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....
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
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
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
Bergoglio is a common Italian surname from the Piedemont region of Italy, although in this case, this man is called Jorge (Giorgio, in Italian) and he was born in Argentina. Yes, that Jorge Bergoglio, also known as Pope Francis.
In the last few months, there has been a uprising and controversy when a video went viral--of Pope Francis pulling his ringed hand away from people as he meets. People are angry because HE isn't showing any respect for the Church or its traditions.
The video that caused this controversy was from video footage of meeting of pilgrims after the Pope celebrated Mass in the Holy House in Loreto, Italy, on March 25, 2019. In this short video, Pope Francis appears to pull his hand away each time a person approaches to greet him and kiss his hand or ring. But this video didn't exactly show everything that happened that day. In fact, when approached by nuns, in every instance, he allowed them to kiss his hand or ring. But, when it came to the lay people that day, he pulled his hand away from each... (Watch the complete video on this page)
The custom of kissing the ring of the pope or a bishop has been a gesture of respect in the Church for longer than can be remembered, but likely started in the late Middle Ages. In fact, when I was a child, I remember having to kiss our bishop's ring whenever he visited our church. This ring-kissing is called baciamano (in Italian, literally "hand kiss”), but in practice it refers to kissing the ring worn by any bishop, but especially the Papal Ring of the Fisherman worn by every Pope.
Each Pope chooses, designs or selects his own ring to wear during his Papacy. The Fisherman’s Ring is one of several rings typically worn by the Roman pontiff. The ring takes its name from its image of St. Peter as a fisherman, which became the standard design around the mid-15th century.
The first record of the ring’s use was on two letters of Clement IV in 1265 and 1266, used as a wax seal in private letters in place of the official lead seal used for solemn papal documents. In 1842, use of the ring and wax seal were replaced by a stamp, but each Pope still receives a unique Ring of the Fisherman at the start of his papacy, which is then destroyed soon after his death.
Pope Francis doesn't always wear the Papal Ring, and while outside of official Papal ceremonies, Francis is typically seen wearing only his episcopal ring. It is customary to kiss the ring of any bishop, and being that the Pope also holds the title of Bishop of Rome, he is also technically a Bishop.
Kissing a Bishop's ring is done out of reverence for his dignity as a successor of the apostles, and the hand of a priest, as it has been anointed with chrism to consecrate the Body of Christ.
The custom of baciamano started to change with St. Paul VI in the last decades of the 20th century, when he eliminated other forms of showing Papal obedience and subservience, such as kissing the pope’s foot, shoulder, and cheek. Kissing the Pope's ring was starting to fall from favor. In the past, one typically bowed while kissing the ring, but in later years, the bowing has also started to disappear.
Some Vatican insiders claim that Francis retreats from traditional Vatican Court Customs, wanting to further simplify the ceremonial by omitting the greeting of genuflection and kissing his ring. He sees this as a lessen to the people of his Church that he is also a common man, and only Christ Himself is worth of such respect. He will still allow those "of the cloth", such as nuns and priests to kiss his hand/ring (as is seen in the unedited video of the event in question). He is respecting the internal hierarchy of the Catholic Church in doing this. The Pope is in fact, their leader. But he does not wish everyday people to treat him as if he were some sort of religious idol. He is an "everyman Pope". So he often pulls pack his hand as a lesson for us not to idolize him.
Other Reasons for
Pulling Back His Hand
Still others, point out that the Pope is a senior citizen, and as such, has a weakened immune system. It's prudent to lessen the contact with parishioners, especially during events when the Pope is likely to have thousands try to kiss his hand. Even politicians on their political hand-shaking and baby-kissing campaigns have their aides squirt their palms with Purell after each public event.
Anecdotally, I will confess to changing my habits when food shopping when my son was a toddler, riding in the supermarket cart while I shopped. In the first couple of years, it seemed both of us were getting sick a lot... 4-6 times a year we would catch colds. But then I started to use the antiseptic wipes available in supermarkets to wipe down the handle of our shopping cart, and we magically stopped catching colds!
I think we can all give the Pope the benefit of doubt on this matter. He is an older man and can catch colds like any other mortal human. He is also a humble Pope and doesn't like being treated like a king or monarch or even the embodiment of the Christ Himself.
I think this can be a teachable moment. Use wipes at the supermarket --my lesson. The Pope is just a man, like all others --Francis' lesson. We are all children of God while we are in this mortal form. Germs DO exist and are transferred instantly by touch.
There, I've said my piece. Now, does anyone have a Wipe?
Most Italians work long hours. In the average business, their weekday hours are 9.00 am (9:00) to 1.00 pm (13:00) and from 2.30 pm (14:30) to 6.00 pm (18:00), from Monday to Friday. They use the 24 hour military clock.
Many people will work well after 6.00 pm, especially true for managers and entrepreneurs. This is one of the reasons they take long lunches--called riposa--typically from 1 pm until 3 - 3:30 pm. Even most churches are closed from noon until 3 pm.
There are many jobs which have their workers come in from Monday through Saturday, but they only work from 8.00 am to 2.00 pm. When a business is closed on Saturday, they might also add a few afternoon hours for their employees. According to Italian labor laws, the number of hours worked in a week can reach a maximum of 40. The average time, including overtime, cannot exceed 48 hours.
Workers in Italy are guaranteed a minimum of 4 weeks paid days off for vacation and holidays. Some unions negotiate even longer periods of paid vacation/holiday days off.
Lunch breaks are typically shorter in large cities and restaurants are open during the lunch hours. In smaller towns, even restaurants will be closed during riposa because most people prefer to eat at home. (But food is available at "bars", which are open).
In almost all cases, many shops, even in large cities, will be closed for riposa with their hours listed on the door.
In addition, during the August holiday season of Ferragosto, when workers take from 2-4 weeks off for holiday, you might see a sign on shop or restaurant doors saying "Chiuso Per Ferie" (Closed for Vacation) with a date when they will return from vacation.
Most Italians take a two week vacation (called Ferragosto on August 15th) either before or after August 15th. Most large industries are closed during August and many museums and restaurants might also be closed. Many people take the entire month to rest and relax before returning to work and school on September 4th.
The other period of time when holidays might affect normal business hours is the period between Christmas, New Year's Day and the Epiphany on January 6. Since Italy is a Catholic country, many national holidays coincide with religious holidays.
In addition, all Italian cities celebrate the patron saint as a legal holiday. All businesses are closed on...