Long Reads

Homebound: Our Life in Italy Is Forever Changed, but We’re Not Losing Hope

Emiko Davies, Florence–based cookbook author, writes on how she's using optimism to cope with this new reality.

by:
March 21, 2020
Photo by Meredith Jensen

Home is a powerful place for all of us, and its presence feels particularly acute right now. But how do quarantine and isolation affect our perception of the space? Homebound: Dispatches on COVID-19 & How We Live asks this of three writers currently negotiating this reality in different parts of the world—Hong Kong, Seattle, and Florence. We hope their explorations can help us better understand our changing sense of home.


We live in Settignano, a sleepy neighborhood overlooking Florence, fringed by woods and olive groves—the kind of place where everyone knows each other. There's something comforting and safe about being here. Maybe it's the fact the place itself is easy on the eyes, that the community is small and tight-knit, or that it's not the first time that this has been the preferred setting for avoiding a pandemic: Boccaccio's Decameron is set right here in Settignano, in a villa where a group of friends have fled Florence and tell each other stories to pass the time, while the Plague ravages the continent in the 14th century.


We have been on national lockdown since Mar. 8, but things have already been different since late February, when provinces in Lombardy and the Veneto went into strict quarantine. We watched the knock-on effect of the spread of COVID-19 here in Tuscany, as tourists canceled trips, travel was banned, hotels emptied, and study abroad students packed up and left. It was a tumbling, cascading sort of effect on life in Florence, one that revolves around tourism. We still tried to go about as normally as we could, even as schools—then restaurants and non-essential shops—were forced to close, parks and gardens were shuttered, and citizens were asked to avoid even going for walks.

Once the lockdown was declared, the whole region seemed to suddenly wake up. People kept their distance, refused kiss-on-the-cheek greetings, formed orderly queues (at the store, at the bus stop, at the post office—everywhere), openly called out others who weren't following the rules. But, there was also plenty of encouraging—a message of solidarity and community, that “together we can do this” (which is, in fact, the only way).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Emiko, My love and best wishes for your family’s continued good health! I am far away in Canada but it is very similar here. It is war but we are united against the enemy. Where I live, in West Vancouver, BC., it is very bad. Restaurants, bars, schools, daycares, universities, parks, community centres, non essential businesses are closed. Although we do not know when normal life will resume, the best guess is one to two years. Our government has changed legislation to start employment insurance immediately, increased family or child benefits, give an extra 6 months to pay taxes, and banks have said that mortgages can be delayed 6 months also. There may also be changes to rental evictions. Has the Italian government acted similarly? My husband and I were supposed to leave for Italy tomorrow for a few weeks but will definitely rebook when this is over. Hopefully when ever that will be, you will still be offering your truffle or other culinary experiences that we can register for. In the meantime I will be perusing all 3 of your cookbooks on my shelf, making many of the recipes with my grandson and hoping that you and your family are well! ❤️ ”
— Wendy
Comment

Celebrities have been sharing on social media with the hashtag #iorestoacasa (“I'm staying at home”), schoolchildren have been creating rainbow signs that read “tutto andrà bene” (“everything will be alright”) and all over the country, Italians decided to make music together out their windows and on their balconies at 6 p.m. on Mar. 13. It was so moving that since then, some have made it a regular part of their day since. Us included.


In a home that we have long outgrown, I thought lockdown would feel restricting. But it turns out bored children always find something to do—and so do we. With nowhere to be, nowhere to rush to, we can take our time doing things that would normally be ignored due to our day-to-day responsibilities—school pick-ups, work, deadlines, running after children.

I have two daughters, a second-grader and a toddler, who think they're on the holiday of their lives. They have been loving each other's company, but more than anything they cannot get enough of having their dad around. My husband is a sommelier at the Michelin-starred restaurant of the Four Seasons in Florence. His nights are late, often finishing at 2 or 3 a.m.. He doesn't have regular days off, and hasn't had a holiday for a better part of a year.

As the restaurant and hotel are closed for lockdown, and he has been forced to take leave, having him at home is a dream. The consequences of this are financially devastating, but they feel secondary at the moment—right now, health is key. Both our family's mental health, and the physical health of our community, our country, our world.


So we are making the most of these days together. We have slowed down. We sleep in, plan our days around our meals, video-call grandparents, play cards, draw, do homework, chat across the courtyard to our elderly neighbours, checking in on them. We take walks through the abandoned olive grove that is our “backyard” and stay up late watching movies.

Having an outdoor space has been a game-changer—a walk outside is instantly uplifting and every day we find some excuse to go to the grove, taking out the compost or picking wild herbs. The stinging nettle and borage are growing in full force and my older daughter has been venturing out with an oven mitt to tackle the spiky plants, taming them into a tea.

If before the lockdown, cooking was our favorite way to wind down, it is even more so now. We have slow-cooked legumes and made proper stock. We celebrated my husband's birthday with a flourless chocolate cake that the girls measured and mixed, standing on little stools. There is some kind of dough rising on the corner of the kitchen almost every day—for bomboloni, focaccia Pugliese, or Cypriot tahinopita (tahini-filled pastries). On one particularly spectacular day that called for being outside, we lit the wood-fired oven and made more pizzas than family members.


