Today, April 22nd is Earth Day's fiftieth anniversary.
In Italy, Earth Day is called Villaggio per la Terra (Village for the Earth), along with the philosophy that it does take a village to heal Mother Earth.
As we humans are battling the COVID-19 virus, we find the opposite with Mother Nature... she is healing herself while we all stay at home, stop driving our vehicles and factories and businesses slow to a halt. We are using gasoline at such low levels that this week crude oil prices were became literally worthless--trading prices went under one cent per barrel!
The air has 45% less carbon emissions since our world-wide stay-at-home began. Rivers and the sea are looking cleaner, evidenced by the canals and lagoon of Venice suddenly becoming clear, with jellyfish and dolphins swimming around. Wild boars and goats roam the streets of Italian towns. All over Italy you can see the change--Nature taking over. In the empty Piazza Navona, grass has even started growing!
And perhaps the waters of Venice are a bit clearer considering the usual number of 30,000 tourists a day dumped onto its islands are gone and not using the toilets, which in many cases, drain directly into the canals. Cruise ships alone release over one billion gallons of sewage into the ocean every year! And for now, at least, they've stopped.
Will there be lessons learned from less driving, less cruise ships and less tourists all battling to occupy the same "must see" spots in Italy and around the world? Time will tell...
Happy Earth Day, tutti!
Watch the video below to see how the air pollution over Italy and Europe
has lessened during the COVID-19 shutdown....
I've written about the iconic o'panar (click HERE to read) before, the baskets and buckets lowered and raised from balconies and windows in Naples to bring groceries up to apartments. This is the method used to avoid having to climb all those steps again and again--especially helpful for the elderly. But in the last couple of weeks, the o'panar has been used to give, not to receive. The baskets contain food and essentials, with signs that declare...
Per te che non hai, prendi
For you who don't have, take
Chi può, mettere ... Chi non può, prendere
Who can, put ... Who can't, take
Started by an artist in an attempt to help feed the poor during the coronavirus crisis, this "solidarity basket" concept is spreading throughout Italy to other cities and towns, with some corporate support joining the effort.
This idea was started in Naples by street artist, Angelo Picone. As Picone asserts, "This is a special sign of solidarity. The basket is there. It ensures anonymity." At first he yelled to passersby below, "If you can, put something in. If you can't, take something out." Angelo first started by putting out pasta for people to take. Then he noticed some people were leaving pasta. Now, he gets regulars hooking on plastic bags from their own shopping trips so he can share them with the poor.
People all over Italy are now hanging their own o'panar baskets with handwritten signs, sharing what they have with the needy. There are even folding tables being set out by people laden with canned food, pasta, bread, tins of sardines and fresh produce.
"Naples is a city with a tremendous resilience to suffering," Naples Mayor Luigi de Magistris claims. EU statistics show about two out of five risked poverty in 2018 in the city of 2.2 million. A UN study found that a third of the Naples' 15- to 29-years-olds either had no job or had dropped out of school that year. The black market economy thrives, as well as the accompanying crime. Of course, the nature of the crowding of the population in Naples is contrary to keeping social distance--small apartments with multiple residents and narrow streets.
To date, COVID-19 has killed nearly 200 in Naples and more than 15,000 across Italy in just over a month. This "solidarity basket" idea might help some people stay a bit stronger and more nourished to ward off the virus and come out better for it at the other end of this nightmare for Italians.
As for the mayor of Naples, he wants the old Naples back. "I miss it very much... for Neapolitans, it is absolutely against our nature not to hug, not to shake hands."
Pray for Naples. Pray for all Italians. And pray for the world.
--Jerry Finzi, GVI
The Physical Closeness of the Italian People
One of the most obvious cultural events a visitor to virtually any town or village in Italy notices is a simple one: la passeggiata--the evening stroll. This isn't really an event. It's a cultural, daily habit of the Italian people. Instead of staying in each evening, families, friends and neighbors venture out and stroll together in the largest viale, piazza or strade principali. They stroll for social reasons. To be seen and to see. To stop with neighbors and listen to the latest political news or local gossip. They dress their best, as is the custom of la bella figura. They show off their new clothes, shoes or hairdos.
