The Tribunal of Health, prompted by the two physicians, who fully apprehended the danger, did take some tardy measures; but in vain. A proclamation to prevent the entrance of strangers into the city was not published until the 29th of November. This was too late; the plague was already in Milan.
(Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, 1827).


Every day he wanders in and out of his apartment, with its forest green shutters and ochre walls, and onto the patio. Dragon flies and mosquitoes buzz around his head.

Every half hour or so, the sirens of aznalubam/ambulanza whine, unable to pass through congested streets and passageways.

Onto the patio he parades, baring his bleach white chest hairs over his formerly white boxer shorts dyed pink mixed in the wash of the laundromat that now blend with his solar reddened skin but do not match his bright red baseball cap and bright yellow clogs.

He eats his breakfast of torto de riso, a boiled egg, and sliced tomatoes from Kilometer Zero, followed by the most succulent of peaches... And then he sips his caffè corretto in contemplation of his book, written about an even more desperate time...

As if in a daze, he turns up his CD player full blast, to Fabrizio De André’s La guerra di Piero, before he walks slowly… hesitatingly… to the open market… avoiding everyone in his path… with the lyrics still dancing in his head... It's not the rose, it's not the tulip that watch over you from the shadow of ditches, but a thousand red poppies.

Beneath the train tracks, the man in the under passage on the way to the rocky beach still plays his accordion, Libertango... Only a few have dropped a few coins in the paper cup.

He hears the recorded message that warns of the train’s approach: E vietato oltrepassare la linea gialla. Do not step beyond the yellow line.

No one steps near another; the children play alone with balls far from the others. Parents pretend there is no invisible enemy. Everyone wears masks of blue, green, or white. At the market, he is told to choose the ugly, fat ones; those are the best and ripest green figs just off the branch.


He reads his classic in Italian prose. “Every man walked with a stick, or even a pistol, to prevent the approach of others. Equal care was shown in keeping the middle of the street to avoid what might be thrown from windows and in avoiding the noxious matter in the road”.

At that time, in the midst of the Thirty Years War, they claimed it were witches who were making the poisonous venom infecting everyone from spiders. Witches who were believed to be secretly encouraged by the French to spread the disease much as China is believed to be the culprit spreading the Horseshoe Bat pandemic today.

In the late afternoon, he throws water down from his heavenly abode above all other apartments onto a vicious cat fight hissing.

For dinner, he eats a plate of trofie pasta with pesto, potatoes, and green beans and drinks a glass of Rossese di Dolceacqua. He dreams of tiramisu for desert and continues to read...

"But if the aspect of the uninfected was appalling, how shall we describe the condition of the wretched sick in the street, tottering or falling to rise no more—beggars, children, women."

Pointing the way to the future, four silver windmills spin over the archway, but are unable to generate enough electricity to turn the bullfighter and the bull.

His tortoise accompanies him as he hangs his clothes and waters the cactus beneath a dream catcher painted cloverleaf green.

"Like so many wild creatures," says Doctor Tadino, one of the envoys, "they were carrying about them some imaginary safeguard against the dreaded disease, such as sprigs of mint, rue, or rosemary, and even vinegar."

In those days, the Italian doctors often ported masks with noses a half-foot long, shaped much like a stork’s beak, that could be stuffed with more than 55 herbs and other substances like the powder of viper flesh, cinnamon, myrrh, and honey. A concoction that was totally useless against the bubonic plague then and against the spittle of a horseshoe bat now...

Over the years, Luigi has watched as the red palm weevils, who had smuggled their way from Asia to the Middle East to Italy, invaded the palm trees once brought from the Canary Islands to the Liguria Coast. Rarely seen, these creatures that look like mini-rhinos (what? Everything is transforming into a rhinoceros!!!) are now eating, one by one, each trunk alive from the top of the palm to the bottom and from inside out—so that only a fine compost remains spiked with dozens of phantom white venomous mushrooms...

Every half hour or so, the sirens of aznalubam/ambulanza whine, unable to pass through congested streets and passageways.

Even far from Milan, the sun no longer sets in a glowing turquoise. The daily body count mounts. That’s the bloodshot Vision of Luigi… from the grappa bottle by the same name…It’s a secret brew that inspires a more hopeful future… A cup of caffè corretto in the morning… a shot or two after dinner…