March 14

On March 5, we flew out of Rome back to LAX. At the Rome Fiumicino airport we were given a form to fill out regarding where we had traveled in the past month and if we were experiencing any symptoms. When getting onto the plane we individually had our temperature screened and recorded. The flight was only 30% full, it was eerie to see so many empty isles. Once arriving in JFK we retrieved our bags and went through customs quickly. They asked no questions about our travels, did not take our temperature and did not wear face masks. We got on our flight to LAX which was close to full. I couldn’t help but worry about the United States and a lack of any preventative or screening measures present. Despite Trump’s claims, I am not confident that it is “under control”. 

 

On March 9, panic continues to spread. Coachella is threatened to be canceled and more cruise ships find themselves unable to dock. Two days ago, Northern Italy was placed on lockdown with all individuals urged to stay inside their homes. Today, all of Italy is shut indoors. All schools are closed with additional restrictions on restaurants, pubs and theaters which now all close at sunset. Earlier confusion and hesitance has given way to full spread panic– the mayor of Bergamo (in Lombardy) announcing their hospitals are on the brink of collapse. Everyday lives are quickly changing to new normals, new expectations and the change is painful. 

 

As testing still lags behind in the US, many speculate as to the restrictions of democracy and capitalism on the nation’s attempt at halting the spread of disease. Many people are expected to ignore health warnings and continue working in order to keep their jobs. The likelihood of people remaining in their homes is slim and the government will have a difficult time imposing the necessary authoritarian measures. Trump continues to deny the severity of the disease in an attempt to alleviate stress but his loose adherence to proven facts make it difficult for his messages to have any positive contribution. 

 

On March 14th, I am back in Riverside. Stores nationwide are out of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and wipes with people stampeding through the opening doors, clearing shelves into their carts. My housemate is sick and has quarantined herself to her room, wearing a face mask whenever going to the kitchen or bathroom. She went to the emergency room to get tested and she fearfully approached the guard outside the door who told her to wait for an escort to a private room. Class instruction has moved online until April 9th with other schools cancelling the entire quarter already. Down in San Diego, Grossmont High School district, San Diego unified and all of El Cajon elementary and middle schools announce their closure until April 10th. Coachella postpones to October; Ultra and Tomorrowland are cancelled amongst multiple artist tours. Disneyland closes its gates despite its exemption from the new california ban on gatherings of more than 250 people. The climate is shifting and this seems to be definitely foreshadowing something larger looming on the horizon. The hopes of this quickly passing through are rapidly depleting and everyone seems to be preparing for the long haul. 

 

We are told it’s the end times and we are told to not panic. The media constantly slews contradictory messages across every platform and it is hard to remember what we all used to talk about before corona. Twitter is covered in hilarious memes. When talking to someone you almost have to be mindful of their “corona politics” with some claiming everyone is overreacting and others anxious to tears. The scariest part of all is the unveiling of the true power of destabilization and human influence. People were scared stores would run out of toilet paper so they stocked up so now the stores ARE out of toilet paper. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of group thinking. And it’s terrifying. Reality is completely controlled by humanity’s perception of it due to our sheer volume in comparison to any other entity or item on the planet. Whatever people think is going to happen, is going to happen. And lately, everyone has been prone to panic. 

 

Back in Italy, heartwarming videos overtake the internet of people singing, loudly, from their balconies in a choric unison. They sing anthems and “Volare” playing violins and guitars out windows. A unified people in the time of isolation. Today The Sunday Times publishes a terrifying article in which the intensive care chief of an Italian hospital, Giuseppe Natalini, offers this warning to other countries, “Italy was the first in Europe to pay the price for mistakes it made unwittingly. It got burnt and is now learning the lesson. Anyone who gets burnt a second time is a fool. When this infection explodes, you are facing an apocalyptic situation.”. Hospitals are overcrowded, turning down patients daily and supplies are rapidly depleting. Doctors all over the country have sent their children away as a precaution against unintentionally infecting them. It is alarming to watch what is likely a preview of the very near future here in the United States. 

 

A CNN interview of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announces the first Corona death in the state, Cuomo saying, “This virus has spread much more than we know.” Various articles are published predicting the inability of the Western demoncratic world to contain the epidemic and it’s subsequent inability to recover from the fall out. This is due to Trump’s opposition to making difficult choices that limit individual freedom and favor government infrastructure and protection. Testing is severely limited and costly, confirming capitalism’s prejudge against the lowest class, highest risk peoples. Students forcibly removed from their university housing find themselves with no where else to go and no government assistance to turn to. Every man is fighting for themselves, knowing there will be no saving intervention from those in powerful enough positions to help. The American value of freedom might be it’s greatest enemy in the fight against widespread disease. 

