‘It still doesn’t feel normal in Italy’

ON Monday, Italy entered Phase 3 of its Covid-19 lockdown easing, with almost all activities reopening including playgrounds, theatres and cinemas.
Almost 90 per cent of bars and restaurants are already open, but 60 per cent of hotels remain closed.
Letterkenny woman Siobhán Hegarty works as a wedding photographer throughout Umbria and the beautiful central regions of Italy.
Acquasparta, the town in the province of Terni where she lives with her husband Conor and two children Massimo (12) and Ilaria (9), has not been directly affected by the spread of coronavirus in Northern Italy.
However, at the beginning of March she lost all her destination weddings and shoots in Rome for the entire month after everyone in Italy was placed under lockdown.
Speaking to the Donegal News this week she said that lockdown was a ‘challenging’ time and admitted it will take a long time for Italy to bounce back.
“For our business we will most likely need to wait a year before we start moving again. However we will remain safe and keep to the rules and hope, like everyone else, they will find a vaccine soon.
“It is difficult to imagine a time when it will be okay again to shake hands or greet friends with the customary Italian double kiss on the cheeks,” she said.
Siobhán has been photographing weddings for more than 20 years and has built up her business in Italy since 2006, mostly catering for foreign couples coming to Italy for their weddings. All weddings that were booked from March up until September have now been cancelled or rescheduled for next year.
“I have one couple holding out in September. Apart from the obvious reasons couples are worried for their guests to travel especially older relatives and also they are telling me many of their guests have now been financially hit being out of work at home. I might be lucky to work again in October.
“For me personally I don’t want to shoot a wedding with people wearing masks or keeping their distance. We are still taking bookings for next year and 2022 so lets hope it will restart again,” she said.
The couple also run a B&B and holiday apartment in Acquasparta. Again, they have no bookings this year.
“We are still advertised and Italians are being encouraged to take holidays within Italy this year. Many accommodation owners who rely on holiday rentals have mixed views; some have decided to close their doors until next year citing worries with their own health or age group. And the new guidelines on how they need to operate now make it difficult for a lot of people. People are even asking guests to supply their own bed linen. Others are desperate to rent again as it is their only means of income. And for us without wanting to discriminate against any Italian regions there is still a general feeling of fear.
“Acquasparta is a very small town and we would hate to be responsible for any outbreaks. We might get something later in the summer. Again it’s uncertain what will happen but we will welcome anyone hoping for a holiday later in the season,” Siobhán said.
Her children Massimo and Ilaria finished ‘virtual’ school on Tuesday last, June 8.
“It’s a day which is normally really exciting for them with parties and pizza nights with friends. Instead they showed off their pets on google class and had a screenshot as an end of year class photo.
“We were all happy to switch off the computers. As much as it was a benefit to keep them in the loop and continue their schooling it also made them lethargic and tired. The both decided they would hate to have to do this again. It physically drained them and by the end of it all they were so unmotivated to do anything. We won’t miss this part. Children need a classroom,” she said.
While there’s some semblance of ‘normal’ life returning in Italy, it still doesn’t feel normal.
“I detest all the masks and the lack of togetherness. It’s also getting really warm so it’s very uncomfortable going to a shop putting on a mask and plastic gloves.
“We are separated by perspex everywhere from bars, supermarkets, hairdressers.
“There’s no menus in restaurants which all have preferred electronic payment methods. And still one person at a time to the bakeries and two at a time for bars.
“I haven’t been to Rome since February and I am told it is still quiet. We have not moved much apart from a lot of long walks and we are still avoiding unnecessary travel at the moment,” she said.
Everyone is keeping their distance and all of the older people always keep the masks on all of the time. Children also have to have on a mask and to buy sweets, ice cream or pizzeria.
“The highlight of our year, the summer festival where the entire town comes together for two weeks, has been cancelled and we are really disappointed with that. It’s a quiet time here,” she said.
While there will be no holiday in Italy for Siobhán and her family this year she is doing her best to get the children home to experience an Irish summer.
“The heat during the summer can be unbearable and I dream of being in Donegal when it’s so hot here we can’t open the shutters!
“It will be a long hot summer without the weddings and no air conditioning allowed in shops and supermarkets. If we can find someone to look after our cats and also when they lift the two weeks quarantine we will definitely try to get home,” she said.

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