A sixth generation Neapolitan and second-generation Classic Journeys guide, Ulisse lives in Naples with his wife, Anna, and their son, Lorenzo. An award-winning tour leader following in the footsteps of his iconic father, Sergio, Ulisse has been guiding travelers around his beloved southern Italy for more than a decade. He also was the first intern in the Classic Journeys office in La Jolla 20 years ago. In the wake of Italy’s Coronavirus outbreak, Ulisse has taken his role to a new level, as our man on the street, keeping us posted on how life in Italy is being impacted by COVID-19. This post follows Ulisse's previous updates 1, 2, 3 and 4.
"Bentornato amico mio!" (Welcome back, my friend!)
My longtime friend and barber Mimmo greets me with his usual smile. On a regular day we would have shaken hands and kissed on both cheeks like Italians do dozens of times during a regular day. Then he would have had his assistant prepare me an espresso with his Lavazza machine, and we would have chatted and caught up on the latest on the front porch of his shop, watching people go by and enjoying the warmth of the spring air and the invigorating ritual of sharing an espresso. We would have discussed sports. Mimmo is a die-hard Juventus fan, while I support Naples. Arch rivalry at its peak. Like the Yankees and Red Sox, to make an American reference.
(Editor's note: click here to watch Ulisse explain how to argue over, order, pay for, and drink the perfect espresso.)
Instead, Mimmo greets me, covered up in his mask, face visor, gloves, and cannot make me a coffee. There is a limit to the clients that can enter the shop and get serviced. There is no waiting for your turn inside the barber shop and participating in the conversation. Instead, you need to make an appointment online and show up at the right time. (For us Southern Italians that represents a real challenge.) But it is what it is, and we are both glad to slowly restart our engines.
Zoom out. Italy in phase 2.
We were the first western country to face Coronavirus. After China, it exploded here. Italy showed the world how to face a pandemic and still remain a democracy. Citizens were great in doing what was needed in lockdown. There has been very little drama or controversy about what was the right way to proceed, and more than anything, the country kept the bar straight.
Every single citizen was cured free of charge to the best of the abilities of a National and Public Health System that never cracked under the pressure, even when numbers were skyrocketing. We cannot thank our health workers enough. And the motto has always been: "we will reopen to never close again." Play it safe and have better results in the long run.
Let me say it: congratulations Italy, well done.
Now we can start to gaze upon the chimes of freedom flashing, the outcome of that collective effort. Pretty much all of the sectors of the economy have restarted with the new security measures. Other European countries like Iceland and Greece are making plans for reopening in the 'new normal' and hopefully Italy will follow suit very soon. I just heard that Alitalia is increasing its flights by 36% next month and has announced that it will be resuming its nonstop Rome-New York service on June 2; the European Commission is considering allowing tourism and other nonessential travel into the EU as early as June 15, 2020.
Factories were the first to start again. Now shops are open, restaurants and cafes are complying with the new guidelines, and museums, gyms and theaters will reopen by early June.
Special attention has been given to the “movida”. It has become the word of these days. It’s Spanish for nightlife. With the reopening of bars and restaurants people have been having their Aperol Spritzes in the piazzas (with masks and distancing). The “aperitivo” ritual is almost a religion in this country. Unfortunately, it’s not the time for it yet. So the mayors have been enforcing these “anti-spritz” regulations. Personally, I make mine at home like Susie Piegza (I use Prosecco, Susie!), and wait for better times.
For a country that gets 13% of its GDP from it, Italy has been giving it some serious thought. It is likely that we will face a summer of “domestic tourism” (Italians in Italy) and that we will be able to safely welcome international visitors again in the fall, with all the implemented guidelines for the “new normal”.
There will have to be an obvious re-thinking of the way people travel in the near future. It is hard to get ones mind around the anti-Covid measures coexisting with the mass tourism we were used to seeing in recent years, especially in certain cities. Small groups are the key. A slower approach to an area with the opportunity to enjoy some places even more than we could have imagined. Fewer people, more immersion in the local life and its culture. It could be an opportunity to travel in a much less crowded Italy and see it in a way more like our great grandparents may have.
We’ll see. I'm optimistic. The future is in our hands.
“Arrivederci amico mio” says Mimmo. He has flawlessly fixed my 2-month-of-lockdown hair working his masterful artistry once again.
Italy has re-opened for business.
Classic Journeys has a selection of Culture + Walking trips in southern Italy this fall, including the Amalfi Coast & Capri on September 6, October 4 and October 18; Sicily on September 13 and October 11; Puglia on September 27 and October 25; and the Amalfi Coast Culinary tour on September 20.
Previous updates from Ulisse:
1: "When life gives you lemons, make cheesecake!"
2: "An Italian can do anything on a full stomach!"
3: "Pondering what's important during isolation"
4: "There is no north and south anymore, there is only Italy"
More Classic Journeys guide updates from around the world:
Vibeke in Norway
Susana in Portugal