Elisabetta is an Italian woman who has been living in Galway for almost six years. She originally hails from Milan, the place where Covid-19 was first detected in Europe and also the first place to impose a full lockdown in the continent.
Moving to Ireland was always a dream of hers, she tells me.
“I originally moved here with my husband. At a certain stage he wanted to change his life, we decided to leave the certainty of Italy behind for a change and a new start in Ireland.”
“But you know, life is strange...” she continues, “There were a lot of personal challenges over the next few years, I went through a very difficult separation. Actually, the irony is that for me everything I had been going through seemed to be have been settled and finished at the beginning of 2020. I was thinking more positively, and then the lockdown came!
“So I had to cope with a lot of different things: being abroad, not having any family here... I was really on my own. I relied on my friends, I had my two dogs. Lockdown in some ways I think brought to light what is really important in life, in particular the importance of connecting with nature.”
During the initial months of the pandemic Elisabetta had to make some trips back to her home of Milan, and this brought with it its own anxieties, she confides.
“I was a bit nervous to go back there, where everything started. I was thinking, 'oh my god, am I going to see people dying on the side of the street?' But honestly it's not like that, there is a fear that the media tries to transmit to people, but actually being there it's much different. and in fact it was a lot like here. I believe almost everywhere in the world we are living in the same situation.”
“At the beginning,” she continues, “I was a little worried about the virus. Mostly about my parents, my first feeling that I was stuck far away from them and the rest of my family. So I was a little concerned
“But at the same time, since the beginning, there was something that didn't seem right about the whole thing, so I started to do some research on what was going on. I don't have a TV, so I began to try and find out what was happening on independent news channels. As time went on it became more and more evident that something was not right.”
Elisabetta tells me that she now struggles with the thought of her options for travel being cut off in the future. Her home is in Italy, but she also feels a connection to Ireland.
“I feel like I am neither here nor there... When you live in another country you have a bond with it, in my case with Ireland. So it's very hard now to think about what I should do. Should I go back? Maybe I will be stuck somewhere, completely. It's not easy, it's not a nice situation at all. Italy is now on the 'black list' for hotel quarantine.”
How are things back home compared to Ireland?
“They are more strict I think. You have to wear a mask even outdoors. I think this is very bad for our health, we are breathing back in the waste products that we exhale. I spent two and a half months there during the winter and every time I came home in the evening I had a headache. I don't have that here at all, even though I go walking with my dogs in the rain, the wind and the storms! I feel better here in general.
“Also, there is the curfew. This has a terrible effect on your mind. Every night, even though maybe I was not going out at all, I would have this terrible anxiety, thinking, 'oh my God I have to go back home now!'. You have to be inside by 10 o'clock, which is very early especially during summertime, and the Italian government wants to keep it in place until August.”
She sees a lot of ironies in the current situation in Italy, especially in some of the recent springtime celebrations that have taken place.
“This month we celebrated Labour Day on May 1st, which is funny since a lot of people now don't have any work! On April 25th we celebrated the anniversary of Liberation Day, when Italy was freed from fascism after the Second World War. But people celebrated this freedom with masks on and movement restrictions in place, curfew... Nothing makes sense, you celebrate liberation but you are not free, you celebrate labour but you have lost your job!”
Is she more optimistic for the future?
“Well,” she says, “I'm normally optimistic, but as time goes by things are not improving, on the contrary they are getting worse. This hotel quarantine idea is absolutely crazy. It's like they're holding people hostage, and they're asking them to pay 2,000 euros for the privilege! You have the army transporting you from the airport to the hotel, just because you are travelling from another country.
“If Covid didn't exist I wouldn't be so concerned about catching a flight. There used to be maybe 3 or 4 flights every day from Dublin to Milan, now there are 2 or 3 a week. Spending lots of money on all these PCR tests... maybe you have to pay 30 euro for the flight and 90 euro for a test! It doesn't seem to make sense, if I'm not sick and have no symptoms why is it mandatory to get tested?”
With all of the many stresses we face, how does she think peoples' mental health is being affected?
“People are very scared, especially the elderly. When I went back to Italy my Mum was sanitising my coat, shoes... everything, every day! So mentally I think it's very bad. All this anxiety about wearing a mask, other people look at you in a bad way if you are not wearing one. I think all this is separating people into two big groups: those who believe in the agenda and those who don't. This separation is pitting us all against each other.
“Also the feeling of being stuck is difficult. I have to try and change my mindset. It's not nice because there are many difficulties in life apart from lockdowns. My father passed away a couple of months ago, unrelated to Covid, and I think maybe I have to go back because my Mum might need me, I'm an only child.”
She finishes our chat by telling me about a recent story that made the rounds in the Italian media.
“Recently the papers reported on a very well-known actor in Rome. He heard noises coming from the flat next to his, and he called the police because maybe six people we having a party. They all got fined. I wasn't alive during the Second World War, but there are so many similarities that are concerning me, and I wonder how people don't realise it.
“We should have a right to make our decisions for ourselves: whether to meet or not to meet, whether to wear a mask or not to wear a mask. We should be free to choose. We may put ourselves at risk of getting a virus, but that should be our own choice. At least we can live that way!”