Updated: Apr 7, 2020
Somewhere over the rainbow...
…there is a place without any Covid-19 cases.
2 - the number of cases when I arrived in Sardinia on 5th March.
874 - the confirmed number of cases on this Island one month later, as at 5th April.
What I don’t understand is this, if we have all been self-quarantining to protect ourselves and remain healthy or self-isolating if we have contracted the virus, then why have the numbers increased so much?
Since 12th March we have been in what I would term a 90% lockdown. That is, only going out for necessities, some exercise and going to work if unable to work from home.
I thought I’d take advantage of this ‘exercise’ allowance and try some running. Any excuse to legitimately ‘get out’ and into the sun.
I ‘attempted’ to run on 2 occasions but actually thought I might die from lack of oxygen than Covid-19. The first time I was out for a whole hour. Not actually running for this duration I must add. I ran up the road from my apartment, which is in itself a gentle incline. I then had to rest for 5 minutes to stop my heart from having arrhythmia.
I continued in this stuttering, stop/start manner for at least 30 minutes around the main road and into the narrow streets of Santu Predu old town before the feeling of nausea completely took over. The few people I saw were looking at me as if I’d lost my mind but I was giving them a cheery ‘ciao’ just to try and convince them that I was sane.
On the second occasion as I was running down a side road a woman was shouting after me from her balcony but I have no idea what she was saying in her machine gun Italian. Probably something along the lines of, ‘What are you doing you crazy foreigner? Get back inside or do you want to catch this virus?’
Feeling slightly unnerved, I continued for a little way until I then saw the Carabinieri (Military Police) waiting (for me?!) at the junction. At this point I did a quick u-turn before they clocked me and ran faster than I’ve ever run in my life until I was sure I was out of their sight. That has been the sum total of my running career.
So to keep within my comfort zone I have stuck to walking, mainly ‘around the block’. What have I seen? Not much, except random individuals walking their incontinent and loose bowelled dogs. Yes there is still a large amount of poop smeared along the pavements, that hasn’t changed.
As supermarkets are only allowing a maximum of 10 customers at any one time, there is always a cluster of masked folk standing outside with no attempt at making a line. That would be impossible here, rather they look like a mob ready for a raid. You just have to get as near to the entrance as you can without disobeying the 2 meter rule.
The Post Office is another hub for this masquerade. I have seen between 10-15 people standing on the steps eagerly waiting their turn to enter only to pick up a number from the ticket machine to join another disorganised ‘queue’.
In these instances even with masks in situ it does leave me wondering if this ‘lockdown’ is truly effective. Certainly it must be doing something (?) but I fear it may not be enough if we are still seeing a daily rise in figures and an extension to the original lockdown at least until Easter. I think this confinement is set to continue.
On the first Monday after ‘lockdown’ having thought of a plausible reason for going out, as in needing some cash, I made the most of this opportunity. I fancied ‘dressing up’ a bit in smart trousers, jumper, black patent shoes, trench coat, scarf and sunglasses, feeling and looking a bit like someone from the French resistance!
Following my visit to the bank’s ATM I decided to take advantage of being out as it was such a nice day. I decided to walk back the long way round up Corso Garibaldi and through the giardinetti. There were a few others around; the ubiquitous dog walkers, a few teens in a small group, a woman on her phone, so I thought why not, I’ll just sit here for a few minutes, send a message to Mark and enjoy the sun.
I had been basking for no more than 5 minutes when I noticed people dispersing and as I looked up the Carabinieri had just driven into the giardinetti directly in front of me. I made to get up but knew it was too late. They had seen me, shit.
From out of the open window on the passenger side came, ‘Signora, cosa fai?’ (Madam, what are you doing?)
I walked over and said ‘Vado a casa.’ (I go home).
‘Non, adesso, cosa fai qui?’ (No, now, what are you doing here?)
‘Ah, eerrrr mando un messaggio al mia collega.' (I send a message to my colleague).
‘Ma perché? Puoi inviare un messaggio da casa, no?' (But why? You can send a message from home, no?)
‘Sì, ma devo mandarlo adesso, prima di ritornare a casa.' (Yes, but I must send it now, before returning home).
‘No, è vietato a stare fuori. Vai al supermercato, in farmacia, poi vai a casa. Capito?’ (No, it is forbidden to stay outside. Go to the supermarket, the pharmacy then go home, understood?)
‘Capito. Ma prima sono andata in banca per soldi, guarda.' (Understood. But before, I went to the bank for money, look).
I then showed him my wallet with banknotes. Maybe he thought I was trying to bribe him.
