March 26, 2020
I’ve been on a zoom call by myself for more than an hour waiting for him, wondering if I even should, given the situation. While my friend Alessandro is working as a nurse in a chaotic ward in northern Italy, it feels surreal to be playing music at my desk, typing on the keyboard while seeing myself framed in the corner of the screen, available to an invisible spectator.
He joins at the end of his night shift, calling from a filter zone.
He asks: “When you were a child did you ever happen to be trying to swim and gag on water? When your eyes are wide open and you can’t breathe? People here look at you that way and you could be the last person they see. They’re completely alone, relatives can’t even come to the hospital to hold their hand, and entire families are dying nonetheless. Tonight’s new patient is the daughter of a woman who died here yesterday.”
Ale is usually pretty cheerful, but the last two weeks took a toll on him. When I met him a few months ago the fact that he worked as a nurse didn’t make him much different than most. Now it means he’s one of the relatively few people experiencing on his skin what the rest of the world can only read and speculate about. Something that remains for us, at our desks, a catastrophic abstraction.
He tells me about the extremes he’s seeing in Italy. Respirators prioritized for the patients with higher chances of survival, which often means the younger ones. Doctors volunteering to work for free and others clearing their agenda and driving to their second house in the alps. People at the window insulting whoever they see on the streets, even if they might be bringing food to older parents. ”There are many denunciations of this kind here. People are angry.”
I wonder when I’ll see home again. My parents are over 60, I canceled my trip to Milan at the beginning of March and now it feels like ages back. I look at my globe. When I saw it for the first time it was sitting on a pile of trash in the Rockaways, after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012. Old, beautiful and abandoned, I brought it home with me and for years It’s been complicit to my dreams.
Ale asks me when I’m going to host him in New York. We talk about his girl in a nearby city, whom he can’t see. “I miss physical contact. I miss to stroke a woman’s hair. I want a hug. Not the one you give when you’re greeting someone. I want a long one. It needs to last at least five minutes. Five minutes would be good.”
Song: Dope Lemon – Honey Bones
By Gaia Squarci
Gaia Squarci is a photographer who divides her time between Milan and New York, where she teaches multimedia at International Center of Photography. She’s a contributor of Prospekt agency and Reuters. Her work has been published in the New York Times, the New Yorker, Time Magazine, Vogue, The Guardian, Der Spiegel, among others. Her work has been exhibited in the United States, Italy, France, Switzerland or in the UK.