An Italy that will not be broken
The wind blows softly, it is the beginning of spring. Undisturbed, it enters the main nave of the church and moves over the empty pews, cutting through the silence which echoes mutely all around. Gently, it caresses the flames and bends them towards the tabernacle.
It is but a moment, imperceptible. Outside San Lorenzo, the residents of Manerbio, a small village nestled along the river Mella, are still locked inside their homes. The tangle of streets leading up to the churchyard are deserted. Everyone has been confined to their homes in order to avoid infection causing even more deaths. And in the silence of their rooms they can only mourn those who did not make it: those who caught the coronavirus and took it with them inside the casket. They were not even given a funeral. They were taken away by army trucks to be unloaded in crematoriums in neighbouring regions suffering less losses. Their last prayers were recited in their rooms, almost whispering, looking out at horizon under the lingering grey sky.
But in the midst of all that grief, not even the unsummoned wind blowing through can put out the candles lit by don Alessandro inside the church of San Lorenzo. Ha has lit one for every inhabitant who died during the first surge. Of a total of 13,000 residents, during the first two months of the pandemic, Covid killed 150. Hidden between the pews are 150 flickering flames so as not to forget them. They are lined up above the kneelers, one after the other. The flames move lightly, stroked, every now and then, by a breath of wind. Everywhere there is silence. And peace.
Those days seem far away. And yet the coronavirus tragedy is not yet over. People are feeling a lot more discouraged. It is hard to react to an emergency which seems to not want to abate. Walking along Via Parma your gaze will stumble on advertising panels which look out of the ordinary. Their size is the one used by the big brands. Yet the cheap paper is what we would expect to find along our walks, capturing our attention when we line up waiting for a traffic light which never seems to turn green. However, these are not advertisements. They are men and women, portrayed in their stillness. They are looking beyond the camera lens. We have no way of knowing their thoughts, but their eyes express peace. Pain and desperation seem distant.
They were portrayed by Marco Gualazzani and Pietro Gerbon who with their photographs wanted to generate a true visual short-circuit in those walking through Parma. There is the bishop with his sacred vestments and the garbage collector at work, the supermarket cashier and the doctor on the frontline. These faces cannot but be familiar to the people living here. They have probably already seen them on television or on the creased pages of a magazine; or maybe they have crossed their gaze, for a handful of seconds, as they hurried to do their shopping. They express that ability humans have of absorbing the impact without breaking; they, the resilient , did so during the first surge and continue to do so now that the second wave has again started to claim victims undisturbed.
“I still remember those days… we felt completely lost,” says Alessandro in the “Libro nero del coronavirus”. “We did not know what to do because we did not realize the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately we came to understand it later on.” Those who had to move on, outliving their loved ones, did so with strength and courage .
In Nembro, a small village in the Seriana valley a few kilometres from Bergamo, a doctor with a hoarse voice continued to visit his patients, taking into account that he might also get sick and die. He’s been caring for them for thirty years, he can’t just abandon them in the moment of need.
On 28 April she buried her cousin aged 59 who worked at the registry office and suffered from high blood pressure. She fell sick on Thursday the previous week and died four days later.
“We haven’t buried anybody for ten days,” whispered the priest during the blessing. For a village like Nembro, which counted hundreds of coronavirus victims , it was almost a miracle. A sad miracle, yet still a miracle.
Between the second and third week of March the victims had already amounted to 60. By mid-April, two months after the pandemic broke out, the total was 150. “If you think that the mortality rate expected in a year is 10 out of every 1000, “ continues the GP, “Nembro should have registered between 110 to 120 deaths per year, so roughly 10 per month.”
The numbers of 2020 on the other hand, are war numbers. Yet nobody backed out. At the Spedali Civili hospital in Brescia, younger doctors witnessed their colleagues on the verge of retirement roll up their sleeves and throw themselves on the battlefield. Putting their lives at risk. There was no time to evaluate the danger.
I stayed away from my children for 30 days, “ writes anaesthetist Francesca Serughetti in the book “Libro nero del coronavirus”. “When I played with them in the garden, with my mask on, I would always smile because I didn’t want them to know how serious the situation was. But just seeing them run to me and race to show me what they had made also made me want to smile. “ Then, in the evenings, in the flat she had been given, with her husband hospitalized and far away from her children, she would feel lonely and on the verge of breaking down. The following day however, she would always go back to the hospital to help out. She finishes off by saying “ We will probably pay for this further on, when the tension eases and maybe something hidden in our subconscious will lash out.”
Through the exhibition “Resilienti 2020”, presented in collaboration with Gian Luca Signaroldi of Unsocials and Mariachiara Illica Magrini (click here), Gualazzini’s objective was to celebrate all these ordinary people who with their “small gestures or great acts of heroism” , every day joined the battle and trooped on. “I felt the need to celebrate the local people on the front line of the war against the virus,” he explains.