If I hadn’t read or watched the news, living in the suburbs of Pavia – in the deep Pianura Padana – I would have not been aware. Then, in an instant, the ambulances multiplied, while all the other sounds, little by little, vanished. Sirens are the only sounds that for the last six weeks accompany my thoughts. I started to think to all those who, suddenly, found themselves living 24/7 together, in less square metres than the ones I share with my husband and dog, and without balconies or garden. I have been photographing strangers around the world for the last five years. A smile, an exchange of looks and the physical proximity help to establish in seconds a connection. I thought it would not be so different to repeat this through a computer, so I started looking for families in peculiar circumstances, from North to South, and abroad, to understand what has been and still is their perception of Coronavirus, and what arrangements they have
made to survive in a forced cohabitation. Alone. Together. After a first telephone contact we made arrangements for a blind date online. By videoing I was able to add a face to their voices, while all they saw was a head behind a lens, in the dark. This, however, has not prevented them from being spontaneous, or from smiling as they would have done with a person they hadn’t seen in a long time. This could seem to be nothing more than a fun pause from the pandemic, but after a few days I realised I undervalued the emotional impact of this project. More than ever, people appear to have a need to talk to someone they are not locked down in quarantine with; they need the freedom and space to share their pain, explain to the world what hasn’t worked, and vent their frustrations as their life has changed. All the participants saw their picture as an opportunity: to change clothes or pyjamas, put on makeup and do their hair, comet together as a family, chase their pets, find a perfect pose, and afterwards talk about it, during lunch or dinner, with their grandparents or fellow students who are far. This is the spirit that has united all these pictures. The desire to talk and do something different, even if only for a day, for once. To this it followed, as expected, the request to have a copy of the picture “so that one day we will look at it to remind ourselves that what we are experiencing now, really happened”. The quality of the pictures reflects the precarity of the social condition we are living in: we see each other blurred, we laugh in deferred mode, we shout to revive an internet connection at the end of its tether. The stories explain the emotional overcharge of these weeks, which will never be forgotten: birthdays celebrated online, turns for everyday household chores, worries kept well hidden not to worry the other members of the family. Alone, Together. Is a collection of spontaneous thoughts confessed to a voice at the opposite end of the phone.
Daria (2), Omar (42, Firm Director), Silvia (35, special needs teacher), Claudia (4) Pradalunga (BG) - 150 m2, balcony and small garden
Omar: “We live in Pradalunga. Alzano Lombardo and Nembro are just on the opposite side of the Serio river. They are the cities hit the most by Covid-19 in the Bergamo province, Lombardy (Italy). We know people who got sick with Covid-19 and now are fine. Unfortunately, others passed away. Every day we listen to ambulances and funeral church bells. Nowthere’s only the sounds of ambulances”.
Matteo (40, employee in a chemical-plastic multination company), Greta (11), Azzurra (16), Maya (10), Rosangela (39, housewife) Somma Lombardo (VA), 70 m2, small balcony and garden
Rosangela: “The family’s everyday life completely changed. Now we’re always together. Azzurra studies in her room, Greta follows online lessons from a little desk in the entrance, and I support Maya with homework in the kitchen. I’m worried because I can’t see my father as often as I was used to before the lock down: I bring him food every week, but I cannot be there for him as before. He feels lonely. Our house is on the way to the market. Yesterday he stopped by just to say hello form the street, and then he suddenly went away”.
Arita (1), Suparat (40, employee at the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Milano), Arianna (9), Aran (4), Alessandro (37, designer) Milano, 80m2, 2 small balconies and shared garden
Alessandro: “The first 2 weeks of lock down were tough, then we got used to a new family routine. We spend the happy hour on the balcony with the neighbours, sometimes they also play guitar. None that we know got sick, we’re all fine, and I now have more time to spend with my kids. I think we will deal with harsh economic issues. It’ll take at least one year before governments will find some concrete solutions”.
Diego (3), Marco (44, architect and teacher), Margherita (6), Paola (38, interior designer) San Martino Buon Albergo (VR), 80 m2, balcony and shared garden
Paola: “After only one week in quarantine, we were feeling sorry for ourselves, while real war scenarios were happening outside our doorstep. We’re ridiculous! We were used to live in very good conditions. I provide food for my mom. When I reach her place, I always wear mask and gloves because I’m scared to infect her. We have no clue about how long this situation will last. An elderly person may think “why do I have to live the last period of my life in this way?”. Right now, the problem is not just if you die, but also how you die. You die alone”.
