Across the pond

Federico, who met us at the brutalist high-rise we booked in the center of Milan at our most jet-lagged, wrote that he’d been spending the past two months with his family in Florence, and that the apartment rentals were set to resume May 18. He’d grown up in various forms of crisis, he’d told us in February. His family had survived the worst changes in Romania. He liked the excitement of Milan, but made sure to take the train home to Florence, which he loved, every weekend, and sometimes just for the evening.

Carlo, who rode around Genoa’s old city’s narrow streets on a bike, wearing a fine suit each time we saw him, said that since there was no way to distance oneself from others in the Historico Centro, people wore masks. At first everyone was sad because they couldn’t meet in their favorite bars and cafés, restaurants and stores. The trams and funiculars were eventually closed to but a handful of riders each time. Then everyone started coughing, and in the city, Italy’s oldest by population, everyone ended up knowing someone sick or touched by death.

Danielle, whose apartment we rented in a charming residential area off Milan’s main tourist maps, wrote about the sounds from her apartment’s balcony: singing, birds, wind. The sound of ambulance sirens became more frequent. A journalist at heart, she stayed upbeat, but the strain was getting to her.


Lara was busier than ever, but largely because she had to let her staff go. Everyone in Northern Italy was really feeling for the people of New York, she said, where things were the worst.

The conversations petered out after a spell. A P.R. firm in Turin was promoting online art shows of reactions to the pandemic and short films about the rise in domestic violence.

We all said we looked forward to seeing each other before this year’s end. We do, we really do.


Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.