Quarantine from the lagoon: a Venetian perspective
April 26, 2020
Carnivale no more
Our Venetian guide extraordinare and amateur photographer Fiona Giusto kindly agreed to provide a journalistic recount of the last couple of months quarantined in her hometown. Fiona studied at the University Ca’ Foscari in Venice, graduating cum laude in foreign languages and literature (German and English). She is fascinated by Venetian history, particularly its layers of civilization, and is Adagio’s go-to guide in Venice.
Sunday 23rd February 2020: Venetians learnt through social media and television that the mayor was going to cancel all celebrations relating to Carnivale that very night, which meant closing it down 2 days before Ash Wednesday because of a virulent and contagious virus spreading extremely quickly.
The first two outbreaks were in Codogno, in Lombardy and Vò Euganeo, in Veneto.
On 7th March Lombardy and 14 provinces in Veneto, Emilia and Piedmont were considered ‘red zones’ you could not travel to nor leave. Venice and its province were also considered a red zone.
Race to the chemists
People started storming supermarkets, racing to chemists (pharmacies) and Venice emptied very quickly. Flights, events, concerts, hotels, and tours were cancelled; schools and universities that should have reopened on the Wednesday remained closed. Masses started being livestreamed (who does not recall the image of Pope Francis leading the Good Friday Via Crucis alone?).
On 9th March the lockdown was extended to the entire country through 3rd April, and then again until 14th April and now to 3rd May.
The English word “lockdown” was not common in our normal speech (like h24); we soon learnt it was like quarantine, a word coined when for 40 days (quaranta means 40 in Italian), people, animals and goods were isolated to avoid the spreading of different diseases. This procedure was adopted first by Venetians in the 14th century during the terrible plague waves that swept several times through the Italian peninsula starting from 1348 up to 1399. Another Venetian contribution to our vocabulary (such as lagoon, arsenal, ghetto, ciao and many other words coined here).
We starting hearing daily about emergency health guidelines, social and physical distancing, ICU, patient zero, Coronavirus masks, face shields, serology tests, thermal scanners etc; we starting following the cases breaking out everywhere (the families of friends of mine living close to Bergamo were affected). The outbreak became first an epidemic and then impacted the whole world: a pandemic.
With the streets in Venice very deserted, the empty Piazza San Marco looked even more surreal, like a ghost town. March was one of the warmest months of the last 60 years, so imagine the empty square, without even pigeons or seagulls, and all those impressive buildings standing out silently against blue sky.
Everyone is thankful for their health, for what doctors, nurses, and volunteers have been heroically doing. Everyone is looking forward to enjoying their regained freedom to move around (albeit with a mask) and to planning a gradual reopening of all activities.
A better tomorrow
I am looking forward to guiding visitors through the beauties of Venice so they will have a wonderful experience of our history and architecture and retain lovely memories.