Roberto (44, employee), Irene (5), Giorgia (2), Francesco (5), Erika (41, geologist) San Martino Siccomario (PV), 150 m2, balcony and garden
Erika: “Living together in quarantine is unnatural for most people. It makes you feel tired, frustrated, exhausted, and because you cannot vent with your kids, you end up venting on your partner”.
Roberto: “The quarantine is also a chance to create a new family routine. Of course, changes generate stress, but this is a unique collective opportunity to free ourselves from the social constructions and go back to the essence of life. I really hope it will bring something good”.
Fatih (39, researcher at Groningen University), Elif Sara (3), Arianna (36, researcher at Groningen University), Gaye Lisa (1) Groningen (Olanda), 160 m2, garden
Arianna: “Some colleagues and I put pressure on the University to cancel all the scheduled events. After a few days, luckily, they decided to stop all the university activities”.
Fatih: “What makes all this very hard is that we’re suffering from being apart from our families. We don’t know when we’ll see them again”.
Yinmiao (32, cultural-linguistic mediator), Alessandro (36, employee at the vegetable market), Letizia (6), Giulia (9) Pets: Mushu (2) Reggio Emilia (RE), 113 m2, 2 balconies and shared garden
Yinmiao: ”In school chats, several moms were concerned to send their kids to school together with their Chinese schoolmates. My husband works at the fresh fruit and vegetable market in Reggio Emilia. His routine has changed in a better way because he now works more than before the quarantine. On the other hand, it’s harder for me: I take care of the house, the kids, while still working as a mediator for Chinese students in Italy, and I’m an online student too. I’m trying to realize my dream to get a diploma. I hope they let us take the final exam online”.
Bruno (74), Rina (87), Muna (36, teacher and volunteer, now unemployed), Mariablu (5), Renato (62), Ella (61), Ivano (63) Pet: Fiorellino (1) Vico Barone (PC), house on the Hills
Muna: “Our NGO, “The art of living slowly”, had to stop face-to-face activities, but we started offering other kind of services. We often exchange emails with prisoners and ex prisoners, and we launched a help-line supporting lonely people and those who need to talk to someone. Yesterday Mariablu told me: “It seems like Christmas time to me, we’re all together and in the same place”.
Tommaso (11), Marco (48, business consultant), Giacomo (8), Sara (45, infectologist doctor, employed at Bellaria, a Covid-19 hospital) Francesco (14) Pet: Bonnie (5) Casalecchio di Reno (BO), 120 m2, balcony and shared garden
Sara: “I must admit I tend to feel emotional. I used to work in orthopedics, but given that all planned interventions have been postponed to an undefined date, I decided to go back to the front line in Bellaria, a Covid-19 Hospital. It’s unreal. I wake up at 6.30 am, I go out while kids and husband are still asleep, I change my clothes, and I turn myself into a walking disinfectant. I live a new life with colleagues I had never met before. Now that the school is closed and Saturdays and Sundays are just like the other days, my routine is timeless”.
Marco: “When Sara decided to come back in the front line, we decided to sleep in separate rooms as a precaution. It’s tough but we’re lucky because there’s enough space for all of us. I miss the freedom to share the bedroom with my wife. I miss the freedom to plan the future”.
Laura (28, director assistant), Sara (40, marketing specialist), Tiziana (72, manager), Maurizio (47 employee of the Teatro alla Scala), Elda (5 mesi), Daniele (31, coordinator at Milan’s Check Point), Matteo (43, set designer) Pets: Arturo (1), Pippi (8), Bianca (12), Otto (9) Curino (BI), country house
Daniele: “If you’re not concerned about yourself, at least you should be concerned for the others, because every contact could cause consequences. In my opinion – and we already discussed this at home – I think it is a little bit pointless thinking about tomorrow when we cannot imagine it. We must think about the here and now, we must live in the moment, and do our best, avoiding thoughts about a future that is unknown”.
