What would traveling to Italy post-Covid be like, I thought, as my departure date approached. I was going from stay-at-home to full-out international travel. In my mind, a big hurdle was the trip itself. Traveling to Europe from the west coast of the United States was a long haul without a mask, but with one?
POST-COVID OVERSEAS TRAVEL
The amazing thing about human nature is that we’re surprisingly adaptable. We can get used to almost anything, well almost… I was thankful that I didn’t have to witness any of the unseemly airplane behavior that has made so many headlines. Instead, the pieces all fell into place. The airport personnel were a bit strained at the gate, what with one person checking the armloads of passenger documents, giving particular attention to the time frame of the Covid swab results, another taking temperatures, another guarding the boarding area to make sure that everyone had their cards in order. Too bad the powers that be didn’t think of assigning someone to actually organize the boarding process. Passengers were left to their own devices, trampling over the floor markers, spaced six feet apart, twenty or so people for every piece of measured tape.
Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have bat an eye. However, post Covid, or perhaps better said, on the down curve, my brow was raised. And a few weeks later when I saw this lovely fragment of the face of Agrippina the Elder in marble with traces of color on her curls at the Scolacium Archeological Museum on my Calabria Cultural Tour, I somehow felt akin, 2,000 years after her creation. Ciao, bella! Well, I suppose I would have had to have been more formal with a lady of such high ranking within the Roman dynasty, especially since she apparently possessed a high moral character, as well.
OBSERVING MASKS DURING ITALY TRAVEL POST-COVID
Further along in the museum, I ran into another type of mask, and it struck me that the beauty of the theater mask was the mouth opening, which was fashioned rather large in order to amplify the voice. Of course, that’s not our purpose today, but I took this selfie as post-Covid travel seemed to call out for it. By the way, this reproduction Greek mask represents Pseudocore, a dissolute, female partier.
The Archeological Museum in Reggio Calabria has numerous small theater masks on display, miniature terracotta reproductions that would have been given to the sanctuaries as religious offerings. Below are male and female comic masks from the ancient Greek period.
A few days later on a visit of Fiumefreddo Bruzio, one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia (Italy’s most beautiful villages), I noted another type of mask on the frescoed cupola of the hexagonal church dedicated to San Rocco, which was built in the 17th century on a pledge made many centuries earlier during the time of the Black Plague. More recently in 1980, Sicilian artist Salvatore Fiume frescoed the church’s dome with scenes of the terrible pestilence, including several people with masks.
I ran into a completely different sort of mask at the new Ceramics Museum in Seminara, which exhibits numerous examples of the maschera apotropaica. The apotropaic mask allegedly has the power to ward off evil, and I felt invincible with these two guys behind me.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS WITH ITALY TRAVEL POST-COVID
Back in contemporary society, as I walked around outside, I couldn’t help but notice the trend of carrying anti-Covid masks (mascherine) on the wrist, or even further up the arm, depending on the weather and clothing, to have at the ready, even when being interviewed on national television.
Everywhere you go, there are containers of disinfectant for your hands, in front of elevators, hotels, churches, etc. On occasion, they’re empty, which makes you wonder how many people had pressed that pump bottle before you. Little signs to indicate where to sit and where not to sit are propped on chairs and even strapped across them, at times reminiscent of a crime scene.
But perhaps the biggest trend to have overtaken Italy during my almost two-year hiatus (and here I briefly deviate from the post’s theme) is the pistachio. Before Covid, the coveted pistacchio di Bronte was a prestigious nut from the area of Catania, and pasta with pistachio pesto was a dish to be consumed in eastern Sicily. Cannoli with ends covered in pistachios were a bit more widespread. Post Covid, however, the pistachio may appear in three or four items on a single menu. And often, most often, they are not Italian, as Italy produces fewer than 1% of pistachios on the world market. Here are photos from a friend’s meal at a Rome Airport Hotel… ’nuff said.
A final note on masks. It’s no secret that breathing is, shall we say, less pleasant with a mask. At times, when outside in an uncrowded area, life felt normal. Of course, the mask must be donned when inside, even if you’re in a completely empty museum, as it so happened on my visit to Reggio’s Art Museum. As I walked around, revisiting familiar paintings and taking in newer additions, I came upon one of my favorites, “Aspromonte” by 19th-century Reggio artist Giuseppe Benassai. The expansive landscape has always inspired me to breathe deeply, but not on this occasion.
In the end, when you do finally take your mask off, with a steaming plate of pasta in front of you, perhaps even seaside, all seems right with the world. And what a glorious feeling it is.
Interested in traveling to Calabria or Basilicata? Check out my Calabria Tours and coming soon, a new tour to Basilicata!
Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.
Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook page, Calabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook page, Karen’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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