At the beginning of March this year, I travelled to Italy to undertake research for my PhD thesis as a recipient of the ACIS/Cassamarca Dino De Poli Scholarship for 2020. My intention was initially to spend two weeks at the British School at Rome (BSR), before travelling north for around nine weeks to undertake archival research in Salò, Trento/Bolzano, and Trieste, before returning home in May. Little did I know upon my arrival at the BSR on Monday 2 March that, due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 Coronavirus, not only would I not be able to leave Rome and travel north, but that I would in fact have to leave Italy by the end of the month.
When I arrived at the BSR, the virus had already been detected in Italy (primarily in Lombardy and Veneto), but infection numbers were still reasonably low, and I didn’t really think at this point that my travel would be impeded. Given that the outbreak was in the well-resourced north of Italy, I assumed that the virus would be contained reasonably quickly and there would be no ongoing major interruptions. How naïve and wrong I would turn out to be! Before I knew it, not only were the northern regions locked down, but so too was the entire country. All schools, libraries, universities and businesses were closed, with the exception of essential services (supermarkets, pharmacies, health professionals etc.). Social distancing measures were quickly introduced, both internally at the BSR, and if we were to venture outside. Permission slips were required to go out of the BSR, for example to the supermarket. Police could, and would, stop and check to ensure that anyone outside was there for a legitimate reason, and would readily issue fines if not. These measures seem standard procedure now; however, at the time, they were new, and a little unsettling. Continue reading