When we need to get out, one of us does some food shopping (it’s encouraged that only one person per household go to the store, to avoid overcrowding). Food has never been a problem during the quarantine; thankfully, Italians realized quickly that there would be an uninterrupted supply, so the initial panic of the idea of going hungry was short-lived (save one weekend of empty pasta shelves). Outdoor markets, supermarkets, delis, they're all open. Our favorite wine bars aren't, but they are doing home delivery. We have more than enough to keep us happy.

Life at home in quarantine, for us, has fundamentally changed little—except perhaps it’s made us closer and more grateful.

How has your sense of home changed in the face of this global crisis? Share with us in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Jackie De Sordi
    Jackie De Sordi
  • Annada Rathi
    Annada Rathi
  • Eric Kim
    Eric Kim
  • Moreen Murray
    Moreen Murray
  • cosmiccook
    cosmiccook
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.

10 Comments

Jackie D. March 27, 2020
Tanti auguri, Emiko. Siamo nella stessa barca. I live in the Veneto Region, very hardly hit, but as you say, we're all taking responsabilty and being carefull and hopefull for better days ahead. And in the meantime, enjoying cooking and family. Thanks, Food52, my fave food blog, my culinary encyclopedia, my counselor in anxious times.Like you said, "Andrà tutto bene". Un bacione.
 
Annada R. March 24, 2020
What an amazingly uplifting essay, Emiko! We need more essays like yours & less CNN :)! Keep writing, Emiko, we're very eager to hear the humane side of what is happening in Italy. Love & Best to all Italians!
 
Eric K. March 23, 2020
Lovely essay. I always look forward to your writing, Emiko, and my heart goes out to Italy. -E
 
Moreen M. March 22, 2020
What a beautiful essay - I have had the privilege of visiting Italy and Firenze twice - I studied Italian in high school had Italian friends growing up and always admired the culture and food immensely. I too am hopeful here in Toronto - we just need to do our social distancing. Right now my husband and I are well stocked and go for a walk each day to keep our sanity. Looking forward to reading more of your work. Grazie mille.
 
cosmiccook March 22, 2020
Your story is very timely. Living in New Orleans, U.S . Wendy, unlike Canada our government is not only hiding the truth from us, they are dragging their feet getting money to the most hardest hit people. Thank you so much for your uplifting story Emiko! I'm checking out your books too! I can take or leave pasta (give me a great taco anyday) but other than that I love Italian food. And what a genius stroke w the video projector. I'm passing it on to our "porch" party neighbors. Its also encouraging to hear that life is starting to look a little more normal there. Hope for New Orleans as Doctors have said we are on track to follow in Italy's path since we procrastinated with measures.
 
Saboush March 22, 2020
Dear Emiko,
First of all, thank you for such an honest and heart-felt essay. It has reminded me one more time that we are all the same regardless of our geographical location and background. We are all humans, all need the same human comforts and have the same worries and concerns. Basically we need good health, being together with our loved ones, and good food!
I, too, find solace in cooking for the family during this difficult period. We live in NW London and we are very lucky to have great outdoor spaces in the neighbourhood. A walk outside every day is like a meditation session for me. Today seeing rambling roses blooming, hearing birds chirping gave me hope.
There is a grocery shop nearby which is open for 24 hours and I pop in there during after-hours (8 pm) to shop to avoid overcrowding.
Whilst finances are a concern for most of us, we are not spending money on leisure activities which helps.
Hopefully, we will overcome this problem soon.
Wish you all good health, and great strength during this difficult period.
 
Jenny March 22, 2020
Nettles!!! I was just wishing for asparagus with which to make a quiche, but New Jersey/USA is in lock down, and I do not want to go out to shop. There should be a good supply of new nettles out in the sheep pasture! I can make my quiche.
 
Susan P. April 7, 2020
Wish I could send you some asparagus. I bought it because my husband likes it. We’re just outside Philadelphia, following the frightening numbers in NJ. I’m going to have to look up nettles; no idea one can eat them. Didn’t Brother Cadfael use them for a tonic or something? I like quiche; worth a try.
 
Jenny April 8, 2020
Nettles are rich in many vitamins and minerals and were long used for tonics, cordials and beer, as well as for a vegetable. They were hayed and fed to livestock, used as a natural dye, and processed and spun/woven into cloth same as linen! An amazing highly underappreciated plant. The quiche turned out very well. Next is nettle gnocchi...try saying that fast as you can 6 times.
 
Wendy March 21, 2020
Emiko,
My love and best wishes for your family’s continued good health!
I am far away in Canada but it is very similar here. It is war but we are united against the enemy. Where I live, in West Vancouver, BC., it is very bad. Restaurants, bars, schools, daycares, universities, parks, community centres, non essential businesses are closed. Although we do not know when normal life will resume, the best guess is one to two years. Our government has changed legislation to start employment insurance immediately, increased family or child benefits, give an extra 6 months to pay taxes, and banks have said that mortgages can be delayed 6 months also. There may also be changes to rental evictions.
Has the Italian government acted similarly?
My husband and I were supposed to leave for Italy tomorrow for a few weeks but will definitely rebook when this is over. Hopefully when ever that will be, you will still be offering your truffle or other culinary experiences that we can register for. In the meantime I will be perusing all 3 of your cookbooks on my shelf, making many of the recipes with my grandson and hoping that you and your family are well! ❤️