Five Italians explain what life is like right now, from Milan to Sicily.

By Stacey Leasca
Updated April 08, 2020

It’s hard to believe how much the world has changed in just a matter of weeks. It feels like a lifetime ago we were happily planning spring break vacations, had dinner dates on the books, and were looking forward to long hikes with friends in the warmer spring months to come. But now, for the health and wellness of the world, all that has come to a halt as we wait out the coronavirus pandemic. And there is no place where that is quite as evident as it is in Italy right now.

In mid-March, Italy shut down its borders and asked citizens to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus that has now claimed the lives of thousands of citizens. Though frightening, Italians have still, somehow, given the world hope through sharing their community spirit in songs, supporting their medical personnel by nightly clapping, and sharing their words right here with us.

Illustration by May Parsey and Rebecca Hart

Here’s what life is like in Italy right now, and a few words of wisdom from Italians on what we can all learn from this disaster.

Marco Amorico, Rome

Rebecca Hart

If anyone has a lust for adventuring around Italy, it’s Marco Amorico. As the president of Access Italy, he takes guests to all the best destinations in the country. But, for now, he’s hunkering down at home.

“We basically do everything we did before, just at home,” he told Travel + Leisure. “My wife is a teacher and teaches kids from the computer. I have a 9:30 meeting with my staff via Zoom and am in contact with them all day. We cook more, and we work out at the building's roof deck (alone) through online classes. We try and minimize our trips to the supermarket and we take our dog out as usual.”

Amorico admits he and his family were “certainly surprised” by just how quickly the virus spread around the nation.

“We did not immediately understand the importance of social distancing even when it was close to home,” he said. “Businesses and lives were changed within a week.” In fact, Amorico said, his family including his brother and parents were traveling outside the country when the borders were closed and have not been able to return since. “That is how fast it happened,” he said.

Though Amorico says it is “not easy” to be in isolation, he does see it as a way to protect others.

“You have to think about the big picture and fulfill your civic duty to flatten the curve. Technology helps alleviate it for sure,” he said.

As for watching others on the opposite side of the globe, Amorico says he’s “shocked to see “people still out in the U.S. My parents had a dinner party last week in Boston and I ‘canceled’ for them, insisting that they would not go.” He adds, “We should really learn from other people's mistakes and I wish Americans would learn from ours. Please stay home, it is so crucial.”

However, there is one small thing still keeping him smiling.

“Every day at 6 pm our neighborhood comes together and listens to music being put out by a resident here,” he says. “Even social distancing can unite.”

Martin Vitaloni, Milan

Rebecca Hart

For Martin Vitaloni, life is incredibly different today than it was just a few weeks ago.

“My days at this strange moment of life really go much slower than usual, in the normal situation my life is really fast: I am an executive and private chef and I often say to everyone, ‘I don't have time,’” he said. “[My] daily schedule now, however, looks like this: Get up in the morning at 7:30 a.m., prepare meals, dedicate myself to the house, stay with my partner and my baby girl.”

That, he says, is the nice part. However, “you can not leave the house except for urgent job reasons, health, or for grocery shopping and in any case, you must have a self-certification or the legal risk is very high. And I can understand it. We are in a pandemic.”

Though he still spends a bit of time working and skyping with hotel executives, for now, he says he’s keeping busy “working out in the living room and abusing Netflix.”

Vitaloni says he saw the epidemic coming, growing, and ramping up exponentially, but it’s still hard to believe that this is his new reality.

“It's incredible. It feels like being in a movie, the atmosphere is surreal,” he said. “Lombard health care, among other things one of the best in the world, is at the risk of collapse. There are no more intensive care beds and this is very worrying.”

As for how he’s coping with quarantine, Vitaloni says he’s trying to stay positive and enjoy the newfound time with his family.

What he believes Americans can learn from the Italians is simple: Do not underestimate the power of this virus.

Olga Miano, Sicily

Everything for Olga Miano has changed.

“Since coronavirus has arrived in Italy, my daily life is changed. I live in Sicily and I work in a hotel in Taormina. We were ready to open for the new season but, as you know, tourism is one of the most affected sectors by the crisis so we had to postpone the hotel opening,” she said. “I was so happy to go back to work and welcome tourists from all over the world.”

