2 May 1965 new cases 269 deaths

I’ve been busy creating the vegetable garden. Not only for my own pleasure, but because we expect only Italian guests this summer…and possibly for the next year or two. And for the first time making the apartment garden more beautiful and functional with herbs. With the coronavirus, this year booking inquiries have all been from italians, and usually for 1-3 months. This means villa managers, this year Chanel and I, are expecting to be living down there most of the time. Our Milanese family are still here, entering their third month and will stay at least until the end of May.

Best news of all is that the lockdown won’t be extended again past the last nominated day to begin relaxing restrictions, 3 May. Italy’s number of new cases has been steadily falling, along with the deaths. The 269 deaths reported late yesterday was the lowest in a week and before that the lowest since around 10 March. And under 2000 new cases is cause for joy!

Everyone is relieved, but in our village, also a little worried that when the restrictions are eased to allow people to move about their region (but not inter-regionally), there will been in influx of Milanese coming to their holiday houses in Civenna, and also renting holiday houses. And possibly bringing the virus with them.

We feel very grateful we’ve had the same family here since the beginning. One of the brother’s left for Milan about 10 days ago and hasn’t returned.  I think he may not return and risk infecting his family. I presume he’s trying to get their gin importing business going again. If they manage to restart it, they may be able to afford to stay here for the summer, which would be an incredible boon for us.

In the meantime I’ve thrown all my enthusiasm and passion into fertilising, mulching the new garden we planted last year after the pool was finished – hydrangeas, camellias, azaleas and, this year, planting the vegetable garden. We’ve been limited with many shops and businesses closed but we’ve done our best, John and I. No raised garden beds this year, but when summer guests arrive there will already be vegetables to harvest. I can already see new tiny fruit on the strawberries plants.

Every morning when I venture out for my cold swim after Wim Hof breathing I check out the tendrils of the new wisteria and black grape vine I’m training over the original restored bocce court viewing trellis. I put loads of fertiliser on hoping this year it will reach the top.

I find it so satisfying I can’t stay away from the garden. Sometimes I just go down to look at the vegies. Some plants, like the spinach, looks like they’ve shot up overnight.

I’m allowed to return the hire car to near Malpensa on 4 May. This means travelling through Milan by train  on my way back. Fortunately not Milano Centrale, but the hopefully less used Milano Bovisa Nord – otherwise known as Politecnico, and no universities or schools are open at the moment so with luck this will be largely deserted. The guests will give me a new mask and the best quality hand sanitiser they’ve been able to get hold of.

Chanel, the other owner, returned from where she’d been trapped south of Bologna this week. She was stopped by police at the tiny town railway station where she started her journey. Fortunately she had authorization papers to travel back to her place of work – here. But in Lecco, police were also waiting at the station there and they took her in for questioning. She showed them her authorization but they shouted at her that she shouldn’t have travelled through Milan. Of course without a car, there’s no other way to get from Bologna to Lecco. When she pointed out that they were not wearing masks  and handling her documents and giving them back to her without glove, so in fact they were more risky for her than she was for them, since she WAS wearing mask and gloves. She shamed them into both getting their protective gear on, and letting her go! Now she’s self-isolating for two weeks in a town called Barzio across the Lecco arm of Lake Como. She’s usually the head gardener here, but all had to be done in Spring. She planted the pots around the new swimming pool last year. Irises are now flowering everywhere.

John, our house sitter stuck here because of the coronavirus, is in the position of needing both Italy allowing him to travel, and the U.K. allowing flights in from Italy. He may be blocked here for several more weeks. He’s been such a fantastic worker, especially in the garden – from mowing, whipper snippering edges, helping mulch the hydrangea hill, cleaning up, removing rubbish, and chiding me about talking to my veggie garden. Not to mention making sure I have a gin and tonic in hand every afternoon. Secretly I think he’s as observant and interested in the veggie garden as I am. He has an eagle eye that John.


We’ve still had several inquiries the past week from websites wanting to list the villa. They’re all getting inquiries from Italians wanting retreats away from the city. We can only hope we manage a booking for the entire summer.

Camellias and azaleas one year from planting in 2019

3 May – 1,349 new cases and 174 new deaths

Fittingly, on the eve of Italy relaxing it’s lockdown measures, these figures are the best we’ve seen since the country closed down around 10 March.

Everyone is excited about tomorrow. Nobody knows exactly what to expect. But I’ll be one of the first to find out because in the morning I have to return the hire car that we’ve kept a month longer than the lease period because it was impossible to return due to the lockdown measures. So I have to drive to Malpensa and take public transport back. Guests are concerned, and I am a little too. But they have given me a new mask, hand sanitizer and we’ve dicussed the measures I’ll be taking. These include wearing a long coat almost to my ankles and a hat. I will take these, and my shoes off, when I arrive home and leave them outside the apt. I will spray my hair with a solution of water and 70% pure alcohol which the guests have given me.

The night before, I took this dusk photo of the lake just after the village lights came on, as twilight was settled over the water.

