On Febuary 25th, I am at the Sistine Chapel and the reverence of the moment is soured slightly by the palpable paranoia in the air. Globally there are 80,239 reported cases with 322 in Italy. Pharmacies are sold out of masks and hand sanitizer with unclear information on when new shipments are scheduled. A friend’s school is canceled indefinitely in Milan. Another friend has school permanently canceled in Florence and they all have until the end of the week to leave Italy. My parents are reconsidering their scheduled trip to come see me in two weeks and my housemates and I worry about being able to get into Paris for our schedule Friday flight. As I push my way through the Sistine Chapel with all the other tourists, Half the people are wearing face masks and those who aren’t are given cold stares, anger towards the assumed disease carriers. In this humid, crowded room we are all nervous- all suspicious of our neighbor. We look at murals of Jesus preaching to the masses and embracing the sick and hold a reverent silence as we consider our own moral values. I stand and appreciate the irony.
An email informs us the attendance policy no longer stands, we are no longer required to attend, but classes will continue as scheduled. Earlier today, new case rates had slowed but by lunch they were climbing again and now this— a final recognition by the school of the severity. Confirmation of our fears achieved, we all panic, call our parents and refund train tickets. There’s a moment of reflection when a young couple runs by— the man chasing after the woman, they’re both giggling flirtatiously and wearing face masks. I realize how insane this all is, my first trip to Europe being in the midst of an international epidemic- the most invasive that’s been seen in decades. I am falling in love with these people and these cities while being terrified that at any moment, drastic developments could prevent my return to my home country. I’m not half as afraid of catching the disease as I am to being prevented from traveling to the places I’ve waited my entire life to see. Places that could soon be underwater or devoid of all greenery due to climate change.
On Febuary 27th, the school sends out an academic and financial plan for students who want to leave early. The group divides itself immediately between those who want to stay and those who want to leave. Kids start changing their flights immediately and our Italian class dwindles to 7 students. Half of them are talking about leaving. On my walk to school I teared up at the colorful building with creeping vines, the cuter than a Hallmark card dogs and even the restaurant salespeople. It was all starting to feel nostalgic and I knew without wanting to that it was ending.