But, rather than welcoming travelers, she’s spending her days at home, following all the rules and restrictions to a tee.

“Everyone’s lives are changing,” she said.

Miano's work in the travel industry also gave her a true understanding of just how risky the coronavirus would be to her country.

“We live in a century where we are lucky to take a plane and get to the other side of the world in 24 hours,” she said. “We can move around the world easily. It would have been foolish thinking that the virus would not arrive and would not be widespread in Italy and other countries of the world.”

For others, including Americans, she’s got a little advice. One: Do not underestimate the power of the virus. Two: Try to cope by coming up with a new understanding of what your day-to-day will look like.

“I think it is better to have a daily routine and write a ‘to-do in quarantine’ list,” she said. “You cannot sit on the couch and eat all the time! On my list I have: Do some exercises; practice a hobby or [start a] new hobby; read an hour per day; study a new language; do not spend too much time on social media.”

And one more item on her list that travelers will love is to find time to organize all those travel photos. “I will organize and print photos from a decade of trips because I have never done it,” she said.

Miano knows quarantine can come with emotional ups and downs, however, one small way she brightens her day is to try to find the best in any situation.

“I’m grateful for having my family next to me and know that, so far, my friends, relatives, my beloved ones are well,” she said. “I wish that this emergency will finish soon. We will go back to our lives stronger than before.”

Fabiola Balduzzi, Rome

Rebecca Hart

Despite it all, Fabiola Balduzzi still finds the energy to be grateful.

“Like all Italians, my lifestyle has completely changed from the lockdown. We’re living in unprecedented times in Italy and across the world,” she said. “The rules have dramatically transformed my life, but every day I feel so grateful to be safe and healthy and so sad for the current situation. The new motto and hashtag is #Iorestoacasa (I am staying at home).”

Of course, Balduzzi says she misses her daily routine, which is so utterly Italian it hurts.

“I miss my daily routine, riding my red Vespa in the old streets of Rome (now I miss even the potholes of Rome too, incredible!), hotel life and my colleagues, guests, and partners,” she said. “However, I try to create a new daily routine at home, keeping myself busy, proactive, and motivated — working from home, cleaning, cooking (yes, I am Italian!), reading books, newspapers, and magazines, watching a bit of TV and movies, studying and doing things that usually I don’t have the time to do.”

Time in the modern world, she says, is always a concern — she works for Rome's popular Hotel Eden, a Dorchester Collection hotel — but now that she’s stuck inside, she wanted to make the most of it.

“I also appreciate ‘creative rest’ and I believe this challenging time is an opportunity for slowing down and reflecting on life and which opportunities can arise and what we can learn from this,” she said.

One of her greatest heartbreaks right now, however, is the loss of Italian affection while on lockdown.

“My ‘social gathering’ is now going out for grocery shopping once a week, alone,” she said. “We’re living a different way of life, with no hugs, kisses, and touching. We are practicing social distancing, we’re following rigid rules, we’re queueing. We strictly observe these restrictions as it is crucial for our health, for the safety of everyone. They probably seem to be small things and only gestures but they mean a lot to us as it’s part of our culture and habits, it’s our DNA: we’re Italians! Siamo italiani!”

Balduzzi admits that though she saw the crisis coming she felt unprepared, which is something she’s warning the rest of the world not to do.

“I quickly realized that this was the only way to contain the spread and more importantly to help the Italian healthcare system which is collapsing due to the high number of cases,” she said. “As the health of Italians is at the core of our country’s system, we react with a sense of collective responsibility for the wellbeing of Italy, Italians, and the entire world.”

For now, Balduzzi is leaning into the quiet moments.

“I enjoy small moments of happiness and joy every day such as no wake-up call, the smell of good coffee in the morning, my run on the treadmill, and quality time with my husband who usually travels a lot for business. Of course, each morning the first thought is for my parents, family, and friends who live in Bergamo, the most affected city in Italy, and for all the Italians that are facing this challenging period,” she said. “I do my utmost to keep strong and positive and, most importantly, staying safe at home.”