4 May 1221 new cases and 195 new deaths

Excellent figures to begin relaxing of the lockdown.

I left home at 8.15 after finishing my Wim Hof breathing and immersing myself in the freezing cold water of the small balance pool. No time for yoga this morning. But I did take these two lovely photos of sunrise over the Lecco arm of Lake Como the day our lives began again.

Irises kissing the morning sunrise on the day of our Liberation

Our apt breakfast, lunch and dinner spot with the sunrise on the day we are set free – kind of….

Driving towards the airport, first to Canzo, the first thing I notice are the cyclists on the road. Normally during the season this road is full of cyclists training for events. Now, on the 15 minutes drive to Canzo, I see a dozen or so. One or two wearing masks, but mostly not. At the petrol station I fill up – the attendant is wearing a mask. I stop at the bakery for a focaccia and the Latteria Locatelli where we buy wine and fresh ravioli, where all the shoppers and attendants are wearing masks.

Before I enter the deli, I see a sign which says Alcool e guanti sono finit. Alcohol and gloves are finished. Because I came for my favorite wine, Ciu’ Ciu’, I think I won’t bother and say when they invite me to enter (because only two can be in the shop at the same time) ‘ah, but you have no wine?’ They say yes, yes, we have wine. But I point to the sign on the door ‘it says you have no alcohol’. Everyone behind the counter (four of them) roar with laughter. ‘Alcool is something you clean surfaces with.’ they explain.

I recall in France about 15 years ago when I wrote my book about renovating a Paris apartment, The Accidental Renovator: A Paris Story (if you’re interested 🙂 a journalist told me how he’d just sub-edited a story about France nominating wine not as an alcoholic beverage, but as a food, and would therefore be taxed as such. His headline read “If wine is a food, what is a hangover?”

Italy too considers wine a food. The idea that it is alcohol is an abundant cause for merriment in this local deli where the owners wine cave is his pride and passion.

I have brought along my Brompton folding bike and large front pannier to avoid going to Malpensa airport railway station. I plan to ride to the next station along, Ferno. So I put my produce in the bag and head off to a nursery on the way to the airport to choose a fig tree to plant. Our gardener will bring it and the other herbs and various vegetable garden seedlings back with him next time he comes. But I can’t help putting various vegetable seedlings, five trays, on top of my shopping in the Brompton bag. By now it’s very heavy.

I’m amazed that the roads are thick with cars. Much more than usual. Although I’m rarely on the roads this early in the morning. but certainly there are a lot of people either returning to work, visiting relatives, shopping, or just driving around without one of these reasons, which is illegal!

The spring countryside is more beautiful for not having seen it coming on slowly, except at the villa. Chestnut trees are flowing everywhere, fresh new wheat is growing (at least I think it’s wheat!), and the lime green with light bouncing off it, as you only see in spring, is dancing in the wind everywhere you look.


I return the car to a place near the airport. Everyone here are also wearing masks. I ride to Ferno station, about 5kms away. As per the new regulations, you’re now allowed out to walk the dog or….just walk, even if it’s not close to your home. And there are people taking advantage of this on every street in this little town of Ferno. The meadows surrounded by flowering trees are mesmerizing for me, the little Australian who comes from one of the driest continents on earth.


There’s nobody at the station. No ticket seller, no passengers and the ticket machine isn’t working. Not even the platform lifts are working. With my heavy bag of wine food and plants, I don’t want to carry them to the deep depths of the station, only to have to carry the all back up again. So I ride around the station and find a cafe with cleaning staff who assure me trains in fact are stopping here.

A kind Nigerian man now waiting upstairs, carries my bag down to the platform for me and assures me the train is indeed going to Bovisa, a station of Milan but less crowded than Milano Centrale. From here I can take a train to Canzo, 15 minutes drive from the villa.

There are only three people on Ferno station, myself, the Nigerian man and a woman. All of us are wearing masks. At Bovisa, there are quite a few people, but much less than usual. Everyone is wearing mask but not gloves. There are no police around. I just miss a train and wait for an hour here before taking the one hour journey to Canzo. Here nobody knows what time the bus is coming. One woman, who arrived by bus to Canzo earlier in the morning, said nobody knows the bus timetable. It’s certainly different to what I saw on the app. Everywhere driving to the airport, this now explains why there were many people waiting at bus stops (wearing masks). You just have to wait until one turns up. She also explains that because there’s nowhere to buy a ticket open, all public transport during this period is free.

When I finally arrive home, my little vegetable seedlings are very battered and bruised. I plant some and water them in, leaving the rest to recover sufficiently before planting them in the morning.

Gardening, they say, is a patient person’s passtime. I’m not patient. I’d have to be the most impatient person in the world. So to make up for plants not growing fast enough, I just buy more and take daily pleasure in planting more and more vegetable varieties. I now have strawberries, watermelon, many herbs, tomatoes, broccoli, eggplants, carrot, celery, onions, peppers, chilli, parsley and I’m about to plant my sprouted potatoes. The fig tree might arrive tomorrow!!! Yay!!!