Sometime during the summer of 2019 I decided that one decade of living in the UK would suffice to qualify me for an upgrade. Overall life was good, as I lived in a spacious and sunny sea side flat on the southern coast of Engliand and for the most time managed to ignore the temperamental weather. But I would also never get used to the insular mentality as well as the political uncertainty that would ultimately erode the very foundations of this little island. All things considered, now was the time to cross the Strait of Dover and reestablish myself on continental soil.
Simona, who moved in with me in March 2019, is Italian, originally from the picturesque city of Perugia in the region of Umbria. Simona worked for two years for an international NGO in London, but a renewed contract allowed her to operate from pretty much anywhere in the world. We played with the idea of moving for a few years to Italy, for she would be closer to her friends and family, and since Perugia is also known as the city with the best Italian language school, the Universita di Stranieri, it would also make a good place for me to learn the Italian language as well as everything about Italian history and culture. I was looking forward to inscribe at a European university and start a new chapter in my life. By November 2019 we started looking for a house in Perugia.
Over the following weeks, we viewed a few apartments, online and on location, none of which we were too excited about. But then Simona went to Italy in February 2020, and happened to see a house with a big terrace in the medival city center. She sent me a short video during the house visit. With its big wood beams across the ceiling, with its tall and massive walls and with its spacious terrace facing the afternoon sun, there was not much else left to say for me other than “let’s sign the contract”. We prepared the paperwork and signed the agreement with landlord and agency via email. Move in date and start of the rental would be the 1st of May 2020. We were “contento”, happy to have found a suitable destination. The hardest part was done. Or was it?
Two days later Simona travelled back to the UK, and five days later Italy went under full lock down. Shock and awe spread around the globe faster than any virus could. All international air travel came to a halt and more and more countries were ordering their populations to stay at home. We did not know when, how or if we would ever be able to travel to Italy again. It would have been good to see the new house once – before certain death would end all our existence, at least according to some British politicians and media outlets. After a few days of looking at walls in disbelief, we arrived at the conclusion that our only chance was to get away from this island, fast. We needed to take advantage of that first small window of opportunity that would show after the Italian curve would flatten. The first step of the plan would be to get a plane ticket, preferably with an airline that won’t go bust over the next weeks and was backed by a government. Luckily Alitalia had just been partially nationalized.
Alitalia’s website stated that it would operate daily flights from London Heathrow to Rome from mid March on. Prices were still low, and we booked two tickets to Rome for the 4th of April. Simona voiced her concern, that once Italy and the EU countries came out of the lock down, they could block travellers from virus infested UK. At that point the only other option would have been to sit the entire pandemic out on the island, but when Boris Johnson shortly thereafter fell victim to his self proclaimed herd immunity strategy, it was clear that we were in a most dangerous situation and the likelihood of dying in England was greater than ever.
More and more it also became clear to us that Italy was closed to anyone without a good reason to enter. Since neither me nor Simona were Italian residents, we were unlikely to be allowed in. We called Alitalia several times as well as the Italian embassy and the Italian border police to find out about current regulations. Apparently, moving houses counted as an emergency and sufficient reason to enter Italy. Even I would have been allowed to enter, although I don’t have the Italian citizenship or any kind of Italian ID document. Since my name was on the rental contract too, Alitalia, embassy and border police all gave us the green light to proceed with our travel arrangements. Although it felt as if none of them really knew what to suggest to us, as the actual rules were vague to non-existent and certainly not compatible with European Union laws and courts.
Feeling a bit more reassured, we ran the numbers and decided it would be a lot cheaper to use a removal company to ship our household to Italy instead of buying everything new there. Also, who knew if the supply chains would even allow us to buy new things once in Italy. At that time it seemed as if the world economy would come to a complete standstill within a few weeks.
We compared quotes of removal companies and ordered packing material. The next weeks were spent pushing the moving date further down the calender, disassembling furniture, taping moving boxes and writing inventories for the insurance company. All while socially distancing us from everyone except my seagull friend Philip, who has been using my living room window as a take away restaurant since the day I moved in. Most of our time was spend indoors, but we made sure to take daily walks on the beach, without getting too close to other people.
I have never seen England so sunny as in those two months of lock down. It was almost as if the absence of traffic and people on the streets, kept the sky blue and clear. I even spotted a seal near the beach once, a sign that the water was cleaner, and calmer too. Ultimately, 2020 wasn’t the year when Britain took back control – it was the year that nature would fight back, ultimately taking on the human infestation of this planet in its very own ways.