They will see how pregnancies are progressing and show off how well the bambini are growing and flaunt their new puppy. Young teens fare la civetta (make like an owl, or flirt) and older singles check out who is available and perhaps meet up for an aperitivo in a street side cafe or some gelati. Both men and women will stroll arm in arm.
When neighbors and cousins or school friends meet, they embrace and kiss, not once, but twice on both cheeks. They talk with their hands, often very excitedly, waving arms and making both subtle and dramatic arm and hand movements, oven combined with facial expressions or huffs and puffs. This is the language that runs the length of the boot from North to South.
The Morning Ritual
Each morning, millions of Italians have their breakfast standing up, shoulder-to-shoulder in local bars. The bar in Italy is not what you think. While they do serve a certain amount of wines and spirits, they are the place where Italians have breakfast: espresso and a sweet bread or tart, the most popular being a the crescent shaped cornetto. They have tarts, cakes, breads, and even sandwiches or pizza for lunch.
They sip their strong espresso or cappuccino and have a morning snack while reading the paper or chatting with neighbors or work-mates. This is a social event at the beginning of each day.
Long Lunches at Home
Most Italians don't have lunch in restaurants. Most simply prefer to go home for riposa, that 3 hour lunch period from 12 noon until 3pm. Traditionally, pranzo (lunch) is considered the most important meal of the day. Even if they wanted to go to a restaurant for lunch, unless they are in a large city, like Rome or Florence, restaurants are also closed at noon. Italians prefer to spend the hot midday with close family at home and prepare hearty meals, and resting before returning to work. This affords even more hours that la famiglia spend together in close quarters... unlike Americans, who barely eat dinner together at the dinner table.
Closeness of la Famiglia
Another type of closeness is la famiglia itself. Although the average number of children Italians have is two, la famiglia living in one house or apartment are larger than you might assume. Aging family members in Italy are usually taken care of by younger generations, with sometimes as many as three generations living together in the same house--Nonna and Nonno, Mama and papà, i bambini and sometimes even an aunt or uncle or two.
On weekends, extended families get together for pranzo di Domenica (Sunday lunch), either at a relative's home or a local agriturismo. When they eat outside the home, they all gather at long, family style tables, often seating 15-20. Often the meals are communal, served up in large trays or bowls, portions spooned out as needed. On some special holidays, such as during Natale, communal recipes like Polenta alla Spianatora is served on a bread board, with family members scraping polenta and sausages directly from the large board with their own forks.
Crowded Sagre, Festivals and Events
All throughout the year, regardless of season or region, there are literally thousands of festivals and sagre (food themed festivals) in Italy. Some estimates put the number of sagre at over 42,000! There are celebrations for nearly every type of cheese, wine, nut, berry, meat and pretty much everything else that can be grown and turned into something to eat, and nearly every type of animal: almonds, prosciutto, oranges, wild boars, donkeys, horses, Grappa, bread, pasta, chocolate, olives, fish... you name it, and there's probably a sagra to celebrate. As in the photo above, many events employ long family style tables for friends and strangers to dine together in the streets.
Then there are thousands of events like the Palio in Siena, that insane bareback horse race where 17 neighborhoods compete. Over 40,000 people jam pack into the Campo to experience this race. Then each contrada (neighborhood) have communal dinners for thousands on the streets.
Take this one event and multiply by literally thousands... all over Italy, Sicily and Sardinia. People communing together, shoulder to shoulder. Living, loving, eating, drinking, dancing, soaking in la Vita Bella. Imagine how crowded the Venice and Viareggion carnevale are each year. Now picture the seasonal markets. And the New Year's Eve crowds and rock concerts.
Over 60 million Italians crushing, standing, chanting, singing, eating, marching... tutti insieme (all together).
Italy Has a Vulnerable Elder Population
In fact, Italy has nearly 20,000 people over 100 years old and has held the worlds record for the oldest living human nearly every year for the last couple of decades. Italy also has the second highest life expectancy in the world, too--at 83 years young.
The reasons for this aging population are varied. The Mediterranean diet, hills and steps keep people in general good health. People tend to retire earlier, giving a more relaxed, stress free lifestyle to the elderly. The midday riposa offers a way the oldest family members can still share in a meal and visits with younger family members, which we all know provides a healthy family environment. They often live with their children and play and hug their grandchildren, who we now realize might carry the COVID-19 virus without symptoms and pass it on to the older family members.
Without the stress of how older people are going to have health care (there is national healthcare in Italy), Italians feel comfort in knowing that if something bad happens to their health, they will be taken care of, for little or no cost. The one factor that might actually make the aging population more vulnerable to COVID-19 is the fact that many still smoke. There are far too many smokers in Italy in all age groups. COVID-19 does well in patients with compromised lungs.
But of course, people living to healthy old age is not the reason why many might succumb if they contract the disease. This virus is different and powerfully and quickly attacks the vulnerable. We should applaud the Italians living to ripe old ages, if only that they made it in a vivacious, healthy way. They often live with their children and play and hug their grandchildren, who we now realize might carry the COVID-19 virus without even knowing.
Ferragosto, the National Vacation
Then there's vacation time. Italians don't stagger their summer vacations over three months like Americans. Most of Italy shuts down for Ferragosto in August, the month-long holiday season when Italians head for their campers or beach bungalows and crowd the beaches along its 4,723 miles of coastline. They literally pack the beaches and campsites or head up into the cooler mountains.
During summer, there are thousands and thousands of major and minor concerts from the Veneto to Tuscany to Campania and Puglia. Indoor concerts, outdoor concerts, music festivals in rock, folk, opera, jazz... you name the music, there's a festival to suit any Italian's musical tastes.
Can the Spread of COVID-19 be Really Blamed on the Culture?
I would argue, no. How can anyone blame a culture for doing what comes naturally? Italians are gregarious. They have close knit families. They love to hold festivals for just about anything God has graced their land with. They hug and kiss and walk arm-in-arm.
COVID-19 has taken all of this away from them--at least for now. But you can see the evidence of of Italians sharing even this in a joyful way by banging pots and pans on their balconies... and by making music with all sorts of instruments, again, from their windows or balconies. They sing Bella Ciao together as the WWI partisans did several generations before. They sing their national anthem. They light candles.
Even though they are apart, they are together in wearing masks and gloves and battling this unseen enemy, as they have done in the past for thousands of years. They are partisans.
The closeness of Italians is not to blame. The emotional closeness and comraderie of the Italian people are the cure for what is ailing them.
Andrà Tutto Bene
The following is from an Asst. Professor in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins University, quite informative.
* The virus is not a living organism, but a protein molecule (DNA) covered by a protective layer of lipid (fat), which, when absorbed by the cells of the ocular, nasal or buccal mucosa, changes their genetic code (mutation) and convert them into aggressor and multiplier cells.
* Since the virus is not a living organism but a protein molecule, it is not killed, but decays on its own. The disintegration time depends on the temperature, humidity and type of material where it lies.
* The virus is very fragile; the only thing that protects it is a thin outer layer of fat. That is why any soap or detergent is the best remedy, because the foam CUTS the FAT (that is why you have to rub so much: for 20 seconds or more, to make a lot of foam).
By dissolving the fat layer, the protein molecule disperses and breaks down on its own.
* HEAT melts fat; this is why it is so good to use water above 25 degrees Celsius (77F) for washing hands, clothes and everything. In addition, hot water makes more foam and that makes it even more useful.
* Alcohol or any mixture with alcohol over 65% DISSOLVES ANY FAT, especially the external lipid layer of the virus.
* Any mix with 1 part bleach and 5 parts water directly dissolves the protein, breaks it down from the inside.
* Oxygenated water helps long after soap, alcohol and chlorine, because peroxide dissolves the virus protein, but you have to use it pure and it hurts your skin.
* NO BACTERICIDE OR ANTIBIOTIC SERVES. The virus is not a living organism like bacteria; antibodies cannot kill what is not alive.
* NEVER shake used or unused clothing, sheets or cloth. While it is glued to a porous surface, it is very inert and disintegrates only
-between 3 hours (fabric and porous),
-4 hours (copper and wood)
-24 hours (cardboard),
- 42 hours (metal) and
-72 hours (plastic).