 

In some good news, in the late hours of last night the House passed a coronavirus relief bill. No one is celebrating yet though since the Senate still has to review and pass the bill next week with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warning it will be no easy debate. The bill includes provisions for free coronavirus testing, expanded food security funding, family and sick leave parameters and unemployment insurance. Measures all seem geared toward the coming consequences of an increase in cases. 

Feb. 29

On February 29th, Italy changes to a level 3 travel advisory on both the CDC and the Department of State websites. The program is cancelled and we are given a week to leave Italy. There is confusion about class credits, travel insurance and whether leaving is required or strongly suggested. Our class group chat explodes over night— some are rejoicing and the opportunity to leave while others definitely claim they will stay until forced to leave. It is hard to know what to do and how to feel. I feel tightly wound with the stress of leaving and the worry that I am only transporting myself out of infected Italy and into the area where the next outbreak is likely to occur. I am sad about leaving but heartbroken by the frantic, panicked manner of everyone leaving. We’ve all made amazing friends and now we’re leaving without having closure, without saying goodbye. It’s hard to feel good about leaving under these circumstances. My parents had planned to come visit me next week and my sister is crushed about the cancellation. 

I am in Paris this weekend and it is difficult to get information about the announcement. I try to call my mom but it’s 3am her time and it’s the night before my grandpa’s funeral. It is hard to handle an epidemic in the midst of usual tragedy. Many other students are also outside of Rome for various weekend trips. Some students panic and fly back to the United States immediately, leaving behind all their belongings in their Italian apartments. When we come back from Paris, half our roommates are gone– their sheets nicely folded with their towels laid bare at the foot of their beds. We run into other girls from the program in the lobby and they tell us there’s only about 15 students left, everyone else having left in a fearful hurry. On our last day we walk the city, eating take out noodles in a piazza and hiking to sunset in Trastevere. We meet other American girls from John Cabot University who are abandoning their belongings to backpack through Europe for as long as they can before future border closures. We meet sympathetic Italians who tell us there is no need to worry and we shouldn’t be forced to leave. It’s a tearful night and a nervous step into whatever is coming next. 

 

On a more optimistic note- it seems the universe is pushing us out of Italy for a reason and the signs of a coming storm are evident. It reminds me of all the stories of war in which so many people would have been saved, had they only followed the signs and left sooner, before the drastic tipping point. Hindsight is 20/20 and I now understand their hesitations against leaving. It’s easy to say- “you should’ve paid attention. you should’ve left” but much harder to actually interpret these small signs and successfully predict the course that will follow. We don’t want to give in to fear and paranoia and also don’t want to be the stupid ones who didn’t listen. It is difficult to predict the future and more difficult still to base your present situation off these predictions. But for now, my time in Rome is finished and I am anxious to see how this disease carries out as it inevitably spreads to the United States. 

Feb. 27

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. 

Feb. 23

I arrived in Rome, Italy on January 6, 2020. On January 30, WHO (World Health Organization) declared the Coronavirus to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. At this point there were 7,711 cases in China and 83 international cases across 18 countries. This number was quickly approaching the number of SARS cases from the 2003 outbreak which surpassed 8,000.  As of February 19, the global total of global cases of Coronavirus is 73,332. 

 

This global epidemic has been further amplified by the media, with almost every major network reporting daily on the rising death tolls or quarantined cruise ships. I have received multiple emails from both my University in California and in Rome, alerting me to advise health precautions. It has been both fascinating and terrifying to observe this epidemic and its rippling effects throughout communities. 

 

Each morning I take the tram to school along with many other study abroad students who live in the same residence building. The tram is consistently packed to the brim, with all of us squished completely like anchovies. We try not to touch anything and use hand sanitizer vigilantly afterwards, huddling in a paranoid pack by the tram tracks. We bought face masks (after striking out at 3 sold out pharmacies) and wore them on our flight to Amsterdam and on the morning tram. Many people glared at us, the mask labeling us as the infected while we were attempting to avoid just that. 

