Eleonora Vieri is my teacher and editor. She corrects nearly every post that I write for this blog. I met her several years ago and came to learn that she teaches the Italian language to foreigners. But what makes her so special for me is that she teaches not just the language, but also Italian culture–from history to art to Italian traditions like its coffee culture. She is excellent at teaching Italian conversation, as well as grammar—whatever students prefer. She is kind, patient, and encouraging. During these times of social distancing, it’s a great opportunity to do what you’ve always promised yourself: Learn or practice Italian. If you are interested, check out her web site: .
I interviewed Eleonora and will present her responses in three parts. Because of its timeliness, I am presenting in Part I her thoughts and observations about the pandemic in Italy and her first-hand account of her hometown of Castiglione del Lago, which is in the Umbrian region near Tuscany. Part II will focus on her childhood, education and how she became a teacher. And Part III will discuss her philosophy and approach to teaching foreigners via Skype. You will get to know a very warm and endearing person and teacher.
“At first, no one in Italy could have imagined that an epidemic would result in such a large pandemic. The gravity of the situation became clear, glaring and disturbing when, in the first days of March while I was substitute teaching at an elementary school, a ministerial decree suddenly arrived to announce that lessons at the school would be stopped until a date to be determined. The following day, we teachers went to school to prepare all the necessary materials for our young students. But then the parents came the following day to collect the students from school. There was some panic. People were learning to keep distant from one another, to wash their hands frequently, and the teachers began to quickly organize a new way of teaching.
“At about the same time, I was to resume my work in a school of Italian for foreigners, located in Montepulciano. But reservations were suddenly canceled due to a precipitous drop in tourism. So there was no work there. Fortunately, I have been teaching foreign students Skype lessons for years, and I can continue to do so to support myself. But I now have a lot more time on my hands, which, in some ways is a relief. The amount of activities I did during the days left me tired in the evening, with little time for myself. Maybe the pandemic is whispering to us to change something in our lives, to find a new calling or sense of life.
“I, like my friends and others, go to the historic center of Castiglione del Lago every day. But in those early March days, there was not a soul there. It was deserted. I went to a friend’s clothing store; for days they had not seen one customer. They felt desperate. I greeted Marcella, an elderly lady who was a longtime merchant in town, but I don’t kiss her. We keep our distance, which makes us both sad. We like to kiss and embrace people.
“We all also like to take walks on the lake. Then came the ministerial order banning outdoor activity. Like me, many friends, merchants, and those who have farms and restaurants — at home and out of work.
“But then there are those who must work, like my sister and cousin who work in a hospital. For many days at the Policlinic of Perugia where they work, there were not enough professional masks. Then the ward for patients with infectious diseases was full. There were doctors and nurses themselves in quarantine. And then in nearby Pantalla, the hospital there was dedicated exclusively for Covid-19 patients.
“There were sad images throughout Italy. Bergamo and the souls that had to be buried by the army. People lost in Castiglione del Lago. The images of health workers tired and exhausted. But also images of those who voluntarily provide help, including the Red Cross and many charities. Municipalities that organize and support the weakest citizens, not only by providing food and basic necessities, but also with a telephone service to assist the elderly, who are often alone.
“Today, April 14, is the first day of reopening in Italy. A breath of air, a little bit of hope. According to the latest ministerial decree, some factories, bookstores and stationery stores can reopen today, along with clothing stores for babies and children. Of course, everything will be modulated according to the different regions of the country.
“I have confidence that in life things never happen casually and without a reason. In Italian there is an expression that “not all evil comes to harm.” Our ancient proverbs always guard human truths. And I also trust the Italian institutions. The government and the health care system have shown much competence (even the World Health Organization reiterated it) despite immense difficulties, both in health care and the economy. We have a prime minister we are proud of: he is competent, steadfast, courageous and passionate … how a real leader should be.”