But if you shake it or use a feather duster, the virus molecules float in the air for up to 3 hours, and can lodge in your nose.
* The virus molecules remain very stable in external cold, or artificial as air conditioners in houses and cars.
They also need moisture to stay stable, and especially darkness. Therefore, dehumidified, dry, warm and bright environments will degrade it faster.
* UV LIGHT on any object that may contain it breaks down the virus protein. For example, to disinfect and reuse a mask is perfect. Be careful, it also breaks down collagen (which is protein) in the skin.
* The virus CANNOT go through healthy skin.
* Vinegar is NOT useful because it does not break down the protective layer of fat.
* NO SPIRITS, NOR VODKA, serve. The strongest vodka is 40% alcohol, and you need 65%.
* LISTERINE IF IT SERVES! It is 65% alcohol.
* The more confined the space, the more concentration of the virus there can be. The more open or naturally ventilated, the less.
* You have to wash your hands before and after touching mucosa, food, locks, knobs, switches, remote control, cell phone, watches, computers, desks, TV, etc. And when using the bathroom.
* You have to HUMIDIFY HANDS DRY from so much washing them, because the molecules can hide in the micro cracks. The thicker the moisturizer, the better.
* Also keep your NAILS SHORT so that the virus does not hide there.
-JOHNS HOPKINS HOSPITAL
Just wanted to add advice to contact lens wearers (like myself) to switch to glasses (see recommendations on BBC etc).
--Paul L. Wachtel, Ph.D., CUNY Distinguished Professor
Doctoral Program in Clinical Psychology
City College of CUNY
New York, NY 10031
Phone: 212-650-5660 or 212-242-0811
One of my neighbors--a retired respiratory therapist--posted his
"Common Sense" advice on what to do if we come down
with initial symptoms that might be COVID-19.
His text follows:
COVID-19 -- THIS IS ADVICE FROM A RESPIRATORY THERAPIST
CORONA Common Sense
Since they are calling on Respiratory Therapists to help fight the Corona virus, and I am a retired one, too old to work in a hospital setting, I'm going to share some common sense wisdom with those that are trying to stay home. If my advice is followed as given you will improve your chances of not ending up in the hospital on a ventilator.
This applies to the otherwise generally healthy population, so use discretion.
1. Only high temperatures kill a virus, so let your fever run high. Tylenol, Advil. Motrin, Ibuprofen etc. will bring your fever down allowing the virus to live longer. They are saying that ibuprofen, Advil etc will actually exacerbate the virus. Use common sense and don't let fever go over 103 or 104 if you got the guts. If it gets higher than that take your Tylenol, not ibuprofen or Advil to keep it regulated. It helps to keep house warm and cover up with blankets so body does not have to work so hard to generate the heat. It usually takes about 3 days of this to break the fever.
2. The body is going to dehydrate with the elevated temperature so you must re-hydrate yourself regularly, whether you like it or not. Gatorade with real sugar, or Pedialyte with real sugar for kids, works well. Why the sugar? Sugar will give your body back the energy it is using up to create the fever. The electrolytes and fluid you are losing will also be replenished by the Gatorade. If you don't do this and end up in the hospital they will start an IV and give you D5W (sugar water) and Normal Saline to replenish electrolytes. Gatorade is much cheaper, pain free, and comes in an assortment of flavors
3. You must keep your lungs moist. Best done by taking long steamy showers on a regular basis, if your wheezing or congested use a real minty toothpaste and brush your teeth while taking the steamy shower and deep breath through your mouth. This will provide some bronchial dilation and help loosen the phlegm. Force your self to cough into a wet wash cloth pressed firmly over your mouth and nose, which will cause greater pressure in your lungs forcing them to expand more and break loose more of the congestion.
4. Eat healthy and regularly. Keep your strength up.
5. Once the fever breaks, start moving around to get the body back in shape and blood circulating.
6. Deep breath on a regular basis, even when it hurts. If you don't it becomes easy to develop pneumonia. Pursed lip breathing really helps. That's breathing in deep and slow then exhaling through tight lips as if your blowing out a candle, blow until you have completely emptied your lungs and you will be able to breath in an even deeper breath. This helps keep lungs expanded as well as increase your oxygen level.