Enea (15), Elia (18, tractor driver), Sarah (39, bar owner), Edoardo (16, autistic) Pets: Mario (11), Heidi (3), Rufus (1) Castelnuovo Val Tidone (PC), 200 m2, garden
Sarah: “I had a really bad headache and fever for 9 days. The doctor told me it was just a flu. At the beginning nobody listed the absence of taste and smell among the Covid-19 symptoms. I am ok now, but I still feel like my palate is burnt. Now that I’m ok, I’m worried for Edoardo, my autistic son. Edoardo doesn’t speak and he’s very sensitive.
A lot of diseases that had disappeared are now coming back. If autism were a consequence of vaccines, we should have been all autistic. The day the experts will find the Covid-19 vaccine, we will take it for sure. I have to go back to work, we must return to our lives”.
Andrea (15), Marco (38, farmer), Edoardo (7, autistic), Manuel (11), Erica (42, breeder of Siberian cats and housewife), Gioele Marco (5, affected by Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome) - [Simone (21) e Niccolò (19) absent because in Milan] Pets: Esmeralda (7 mesi), Elodie (2 mesi) Rocchetta Palafea (AT), 180 m2, garden
Erica: “We are not scared by the Coronavirus, it is just a business issue for us. We are disappointed because we feel abandoned and nobody gives us support with our autistic son Edoardo, who is now stuck at home and cannot follow his therapies. We will not take the Covid-19 vaccine once available. A vaccine against flu doesn’t give you immunity. If it did, having the flu should also give you immunity, but this is not how it works. In fact, you can have the flu hundred times.”
Elisabetta e Caterina (27 e 36, make-up artist, now unemployed), Cristina (65, retired), Sveva (11 months) Pets: Romeo (6), Calliope (6), Gatto (8), Pino (4) Nanan (10), Camillo (5) Pavia (PV), 100 m2, 2 balconies and shared garden
Elisabetta: “On the 17th of March, we called the emergency number because my sister had high fever and shortness of breath. Doctors decided to bring her to A&E. The situation there was terrible. She was surrounded by sick people coughing and unable to breathe. She saw some dead people, still intubated but not more attached to oxygen ventilators.
They didn’t test us for Covid-19 and we don’t know what to do. Should I go outside? Am I ok? What’s next? How can I be sure I am not infectious? I miss frivolousness. I miss taking a ride with the car with my sister and listening to 90s playlist at full volume”.
Adam (13), Hend (33, cultural-linguistic mediator in the healthcare system), Isaac (8), Nadia (14), Eva (22) Reggio Emilia (RE), 135 m2, balcony and shared garden
Hend: “I think I am lucky in this messy period, since I still have my job and I have economic stability. In the past, I was trained for Ebola and we had time to be prepared. In the end, nothing happened with Ebola, luckily. With Covid-19 it is different. It came unexpectedly and it happened for real. Covid-19 is here and anybody could be infected. And you don’t know anything about the condition of those in front of you.”
Adam: “We will realize the real importance of those things we take for granted. We will rediscover happiness in the little things. Right now, it is like it is always Sunday. But I don’t like Sunday”.
Lia (14), Giulio (12), Andrea (60, film maker and photographer, in China since the 80s), Jin Xiaobei (50, housewife) Beijin (China), 100 m2, balcony with glass window
Andrea: “Here in China, everyone follows the rules, breaking them is not contemplated. Controls are very severe. Indeed, the biggest dichotomy is not between China and Italy, but between China and the rest of the world. Here there are compounds made up by 10-20 buildings. Before, there were three or four entrances available. Now, there is just one, so that it is possible to control who enters and who exits. If you want to get access to another compound, this must be for a very important reason, not for asking for sugar to the neighbors.
The active involvement of all people makes the control by externals unnecessary. The community controls itself”.
Gabriele (9), Mattia (6), Andrea (8), Giulia (2), Corrado (33, employee at Genio Civile), Grazia (34, neuro-psychomotor therapist, now housewife), Gregorio (10 months) Messina (ME), 250 m2, terrace
Grazia: “I was scared for my parents, since they live far away from us. Being apart without knowing when we will meet again is not a nice feeling. A few days ago, Giulia dressed two bathing suits, one on top of the other, and on top of her clothes. She wanted to go to the sea, so I filled the bathtub with water and bubbles. She is just two-years, and this was enough to make her feel better”.
