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).
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.
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Because I think everyone could do with a moment to let their heart swell. ❤️ . Volume on! 🎶(sorry for the squeals the girls were dancing underneath) 💃 . We got @marcolami a video projector for his birthday the other day and it arrived just at the right time. So, inspired by the singing and playing of music that Italians all across the country have been doing out their windows, he stuck it out the bathroom window, propped it on a stool and we projected this onto our neighbour's house. . This is a clip from a 1932 Vittorio de Sica film, the bit with the song we named our daughter Mariu' after, "Parlami d'amore Mariu'." It was Marco's grandfather Mario's favourite. Perfect strangers, especially older people, break out into song when they hear her name, and it instantly makes eyes glaze over with nostalgia and lips turn into a smile. Call us old romantics. Now I'm thinking when this is all over, wouldn't it be magical to have our own outdoor cinema with a few woodfired oven pizzas to go along with it? ❤️
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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.