Luckily he laughed.
‘Metterlo via.' (Put it away).
He had also asked if I had a 'Ministero dell' Interno' (public security) form, which I proudly produced from my bag. My landlord had furnished me with one a few days before, now mandatory to carry if leaving the house to confirm our whereabouts. I thought I’d better take it but hadn't considered completing it beforehand!
We proceeded to fill in the form with my personal details and reason for leaving the house, i.e. to go to the bank. He asked if the cash I'd collected was to go food shopping so I said ‘Sì.' It seemed like the correct answer at this point and would of course be used for this purpose, just not today.
He also guessed I was ‘un insegnante di inglese.' I wonder how?!
I asked if there was a problem and he said ‘No, mar non puoi stare qui nei giardinetti pubblici, capito?’ (No, but you can’t stay here in the public gardens, understood?).
‘Sì, ho capito.’ (Yes, I've understood).
‘Vai a casa e rimani lì.' (Go home and stay there).
I said I was working from home this afternoon. Hopefully that would pacify him sufficiently.
He wrapped up the incident with a buon pranzo (good lunch). I love that even in a sticky situation, reference is made to the most important meal of the day! Even the Pope wished us buon pranzo after his address from the balcony in il Vaticano.
‘Grazie mille e buona giornata.'
Thank fuck I wasn’t arrested.
I quickly walked back to my apartment heart fluttering thinking how lucky I’d been and then started imagining what the interior of the police HQ might be like here. Or maybe they had just stopped me because of the French resistance look? I’ve been trying to avoid them ever since, hiding behind trees down the Corso or walking purposefully in the opposite direction. They are everywhere! Carabinieri, Polizia, Polizia Municipale, Guardia di Finanza…
I think I’m getting quite good at ‘dodging’ the authorities now. I just don’t go out (much). Except of course to the supermarket and to take out the bins. That happens quite frequently as there are so many different types of recycling here; plastic, glass, dry, organic, paper/card...
However it's the laundrette which has become the most exciting weekend activity as it means I can stay out for more than the usual 30 minutes. The last time I went there I got chatting to a woman who I thought was a local but turned out to be from South Africa. Actually her roots are in Nuoro but she had spent 20 years in South Africa. Totally random. Her house burned down the day I arrived, even more random and now she lives in an RV, hence her visit to the lavandaria.
We had a chat and she warned me that the supermarkets would be shut for at least 4 days, which prompted me to do a double, dare I say it ‘panic buy’ shop which lasted me for about 2 weeks. It transpired that there was no ongoing supermarket closure apart from on Sundays.
Work - British Institutes
The main reason I’m here of course is to work. Not only to dodge police and get my washing done. Now on my fourth contract in Nuoro with British Institutes, this year was always going to be different apart from the lack of young learners. I must admit I sigh with relief at this point. Not that I don't like kids but I know where my strengths lie and it's not at Primary School!
My director had decided during last year to change the business in some other ways too. To make it more manageable for her, to create a shorter working period, from 6 months to 3.
Having no idea about what was around the corner, she had decided to move the office/reception to the same building as my apartment. What a stroke of luck in this current climate.
With the previous school being at least 20 minute’s walk from my apartment there would be no way of working there now. Not to mention no students arriving!
So here I am once again with BI working online 2 flights downstairs. I never did like commuting to work much, so this is probably as good as it gets short of being on the sofa!
I love this ‘office’ space. Being part of the old building, it has high ceilings, large windows and a tiled floor. She has of course done a fantastic job and as always pays attention to the details. There is even a little day bed in the window. Not that I’ve used it-yet!
So teaching online…via Zoom, I’d never heard of it until a month ago. But I like it. It’s straightforward and I’m no tech expert, so it suits me fine. We needed to find a suitable platform from which to host these lessons/sessions and fast. It was obvious that we wouldn’t be using the new classrooms relocated down the road either. So this ‘Zoom’ had to work.
Fortunately although with some technicalities as is always the way, we managed to start on Friday 13th March with some 1 to 1 classes and subsequently the addition of group conversation sessions.
Of course there have been some teething problems; bad audio, fixed by the purchase of proper headphones with microphone, students turning up late or even half way through a session, bad Wi-fi connections and realising the need to ‘share screen’ not only 1 file at a time. It’s a learning curve and as usual, I just laugh or smile through it until we are ‘on the same page’.
It’s not like teaching face to face where you can truly ‘feel’ the class but it’s still possible to ascertain the mood and success of the session. Some sessions are running more smoothly than others. It’s a tricky balancing act if the session contains 2 students supposedly at the same level but clearly at different levels in terms of comprehension and production.
