Face masks and music


Italy is in lockdown. You can sense it in Naples too. Perhaps even more than elsewhere… After all, ‘personal space’ in this city is usually an entirely different experience from what I’m used to in Northern Europe.

Neapolitans are ‘warm’, emotional and used to punctuating their words with vivid hand gestures and frequent touching. Everything is being shared, they like to stand closely together in bars, in supermarkets (that way you don’t miss out on social interaction and the latest news!), pack themselves tightly on the beach, and like to cross roundabouts with their side mirrors touching.

Here, in this mountainous, volcanic landscape, there is literally hardly any space left unused, every inch is built-up and this is reflected in the way the locals behave. There’s always room for more. In fact: why not join us, it’ll still fit perfectly! A tight abbraccio (embrace) is completely normal, for men and women alike. Even the macho-culture allows for this.

How different it is right now, the streets are so empty it’s surreal, and I don’t even feel pressured in traffic. I don’t have to check my rear view mirror every two seconds, and I don’t have to turn in my wing mirrors before driving down our hill – because even there ‘personal space’ is usually limited.

The brave who dare to go out for ‘absolute essentials’ wear all kinds of gloves and face masks. In supermarkets and pharmacies, personal space is now marked out by pieces of tape at one metre intervals. Despite these measures, there is – apart from resignation – an almost surprising level of discipline, calmness and courtesy.

But Napoli wouldn’t be Napoli if it didn’t find a way to voice these emotions together loudly and fully express themselves, while maintaining a respectful social distance. Recently it happened for the first time. In several quartieri (neighbourhoods) in the city, people stepped out onto their balconies to… sing and make music together. Goosebumps. I’m overwhelmed with emotion. This is the way to do it. We won’t be contained by quarantine and will only hoard togetherness… Bravo bella Napoli! Andrà tutto bene. (Everything will be alright.)

A column by Joletta de Man

Joletta de Man is an expat partner who lives near Naples, southern Italy, with her family. She writes regular columns for Global Connection.

Photo: Pug girl – Flickr

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