Corrado: “When we saw so many people returning here from the North, possibly bringing the virus to us, as indeed happened, fear increased and we still feel it”.
Gaia (41, business event planner), Ivan (40, IT technician) Pets: Alice (4), Ambrogio (10), Chimay (8), Piergatto (6), Silvestro (4), Matilde (9 mesi) Milano, 60 m2, balcony
Gaia: “The biggest fear is that someone you love will get sick. It has not been easy to explain to our parents that they had to change their routine, and to convince them that it was not necessary to go to the bakery or to the post office every day. Living together is hard not because we do not love each other, but because you are forced to share time and space with someone else 24 hours a day.
I miss talking with others. By the time it’s the evening, I feel I have nothing more to say. I am intrinsically optimist, but I am not sure my work will be the same in the future as it was before”.
Francesca (37, agro-business trainer), Alessandro (1), Ettore (5), Francesco (39, building manager) Pet: Saba (10) Trento (TN), 100 m2, balcony
Francesca: “We tried to explain what is going on to Ettore (he is attending reception). He likes experiments. He was vaccinated few months ago, so he understands we need to be careful and we need to wait for the experts to find a vaccine. Usually, he does not want to wash his hands, but he now knows this is important.
What about me and Francesco? We restarted to cook together, to take an aperitif or watch a TV series, just me and him. We try to live with no anxiety, waiting for the moment we will go out again. I feel down sometimes, but we give strength to each other”.
Daniele (33, Lecturer at Open University), Ada (1), Toa (33, researcher at Northampton University) Pet: Suerte (17) Leighton Buzzard, (UK), 80 m2, garden
Toa: “As Italian living in the UK, it has been tough, you are nor meat not fish. On the one hand, you are Italian, you know what is going on in your country. You are worried, but not enough because you don’t live it in person. So, your Italian friends complain about you and repeatedly tell you to buy gloves and masks. On the other hand, English people think you are exaggerating, as until just a few weeks ago, my boss and many others thought this was just a flu.
There will be economic problems, for sure. But we know we are lucky because we can keep on working from home – and we actually do it. Right now, your work is the only thing you still do alone and, the only thing that connects you to the past”.
Daniele: “What we experienced here is similar to what happened in Italy at the beginning, when the news from China started to arrive. It was hard to experience again that degree of underestimation of reality”.
Dario (55, consultant), Cloe (6), Jacopo (6), Andrea (55, diversity and inclusion manager), Artemisia (8) Pets: Viola (3), Yazmin (8), Figaro (2), Moscardo (6 months) Viterbo (VT), farmhouse in the countryside
Andrea: “My mother is 82 years old. She decided to remain in Rome and not to join us here in the countryside. She is a little bit hypochondriac, and she feared we could infect her, since we went to work and picked up the children from school.
What I criticize the most of the media is that they present this as a disaster. Try to think in my mother’s place: she is home, alone, she does not know other sources of information except the TV, turned on 24 hours a day, and she is constantly thrown into this.
What scares me the most is the idea of a permanent pandemic with a changing virus, and of living in such a dystopic future with constant fear. This is absolutely unbearable”.
Maria (37, bar tender), Lina (65, housekeeper), Domenico (67, retired) Pets: Zoe (9) Krastin (12), Mica (2), Nala (7), Nino (9) Milano, 67 m2, small balcony and shared garden
Maria: “I work as a bar tender and I am not working right now. It has not been easy learning how to keep distance at work. I did not want to become a problem myself. When making a coffee, I had to remind myself to quickly move away as soon as the customer got closer to the desk. I am not happy I am not working, for obvious reasons, but my parents are certainly happier I am here at home with them”.
Emmanuel (43, employee in a slaughterhouse and preacher), Prosper (7), Rejoyce (5), Jennifer (32, cultural-linguistic mediator and bar tender), Dominion (1) Modena, 65 m2, no balcony, shared garden
Jennifer: “I have been living in Italy for almost 17 years now. The coronavirus just arrived in my home country, Nigeria. And in Nigeria hunger will kill people before the virus will do. We take from granted that our life is in our hands, but now there is this small virus taking the world as hostage. God is looking after us and will protect us. I am faithful, and I believe that God’s love is for free and will save us all”.
