These touching excerpts from my friend Sheila Pierce’s blog posts testify to the deep bond between Italy and the United States–especially the city named for St. Francis.
by Sheila Pierce
|On the first morning of the coronavirus lockdown, San Francisco Bay was empty of its usual nautical traffic. No sailboats glided across choppy waters. A foghorn barreled out a low E-minor sounding like a tenor warming up. The Bay glimmered like a millpond calling for ducks instead of whales. Seagulls flew overhead and cried among puffy clouds in a blue sky void of airplanes. Trucks hot-rodded across the Golden Gate Bridge like Ferraris. From our living room window, I looked at our New Abnormal Normal.
I was relieved to be finally quarantined at home. At last, we were following the wise safety measures of my adopted, second home of Italy – and, in turn, offering our solidarity to Italians and others already quarantined. To watch a country be reduced to its knees, crippled in the medical trenches as its citizens disappear daily, has been crushing for my Italian husband and for all Italians living outside their country.
Although this pandemic is rapidly spreading throughout the world, I have been watching it closely as it attacks Italy since it is a country I hold close to my heart, where I lived for ten years and will always consider home base. I also have the honor to represent Italy here in San Francisco through my husband’s job as Italy’s Consul General. Never have I felt more proud to be married to an Italian.
One evening last week my husband and I stood before a building in which we have spent many hours attending numerous events for the Italian-American community in San Francisco. But, before us, the municipal building looked different in a movingly familiar way: Mayor London Breed had lit up City Hall with the colors of the Italian flag to offer solidarity to our suffering country.
My husband stood before the tricolor spectacle and smiled. It was the first smile I had seen on his face in a while. It was 9:00 p.m. and I thought of Pope Francis, who had asked that everyone around the world at that hour – regardless of their religion or location — pray for those who have suffered and continue to suffer. I thought of the images printed in Italian newspapers a few days ago of the Pope walking alone down Via del Corso in Rome, a white ghost fluttering through a ghost town, out for the fresh air we all crave, desperate to understand the incomprehensible.
Churches are now closed here. So, there, in front of City Hall, I prayed for my friend in Northern Italy who just lost both of her parents to the virus, and for all those in seclusion, alone and in famiglia, struggling to get through these difficult times, as we wait.
Our morning ritual as a family is to squeeze like sardines onto our California King mattress and read. We used to read our books but now, shamelessly, we scroll through our phones like addicts. We dive to them as if it were Christmas morning, eager to read the gifts they offer us from other time zones of messages, photographs and videos, left under the technological tree.
In San Francisco, a small movement has started through Nextdoor, the app which generates conversations among neighbors, called “Unity Light in the Night: We Are In This Together.” Every night at 7:00 p.m., those wanting to offer solidarity to Italians taking to their balconies and joining in song place a lit lamp in their window, like candles at Christmastime.
This gesture of extraordinary kindness to Italy reminds us what we all hope: Andra’ tutto bene. (Everything will be okay.)
Sheila Pierce is a writer, photographer and mother, currently living the American life as an adopted Italian in San Francisco. You can follow her posts on her blog or Instagram. Dianne Hales is the author of LA PASSIONE: How Italy Seduced the World, LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered. For more information, visit diannehales.com.