As I try to pass time in lockdown in Italy and come to terms with the new normal in my country, I often think about my grandmother and the 1943 degree certificate that was once on display in her living room. “Victor Emmanuel, King of Italy and Albania, Emperor of Ethiopia”, the certificate proclaimed in flowery characters, “grants the degree of doctor to … “. The document is a testament to human resilience. The fact that a young woman managed to complete a degree at the height of World War II, under a rain of bombs, in fascist Italy, reminds me that humans are capable of achieving great things under impossible circumstances.
I also think of that degree certificate today because it is from a time when it was not “business as usual” in Europe. It is from a time when a catastrophe came and changed everything. After the end of WWII, people living in most Western democracies did not face another threat grave enough to make them drastically alter the way they live. There have been widespread protests, political crises, and a few natural disasters, but in general, life went on as usual for many.
That is, until 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic that is taking the world by storm, with Europe as its new epicentre, interrupted daily life in the West in a way that was not seen in recent history. Of course, the level of devastation is nowhere near what our grandparents experienced during the world wars. Nevertheless, life is at a standstill in many countries. Shops, cafes, bars and restaurants are closed. Schools and universities are shut down. Airports are deserted. Business districts are empty. Almost overnight, people changed the way they live completely.
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