Monday, March 30, 2020

Imagining the World - How can Venice transform after coronavirus?

Grand Canal during coronavirus - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Dear Friends & Readers -- please forgive me for not updating. I've started writing about 10 different posts, but the situation changes so rapidly that it seems that before I finish one sentence, it is already out of date.

I am well. Everyone I know is well. Personally, I don't know a single person who has the COVID-19 coronavirus, nor do any of my friends, but that is a limited circle. Everyone wants numbers, and so do I.

I am focused only on the numbers inside the historic center of Venice. Most of the time the official numbers about Venice get lumped together with Mestre, or with the province, or with the region, or with all of Italy -- it is difficult to get accurate numbers.

As far as I can understand, there are about 7 people in intensive care at Ospedale San Giovanni e Paolo. There are around 10 or less inside the hospital that are non-critical. There are less than 50 cases inside the historic center who are confined inside their homes. Those numbers are not official or accurate. It is just to let you know that all of Venice has not fallen victim to the pandemic.

I am a great believer in Mother Nature, the gods, Jesus Christ and the stars. I am also pragmatic and logical. Most of all, I believe in the power of Imagination. Venice only exists because of the powerful imagination of committed, enlightened, honorable souls.

This tragedy can transform into an opportunity. Mother Nature is creating a new world in front of our eyes. After the coronavirus, what kind of world do we want? Together, we can imagine anything. Together, we can re-imagine the world.

Stay strong from Venice,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, March 13, 2020

Charity in the Time of Coronavirus -The Virtue of Caritas in Venice

Public Hospital of Venice -The Scuola Grande di San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The entire country of Italy has been quarantined in a herculean effort to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Much of the media has described the lockdown as "draconian," which gives it an authoritarian connotation. On the contrary, I think it is more of an act of Caritas -- an act of charity in the true sense of the word.

The Scuola Grande di San Marco is home to Venice's main public hospital, the San Giovanni e Paolo Civil Hospital. It has been my hospital for the 22 years that Venice has been my residence, and I have made good use of its excellent services. It was originally the home of the Confraternity of San Marco, one of the six major confraternities in Venice. The core value of the confraternities was Caritas.

In Christian thought, charity is the highest form of love. It is the love of God expressed by human beings for fellow human beings. St. Paul called charity the greatest virtue of all. Even though ancient Venetians could be distinctly decadent, the confraternities of Venice considered it their responsibility to provide acts of charity to those in need -- caring for the sick and destitute, distributing food, providing shelter, offering funeral services and prayers -- practicing the concept of "love thy neighbor as thyself." The Scuole Grandi were an integral part of Venetian society that provided for those less fortunate.

Carved & gilded ceiling in Scuola Grande di San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
Putting an entire Democratic Republic like Italy under quarantine is not easy to do. The Italian word "furbo" is difficult to explain to English-speakers, and is often translated as "sly" or "cunning." But in Italy, it can have a positive attribute -- more a sense of using ingenuity or being clever to get around the rules.

On Saturday night, as new regulations were being formulated in Rome, someone leaked an unsigned draft to the press, and all hell broke loose. Some politicians who were omitted from the decision-making process first saw the news on television. It spread like wildfire through social media. Both Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, and Luca Zaia, the President of the Veneto, said the draft had been written without their knowledge, and was being rushed through. The public who were outside their regions of residence dashed to the train stations before the new rules kicked into effect, wrongly thinking they would be forced to remain where they were, and possibly spreading the virus from the north of Italy to the south.

This compelled Giuseppe Conte, the prime minister of Italy to address the nation on Sunday morning at 2AM. He told Italians not to be furbo. Instead, he appealed to their sense of Caritas, their civic duty to protect "our health, that of our parents, and most of all our grandparents." He later said, "It's not easy to change the habits of an entire life from one day to the next, and accept personal sacrifices for the greater good.... But if we all respect the rules, the country will soon be able to raise its head." Even though Italy is a secular Republic, it is more than 80% Christian -- Catholic in particular -- and backed up by a popular Pope in Rome, that message can be very effective.