 

Then reports were released that the type of face mask we bought were virtually useless in protection and I stopped wearing the mask. It was claustrophobic, sweaty and unnerving to be so aware of my breath. It scared me to think that our future may consist of this face mask necessity, preventing us from even being able to breath fresh air. While in Amsterdam, we received an email alerting us of 2 cases of Coronavirus reported in Rome. People began scooting away from coughing old people on the tram. A kid with a runny nose and a man with a sneeze make everyone shift-eyed and nervous. 

 

We were reassured that it was far less contagious than the flu and our fears were dampened. On February 18, CNN reported that new investigation revealed the Coronavirus to be both 20 percent deadlier and more contagious than the flu. In Hong Kong, the disease reportedly spread through the pipes to infect 2 other individuals. 

 

Asian study abroad students began getting dirty looks– a small scale representation of the worldwide racist sentiment spreading hand in hand with the virus. This partly stems from the media’s manipulation of our primal fears as it frenzies to sell headlines. Our natural instinct is to pull facts that provide a rationale for ‘it couldn’t happen to me’. This often leads to distinctions between “us” and “them”, creating an “other” to critique and demean– in order to raise ourselves above worry. 

 

This intense paranoia is born of rational fears and then raised to something more sinister through the disease’s prevailing presence in the media. It is hard to not be afraid. Pharmacies have plastered signs in the windows announcing they’ve run out of face masks, travel size bottles of hand sanitizer sell for € 4.5 and there are displays dedicated to precautionary products. Everyone is cashing out on the Coronavirus however they can. Italy’s economic growth, however, may decline with increased risk as the disease continues growing and spreading daily. This is no way comparable to China’s economy which has suffered drastically since the outbreak. Originally predicted to grow by 6.0 percent by Oxford Economics, it has since been re-estimated to be 5.4 percent. 

 

This has also opened an interesting conversation about censorship policies in China. Doctor Li Wenliang was the first to report warnings regarding the arises clusters of the new virus. He was then arrested and forced to retract his statements by the Chinese authorities. He later contracted the virus himself and ultimately passed away. There has been a surge of citizens calling for internet freedom on various platforms, with the government officials removing the posts as quickly as they’re being posted. The heavy censorship imposed upon journalists and investigators has said to be a determinative cause in the development of the outbreak. Potentially, concealed information could have helped officials gather answers sooner, aiding in the prevention of the spread of coronavirus. 

 

On February 23 Italy is declared by CNN to have the second biggest coronavirus outbreak outside Asia. At least 132 people have been infected, mainly centered in Northern Italy. Football games are canceled, schools are closed and some Milan week fashion week designers elect to have their shoes indoors, with no spectators. We limit our trips outside the house and wear face masks when we do– slowly pushing each other further and further away. NBC reports that the Iranian mayor has tested positive and the number of cases is souring in South Korea. Tokyo postpones Olympic volunteer training and they are all hoping to not be forced into canceling the games. It would be the first canceling of the Olympics since 1944 when the London games were canceled due to World War II. It seems, unfortunately, a darkly foreshadowing coincidence.

Sunset with a grain of salt

One of the best things to do in Rome is walk from the Colosseum to the Piazza Venezia at dusk.

Though the beauty of the walk must also be taken with remembrance of the Via dell’Impero’s violent history. The road was constructed under Mussolini’s command in 1932, just seven years before he signed the Pact of Steel with Adolf Hitler. The road was symbolic of the Fascist regime’s self-proclaimed connection to ancient Rome. This tie was illustrated throughout the city on propaganda posters in an attempt to unify the Italian people. Mussolini sought legitimacy for his newborn ideology through suggesting it was the natural descent of the Roman empire. He paralleled himself to Caesar and Augustus and rallied the people in the hopes of returning lost riches to a fallen nation.

Despite Mussolini’s claimed reverence for history, the construction of this road lead to the demolition of many ancient churches and parts of the Roman forum, as well as many tenement buildings– displaying thousands. The road additionally negatively contributes further to Rome’s chaotic and tangled traffic routes. The road begins at the Colosseum and ends at the Piazza Venezia, the symbolic center for Fascist power during WWII.

The beauty of this view is undoubtably tarnished by its dark history but cannot be completely eclipsed, especially when looking out over the Roman Forum with Palentine Hill rising against the setting sun. Fortunately, these ancient sights still remain to be appreciated today; despite Mussolini’s widespread destruction and terror.

