One of the difficult aspects for us during the lockdown period in Italy was our inability to have guests come over for dinner or aperitivo. The possibility of friends and relatives visiting and staying over was entirely off the table.
When we were searching for houses to buy five years ago, we specifically wanted to find a place that could accommodate guests without anyone feeling cramped nor with anyone bumping into each other during daily routines. Since moving here we have had many dinner parties, had many people visit, and have accommodated “artists in residence” for periods of time, which was also one of our objectives.
The lockdown brought all this to a sudden halt. People cancelled their trips or delayed them indefinitely.
It has felt distinctly lonely for months. That is certainly not the worst thing in the world, and nothing compared to contracting covid, but a deep disappointment, nonetheless.
But it has been a relief to be able to invite people to our house again. This has, however, required adopting some measures to keep everyone safe. There have been no decrees or lists made available to guide this accommodation, so we have had to cobble together our own. In some ways, we have learned from what we have experienced with lodging and restaurants. But then have added a domestic twist.
Socalising is possible again in Italy after lockdown – but precautions must still be taken. Photo: AFP
One event that got our attention early-on was the covid-caused death of the village pharmacist and the infection of several members of his family. It seems the family had a large get-together and a few weeks later, the effects were dramatic. Given that he was a kind of town patriarch and friend of everyone, Patrizio’s sudden passing got everyone’s attention. One week he was his affable self, standing by the entrance to his shop and chatting people up; the next week he was gone. Thereafter, people diligently wore masks and maintained proper separation.
With the recent easing of restrictions, what have we been doing to give everyone a sense of safety?
First, we have made sure to invite people who we know have a similar attitude toward protecting themselves and others. Usually we don’t have to even bring up the subject; they arrive in masks, avoid physical contact, and use sanitizer.
With overnight guests, we cleaned the guest quarters both before and after their stay. All the linens were changed and washed, of course. We bought new sheets and cleaned the mattress.
Surfaces in the kitchen and bathrooms were frequently sanitized
With guests for dinner or aperitivo, we used the terrace. We have a round table of a size that keeps everyone about a meter apart.
Normally, its tempting to gather in the kitchen for conversation, as so much happens there associated with meals or snacks. Its easy to fall back into old patterns of behavior. Now, we immediately invite guests to the terrace; one person only is in the kitchen.
In pre-covid times, as with most social get togethers, departures of guests involved a ritual of hugs and double cheek-kissing and animated thank you’s and well-wishing. We were even beginning to adopt the Italian method of extended departure conversations, multiple hugs, and repeated goodbye salutations. Those are gone now but they have been replaced with smiles, waves, and elbow bumps.
None of these measures can we claim to be original or especially creative. They can be gently worked into conversations and behaviors. They simply make sense in this era of caution and mutual caring. We want our friends to remain healthy. We would feel terrible if we had inadvertently caused someone to become sick. So, we see these actions as a measure of kindness and good will. And it is all pretty easy to do.
Mark Hinshaw is a retired city planner who moved to Le Marche with his wife two years ago. A former columnist for The Seattle Times, he contributes to journals, books and other publications.