Most of us haven’t spent our time since the coronavirus shook the world the way Australian boomer Kathy Gates has. She was in Italy, which was very hard hit, but she managed to steer clear enough of the pandemic and found a world she normally wouldn’t have gotten to see.
I’m writing this on last day of June, and I am in Rome, one of my favorite cities. As I seek refuge from the heat in the blessed coolness of the colonnades facing Piazza della Repubblica, I can’t help thinking how life has changed since I left Australia in February.
You see, three years ago I became a full-time traveller, part-time teacher, and some-time pet sitter. But this year, things aren’t quite going to plan.
In March, as we all know, the world turned upside down. Barely one week into my volunteer teaching project, Italy went into lockdown.
Classes went online. All but one of my co-volunteers decamped. Lucky for me, my host family considered me to be part of the family. Extra lucky, they live in a semi-rural area and their comfortable home backs onto fields. Although because of restrictions for health, I wasn’t allowed to use the exercise track that runs in front of the house, I was able to walk through the fields behind, as long as I didn’t stray onto any shared roads. My not-so-lucky colleague was confined to a small apartment.
Three months passed quickly. Online teaching was new to me and it took effort and concentration. I spent a great deal of time in preparation, hoping to keep my students engaged. But I missed the energy of the classroom and was sad not to see, in person, the adorable kids that I’d first met back in 2017. Still, face-to-face lessons with my host family went some way to making up for that.
In early June, the online lessons ended. I left my Italian family and headed to Florence. I was hoping to have it to myself. It was a surprise to see tourists, but it turned out to be a very pleasant one. These tourists had a completely different agenda to the hordes that usually swarm the poet Dante’s birthplace.
As I discovered in Florence, and then in Rome, when Italians are tourists in their own country, they come to immerse themselves in their history and culture. As an observer, I find it wholly delightful.
Actually, I had seen a hint of this in previous years when I’d visited places in Italy that are not on the international tourist trail— places like Bologna, Ferrara, Mantua, Modena, and Volterra. Cultural jewels left largely untouched by the hand of mass tourism yet appreciated by their own people.
I suspect it will be a long time before the hordes return. As they say, in every cloud…