I love Italy and go there at least once a year if possible, so this year I am missing the pleasure of that trip and I am grieving for the population suffering so badly from Covid 19. At the same time I’ve been reading a book about Italy during World War 2, written by an Englishwoman who was married to an Italian. They had a large estate with a main house and farms all around for which they were responsible. Clearly they owned a large part of Tuscany, but this didn’t save them from the dreadful consequences of the war, seemingly losing everything to the invading military. I confess I had never before considered the awful circumstances of the general civilian population in occupied Italy, and this excellent, moving book opened my eyes even more to the shocking waste that war represents, the stupidity and/or ruthlessness of many politicians and the burden of suffering that fell upon ‘normal people’ – with no skin in the game.

Iris Origo is an excellent writer, whose moving testimony has made me feel very thankful that our lockdown is, in fact, so limited, even though we sometimes complain at the loss of our freedom and independence.

Here are a few illustrative quotes from the book which is set in 1943-44

“Travel by train has now become virtually impossible. … (a friend) took thirty-eight hours to get from Chiusi to Ferrara – twelve hours of the time being spent waiting at Chiusi, where the only train was packed with terrified women and children escaping from Naples to the North – they themselves did not know where” – this puts our public transport problems in a different context.

“Today (August 1st 1943) the BBC announces that the lull which has lasted since July 25th is over. The bombing of Italy will begin again” – (and it continued until July 1944 in case, like me, you didn’t realise this)

“The truth is that we none of us have the faintest idea of what is going on behind the scenes – everyone interprets such events that he has heard of, in the light of his own desires” – Isn’t that rather familiar? Twitter?

October 1943 “Everyone however (whatever their political attitude) realises that every additional week of German occupation increases the country’s impoverishment and prolongs the period of suspended action. Whatever prospects the Allies may have in store for us it will be better than the present state of affairs – since then it will be possible to begin again. So we listen to the BBC, which reports five miles’ progress, eight miles progress (a tedious business says the announcer, and we agree) and go on waiting.” This is probably a familiar strain at least partly applicable to our present situation.

So while we may be very fed up of the daily broadcasts from the Government on the corona virus situation, the jousting with journalists, (particularly as officials seem to move towards a blame game where they can allocate responsibility to others where things have gone wrong), we should be thankful at least that we are not being bombed, we have only one Government (at one time Italy had 4!), and that we aren’t starving as a result of looting and war. More on the four horsemen of the apocalypse another time.