If you have a Birthday, this one's for you.
Italians love to kiss. First on the left cheek then the right. It's one of those unspoken rules, you meet someone, you kiss them. No getting around it. After all these years of being here I’ve gotten used to it. Even when at times would just prefer a handshake, a simple, ‘ciao or salve’ you gotta kiss.. Just one of those rules! And they have many of them, like a cappuccino can never be consumed after 11 am, and pasta with fish- blasphemous to add cheese. I could go on...
The last week of March we had an important meeting in Civitanova Marche, a small region on the Adriatic where the Tod’s shoe factory is located. The prototypes were gathered up, the presentation boards prepared. All seemed like a normal working day, or meeting that is. Except for the kiss. The Milanese, where the virus first broke out arrived and warned us of the new the governmental decree. Social distancing. Social distancing? I can just see all my colleagues looking at each other and with some dramatic hand movements and raised eyebrows- "Social distancing?"... Something completely foreign to everyone, unlike the kiss. There is to be no bodily contact, keep your distance and no kissing. Never had an announcement been made. We went on with the meeting, and with the day. Knowing something wasn’t right, something was happening. But no one had any idea that we, the world, was about to change drastically.
In a short time the company was closed down - at least until further notice. One of the most famous shoe companies in the whole country became a ghost town and the same went for all the most famous fashion houses, names that give Madison Avenue its allure, along with the Tod’s shop on 60th st.
People rapidly became ill. Stores closed along with restaurants, bars, gyms and salons until the whole country went onto a complete lockdown. Masks, cleaning solutions and medical supplies became like that cliche "needle in a haystack". The economy collapsed. In fact, I read that this is the deepest financial drop the country has EVER experienced. We all panicked. The whole country was required to remain indoors. Sixty one million people. From the north near Cuomo to the heel of the boot in Puglia.
One is only allowed to leave the house for three reasons: a doctors visit, the pharmacy or the food store. Documents were made and issued from the health department that needed be filled out and carried on your person together with an ID card. If stopped by the police, one needed prove they are just a stone’s throw from home. Streets were empty, no one singing, ‘O’ sole mio' to the tourists passing, offering them a deal on, 'the best pizza you ever had in your life’. Instead, up and down the sidewalks police patrolled ready to heavily fine anyone that was outside for any purpose other than stated above.
As I sit here and write this, from my new quarantined makeshift office, hoping to fulfill my ever favorite Nurse Lynn's request when she asked me, ‘So what’s it really like in Italy?"...Who would have fathomed that as I write this, just a few days after her request how the tables would have turned. In a matter of one week New York has now taken Italy’s place in this pandemic. I realized the sense is universal from the land of pasta, pizza and wine all the way to the home of the Yankees and the cheeseburger. Fear, concern, panic!
And so the kiss- that kiss that they love so much here. The affection of that kiss has now taken a new form. It is represented in the humanity of the population. And after almost twenty years of living here it has officially ceased to amaze me. All retired doctors and nurses have begun to rejoin the work force in helping out the hospitals in need. The factory that once made your favorite pair of Gucci moccasins is now producing masks for the hospitals. Your once coveted Prada bag production line has been transformed into converting plastic tubing into a makeshift apparatus part needed for ventilators. Zegna had put a halt on it’s custom tailoring to now make hospital robes for the doctors. Dolce&Gabbana like the families of Bvlgari and Ferragamo as well as Armani have each donated one and a half million euros to the hospitals and the areas most in need.
That kiss has been transformed to the national anthem that each and every region sings all together outside on their balconies. Just at the time of dusk, before the sun sets on yet another day of complete isolation. Something that touches my heart each and every day we do it. And I, a fellow American, open up the window to peak my head out and proudly join in with the Italians, ‘Fratelli d’italia L’italias’é destra…..' Proud to be a part of this great humanity. Especially in a time of such need.
And this too shall pass for you, Italy, and also for you, America, and for you, NYC.
And that kiss. That kiss that after all those years you Italians have now instilled in me will soon come out. And I can’t wait, more than ever to be able to get back to real life again, visit my home town NYC where I was born and raised. And my all time FAVORITE stop accompanied by every trip home to the Center in Union Square will not be concluded without a kiss.. .
I can’t wait to see you all soon, all in good health!
Please in the meantime, for all of us, in order for the world to heal as soon as possible. Stay inside!
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If you have a Birthday, this one's for you.
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