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Saturday, March 28, 2020

Waiting Out the Coronavirus in Portuense

Waiting out the Coronavirus in Portuense
by John Preissing  (3/27/2020)

Peggy and I moved to the Portuense area of Rome in August 2019 upon our return to the city after an eight year sojourn to Latin America.  I work with United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which is based in Rome. We have three adult children, two in Chicago and one currently with her finance in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific. Since Peggy had spent all those eight years in a daily commute of an hour each way, we decided we should be closer to her school, AmBrit, where she is a Fifth Grade Teacher. So, now we are just a block away on Via Pigna and Leonardo Greppi.
Portuense is a middle-class neighborhood, just south of Trastevere, with many 60s era apartment buildings.  We chose the building for two reasons -- it’s close to school and it has a nice terrace – attributes which we appreciate.  It is not very touristy at all, but has nice local restaurants, is close to the Marconi shopping district, and includes the Spallanzani Hospital, which has been the center of Rome’s response to the Coronavirus.  Daily there are helicopters in and out with critical patients. 

Life in the time of Coronavirus (with apologies to Garcia Marquez) has been stressful and at times heart-warming.  As a regular classroom teacher, Peggy’s workload has surely doubled.  As the school, parents, students, and teachers cope with online education it has been a period of growth and sacrifice.

For the large contingent of FAO people in Rome, this has also been a big change.  Of the 3,500 people in the FAO Headquarters on a daily basis, there are now under 60 people.  We are getting daily
FAO serenade, a show of solidarity
reminders from those still at HQ with a nightly trumpet serenade, the FAO building illuminated with the Italian colors and flag, in a show of solidarity.  Lik
e Peggy’s students, we have learned how to work in an online situation.  If only we didn’t have to suffer through seven Zoom meetings in a day.  I say this as someone who didn’t know what Zoom was a week ago.

Movement around the city is quite restricted.  One is supposed to go only to the grocery store, pharmacy, and the vaguely described other stores of necessity.  People should walk around with self-certification papers on their intended destination.  Failure to heed these rules now results in fines of

up to 3,000 euros. Pretty draconian for this very open city and country.  We encountered one desperate restaurant owner who said he would be providing dinners for delivery on the sly because he could not close or he would go bankrupt. Another friend, a jogger, was stopped and sent home.
Peggy and I take turns walking to our local Ma grocery store about ten blocks by foot with our grocery cart or to Tipo’s, our Bangladeshi fruit and vegetable stand a block away.  We are waiting in lines, with the required one meter of separation, to enter stores.  Actually, the stores are doing a brisk but orderly business.

Dancing nona

For the first week of lockdown, we were treated every night by an 80 year-old nona, who danced in her balcony across the street, accompanied by an accordion player.  All of us joined together by distance to enjoy her three or four nightly dances.  However, for now, the dancing has stopped as the restrictions have increased and the daily news has become more grim. Like most, we are watching the 6:00 pm news with Civil Protection where they share the daily figures on deaths, new patients, and patients cured.

Peggy's space

At home, Peggy and I have divided the house.  She has claimed the dining room, a large space where she can spread out to plan and lead all her teachings.  I’m in the bedroom.  We had to separate in order to get work done and keep the noise level down.  

Neutral staff room and Spades tourney site

We’ve agreed that the kitchen is the neutral staff room and two-handed Spades tourney site. We have also said that if coronavirus doesn’t kill us, we might kill each other.

Peggy and I have played one game, which is to pick the first five restaurants we’d like to go to once the restrictions are lifted.  Our top choices are locally, Sapori di Casa, a great pasta restaurant and MeAT, a fusion cuisine place, both  in Portuense; plus Due Sardi, a lovely seafood restaurant with good Sardinian  wines, and Ur Panonta, one of the best open garden pizzerias in Garbatella;  with perhaps Le Mani di Pasta in the Santa Cecilia area of Trastevere as our other pick.  I wonder what others would pick? 

A final point and shout out to Bill and Dianne.  We met them in a very serendipitous way years ago.  Our first landlords in Rome are their famous friends from Rome who occasionally show up in postings.  We eventually got together and have enjoyed their time and posts ever since.  A special idea we have carried from them is moving people around the table half way through dinner, so all guests mingle.  The first time was in fact at Due Sardi.  Thanks for that!
We’re looking forward to better news here.