7. Remember that every medication you take is merely relieving the symptoms, not making you well.
I've been doing these things for myself and my family for over 40 years and kept them out of the hospital, all are healthy and still living today.
Thank you all for sharing. We gotta help one another.
--Neil Azloran, RRT
Although Azloran's advice does have some great tips, please...
IF YOU ARE UNCERTAIN ABOUT HOW SERIOUS
YOUR SYMPTOMS ARE, CALL YOUR HEALTH PROVIDER or DOCTOR
AND FOLLOW HIS ADVICE AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE!
Yesterday, Pope Francis preached to an empty piazza in front of Saint Peter's basilica in Rome...
"For weeks it seems that evening has fallen. Dense darkness has thickened on our squares, streets and cities; they took over our lives and we found ourselves afraid and lost, taken aback by an unexpected and furious storm. We realized that we were on the same boat, all fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and necessary, all called to row together."
When I started the Facebook Group Garden of the Finzi Famiglia, its intent was to bring together the multitude of people in the world with the Finzi surname. In the beginning, it was a way for me to search for my actual genetic roots and perhaps meet some long lost cousins along the way. Among our 225 active members, all named Finzi (or a variant), I have succeeded in finding my Catholic, Finzi cousins with whom I share a common DNA, all originating from the town of Molfetta, Puglia where my father was born.
But there are other, larger branches of what I call la Famiglia Finzi, many whom are Jewish, and can trace their heritage back to the time of the Medici in Northern Italy. Although my small branch is special to me because we are related by blood, I also feel like a "cousin" to all of the many hundreds of Finzi that I have become online friends with, from Italy to England, Brazil and Argentina, the U.S. and France, Norway, Tunisia and beyond. Through our Garden group, we have all found commonalities and feel like extended cousins.
But the reason I am writing this post is to celebrate the life and passing of one particular Finzi... Doctor Giuseppe Finzi, professor of vascular diseases and head of the Day Hospital at the University of Parma. Beppe, as his friends called him, was also author of over 60 publications in national and international scientific journals, was a member of the Italian Society of Internal Medicine and was very active in Italian politics.
This past Wednesday, we lost Giuseppe as he was fighting on the front lines of the coronavirus Italian crisis. His underlying health issues made him an easier target for the terrible coronavirus, taking him only a few days after he was first diagnosed.
We mourn this amazing Finzi. He held the name proudly and was actually able to trace his family tree back 1000 years. He was one of a long line of doctors, rabbi and teachers throughout the history of this noble Jewish Finzi family line.
His humor, smile and hugely generous personality was loved by thousands who knew him. He was a perpetual volunteer for charitable programs, a sailor, a chef, a dog lover, a sun-worshiper, a passionate soccer fan, and one-time candidate for mayor of Soragna, his home town. One of his recent pet projects was a healthy cooking program for at-risk young women where he enjoyed donning the chef's toque and jacket.
His passing brings the number of Italian doctors lost during this crisis up to 13. Giuseppe Finzi was 62 when he passed. Our condolences to his family and wife of three years, Daniela.
--Jerry, Lisa and Lucas Finzi
"Not only did he participate in every activity, but he always found a way to make himself useful", says Riccardo Moretti, president of the Jewish Community of Parma. "A pure person, a friendly face that all of us will miss."
Our dear Mona Lisa apparently gets it. She picked up only as much toilet paper as she needs for a week. She has no kids and lives alone. her cat uses a kitty litter box. She's good to go.
Think, "Need" vs "Want" vs "Hoarding". Hoarding supplies during this time will hurt us all.
We've all seen the videos in Italy and in the U.S.... people fighting over rolls of toilet paper as they do a mad rush to get supplies during this coronavirus crisis. In Italy, the rest of Europe and here in the States, people are not being prevented from visiting their supermarkets and alimentari for food and other essentials. Here in Pennsylvania, Lisa's company has ordered all workers to work from home, Lucas is home because all the schools are closed, all "non essential" businesses are closing, BUT, all supermarkets and grocery stores are open and are being restocked after the first mad rush of last weekend.
