Feature: Xavier alum in Italy lockdown

Newswire alum Savin Mattozzi tells his story of living in Italy during the  pandemic

Savin Mattozzi, a 2017 Xavier graduate in international studies and communication studies, is a freelance reporter in Naples, Italy.  This is his personal story of life in the Italian coronavirus epicenter.

It started far away. Maybe you’d see a small article in the newspaper or a blip of a news bulletin as the bartender surfs the channels looking for a soccer game. Maybe you’d take a moment and think it’s sad and hope it doesn’t spread too much before returning to discussing how slippery the steps are at your friend’s apartment and how they really need to talk to their landlord about fixing them. 

The weeks went by and it didn’t stop. It kept coming closer. Still, it wasn’t here. It wasn’t in our city, our region, our country. So, you kept going out, celebrating birthdays, going to protests and visiting your family in their village. 

When it arrived in the north, you still didn’t think much of it. “It’s contained,” you’d say. “It’s in a little town that is in quarantine. No need to panic.” You’d roll your eyes when you’d see an older woman in the subway covering her nose and mouth with a scarf. “They don’t get it, it’s not that serious.” 

And then everything happened so fast. It took one day, 24 hours, for everything to change. When the government closed Lombardy, the region that includes the city of Milan, people fled south in an ironic reversal of history. People packed train cars as if they were on the last train out of a war zone. 

You’d see the number of people with masks jump and ask yourself, “Should I get one?” The generally calm atmosphere of the subway would become palpably tense. One person’s refusal to open the last closed window on the train would send one woman screaming to the conductor to stop the train because we are all going to get sick and die. 

The once amicable and loving people of Naples would start glaring at each other with suspicion and hostility. In closed spaces like supermarkets, people would do a kind of dance to avoid being close to one another. 

We knew what was coming when the prime minister got on television. 

“There is no single red zone in Italy…” he said. “All of Italy is now a red zone.”

You looked at one of your friends for comfort only to see him tearing up, eyes still locked on the television, trying to hold his composure. 

Now, we need to carry permits to go grocery shopping. Leaving the house, even to throw the garbage away, feels like committing a crime. 

Every day at 6 p.m., we turn on the television to see how many more people have died, how many more are sick and try to appreciate how many have recovered. As I write this, on March 19, we have surpassed China in our death toll: 3,405 people and it’s not slowing down. 

Any break in the silence is enough to bring the whole neighborhood to their balconies. Thank God for the older women in my neighborhood who are now exclusively communicating to each other across the street by yelling jokes at each other. 

“Marí… Marí…where are you?” a woman in her 70’s screams out of her window, in Neapolitan. “Marí! Where are you?”

A window creaks open and a woman we can only assume is Marí responds “I’m here, I’m here! Where the hell else am I going to be?” The two exchange a laugh shared by the rest of the women on their balconies. 

Some nights, the streets turn into an archetypal Neapolitan club, with classics like “O’ Sarracino” and “Tammurriata Nera” blasting throughout the neighborhood long enough that we temporarily forget the bizarre situation we are in. 

We don’t know when this will end. The April 3 deadline for the quarantine has been extended indefinitely. The coming weeks are going to be the hardest, but we will make it out of this. China reported zero new cases today and their direction is keeping us hopeful. 

All we can do now is wait and keep on saying what we’ve been saying: Andrá tutto bene, everything will be ok.

Maybe if we repeat it enough it will become true.