And, like the rest of us socially distancing, Balduzzi says Italians are taking to video chats and social media like never before to share in a collective moment.

“We’re having long chats and video calls, we share recipes and advice for the best yoga classes or workouts, we recall good memories, we laugh to lift our spirits, we are discussing future travel and dinner dates and when all of this will be over we will celebrate together,” she said. “My mom is teaching me by distance how to iron, this is unexpected, and very funny for my husband to see as I am not so domestic when it comes to ironing.”

She’s also learning photography and cooking lessons online, virtually visiting some of the “most enchanting museums or sites in Italy and in the world, and listening to concerts from the most talented artists and orchestras in Italy” all from home. “Isn’t this extraordinary in this challenging moment?”

And, like Amorico, she too looks forward to 6 p.m. each day to “spend time” with neighbors.

“We have two unmissable appointments with our neighbors, and with all Italians (and with the entire world through the power of social media). Max, my husband, and I go to our rooftop terrace or just open windows to applaud doctors and nurses (midday) for their hard work and very little rest, courage and total dedication and commitment to save people, risking their lives,” she said. “It’s a heartbreaking moment yet very powerful. At 6 p.m. we wave at each other, we play music and sing along to famous Italian songs like “Azzurro,” from windows to balconies and rooftops. It’s the only moment of the day that we see and talk to other people. I don’t know most of them but now I feel them so close to me. We are sharing a sense of solidarity and hope, we are feeling stronger and united, we feel part of the same community that is fighting the same invisible enemy. This warms my heart. We’re coping with this with our Italian soul, sense of humor, resilience, creativity, and a bit of craziness. I’ve never been prouder to be Italian.”

Balduzzi adds, “If Italians can do it, you can too. In this increasingly global world, we are all in this together — #andratuttobene,” which translates to, “all will be alright.”

Caterina Marrapodi, Milan

Rebecca Hart

Caterina Marrapodi may be used to working at home as a freelancer, but nothing could quite prepare her for this.

“What did change is my state of mind,” she said. “I know that it doesn't matter if I get all the work done by 5, I still won't be able to hit the coffee shop and sip a hot tea, or walk my dog at the park. My husband now works from home too.”

Even the little things have changed for Marrapodi and her husband.

“There is no such thing as, ‘let me quickly go out to get some meat or vegetables for tonight's dinner’ because going to buy groceries now means spending almost an hour in line and you have the perception that you are putting yourself in danger; we, as Italians are so conscious of this right now. You can tell from the fact that everyone religiously keeps the one meter safety distance, wears masks and gloves, looks at you suspiciously if they hear you coughing.”

However, Marrapodi says there are silver linings even in the worst of circumstances.

“There are days that I feel super lucky because I get to spend all day with my husband, we get to take our coffee break together,” she said. Still, Marrapodi notes, “the weekends are the toughest. We miss going out even for just a stretch and to get some fresh air, meeting with friends. I am lucky because I love crocheting and knitting and that is giving me life these days.”

As for Americans and others around the world who may still think of this as “just the flu,” Marrapodi has a message for you: “Please please please be very aware of the consequences that taking this virus lightly can bring to yourself as an individual and to the community. Like me, you may think ‘it's going to go away, why should I get it out of everybody?’What if you do get it though and you infect your relatives, your elders. My advice is to give this virus the type of weight and importance it deserves.”

Marrapodi also still finds joy in the little things, including indulging in Italy’s favorite foods: pizza and pasta.

“Being italian, food is one of the things that makes me feel better. I know that toilet paper is one of the first items grocery stores run out of almost everywhere else in the world, it's funny, but in Italy it is practically impossible to find yeast, the type we use to make pizza and bread. So for us to go buy groceries, maybe waking up soon on Saturday, and being able to find yeast to then make a pizza on Saturday night is a huge joy.” Marrapodi added, “As crazy as it seems I think COVID-19 is teaching us all to slow down and find happiness in things that you wouldn't even consider as important before.”

Editor’s note: The above interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.

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