OPINION | Isolated Italians sound hopeful notes

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ROME — “But the sky is always bluer,” Italian Rino Gaetano sang in the title words of his 1975 hit, a now-classic hymn to hope amid adversity.

As they face Europe’s worst outbreak of the new coronavirus, Italians across the country sang the song from their windows on Sunday, in a shared gesture of solidarity and courage among citizens in isolation.

Italians, under quarantine at home for a week across the whole country, and since late February in the northern areas hit worst by the virus, have been cheering themselves and each other up.

Many have hung posters from their windows bearing the image of a rainbow and the words “andrà tutto bene,” “everything will be fine,” which has become the unofficial national motto.

They have also been holding improvised “balcony parties,” at which they sing together from their windows. The repertoire typically ranges from regional folk songs to the latest pop hits. Videos on social media allow residents of less-lively neighborhoods to participate vicariously.

The singing struck a more serious note of patriotism when, in an effort coordinated via social media, citizens nationwide joined in a rendition of the national anthem on Friday evening.

The next day, at noon, Italians returned to their balconies and windows to applaud health-care workers combating the pandemic. The gesture drew international attention and inspired some people across Spain to follow suit on Saturday evening.

Some participants in such virtual gatherings share live images of themselves dancing.

More ambitious versions include Facebook “streaming parties,” where a live DJ entertains virtual participants who post comments during the event.

In the northern town of Codogno, where Italy’s epidemic first erupted, residents have set up a Facebook page called “Make Fun of Coronavirus in Codogno,” where they share lighthearted content including homemade exercise videos, satirical images of public figures and pictures of themselves simply laughing or smiling.

Although Italy’s economy is virtually at a standstill, production of memes is flourishing. One has men feeling vindicated that mild flu symptoms can be highly dangerous, a play on what is known as “man flu,” a satirical term used to describe men who might get a bit dramatic when they catch a minor cold. Another meme says the latest Lonely Planet travel guide is called “Home.”

Some shun online entertainment, a special challenge when it comes to keeping children occupied.

“When I’m around, the iPad goes away,” said Roberta Balmas, of the northeastern city of Padua, who has been taking care of her two grandchildren, ages 2 and 5, every weekday in the absence of their parents, who were still going to work on Friday. Ms. Balmas says the experience has been tiring but has led to greater closeness to her young charges.

“The little one runs up and kisses and hugs me now,” she says. “Of course, I shouldn’t let her, with the virus, but you can’t deny children kisses and hugs. They wouldn’t understand.”

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