129. Heading Over

I pulled the trigger.

After a year and a half of watching the COVID situation in Italy, as heart-rending there as anywhere, I decided the time was now, and I booked a flight to Rome in July.

Every day, I carefully check the situation. While the EU was slow getting started with vaccinations, they are now full steam ahead, and Italy’s vaccination rate increases by nearly a point every day. By the time I go, I expect more than half of Italians will have received at least one dose. And for some time, their infection rate has been lower than ours — today they were at two infections per 100,000, while the US is at three. In the past few months, I’ve flown to Chicago and to California; why would going to Italy be more dangerous than that? And of course, Ben and I have been fully vaccinated for months.

I have funneled all of my anxiety into worry about being able to accurately execute all of the testing and other protocols properly, particularly on the Italy side, where I don’t really speak the language and I fear getting stranded if something doesn’t go right. I belong to a Facebook group, “Italy Travel Planning,” where people post questions about upcoming trips. These are usually fun questions, along the lines of, Should I see Venice or Florence? Do a guided tour of Pompeii or see it on my own? Can I wash my underwear in the hotel bathroom, or will the maid get mad? Then there is an offshoot: “Italy Travel Planning — COVID 19 Virus Discussion,” which I follow with the attention to detail of a Biblical scholar. What exactly are the testing requirements before you board and after arrival? What if you test positive? How do you find a testing site and figure this out in a foreign country? It seems the rules are changing, but how and when? Helpfully, some recent travelers have posted step-by-step exactly how they navigated all of this.

Ben at Lago di Como, 2011

I’m taking all sorts of little measures to avoid infection. Renting a car rather than taking trains. Staying mostly in apartments, instead of hotels. Doing outdoor activities in the lakes region, where I’m not likely to be within six feet of others for more than fifteen minutes. Wearing a mask, of course. Doing all those little gestures that over the past fifteen months — whether Lysoling the groceries or quarantining our mail — we use like lucky charms or four-leaf clovers in our pockets to keep us safe and give us the illusion of control.

With Denis Harper and Zsuzsi Saper in the village of Rezzonico on the shore of Lago di Como, 2011

I haven’t been to the lakes since a 2011 trip to Lago di Como, second home to George Clooney, so I’m overdue. We spent a few days then in the charming little village of Rezzonico with two of Ben’s college roommates and their wives. For more than a year, I’ve been training to do a new bike path I’ve been reading about that’s suspended over the 87-mile perimeter of Lago di Garda, scheduled to be completed in 2021. Perfetto! So that would be our destination, and we engaged a lovely Airbnb in a lakeside town. But, oops! It turns out they’ve only completed less than two miles of it. No matter; we found another path that leads to Mantua, a little-known Renaissance city that’s well-worth seeing. More important, the route promises to be flat.

The completed bit of the Lake Garda bike path.

After more than a year of lockdown, it feels a bit reckless but I can’t wait. Here’s hoping we emerge safe and well, and that the four-leaf clover does its job.

Before the storm, Lago di Como, 2011

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