Should we stay or should we go?

[Note—see update below]

This:

Or this?

Let me explain: I just spent $104.57 on vegetables. Wait, we also bought a half-gallon of milk and some already grated pecorino cheese (sorry, Letizia). Going to Gerardi’s, a farm stand and garden center about 1.5 miles from our Staten Island home, was the day’s big adventure. And really, more than a hundred bucks on vegetables and fruit? And not a lot either; in Italy, the total would have been €45, or about $50.

It’s so boring here right now. Stripped of restaurants, culture, and even demonstrations (things are quieter since the curfew ended) it’s just mind- numbing tedium here. It looks like a few neighbors have fled to shores and mountains. It’s not as though we hang out much with them, but when they go, the street starts to feel abandoned and lonely.

Should we join them?

Last year at this time, in the Before Times, we’d already been on our Umbrian mountaintop a few weeks. The pool was open, I’d been to Milan and back on business, and we’d already seen friends and gone to see friends running a triathlon on Lago Trasimeno. We’ve had stuff to do here, which is one of the reasons we’re still in New York. We’re trying to whittle down our belongings, in case we flee for good anytime soon.

The other reason is, of course, the coronavirus. We’ve been under lockdown here, and as of today (late June), we’re still avoiding most contact with the outside world. And Italy’s been, well, you know. (With a few exceptions, though, it’s stopped the virus’ spread.)

But our region—Umbria—has been relatively unscathed by Covid-19. I left just as things were getting serious in Italy, but Umbria, a region of about 900,000 people, has seen 1438 cases, with 78 deaths so far. By contrast, we live on Staten Island, population approaching 500,000, with 13,783 cases and 1,031 deaths from the virus.

I was amused when our friends said “thank God you’re back.” Sorry folks, but supposedly crazy Italy has a superior healthcare system. It’s commonly rated one of the top in the world, despite inadequate and unequal funding and Umbria’s is among the better regional systems. I know, this doesn’t jibe with the stereotype of impetuous, disorganized Italians not getting their act together, but in healthcare and other areas, the image doesn’t coincide with reality.

Umbria’s relative success is down to some specific factors, like lower density, no really big cities. But early on, as soon as the first cases were reported up north, Umbria’s doctors and immunologists got together with the University of Perugia and came up with a comprehensive testing and tracing regime. And the small number of cases meant that the hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. Compare that with what’s happening here, not so much in New York, but in the U.S. generally. So I think our odds of getting the virus and getting good treatment are better over there.

This chart shows the coronavirus trajectories of some countries. I’ve marked those of Italy and the United States.

Now, it’s mainly down to logistics. Both the U.S. and the European Union have closed their borders between them. And it looks as though the EU will continue to bar Americans when it lifts more restrictions July 1. But we’re lucky, having both blue (US) and maroon (EU) passports. We can go back to Italy as citizens. The problem, however, lies in finding flights and the flying itself. The US is fine with our leaving, but Italy has specific requirements even for returning Italians. Because of the abysmal US record people coming from the US are subject to a 14-day quarantine. That’s even for returning Italian citizens. The Italian consulate in New York even put up a helpful FAQ on its site to tell us what to do.

I look for flights, just to see what’s out there. Alitalia’s flying from JFK to Rome, but its fares are crazy for premium economy. Don’t judge; we need the legroom, extra baggage allowance, and being treated semi-humanely. Iberia, which we’ve taken and enjoyed (especially when they upgraded us to business class unexpectedly and for free) only has codeshares with British Air—they’re chronically late and like to lose luggage—and American (yuck). Und so it looks like it could be Lufthansa, which is less cosseting in the airport (no priority checkin) but wonderful aloft.

UPDATE: We booked with Lufthansa, which then in an incredibly stupid move, cancelled our flight over to Europe, while rescheduling the flight to New York, and asking if that was okay. Um, no, idioten, why would I keep a returning flight when I can’t get there in the first place. Idiotic doesn’t begin to descibe it. Thank you Trumpistas and your lax Covid-19 policies, you’ve made the U.S. a pariah nation,

So here we are. We’ll probably go back, even if it means two weeks of quarantine. Hey, we’re used to it. While stuck at home there, we’ll have more land to wander around on, maybe we can get the pool opened and, it’s a change of scenery. Actually, better scenery. I’d come back to get this house organized and to see friends and family; Covid-19 and an addiction to MSNBC’s endless coverage meant we accomplished neither goal.

Of course, there are our true masters to reckon with: two charming young women, our daughters. We haven’t seen them hardly at all since March, except for hasty drop offs of food and laundry and FaceTime sessions. They think we should be sealed hermetically until someone comes up with an effective vaccine. They’re probably right, at least on some level. They have Italian passports,too, so if they want to visit us while we’re socially distancing somewhere else…

2 thoughts on “Should we stay or should we go?

  1. My personal perspective as an ex-American living in Foligno is that the U.S. is a failed state. There are some very difficult days in store for the American people. Even with all the chaos and troubles facing Italy today, the “life” is far better here than back in the States. As you correctly point out, we were not hit hard in Umbria and, for the most part even after reopening, most people are practicing distancing and wearing masks. Things have loosened up, as you would imagine, but because life isn’t usually a mad, frenetic race in Umbria, people have handled the COVID situation well. Whatever you decide, know that this is still a wonderful country.

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