Mary McPartlan RIP: 'her loss is huge'
John Prine RIP. No more happy enchiladas ...

Covid-19, Lombardy and the Corries: 'and we'll all go together'


At my main site, Salut!, I have been publishing the coronavirus-related thoughts and experiences of friends scattered far and wide.

The series has produced some outstanding pieces of writing and I urge those of my readers who come only here to browse them by clicking on this link.

Renata Baraldi is an Italian Facebook friend; we have never met but have a mutual acquaintance and a shared love of folk music. She has a particular fondness for the Dubliners. I make no apology for repeating at Salut! Live the poignant words she contributed to the series from her home in Lombardy, the disease's European epicentre ...



“Oh, the summertime is comin’/and the trees are sweetly bloomin’…”

Yes, my cherry tree is sweetly bloomin’, too. I’m one of the lucky ones, I have a garden. Lots of blossoms and bees and even the odd butterfly (very rare nowadays). Nature is following its course, even taking some of its own back. Because we, the people, are retreating.

I live in Lombardy, the core of the Covid-19 crisis, the place with the highest number of deaths, with the hospitals and the medical staff on the verge of collapse. This is the place that has to send its dead to be cremated somewhere else, transported in army lorries, because the local crematoriums can’t keep up.

We stay at home. In the space of a few days, many of us lost their lives, health, jobs, income. All of us lost our freedom. At the beginning, I used to wake up with a vague feeling of unease, until that eerie sense of unreality seeped in… yes, it’s happening. We can’t get out. We can’t get out.

I used to be a teacher of English, now I am that new animal – an e-teacher of English. I am learning many things, the most important of which is that e-teaching cannot replace ordinary teaching. Effective teaching requires real interaction and the teaching of a foreign language doubly so. When we connect online, my students can see and hear me, but I can only see and hear them at intervals and never all together. I feel I don’t really know what’s going on, I feel like an astronaut in my little spaceship, talking to other astronauts in their own little spaceships, all of us lost in space.


Yet, they all turn up online at the appointed time and do what they are required to do without complaining. They realise that we’re in this together and it’s time for us all to show what really matters – keeping it going, doing our best, working for our improvement rather than for recognition.

As I love folk music and I have many musician friends I am one of the “travelling people”, I go where the gigs are and in the process I meet friends from various parts of the world. I was supposed to attend a gig of The Cannons in Nuremberg but of course I couldn’t go and in any case the gig was cancelled. So many musicians are suffering because of this, especially those that mostly rely on live gigs. But lots of them are discovering online gigs. Again, it isn’t the same thing, not by a long way: only yesterday, one of them was saying that playing to one’s phone is kind of weird. But they all make the most of it and now I have a very busy schedule, lots of gigs coming… again, it’s bizarre when one of them plays a song I requested. So near yet so far. Gigging from space.

Italy is almost empty. My beautiful, beautiful country cannot show off its spring livery, nobody can see its wonderful art and landscapes. The cancellation of the Carnival in Venice at the beginning of the epidemic almost hurt – and to think that in ordinary times I dislike Carnival. My beautiful, beautiful country has been brought to its knees. It’s a disaster in so many ways.

Help has come and is still coming in the shape of medical equipment and doctors from other countries. I feel particularly humbled by the contribution from Albania, a poor country and one I didn’t even know Italy had helped in the past. They say they can’t even begin to repay us. No hidden agenda: they just helped because they wanted to help. I find it very touching.

I’m not very fond of mankind in general but I love many individual human beings very much and I periodically do the rounds checking on them, making sure they’re still ok; like Aunt Ada Doom, I do the Counting. In this case, too, sympathy sometimes comes from unexpected places – people I haven’t been in touch with for years suddenly send a message to see how it’s going. I have picked up several threads that were dropped ages ago. A Scottish friend sends me videos of his solitary walks along the beaches near his home. I feel I’m part of a wide web of people, each looking after the other.

But nothing can replace the warmth of closeness, the hugs, the joy of eating together. On the other hand, the mind boggles at the thought of those who are obliged to share a house – or a small flat – with somebody who hurts them and abuses them.

Patience is the key. Take one step at a time, and see what happens. Thinking ahead is no use: the scenario changes continually and we have to adapt to new situations every day. So we wake up in the morning, and congratulate ourselves on having achieved that much; then concentrate on each single task, and proceed to the next. Sooner or later we’ll find ourselves on the other side, not knowing how we did it. And above all, let’s not lose our sense of humour, and rely on the healing power of music.


By TUBS - Own work. This SVG map includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this map:  Italy location map.svg (by NordNordWest)., CC BY-SA 3.0,


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