Sara (44, GP), Antonio (12), Margherita (10), Marco (15), Federico (45, telecommunications engineer), Bianca (17) Pets: Brando (2), Zorba (6) Bologna (BO), 140 m2, garden
Sara: “I visit patients at home only when it is strictly necessary in order to avoid any risk of reciprocal contagion. As a doctor, it is unusual to see patients worrying about me. Many, however, very kindly keep asking if I am fine. When you are a doctor and you are the one who takes care of others, they worry that if you get sick you will no longer be able to take care of them. I need to keep others’ anxiety at bay. Life will restart somehow. If people can see the light at the end of the tunnel, they can resist. Otherwise, things become unbearable”.
Karim (39, employee in a paper mill), Giulia (37, employee in marketing), Sara (4) Pets: Miles (8), Ari (1) Savona (SV), 65 m2, no balcony, garden
Giulia: “A colleague of mine got infected. Another one had a psychological break down. She started to come at work with mask and gloves, she disinfected everything and even built up a barrier to get people far away from her desk. I miss my friends. As a couple, we were not used to go out frequently, but I miss the weekly dinner with our friends”.
Chiara: “In January I have been hospitalized due to high fever and shortness of breath. At that time, in Italy, there were no info about the coronavirus. Ex-post, after reading medical reports, I realized that I had most of Covid-19 symptoms, even if I am not sure yet. Home schooling is really challenging. We do not have a personal device for each of my kinds. We are learning to be patient. Sometimes I feel restless, and I wonder if we will ever return to our old life. I believe there are families in worse conditions than us, even if we have never been rich. Of course, now we just buy the necessary. Before, we used to buy take-away pizza, now we will learn to make it by ourselves”.
Maria Grazia (12), Nina (42, housewife), Alexandra (20), Catalin (47, mainteinance worker in powerhouse) Ruvo di Puglia (BA), 62 m2, no balcony and no garden
Nina: “I have recently joined the group of volunteers that brings foods to elderly people. We could not start before because we did not have the proper safety equipment. In the meanwhile, citizens and seamstresses, thanks to fabric donation, started to produce home-made masks. They will be distributed for free to the citizens. The first thing I will do when I will be allowed to leave the house is to take my camping tent and spend a week in the woods alone”.
Sandra: “In Taormina, there was no perception of what was going on. Tourists were still around until the first week of March. I moved here from Spain in 2005. My family still lives there, close to Barcelona. They try to reassure me, but it is not like being there with them. I often think about my grandparents, because things in Spain are getting even worse than in Italy”.
Luana (45, house keeper, now unemployed), Samuele (10), Renato (47, unemployed), Renata (18) Oleggio (VA), 86 m2, 2 balconies and shared garden
Luana: “My in-laws are Italian, but they have been living in Brazil for the last 40 years. In 2006, my husband and I decided to move to Italy thinking about a better education for our daughter Renata (she has Down syndrome). She is used to not have many friends, and having none calling her. She just has friends from the associations for children with Down syndrome. My husband was expected to have a job interview the day after the lock down started. Of course, it has been cancelled. In Brazil we used to say: “if life gives you lemons make lemonade”.
Ilenia (33, employee in travel agency), Diego (4), Nathan (9 months), Daniele (30, employee in an American multinational company) Pets: Nala (2), Chiara (2) Rome (RM), 85 m2, garden
Ilenia: “At the beginning we were scared, now the atmosphere is more relaxed. We avoid to listen to breaking news and reading updates all the time. Holidays won’t be the same as in the past. And if they will ever take place, we will certainly have to follow rules and restrictions. At least, I hope we will be allowed to meet our relatives soon. We hang in there waiting for better days”.
Bruna (80), Franco (81) Milan, 85 m2, 2 balconies
Franco: “I spend some time on the computer, because it is hard to order food online. We try to tame fear by calling friends and texting each other in our group chat by exchanging news about the coronavirus. We always have the TV on. Unfortunately, I am a little deaf. I always wear my headphones in order not to bother the neighbors. We are used to listen to Rai News 24 waiting for some good news, which are yet to come”.