I have already had some classic moments on this platform telling students, ‘I can’t see you’ and the reply is ‘I see you.'
‘Yes that’s great, but I can’t see you. Turn your video on, please.'
‘I see you.’
‘OK, perfect, let’s start…’
However the same errors and confusions still crop up whether we are face to face or online. Both teacher and student have their part to play. I'm certainly not exempt from mistakes, just because of my role.
Funny things happen. It makes the job more interesting. I've been frustrated, yes, but also laughed, a lot. I'm not out to make negative examples of my students. I only wish to highlight some anecdotes, challenges and examples of our differences in language and understanding after all this time, as follows:
The dreaded prepositions, just as tricky in Italian as in English.
‘Where did you go on holiday last year?’
‘I went in Rome.'
‘OK that’s great, I love Rome but remember with the verb 'to go' use TO + country.’
‘I went into Rome.'
‘Only use 'to'’…
Why this error? Because ‘to’ + country in Italian is ‘in’. eg: sono andata in Roma.
Of course, it makes perfect sense.
Pronunciation of English words is another challenge. Mispronunciation of the letter ‘i’ as ‘ee’ is probably the most common. For example the words climate (cleemate), excited (exceeted), virus (veerus).
If you say the word spaghett’i’, you’ll know why!
So while the letter ‘i’ in Italian is pronounced ‘ee’, the letter ‘e’ has 2 pronunciations! ‘e’ as in ten and then an airy 'eh' sound (like the 'e' in neighbour). The word inglese is the perfect example! (i-ngl-e-s-eh). To the 'Inglese' it's almost the same - bene (b-e-n-eh - good)!!
This whole soft ‘ch’, hard 'c' or ’k’ thing is just another English pronunciation pitfall.
Ok so when we’re talking about food and cooking, I ask students, ‘What are you having for dinner tonight?’
The response could very well be ‘kitchen’ (meaning chicken).
or ‘Where do you cook dinner?’
‘In the…chicken!' (meaning kitchen!). Usually followed by lots of laughing when I do a chicken impression.
‘No, no, in the kitchen!’
But in pronunciation terms, imagine the reverse…
so our hard ‘c’ (or 'k') sound becomes a soft ‘tch’ sound in Italian if followed by an ‘i’ or an ‘e’, eg: ciao (chiao), cena (chena - dinner), cioccolato (chioccolato), cappuccino...you get the idea.
Whereas our ‘tch’ sound becomes a hard ‘c' (or 'k') sound in Italian if followed by an ‘a’ ‘o’ ‘u’ or ‘h’ eg: chiesa (ciesa - church), bruschetta (bruscetta), chiave (ciave - key).
The word cucina (cuchina - kitchen) is a fine example of both!
By the way there is no letter ‘k’ in the Italian alphabet or j, w, x, y for that matter.
Another problem is that there is no differentiation between an Italian statement and a question. for example ‘ti piace la pizza’ and ‘ti piace la pizza?' It just depends on the intonation. Obviously in English we have definitive questions. So from the statement ‘you like pizza’ the question becomes ’Do you like pizza?' So trying to convince students to use the auxiliary verb ‘do’ is always a challenge.
Similarly asking a concept checking question in English to lower levels is fatal as the reply will either be ‘Yes’ or ‘OK’ no matter what is asked:
‘Is he tall or short?’
'Do you prefer pizza or pasta?'
I understand, it's hard making a choice and I like both too!
'Taboo' type games just become, well, taboo with lower levels resulting in the key 'word' being said followed by the description, even after examples eg:
'It's an activity you do in the sea...'
'Yes, good, your turn.'
'Football: you can play it outside.'
'Don't say the activity word, just describe it!'
'Ok ok capito, Cooking: you do it in the kitchen.'
A recent online dialogue between 2 elementary students practising questions using the structure ‘How often do you...’ went like this:
‘How often do you ride your bike?'
‘I not have a bike, I have sheep.'
‘How often do you ride your sheep?’
‘I ride my sheep every day!’
I mean, what can I say?! I am in Sardinia. It’s renowned for its hefty sheep population.
I actually feel for these guys trying to learn English, what with all of our nuances but then at least they have a teacher. I’m having to learn Italian with Google translate and all manner of local dialects so give me a break!
It’s a minefield, I tell you. But for me THE most beautiful language so I will keep learning, just as I hope my students do (in reverse) for there is not much else to do at the moment…
Text and images: Lisette King