Most of our supermarkets now offer home delivery via online app, which helps reduce close contact.
When I shopped last week, I wore latex gloves on both hands, wiped down the shopping cart's handle, and was careful not to stand too close to others. I also shopped at 7am when not many were in the supermarket. And although I didn't need toilet paper (we had stocked up two weeks earlier at a big box store with our normal 2 month supply), I was shocked to see the paper goods aisle empty.
Calm down, tutti! Yes, this crisis is real--a fact of science and nature. But as long as we keep our heads and think not only of ourselves, but also our neighbors, we will all get through this.
As the Italians say, andrà tutto bene -- everything will be fine. it may take some time, and there will be sacrifices, but we will come out of this in the end.
--Jerry Finzi, GVI
One of the more intriguing aspects of the Venice Carnevale is the beautifully fantastic cartapesta masks attendants wear. Many are colorful, feathery, glittered and elegant. But there is one long, bird-beaked mask that can creep out most who come across it... the Medico della Peste or Dottore Peste (plague doctor).
This birdlike mask wasn't originally designed for the pleasures of Carnevale, but in fact was was invented in the 17th century by French physician Charles de Lorme to protect doctors airborne bacteria and viruses while treating victims of the plague. Carnival goers eventually started wearing a decorated version called Memento Mori, to remind them of their own mortality.
In the 1600s, the beak was to be filled with aromatic and medicinal herbs to protect them from putrid air, which at that time was seen as the cause of infection.
Often the city or town paid their fees, and some plague doctors were known to charge patients and their families (especially the wealthy) additional fees for special treatments for false cures. These so called "doctors" were often lay people without medical training, their only apparent useful purpose was in detailing and recording how many of the population were actually affected by plague. Even though these plague doctors offered little real healing, their value to the ruling class and local governments were overly inflated. In Florence and Perugia, doctors were often asked by officials to perform autopsies to help determine how the plague played a role.
The city of Orvieto hired plague doctor Matteo fu Angelo in 1348 for four times the normal annual rate of a traditional doctor. Pope Clement VI hired several extra plague doctors during the Black Death to attend to stricken in Avignon. Of 18 doctors in Venice, only one was left by 1348: five had died of the plague, and 12 were missing and may have fled.
Their special costume were first used in 1630 in Naples, and spread to be used throughout Europe. The spooky attire consisted of a light, waxed fabric overcoat, a mask with glass goggles and that frightening beak. They carried a scalpel for cutting open blisters (the goggles protected their eyes from the spatter) The wide brimmed hat identified most doctors during this time. Around their neck they wore a pomander which contained more herbs and aromatics--again, to protect themselves. They also kept and chewed raw garlic whenever near the inflicted. Their long cloak went nearly to the ground and was waxed heavily to ward off damp and fleas--possible carriers of the disease. They also carried a long cane to poke and probe patients during examinations and treatments, to avoid actually touching them.
As mentioned earlier, that beak was stuffed with herbs, straw, and spices. The scented materials included juniper berry, ambergris, rose hips, mint, camphor, cloves, laudanum and myrrh.
Historic facts prove that these charlatans in their scary costumes did little to heal or prevent the plague in Italy. The Italian Plague of 1629–1631 was a series of outbreaks of bubonic plague which ravaged northern and central Italy. This epidemic claimed possibly one million lives, or about 25% of the population in these regions. Verona lost over 60% of its citizens. Milan lost 46%. In Venice, one third died.
Stay healthy, amici.
On the 6th of January every year, La Befana, the Italian witch, delivers treats to children across Italy, just as Babbo Natale does on Christmas Eve. But la Befana is a witch (albeit, a good one) who travels by broom, magically swishing down chimneys and leaving presents in children's pillow cases, stockings and shoes.
In her hometown of Urbania--in the region of Marche--50,000 Italians celebrate this good witch's arrival with literally tons of desserts and foods. Throughout the streets and piazzas, you will find theater performances, fire-eaters, la Befana on stilts and also be amazed when she flies overhead (on a cable). The Festa Nazionale della Befana gives an alternative insight of holiday celebrations... it's perhaps one of the best festivals of the holiday season.
Click on the photo above to watch a video of this festival