Love in lockdown: How a couple distanced by Italy's regional restrictions stays connected
- Elisa Spreafico is a 24-year-old student living in northeast Italy with her parents and brothers.
- Since early March, she's been separated from her boyfriend, Stefano De Palo, who is locked down in his apartment in the coastal town of Pietra Ligure, more than 100 miles (160 kilometres) away.
- The couple stays connected through calls and texts, and they take turns reading a book together every night.
- The pandemic has cast doubt over the couple's immediate future plans, but they do notice people around them are more generous than before.
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They should have been sharing a gelato in the spring sunshine.
Instead, under some of the most severe restrictions on movement placed anywhere in Europe, Elisa Spreafico is separated from her boyfriend, Stefano De Palo, with more than 100 miles (160 kilometre) of Italian mountains, countryside and deserted roads in between them.
In a story common to distanced couples, they bridge the gap with calls and texts. Love in lockdown has dramatically altered the landscape for couples split apart by the coronavirus. But Elisa, a 24-year-old student, said she and Stefano have found a novel way of keeping the spark alive.
"One thing that I really love is that every night we are reading a book together. One of us reads a part of a book. The next day it's the others' turn. It's something that makes us feel connected."
Elisa craves connections. She'll have to make do with Wi-Fi for now. It takes a three-hour drive from Stefano's apartment in the coastal town of Pietra Ligure, in a different municipality altogether, to reach her family home in the outskirts of Turin in northeast Italy. Today, Italian police can ask for certification for anyone in a vehicle, with cross-regional movement under severe restrictions since Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte banned all non-essential movement on March 10. Northern Italy has effectively been on lockdown since March 8.
The young couple met two summers ago working across the road from one another
They've both individually traveled abroad, spending time away from one another. And yet, enforced separation in their own country has been more difficult to overcome.
"I was in Moscow for two months and I didn't miss my boyfriend much," said Elisa. "But here, it feels like I'm suffocating. I crave for connections."
- She stays busy revising for her final-year Spanish and Russian undergraduate exams, surrounded by her brothers and parents. Meanwhile, she's all too aware that Stefano has been struggling by himself.
Unemployment and the long days in confinement away from his girlfriend and by himself sometimes take a toll on Stefano. Luckily, nature is all around him in Pietra Ligure, a sleepy town of approximately 9,000 people nestled against the Mediterranean Sea. The 29-year-old can almost see the crystal blue waters of the Mediterranean from his balcony.
The extremes of natural beauty and confinement jostle for Stefano's attention, a young man who admits his essential Italian-ness cannot escape the overwhelming sadness of missing friends and social occasions.
"I really miss witnessing the blossoming of spring properly, [so] I spend loads of time on my balcony to smell nature."
- Across the regional border, Elisa mimics his thoughts. She's noticed that the river near her has somehow turned blue during lockdown.
"We can learn from nature. We might start thinking we humans aren't so great and start respecting nature."
She really misses the "underappreciated" details of life, "like taking a bus, seeing nature, or seeing people relaxing together and smiling."
Like so many of Italy's suburban areas, both Stefano and Elisa live among a disproportionately large elderly population most vulnerable to Covid-19. Stefano said a minority continue to defy lockdown, unable to relinquish old habits in a country famed for its social cohesion. For this reason, Stefano said he has strictly curtained his movements. He's left his apartment only three times in the 40 days, bulk buying food at his local supermarket.
"I'm probably the most strict following the rules here. My last shop was before Easter!"
Living in his hometown gives Stefano a sense of collective duty
He gave his spare room for free to a doctor working at a nearby hospital. The doctor fell ill with flu-like symptoms for a month but has since tested negative for Covid-19.
"I wanted to care and not be a problem for society," he said.
Elisa was a "rebel" at the beginning of Italy's lockdown, before quickly changing her mind.
"At first, I didn't care so much. But as the number of deaths increased, and the situation got worse, I understood this wasn't easy and I had to do the right thing."
The coronavirus pandemic has cast doubt over the immediate future. Stefano and his family had planned on opening a budget hotel for tourists in his coastal hometown. His previous work in the hospitality industry has hampered job opportunities, with hotels and tourism shut down. Unemployment benefits and help from his family keep him afloat; a one-off payment of 600 Euros (R11,000) from Italy's government less so. It's an amount that concerns Elisa, and she fears poverty for many Italians not so lucky as herself and her boyfriend.
- But Italians are "more generous than ever before," she added.
"In my town, there are gatherings for handing out food and people are willing to give out anything to help each other. I didn't think it would happen."
Will Italian society change in a post-Covid world?
"Online deliveries will be used much more than in the past. We are sure there'll be social distancing in the future to come," said Stefano.
Elisa goes a step further, believing that "everything will change."
"We [Italians] like to touch each other when we talk! But we can still make gestures. Going outside and drinking with friends will be completely different. Maybe we'll meet friends in little groups, but we'll be afraid of other people."
What is more certain is what she'll do first once lockdown is lifted.
"When it's all over, I'm going to meet my boyfriend!"
And perhaps, reading a book together, hand in hand - not relying on technology for a connection.
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