I amuse myself with this thought, a gentleman calls me, gesturing for me not to approach him. “Are you Claudia?” “I am.” I don’ know who he is. He wears gloves and hand me my form with all my precious data. Now, if the police stop me, I could show the form and they would think, “Is this one going to the supermarket in slippers?”

While on my way back home with the form, I hear a police car pass, blaring out the mayor’s recording, “Stay at home.”

I use an even more secondary road where some dogs start to bark furiously.  A sign indicates, “Warning, loose dogs,” and suddenly the Coronavirus does not scare me anymore.

–March 13, 2020



Born in Florence in 1987, Claudia Leporatti is a journalist, author and tour guide based in Budapest since 2008. Her latest short story was published in Panel Magazine, while one of her poems is in the November issue of Better Than Starbucks. In Italy she was published by several literary magazine. She regularly writes about Budapest for Spotted By Locals.