Edoardo (2019 in South Khorasan, Iran where he was doing research on his PhD)
Edoardo (2019 in South Khorasan, Iran where he was doing research on his PhD)

One of the world’s go-to tourist hotspots, Italy is likely to now be known for being the most hard-hit country after China as the coronavirus transitioned into a pandemic in March after rearing its head in Wuhan, China late last year.

The country is still the worst-affected nation in Europe.

With the coronavirus wreaking havoc across most of Western Europe since and making the US its epicentre at the moment, the worst seems to be over for Italians. Though over 200,000 people contracted Covid-19 — the disease caused by the virus — and around 28,000* died from it so far, the country has begun reporting a drop in infections and casualties since the first case was identified on February 21.

At present, around 210,000* people are said to have the disease, with the vast majority in self-isolation at their homes.

As the once vibrant and lively Italian society slowly reopens with the phased-easing of a stringent lockdown [from May 4] which saw life come to a near-standstill for around two months, there is anxiety about the relative new normal and how long it will last — as the fear of a virus resurgence looms large.

We recently spoke to Italian architect Edoardo Paolo Ferrari, who’s camped at a friend’s place in Lahore since March after the coronavirus upended his travel plans, to ask him about the catastrophe back home, his lockdown experience and plans to go back.

When did you arrive in Pakistan and what was the original plan?

I left my hometown of Cremona, Lombardy — the most hard-hit region of Italy — on March 8 in what was perhaps the last flight out of the area as the government imposed a lockdown soon after.

I had been planning my trip to Pakistan for a while and was eager to meet some friends here and travel a country which had piqued my interest for long. However, I could feel the looming threat of this pandemic ruining my plans but I chose to go ahead and see how it goes.

How are things back home?

So much has changed in the past month and a half. Many friends and family members in Italy have contracted the virus — the majority recovered and only had very mild symptoms. One of the saddest events was the recent loss of my grandfather.

Though already ill, we didn’t expect the worse as he was released from hospital after successfully recovering from Covid-19.

As far as the lockdown is concerned, I think Italians have generally been compliant for two main reasons: because they are scared of the disease and want to protect themselves and their loved ones, and due to a sense of social responsibility as the government and media have bombarded everyone with the slogan ‘Io sto a casa’ (I stay home) leading many to remain indoors — willingly or through force.

Some of my acquaintances are nervous about the reopening process. They fear that it will take people a long time to return to ‘normal’ as they’ve been scared by everything so much that they are afraid to step out.

I think reactions will differ and will be affected by the way people have psychologically faced this very long and hard lockdown period.

What have you been up to since?

As Pakistan also went into lockdown and cut off all kinds of travel, I decided to go with the flow since I realised I might have to stay here for an undetermined period. I am very lucky to be in good company with my friends and their family, who have been a strong source of support in these testing times.

Picture by Zehra Zaidi
Picture by Zehra Zaidi

Stuck indoors, I have been enjoying their company and hospitality, eating very good food and learning how to make roti, working on my PhD research, and also taking some time to rest which back home I never allowed myself to have.

What’s your favourite Pakistani dish?

Too many foods are my favourites here, but I have to say that I really like comfort food like daal chaawal with mango achaar. I have spent quite some time observing cooking in the kitchen and tried to learn a few things too. I am still practicing making roti — a very satisfactory activity.

Did you manage to pick up any Urdu?

Yes but not as much as I would want to but at least I can understand a bit of the conversations I hear at home. I have to say that having studied Persian in the last two years for my research helped as the two have many similarities.

Are you looking forward to going home?

I was pleased to know that foreigners’ visas were automatically extended until the end of April but I also formally asked for a visa extension through the NADRA online system. Right now the biggest problem is figuring out what flight I can take — an annoying issue! I am very much looking forward to going back.

I miss my family and friends, having dinner together and enjoying the smells of spring time in the evening. Having said that, I don’t mind being here either. I have always been a traveler so I think that helped me a lot throughout this experience.