I experienced first-hand the damage the English-language press and foreign-based social media accounts wreaked on Venice after the city closed its Carnival two days early when three elderly people tested positive for the virus. Misinformation flashed rapidly across Twitter, as if controlling the English-language narrative about Italy were a competition. Reality on the ground was utterly different from what was being reported, creating unnecessary panic as tourists fled the city.

As I wrote in a previous post, the word "quarantine" is a Venetian word, and means "forty days." In 1448, the Venice Senate passed a law that required ships and crews to remain isolated outside the city during the time of the plague, which had a 37-day cycle from infection to death.

Entrance to San Giovanni e Paolo Civil Hospital, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
I spent hours searching for a trustworthy voice that clearly explained the current situation. I finally stumbled on an article in SIR, the news source of the Episcopal Conference of Italy, featuring Dr. Giovanni Leoni, a surgeon at the Civil Hospital in Venice, who was also the President of the Order of Doctors of Venice (OMCeO). He explained the situation succinctly with a touch of wit, and concluded with the message that the Serenissima Republic was the master of quarantine:

"If we survived several plagues without antibiotics and respirators, despite serious loss of life, we owe it to the use of isolation implemented by our ancestors."

That made sense. In today's society, when the pharmaceutical industry has promoted a vaccine or a pill for all that ails you, if there is no cure to an infectious disease then the only thing to do is resort to tried and true techniques, stretching back to medieval times. Hence, the quarantine.

I am glad the quarantine has expanded to include all of Italy. Before it felt unfair, with much of the mainstream media using images of the historic center of Venice to illustrate the coronavirus outbreak in the entire country, as if Venice were the center of the outbreak, when reality was very different. Now that everyone's movement has been limited, it feels more like a united front.

More confusion lies in the way the numbers are reported. In 2015, the province of Venice transformed into the Metropolitan City of Venice that includes 41 comuni or municipalities with a population of around 850,000 and Venice as its capital. But in the historic center of Venice itself  there are just over 50,000 residents. So far in Venice there has been a handful of cases and one death linked to the virus, that of Danilo Carraro, a well-liked optician and eyeglass designer, who was 80-years-old and already seriously ill. As of today, March 13, there are 9 non-critical cases and 5 cases in intensive care in Venice's Civil Hospital, according to Il Gazzettino, although the numbers in all of Italy change rapidly.

Cats inside Venice's Civil Hospital - Photo: Cat Bauer
It has been my experience (which has been limited to South Tyrol and the Veneto Region, the historic center of Venice in particular) that the healthcare in Italy is excellent; it is a human right. Again I think it's because it's based on a sense of Caritas, something that has been inherent in the Italian nature for centuries -- especially in Venice, where going to the hospital is an awesome experience.

Cats wander in the gardens and in the majestic halls of the former Scuola Grande di San Marco; there is a fountain full of turtles and bathing songbirds.The World Health Organization European Office for Investment for Health and Development is located inside, down an immense corridor. The original building was completed in 1260, but almost destroyed by fire in 1485. It was immediately rebuilt and completed by 1495, which is the structure still standing today. Just stepping through the portal is like entering a magical world. But woven inside the historic structure is a slick, modern hospital, with a Venetian attitude.

WHO office in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
Last Monday, I went to the hospital for a routine exam. The mood was jovial and friendly, full of  humor and community spirit. The doctor who examined me was calm, and explained things clearly with diagrams, stressing that when people understand a situation there is no need for panic and fear. His manner was reassuring, and I glanced at his name tag. "You're Giovanni Leoni! You're the president of all the doctors. I read your article. I quoted you. It is an honor!"

That is the real beauty of Venice -- not just the magnificent structures, not just the priceless art, not just the calli and campi. It is the people who live and work here today, combined with the wisdom of the ancestors. It is the sense of community that stretches back through the centuries. It is the fact that I can go for a routine exam and be consulted by the same Venetian doctor whose calm, clear voice sang out among all the discord on the Internet. Even though Venice has been thrust into the international spotlight by the media, at its heart it is a close-knit town based on human relationships.

Italy is making great sacrifices, not just for the people inside the country, but on behalf of the entire world. Healthcare in Italy operates on something for which there is no prescription, but still within the grasp of humanity -- the greatest virtue of all, the virtue of Caritas.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog