The sound of silence - Italians no longer singing on balconies as coronavirus toll rises

In the early days of the coronavirus lockdown, the idea of a daily musical flash mob was a hit across the country. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 06 April 2020

The sound of silence - Italians no longer singing on balconies as coronavirus toll rises

  • The country's COVID-19 death toll mounts and the national lockdown continues

ROME: As Italians adjusted to life under quarantine, 6 p.m. had become the highlight of the day for many. Every day, people would take to their balconies and rooftops to take part in a “musical flash mob” aimed at lifting people’s spirits.

But as the national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic is set to go on at least until Easter, if not longer, Italians are no longer singing.

In the early days of the lockdown, the idea of a daily musical flash mob was a hit across the country.

Day after day, right before sunset, people would open their windows, put out a national flag and start singing as loudly as possible.

Social media was quickly filled with videos of people singing from their windows and playing tambourines on their balconies nationwide.

Even Lombardy, the region with the highest number of infections and fatalities, joined in enthusiastically.

Some musicians put powerful loudspeakers on their balconies and performed concerts. Every daily performance was opened by the national anthem, followed by well-known Italian songs.

Musical competency was not a requirement, nor was possessing an instrument. A pot or wooden spoon could suffice. A recording made in the city of Siena has been viewed more than 600,000 times on Twitter.

Italian singer Andrea Sannino made a compilation on his Instagram feed that shows people singing his song “Abbracciame” (“Embrace Me”) in his hometown Naples.

The 1990s song “Grazie Roma,” with the lyric “tell me what it is that makes us feel like we’re together, even when we’re apart,” is also popular online.

Quieter neighbors had been using social media to encourage Italians to put up placards on their homes that read “andra tutto bene” (“everything will be OK”), accompanied by a picture of a rainbow.

Everyone seemed happy to let off steam while effectively living under house arrest. “Music has provided unity in times of division throughout history; now Italians are showing the world that, if only for a moment, it can also help them transcend the anxiety brought by a pandemic,” said sociologist Bruno de Masi.

But as the death toll rose and restrictions remained, people stopped joining the flash mobs. Now, if one sings, they might be interrupted by somebody shouting “smettila, vai a casa” (“stop it and go home”). Meanwhile, social unrest is mounting, especially in the poorer south.

“They’re no longer singing or dancing on the balconies. Now people are more afraid, not so much of the virus but of poverty,” Salvatore Melluso, a priest at Caritas Diocesana di Napoli, a church-run charity in Naples, told Arab News.

“That applies everywhere. Both in the more affluent north and in the historically poorer south of the nation, many are out of work and hungry,” he said while counting donated packs of pasta and cans of lentils and beans.

“Queues at food banks are becoming longer and longer. In this situation, there’s nothing to sing about at all,” he added.

“Every Italian likes to sing. Everyone feels like a little Pavarotti here, and we’re all fond of music. But let’s face it, singing may cheer you up for five minutes, then you need to eat something — or you die.”

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 48 min 2 sec ago

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

  • Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures

ROME: Italy’s Muslims gathered in parks and public squares to celebrate the end of Ramadan, as many of the country’s mosques remained shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Islamic places of worship have been going slow on welcoming back congregations, despite an easing of a months-long lockdown, in order to guarantee social distancing and other preventive steps required under an agreement between Muslim communities and the government.

Mosques and prayer rooms will have to respect the same strict rules which have been imposed on Catholic churches. Halls will have to be sanitized before and after every prayer and a maximum of 200 people will be allowed, even in the biggest places of worship. For outdoor prayers a limit of 1,000 people has been set and each worshipper must be spaced at least one meter apart from the next. Those with a temperature above 37.5 degrees cannot enter.

Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures.

“Happy Eid Al-Fitr to all Muslims in Italy as they have two reasons to celebrate,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), said in a message. 

“This is not the only festivity closing the holy month of Ramadan, it matters even more to us all this year in Italy as it finally marks the return of our faithful to the mosque after several months of lockdown due to coronavirus. The Muslim faithful all over Italy now pray to God to accept the fasts, prayers and every good deed carried out during this holy  month and bring peace and blessing to our homes, so that phase two in the fight against COVID-19 in Italy will start in the best way possible.”

Many Muslims celebrated Eid at home with immediate family members. Those who decided to meet and pray together outside their households did it while “strictly respecting” health protocols and social distancing to avoid risk of infection, UCOII said. The organization asked people to display the same “utmost prudence and responsibility” when entering every place of worship from now on.

At Milan’s Al-Wahid Mosque Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini set up spacing for 140 new prayer mats. There are different entry and exit points for men and women, along with dedicated courtyards. 

Sanitization is carried out regularly while detergents, disinfecting gel and personal protective equipment are being offered by city authorities. “We pray for the inner and outer health of believers and Italian people,” Pallavicini said at the start of Eid prayers.

Almost 200 people gathered to pray in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Muslims arranged their prayer mats and moved about in line with social distancing rules. Posters in Italian and Arabic told people that hugging was not allowed. 

“Even if we are in an outside space, nobody has to get too close,” the imam told his flock before prayers commenced. “It is mandatory and for the sake of everyone’s health.” There were children in the congregation too, and everyone wore face masks.

“I am so happy that I am finally meeting my friends for this prayer, but we have to stay apart,” 13-year-old Samir told Arab News. “We will have time to embrace, to play together in the future, when the virus will be gone.” He said he had missed going to his mosque, near Furio Camillo station, during the lockdown. 

“I prayed with my father, of course we were following prayers on YouTube and on Facebook. But it was not the same. Here I really feel part of a group sharing a faith. And it is great to be together again,” he added.

In Piazza Re di Roma, in the southern part of the city center, 250 Muslims gathered to pray. “We just prayed together, and stayed in the square for an hour only,” 31-year-old Latif told Arab News. “The celebration will be with our families later on.”

An outdoor celebration took place in the Sicilian capital Palermo with Mayor Leoluca Orlando also joining in. “We are happy for this celebration which marks another sign of the return to normality of our communities,” he told Arab News. “Being able to pray together is one of the most important needs for a religion as that improves the sense of community. Now we can do it again together: and that’s a great sign not only for the Muslim community but for the entire population of Palermo.”