We thank Giuliana, an Italian in Romania, for this beautiful article about her expat experience in Bucharest in these times of Corona virus.
I have been planning to write an article about my expat experience in Bucharest, Romania for some time now.
I returned here from Italy after a few days of vacation in Milan with my two children on February 21st. At that moment the area of Lodi was lifting the veil to reveal the disaster in which we and the world had fallen. We had convinced ourselves for too long that what had happened in China would remain there.
When I returned to Romania, I spent two weeks in quarantine, allowing long days to pass with the prospect of returning to my life quickly. I thought that only when my life returned to normality, could I really write about my expat experience in Bucharest, our life here and this city and country that I love. I did not want to write about Bucharest at a time when I couldn’t go out, when I was cut off from its lively scene.
Then, after two days of school, everyone was back home again.
Numbers of cases are growing here, too. The country, completely unprepared for a health emergency of the proportions of the one that hit Italy, is gripped by fear. Romania was the first country in Europe after Italy to close schools. Now clubs and restaurants are closed too.
So here I am, writing. Even if people are still going out a little bit here, we live two weeks in the future, so to speak. We know what will happen. We are surprised that Romania and other countries are taking steps with a slowness that was, perhaps, understandable for us, the first European country hit by the virus, but not for them.
We spend time at home. The kids are busy with online schooling, my husband mostly works at the desk in our room, where I usually write.
From here we watch the spring explode, the trees bloom, without us.
Had I had talked about my expat experience in Bucharest only a few weeks ago, I would have told of its green and well-kept parks, of its striking and fascinating contrasts.
I would have mentioned the dilapidated barracks, the grayness of some streets, but also the flower gardens and the Liberty buildings with French slate roofs. I would have told of how you come across the signs of this country’s difficult history, but also how you can embrace its liveliness, and its enthusiasm.
I would have said how it’s hard not to fall in love with the frenzy of this chaotic city. I would have described the offices in the mirrored buildings and the shopping malls where Italian brands take pride of place, the wires that make this country the champion of Europe for tangled connection wires around the poles on the streets or dangling from balconies that seem to be collapsing.
I would have mentioned the beautiful girls with their designer bags, long false eyelashes and lacquered nails and the elderly ladies with wrinkled faces framed by scarves, arriving who knows how from the countryside to the capital with some white eggs and colorful flowers to sell on metro steps.
Of course, I would have talked about everything that made my life here special, everything that made me feel at home immediately, welcomed by people who were sometimes a little brusque, but profoundly hospitable, in a country where everyone speaks English very well, but often also Italian, French and more.
But no. I find myself writing at a different time instead. A time that unexpectedly showed me the ugly and difficult side of living abroad.
I find myself living divided in two, between here and Italy, where my parents, like everyone else, have been locked in at home for weeks.
Of course we did not go back to Italy every minute. Still, the idea that Bucharest and Milan were well connected by so many daily flights calmed me, took me by the hand in all my beautiful days here.
The idea of being able to be with my family within a few hours was reassuring. Now I feel like a prisoner. And this, together with the terrible news coming from Italy and getting worse here daily, is sometimes suffocating.
It is strange to feel your life overwhelmed by something of such magnitude, by the taste of one of those events that will gain a place in history books, an event that somehow nullifies distances, because the whole of Europe, and indeed the whole world, is experiencing the same drama and breathing the same fears, fears that become infinite, because we are deprived of the possibility, or even just the thought of the possibility, to move.
While I listen to my children’s lessons and my husband’s calls, while I think about what to make for lunch and I tell myself that I will never again be able to concentrate on writing or even reading, while in short I try to tame my anxiety, I realize that this is the time to think of one’s roots but also to embrace all the beauty and new things that life abroad has brought to our lives.
Perhaps living as an expat at the time of the Corona virus means learning to move like tightrope walkers between different backgrounds: the country we come from, the one we are in and the whole world, united as never before in a single major battle.
Giuliana Arena has been living in Bucharest with her husband and two sons since 2018. For years she worked at the University in Milan, and then turned to her passion for writing. In 2015 she published Mamme no panic (Sperling&Kupfer), and in 2019 Il nido di vetro, (The glass nest), a memoir where she tells the experience of the premature birth of her second child. She also writes stories with her friends and colleagues of Raccontandosi.it.