In Italy, the mundane has become sociable

A man wearing a protective mask pushes a shopping cart in an almost empty street during the virus outbreak in Rome Thursday. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 March 2020

In Italy, the mundane has become sociable

  • Italians used to consider grocery shopping boring, but now use it to interact

ROME: For Italians, grocery shopping has never been a popular item on the to-do list. But as all cafes, restaurants and nightclubs in Italy have been shut by the government because of the coronavirus pandemic, the simple act of grocery shopping has become an important social activity.

Local supermarkets have become a kind of lifeline for many residents of Rome. Under special laws passed by Italy’s government, for the past 20 days people have been allowed to leave their homes only for necessities.

They can go to work in the few businesses and factories that are still open, and can go to pharmacies and food stores.

Even churches have closed their doors to stop people from congregating there. As such, going to the supermarket has become the only time people can see others.

This is why they tend to do their grocery shopping more than once a day, to avoid loneliness and boredom, and to escape from home. This applies especially to the elderly.

“I feel trapped at home. I need to go out and see people. In this absurd situation I feel like I’m under house arrest even though I’ve done nothing wrong,” Pino, 74, told Arab News as he queued in front of a big supermarket in San Giovanni in southern Rome.

“Since the lockdown began earlier this month, every day I look forward to going shopping. I never went. I always had somebody to do it for me. But this way, at least I manage to leave the flat once a day for some time, have a little stroll. If the police stop and question me, I proudly show them my receipts.”

Pino and a few of his friends arrange their daily trips in advance and meet up at the store. “We stand in line one behind the other, keeping a safe distance from each other of course, at least a meter as we’ve been told by the government. And we chat together while we queue,” he said.

“I’d have never thought in my life that I’d enjoy queues. I always sought ways to cut and avoid them whenever possible, but now it’s different,” he added.

“Of course, we can’t kiss and embrace each other as we always used to do between friends and family before the pandemic, but it’s something.”

Furthermore, elderly people are not fond of video calls. “I’m not good at that. I can’t make them. That technology belongs to another generation,” Mario told Arab News after greeting Pino from afar. “I can barely place a phone call with my Neanderthal-era cellphone.”

Italians have always made fun of the English attitude to queuing for everything, but now they are doing the same.

A security man allows people into the supermarket so no more than 20 are on the premises at the same time and can keep a safe distance. Once inside, they wear plastic gloves provided upon entry. Staff also wear them, along with masks.

“It’s like at the hospital,” said Pino. He and his friends follow each other in a line, a meter apart, eventually meeting at the checkout, then saying goodbye and going back to their homes.

Since food shops and supermarkets are now among the last remaining gathering spots, authorities are anxious to prevent new hotbeds of contagion.

Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi has announced disinfection operations in areas that still have substantial foot traffic, including pharmacies, supermarkets, bus stops and hospitals. Other mayors are doing the same nationwide.

Some shops require customers to disinfect their hands, put on gloves and leave their personal belongings at the entrance before beginning to shop.

Some grocery stores have installed Plexiglas panels at checkouts to prevent close contact between cashiers and customers. Still, when one comes nearly face-to-face with the cashier, it is a brief opportunity to socialize.

“The employees are really nice, and almost more welcoming than usual, especially the younger ones,” Giuseppe told Arab News while picking up his shopping bag.

“A smile becomes really precious in these difficult moments. I appreciate it very much. In normal times it wasn’t this way at all.”

He waves goodbye to his queuing buddies. “See you tomorrow,” he told them. “We’ll need bread and ham, and a little chat.”




Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum during virus shutdown

Updated 30 March 2020

Van Gogh painting stolen from Dutch museum during virus shutdown

  • The 1884 painting, titled the ‘Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring,’ was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam
  • The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to €6 million

THE HAGUE: Thieves stole a painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh early Monday in a daring heist from a museum that was closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 1884 painting, titled the “Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring,” was taken during a pre-dawn break-in at the Singer Laren Museum near Amsterdam.
The criminals smashed through a glass door and then took the painting, which is valued at up to €6 million ($6.6 million).
“I am shocked and unbelievably annoyed this theft has happened,” Jan Rudolph de Lorm, one of the museum’s directors, told a press conference.
“Art is there to be seen, to be enjoyed, to inspire and to bring solace, particularly in these troubled times in which we find ourselves,” De Lorm said.
The theft happened on what would have been the 167th birthday of the brilliant yet troubled artist.
“Parsonage Garden at Neunen in Spring” comes from relatively early on in Van Gogh’s career, before the prolific artist embarked on his trademark post-impressionist paintings such as “Sunflowers” and his vivid self-portraits.
The painting was on loan from its owners, the Groninger Museum in the north of the Netherlands, as part of an exhibition.
The Singer Laren museum closed two weeks ago in compliance with Dutch government measures aimed at tackling the spread of COVID-19.
Dutch police said the criminals had broken in at around 3:15 am (0115 GMT).
“Police officers immediately rushed to the scene but the perpetrators had escaped,” Dutch police said in a statement, appealing for witnesses.
The painting has an estimated value of between one million and six million euros, Dutch art detective Arthur Brand said.
“The hunt is on,” said Brand, who is known for recovering stolen Nazi art including “Hitler’s Horses.”
It was the third time the famous Dutch master’s works have been targeted in the Netherlands since the 1990s, Brand said.
“To me this looks like the work of a copycat,” Brand told AFP, adding the modus operandi was similar to the other two cases.
“The thieves only went for a Van Gogh, while there are other works too in the museum,” he said.
Asked whether he thought there was enough security at the museum Brand said “it is very difficult to say.”
“Securing a painting is very difficult. It is something that has to be displayed for people to see,” he said.
The museum’s 3,000 pieces also include works by Dutch abstract master Piet Mondrian and Dutch-Indonesian painter Jan Toorop, as well as a casting of “The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin.
Singer Laren was targeted in 2007 when thieves stole a number of castings from its gardens including “The Thinker,” Dutch media reports said. The castings were recovered two days later.
Two Van Gogh masterpieces went back on display at Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum last year after they were stolen from the museum in 2002.
The paintings — the 1882 ” View of the Sea at Scheveningen” and the 1884/5 “Congregation Leaving the Reformed Church at Nuenen” — were recovered by Italian investigators in September 2016 when they raided a home belonging to an infamous mafia drug baron near Naples.
Previously three Van Goghs that were stolen from the Noordbrabants Museum in 1990 later resurfaced when a notorious Dutch criminal made a deal with prosecutors.