Lockdown Amongst the Olive Groves.

Italy is closed! Due to the Coronavirus, Covid-19, about 60 million people here in this beautiful country are under Lockdown!

It has been more than a week since Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte issued his decree, and at this point we are all developing our own coping mechanisms.

A major proportion of the population is stranded in apartment blocks, looking out from their balconies – occasionally breaking into song – but are unable to go outside except for essentials, though I believe a short walk with one’s dog is in order. A visit to the supermarket or pharmacy is permitted and not much more.

Sports events, weddings, funerals, even Mass and all social gatherings where groups congregate, are forbidden. Churches are closed. Schools, bars, restaurants and non essential shops are firmly closed. Non urgent hospital visits are postponed for now. Lockdown!

It looks as though other countries are going to be going through the same ordeal soon, so I thought I would give you my own experience of what life under lockdown is like and how Tom and I are coping with the new normal.

Life out here in the countryside is a lot easier than being in an apartment. We are able to go for a stroll close to home, though we go separately as people walking in twos is, for some reason, suspect. Everyone is supposed to go out alone and carry a document stating who they are, where they live and where they are going.

If you want to see, or print off, the form  we are obliged to carry, just click HERE.

You can be stopped by the Polizia if you don’t have a valid reason for travelling. Going shopping is looked on as a valid reason, so there doesn’t appear to be any panic buying, as the supermarket shelves are full. Tom went to the supermarket last week. Everyone was wearing face masks and surgical gloves.

Apparently, the mask doesn’t necessarily prevent you from getting Covid-19, but it’s a matter of mutually protecting the community – people don’t know if they have it or not until it’s too late, hence community spread. So it’s pretty well essential to follow these simple guidelines and respect people’s feelings and worries, no matter what your personal views might be.

I went to the supermarket the other morning. Bean soup is lovely, really, but I was aching for some fresh veg – cauliflower in particular – some salad and a nice big piece of swordfish. Plus, many other items you take for granted when you can just pop out to the shops. The normally bustling town of Ostuni was very quiet. Just a few cars moving on the streets.

Outside Famila in Ostuni, a gentleman in a huge mask with a little vent on the front, was watching shoppers closely, as only so many can be allowed inside at a time. Luckily, there were no more than a dozen people inside, so entering was no problem. 

All the shelves were fully stocked, though I noticed there had been a bit of a run on the mozzarella. But, hey, it’s Italy and who can cope without an adequate supply of that particular item. I managed to get some from the deli counter, so that was fine. They had marked out squares on the floor in front of the vast display of meats, cheeses, olives and other items of freshly prepared goodies, so nobody can invade anyone’s space. Actually, I found people only too happy to keep their distance and there wasn’t the usual jostling by excitable signore for slices of prosciutto crudo and cartons of burrata.  

At the checkout, the spaces to occupy by you and your trolley were marked out on the floor with strips of black and yellow tape, like a murder scene. One elderly gentleman rather foolishly pushed his trolley over the forbidden line and the teller at the checkout called out an admonishment to stay back. 

We are staying at home. Tom is spending an inordinate amount of time reading and is on book #18 in Ian Rankin’s “Inspector Rebus” series. He’s also going for walks locally and taking loads of photographs. Yesterday, he attempted to make a few bonfires of our olive tree clippings, but they must be too fresh as the fire went out. Back to Inspector Rebus to cheer him up.

I’m working away on novel number two and getting a fair amount done. I’m also reading a great deal and am about to crack open the new Hilary Mantel tome, “The Mirror and the Light”, which I have been waiting for, literally, years to be published. First thing in the morning, I usually take a one hour stroll in the campagna where I never see a soul, except for my doggie friends, who rush to their gates to greet me as I pass, begging to be released from lockdown, and the occasional cat.

We’re lucky to live where we do; in virtual isolation, among the olive groves and our walks are keeping us fairly fit.

As an antidote to the difficulty that is Lockdown, I have decided to dedicate this blog to my own lifesaver: my wonderful walks in the campagna around our home, Villa Allegra, high on a hilltop near Ostuni.

So, come join me on my walk along the sandy lanes through the olive groves of the Valle d’Itria here in Puglia. Walking boots on? Check. Let’s go.

This was Villa Allegra the other morning before I rounded the first bend and took this photo through a mass of blossoms.

Spring is my favourite season of all. Newly formed blossoms pop out on apricot, cherry and almond trees. Wild flowers carpet the fields. Our mimosa tree displays its brilliant yellow flowers in time for Women’s Day.

As you can see, the countryside is sprinkled with little cone shaped trulli, many long derelict, for which the Valle d’Itria is so famous. Their roofs peer out from among the olive groves.

And what about this field full of artichokes.

In summer, the hot weather turns the sky a steely blue. Hay is rolled into huge bales in the fields. All is still. The air is perfumed. The lanes are white and powdery underfoot.

Early autumn brings figs, which hang lusciously over the rough stone walls, and prickly pears pop up on their cactus-like plants.

October sees the olive harvest in full swing. These are the nets ready to catch this precious harvest.

Winter arrives. The sun still shines, but the days are cool and often windy. It’s perfect walking weather, wrapped warmly in our fleeces.

In January, murmurations of starlings sweep across the sky, settling in the olive groves, making a huge chortling racket, taking off again with an enormous whooshing sound.

All in all, we feel lucky to be where we are during this awful crisis. I do my best to damp down my inevitable feeling of nervousness, as I would be terrified if I found that I had contracted Covid-19. We’re being careful in the extreme and hoping for the best.

Orna O’Reilly

Ostuni, Italy.

March 2020.

10 thoughts on “Lockdown Amongst the Olive Groves.

  1. That’s beautiful, Orna. Just one thing, though…. Could Tom build a small summer house in the garden to accommodate a certain Lady Puddingshire? Lockdown at Villa Allegra is looking a lot more appealing than ‘left to ourselves’ in the UK! xx

    • We have a lovely little wooden shed in the garden. It might be a bit cramped with all Tom’s garden equipment though!! Yes, we are very lucky to live where we do right now and the fact that nobody can come within a metre of us when we do venture to town makes me feel a lot safer than I would in a country that’s not locked down like this one. It will pass in time and I’m trying to be relaxed about it, as much as I possibly can.

  2. Hello Orna and Tom, How I have enjoyed your photographic journey and writing! We are also lucky to live a bit isolated with plenty of space in which to walk and enjoy the exploding spring countryside in Umbria, between Bevagna and Montefalco. We must all keep the faith and hope for better times ahead. All the best to you and Tom – you are an inspiration to many!

  3. Beautiful photos and stroll through Italian country living, but try not to worry about the virus too much. While it only takes contact with one infected person, you’re living out in the fresh air in an area that has very low case numbers. Many more people have it than we think – just look at the numbers of random famous people who have been tested for it, from Tom Hanks to Idris Elba to members of a pro-basketball team. You’re taking more precautions than most of the world. Keep doing your thing.

  4. What a delightful trip and I didn’t even have to go out! The country is beautiful right now, isn’t it? And you’re fortunate to live where you do. If it weren’t for us moving to Arizona next week, I’d be sitting around reading and drinking tea. 🙂 Instead I’m madly packing and all that fun stuff. When we get to our new rental house, I’ll be happy to sit in the sun or read and drink tea.

    janet

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