I cried myself to sleep last night. After our 7th week of lock down, the ups and downs of the week, the joys of home schooling (not) and the general state of the world was overwhelming. The realization that those of us who work in tourism might be completely unemployed for at least a year and probably underemployed for three years hit me like a ton of bricks. I am not just talking about myself or my immediate colleagues. There are millions of people around the world who make their living in tourism, whether it’s mass tourism or niche tours, local guides or tour leaders, hotelier’s, restaurants, museums, airlines… It’s a lot to deal with and I am sure many of you feel the same way. Another piece of news that really disturbed me this week was that healthcare workers in the US are counter-protesting the many people who, “will not be locked down,” and want their liberty even if it causes others their lives. My jaw dropped at the verbal abuse and stupidity. Our healthcare workers and hospital support staff are on the front lines of this pandemic. Their faces are bruised and their hands raw from washing and wearing gloves during their 12 hour shifts. The Istituto Superior di Sanità (Italian Health Institute) reported that 150 doctors and 34 nurses have died from this disease and 19,628 healthcare workers have been infected as of April 24. Today, Saturday, April 25, is a holiday here in Italy, Liberation Day. It celebrates the end of Nazi occupation during WWII. All of the celebrations will be online this year and I think the liberation we are hoping for right now is from this virus. I believe this period of history, will in some ways, be looked upon as we do WWII, the Vietnam Era and September 11th. With sadness, reverence and that there are some lessons that we must take away from this experience.
I find it ironic that Covid19 is global, that’s why is called a pandemic (from Greek, pan ‘all’ + dēmos ‘people’) and at the same time, extremely local. Millions of people are suffering worldwide (I am not just talking about those who are sick), yet our world has become so small because we are still mostly quarantined. Many of the reactions we are having, a lot of not yet post PTSD comes from our loss of jobs, sense of security, education, fear for our health and our perceived loss of freedom. I know the latter is temporary and the end is in sight.
Guiding is a job I stumbled into 22 years ago and as soon as it became a reality, I understood that it was and still is my dream job. On the 15th of April, I should have started what would have been my third tour of the season, and a first for Rick Steves’ Europe, our new Tuscany Tour. I can’t pretend I am not a little disappointed. I know there will be a Tuscany tour in my future but I was so excited (and a bit nervous) to be doing the first one. It made think back to the first Village Italy tour that I got to co-guide with my friend and mentor, Dave Hoerlein in 2001. He hasn’t guided in years but is still Rick’s map man. He was one of the first guides to work for what was then called Europe Through the Back Door, and the tour program that Rick sometimes refers to as Europe Through the Gutter, in a talk he calls, An Irreverent History. Click on the title to spend close to two entertaining hours learning about how his company came about, it’s free, as all of Rick’s content is.
In addition to stress and sadness, I have found this whole situation humbling. What I took for granted, and what I now realize is completely superficial and irrelevant. While I would love to go to and get my hair done, it is not an essential part of life. I haven’t been to the hairdressers since November and I look good enough, with some gray hair coming through and a lovely color grow out line, nessuno ti cambia as my mother-in-law always used to say. “Nobody is going to change you.” I have learned that almost anything I need to survive, I have in my small village of 3500 people. My family is here (not all of them but the core), my home, the basic services that provide us with groceries, the butchers, bakers and a small hardware store. There is a community of people that are proving their resilience and respect for others in a crisis. I find myself questioning what I feel I am entitled to. I have access to good healthcare, my husband is still employed (there will be a bit of furlough coming up in May and June) but right now, we have enough. I realize I took my job for granted with tourism booming as it was. Rick, in an article in the Seattle Times last week, assured us that he can keep his office afloat for quite awhile and that we will have work when people are able to travel again. That is already a big feat. I truly hope it doesn’t take too long, but realistically it might take two years. In a message sent to those of us who work for him, I could see and hear his sadness about losing so much of the business that he, and we (staff and guides) have built up over the years. He has treated our tour members fairly and reimbursed everyone who has been grounded. He is not Bill Gates nor Warren Buffet. He cannot keep us all afloat and so in the meantime many of us guides will be trying to reinvent ourselves to pay our bills. We, as a group of guides are going to try and promote each other and Rick is dedicated to promoting us as well. Click here for his week 6 Coronavirus report from the guides. If you see an ad pop up on a blog post from me or someone I might recommend, or a link to Amazon that interests you, please click on it. Buying something that someone recommends, costs you nothing, but sometimes they get a little kickback (Jeff Bezos doesn’t need it). It feels weird saying this because as guides for Rick we don’t take kickbacks or try to sell you anything. It is one of the things I like most about working for him. That, the great group of people I am privileged to work with, and I get to be myself. If you like what my amazing group of guide friends are doing, please subscribe to their blogs and YouTube channels and share the content, share share share!
The last thing I would like to share on this particular Liberation Day is my thanks for all the messages both private and on my blog from past tour members, new readers, friends and family. I am grateful! What’s coming next? Once the quarantine is lifted we will be able to wander about around our province to begin with. The province of Cuneo is nicknamed La Granda, because it is the largest province in Italy and I can show it off a bit. I’ll also try to improve my filming skills and send more recipes since the feedback has been so positive. In the meantime…Be well and stay healthy.