 

My sunset walk through a small handful of photos:

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Heading the Piazza Venezia is the Victor Emmanuel Monument which holds the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. This monument celebrates the king who gave the city to Mussolini who later gave the city to Nazi forces, murdering over 8,000 Italian Jewish people. It is difficult to stand in awe of these places while knowing what they stand for and the people who suffered as consequence. Rome is an ancient history that has seen Emperors, Kings, death, innovation, defeat and conquest. Mindful thought must always be taken when you are surrounded constantly by thousands of years of conflict and visual history. While never excusing or applauding the atrocities that took place under Mussolini’s rule, it is still pleasant to appreciate the sunset from the top of Piazza Venezia as the Italian walls that have seen it all soak in the luscious last rays of sun.

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Trastevere, Roma

On January 6th I moved to Rome for a study abroad program with three of my closest friends. Our seven person, tiny Italian apartment was in the heart of Trastevere on the West bank of the Tiber River. The neighborhood has a rich history having first been populated by fishermen and migrant communities– it’s peripheral proximity to the heart of the ancient city making it an ideal melting pot for rich communal ties to bloom. Away from the tourist center, Trastevere bolsters hearty supplies of traditional Roman cuisine: suppli, trapizzini, cacio e pepe, and fried artichoke are among my favorites.

 

Each morning we took the tram over the Tiber and got off just before Pizza Venezia. We then walked through the alleyways North towards campus. The cobblestones are ancient and uneven and due to Roman reluctance to pick up after their (adorable) dogs, you always have to watch your step. We walked past boutiques, mini-marts, art studios and restaurants while trying to avoid getting hit by speeding mopeds. Right before we would exit out of the cramped alleys onto the large street that lead to school, we would cross through the Piazza Campo di’ Fiori.

This Piazza hosts a daily open market selling everything from flowers, dish towels, assorted balsamic vinegars, fresh fruit and spices. The name translates to “field of flowers,” the market filling the square daily with that precise image. The salesmen are quite aggressive and when paired with the restaurant salespeople pacing the piazza perimeter, it can be too overwhelming to actually delve in amongst the tents. Throughout our time living here though, we made friends with some of the regulars and they began to recognize us each morning and afternoon on our walks to and from school. Once our appeal of “newness” had worn off, the harassment eased as well.

Just down the street from school is Piazza Navona (left) and the Pantheon (right). During a gap in between classes I would sometimes walk over with my lunch to sit and people watch in the sun. It is mind-boggling how something so massive and ancient could be so undisturbed and yet completely incorporated into the everyday routine of modern life.

An Extremely Late Post

With my ever-elusive twenty-first birthday finally around the corner I’ve been thinking a lot about my past year. Since turning 20 I gained friends and lost others, broke my own heart and had my heart broken, got a new phone, new tattoo, lots of new shoes and more than anything: new lessons. I went to Hard Summer, Nocturnal, Escape, Audiotistic, Countdown, and Cocahella. I’ve seen Fleetwood Mac, Brockhampton, Blue Face, met Cody Ko, started (& graduated from) intensive therapy, watched my best friend graduate and laughed (& cried)… a lot.

When the clock strikes midnight on my twenty-first birthday I’ll be with my best friend at Odesza’s finale show — after missing their shows three times and eventually accepting that seeing the Moment Apart a tour was simply, impossible. It’s a sugary sweet way to bring in what I hope will be an equally sweet year. I am excited to keep growing and exploring this amazing life in the coming year. In the end I am nothing if not Cody Ko’s biggest fan so without further ado —  here are 12 things I learned while being 21. (I know, I know but I didn’t learn 21 insightful things this year. I learned like how to button pants to make them tighter and how to sell clothes online but I don’t think those things are worth writing a blog post about.) (If you want to learn more about either of those topics hit me up though and we can discuss.)

  1. You already have everything you need, you just have to believe it

This was a big one for me and basically changed my entire perspective on life. I know, groundbreaking. It seems like a simple idea but it’s a powerful thing to truly believe that your capabilities stretch as far as your own imagination. Own your power.

2. Protect your energy

So now that you know that you have this amazing galaxy of endless possibilities within you don’t you want to take care of those little stars? Some people might not be looking for your energy at the time — that’s fine. Some people want to drain your energy without offering any in return — cut that off. Surrounding yourself with positive people will always put you in a better mood than hanging around people who exude negativity.

