Geopolitics

Post-Lockdown Milan: All Booked And On The Verge Of Bankruptcy

Bars and restaurants are finally able to receive customers, at least for outdoor service. It's a welcome shift for a weary population that is still, nevertheless, wary about the lingering pandemic.

Restaurants and bars reopen in Yellow Zones in Italy. Milan, Italy on May 2, 2021.
Alessio Perrone

MILAN — Hanging from the wall opposite the main entrance of Red Red Wine, a blackboard reads: "Tasting of indigenous grapes of Southern Italy. Reservation required."

The words are scribbled in colored chalk and advertise an event that took place more than a year ago — on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. The board is a time capsule, in that sense, like a broken clock that stopped ticking, from one day to the next, right around the moment when everything in Italy came to a halt, when time suddenly stood still.

As long as the pandemic raged out there, the blackboard remained. ​

Red Red Wine is my go-to place for aperitivo in Milan, the city where I was born but had been away from for a few years. When I returned, at the end of 2019, I came here to get reacquainted with the life I had before leaving: The wine bar is close to my parents' place, serves Italian wines, and is owned by a former schoolmate.

I'd only been frequenting the place for a few months when, in March 2020, it closed. That was when the pandemic first flared up in Italy, when the government imposed the West's first lockdown and forced all wine bars and nightlife venues to shut their doors.

The owner, Marco, made a conscious choice to keep that last event on the blackboard, a sign of the arrested life inside the venue.

Even as I visited last summer, when restrictions were briefly relaxed, the board became a powerful symbol of how the virus remained among us, preventing us from carrying on with our lives — or doing stuff that once seemed so simple, like having a glass of wine. As long as the pandemic raged out there, the blackboard remained there to remind us that no, we had not gone back to normal.

bars_Italy_reopening

People are impatient to savor their social lives again. — Photo: Alessandro Serrano/Avalon/ZUMA

Countless bars, restaurants and shop owners across Italy suffered similarly. But in the past two weeks, the country has now finally begun reopening, allowing proprietors to once again start serving outdoor tables. In the next month, if new infections keep dropping, the country will reopen outdoor swimming pools, beach resorts, and indoor bars and restaurants will also get the green light.

A new energy has taken over Italian cities; people are impatient to savor their social lives again. Pictures of life reappearing in the streets of Milan and Rome have made the rounds on social media, showing locals sit down for a cappuccino or a glass of wine. Restaurants book out days ahead of the weekends: Customers have begun to make weekend reservations on Mondays and Tuesdays.

This Italian reopening is also accompanied by a lingering state of anxiety.

Cities are still less vital than they used to be, but they seem certainly eager to recover their past form and finally put the pandemic behind them — and it's a joy to watch. But this Italian reopening is also accompanied by a lingering state of anxiety. After all, venues briefly reopened last summer too, only for the first wave to give way to the second, then the third.

The newsweekly L'Espresso reports that most of Italy's bars and restaurants are already "on the edge of the abyss," that "one misstep and they'll end up bankrupt." Will this reopening last past the summer? Will vaccines rid us of the virus for good? Will our lives go back to normal, and what happens if not — one more year of restrictions?

I've tried to go back to Red Red Wine twice to celebrate the fleeting joy of reopening. I haven't managed to get an outdoor table yet. But when I do, and I'm finally able to sit down for that sweet, long-anticipated first sip, I'll make sure to glance inside. I wonder if my glass of wine will be a sign we're finally inching back to normal, or if the blackboard will remind me that it's another mirage.

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Coronavirus

Bravo Italy For World’s Strictest Vaccine Mandate - But Where’s Mario?

Italy's new "Super Green Pass" is great, but where's "Super Mario"? Such a sweeping measure, which requires workers to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, risks encroaching on the fundamental right to work. It's necessary right now, but also needs Prime Minister Mario Draghi to explain why.

Dove sei, Mario Drahi?

Massimo Giannini

ROME — There is not a single good reason to criticize Italy's new "Super Green Pass", the new decree announced on Thursday that will mandate more than 20 million of the country's workers to prove they've tested negative to COVID-19 or that they've been vaccinated to work, beginning Oct 15.

It is the right thing to do in a country locked in a decisive, long and painful fight against the pandemic. Some 10 million Italians still haven't been immunized and the pace of the vaccine rollout has declined significantly in September, with the number of shots administered daily dropping from 142,000 to about 70,000.

We have written it many times and repeat it now: Against the backdrop of possible new restrictions in the winter, the mandatory "green pass" is no "health dictatorship," but a way to keep the economy open and strike a fair balance between the freedom of a few and everyone's right to health. Extending it to employees and self-employed people is not discrimination. It is protection and prevention.

There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for.

But precisely because of the significance of this measure, Prime Minister Mario Draghi's silence on it was striking. He should have personally explained this decree to Italians. Instead, the news was announced by government cabinet ministers in a press conference. Draghi's absence was likely a way to underline that all the four political parties underpinning his government, including Matteo Salvini's far-right Lega Party, agreed on the measure.

But surely this is not enough. There are times in the life of a nation when taking the ultimate responsibility is called for, and this is one of those. We stand again at a crucial stage of Italy's fight against the virus, and the "Super Green Pass" calls into question our most precious asset beyond life: work, with its rights and duties. With an entire community of skeptics needing to be convinced and engaged, a prime minister worthy of that title must put not only his signature on it — but also his face.

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We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!
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