3. You are not your emotions

Another radical, life-changer here. I used to fly over my emotional handlebars about any little thing. Spilled milk would devastate me, an argument would obliterate my self-worth — I was volatile and dangerous, mostly to myself. I explained this issue to my therapist and she looked at me and said, “you have the power to control how you feel,” as if it was obvious. I doubted her and told her that was hard, potentially even impossible. She responded with “you only say it’s hard because you haven’t thought to try it,” and she was right (obviously). You’ll never be able to control what happens to you but you can always choose how you react. If you don’t want you life to be devastated by a small inconvenience then don’t let it be. If you don’t want to be lonely, then see it as quality time with yourself instead. You can make as much positivity as you want — the good news is that it’s free.

4. The only way to truly love yourself is to truly be yourself

I used to be terrified of drawing attention to myself and the thought of being noticed made my palms clammy. I wore unassuming clothes and shied away from most social interaction. I had a constant monologue in my head telling me that my hand placement was weird or my eye contact was awkward or my walk was funny. It was exhausting and miserable. But ever since I’ve been fostering positivity I’ve been wearing what I want, laughing loudly, meeting new people and dancing when I walk. And what if people don’t like it? Well I don’t really care because that’s none of my business. My business is my happiness and my happiness alone and I will never again stop doing something that makes me happy to try win over the opinions of others.

5. There is always someone if you need someone

This is one I’m still looking at the flashcards for some days but I’ve been trying. I didn’t have many close friends before college so a lot of the time I still feel very lone wolf about my issues but I’m trying to be more open. People love you and there is always someone willing to give a hug and a listening ear. Talking about it really does help.

6. Don’t be so hard on yourself

On my journey of healing (I know, I know, yoga guru here I come) I was often frustrated at my slip ups and set backs. It’s hard to see the bigger picture in the moments where you’re sobbing on your bathroom floor and feel right back where you started but the progress is still there. Mental health is tricky and the brain is the slipperiest eel in the whole ocean — it can be hard to hack the computer that literally programs your entire being. But that’s okay. Because as long as you remember that you are on a journey towards positivity, the days will get easier. And the tears will stop and you’ll dust off your knees and keep going.

7. The good times don’t last

But that’s okay. Because the bad ones don’t either. My advice for the good ones is to write it down, take a picture, try really hard to soak it all in. Let the moment change your life. Relax your shoulders from your neck and imagine you’re exhaling all the bad things that happened before that moment. Let it be transformative and special because it’s your life — anything can be noteworthy. And that’s the story of how my life changed at Coachella while walking through the rainbow tower (lol).

8. If you love something, dedicate time to it

This seems like common sense but when people get busy it tends to be the first thing that’s forgotten. Love only grows when watered. I used to think I had nothing to dedicate my time to because I don’t have what some would call “traditional hobbies”. I don’t play sports or video games and have fallen significantly off my reading books for fun game. But there are things I love. I love music, so once a week I dedicate a couple hours of my time to sitting down and seeking out new music. I also take the time each morning to have a dance party in my room each morning before getting ready. The dance party sometimes involves working out, sometimes not. Either way, starting every day doing something that I love makes me happy and affects my mood throughout the entire day.

9. People will treat you exactly how you think you deserve to be treated

Okay maybe not 100% of the time (there’s always that one asshole) but generally speaking. If you think you’re not worth anything, people are going to treat you accordingly. The only way to avoid getting trampled is to stand up for yourself and what you deserve. No one else is going to do it for you. Like I said earlier, own your power.

10. Time alone is crucial to a good relationship with yourself

My ex boyfriend would be laughing hysterically if he ever read this but here it is in writing — you were right. One day I woke up and it suddenly clear to me: if you need to spend time with a friend to have a good relationship then why don’t we treat ourselves the same way? The more time you spend with yourself doing things that make you genuinely happy (for example: singing in the shower, doing your makeup, eating an entire bag of hot cheetos in bed at 3 am, etc.), the more you’ll enjoy it and want to do it more often. Every morning and night I take a couple hours to myself to relax and do the things that I want to do, exactly how I want to do them. And I can finally say that I now truly do enjoy being alone.

11. It’s okay to not have it all figured out

This is one I’m still having trouble believing but people keep saying it to me and it keeps working out so I guess there’s something to it. Appreciate the process and don’t rush too much to the finish line. Whatever is meant to be will be and everything happens for a reason. These popular maxims all seem to have the same undertone that reassures us that there is a plan for our lives and the universe will relentlessly move us towards that path.

12. It’s okay to eat cheetos for dinner

Obviously. Also when dipped in nacho cheese you can add the element of heat which is makes it then consistent with traditional dinners.