On the lockdown in Italy, from the inside

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Philip Kolevsohn is an ex-Herzlian and 26-year-old architect on lock-down in Italy at the moment. The CJC’s editor, Lindy Diamond, chatted to him this week about his experience so far.

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I moved to Milan, Italy, at the beginning of 2017, to pursue a Masters Degree in Architecture at the Polytechnic University of Milan (Politecnico di Milano). Upon graduating in July 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to work in Milan, which is the main reason I am still in Italy today (in addition to my love for the country)

What was daily life like before the COVID-19 epidemic started affecting you?

Before the COVID-19 outbreak I lived a very active lifestyle, which included taking long rides (on skinny Pete — my bicycle) through the city, often until the early hours of the morning. I loved getting lost in the winding streets of the historic centre late at night because I was able to experience the city for what it really is. No noise. No Tourists. No hustle and bustle. The narrow streets and grand cathedral lit only by warm street lights. It’s become one of the things I appreciate most about Milan. A side most people never get to see. I also had a very healthy social life which was often centred around food. Lots of it. It’s one of the things I appreciate most about Italy. Like a Shabbat dinner with family; where there is food, there is laughter, joy and happiness. Something I bet will return when the city returns to life.

What does your day to day routine look like now?

I have tried to keep my daily routine as close to my regular routine as possible, so that I can still fulfil the requirements of my job, which is also my passion. I have always been a ‘routine person’. It’s good for productivity and helps to keep me stimulated and will also mean that when all of this is over, getting back to normal life should be seamless — a day I cannot wait for.

The day starts with a hot shower, a substantial breakfast and a cup of tea — although not Rooibos, regular tea seems to do just fine. I then sit down to read through and answer important emails before having a conference call with my team (3 bosses and 2 other colleagues). It’s great to see them, even if it’s not in person. 

We usually take this time to set our goals for the day, while also checking in to see that we are all still healthy and in a good mental state. I think keeping a steady head is proving to be the most important thing about being in this surreal setting. First coffee break is around 11am, where I tend to spend 15-20 mins on my 2-person balcony, taking in some fresh air while soaking up the morning sun (luckily my bosses recognize the importance of this exercise as well). 

It’s Spring in Italy now, so the sunshine is really helping to keep my spirits up. You don’t realise how important sunshine is until you’ve seen a few European winters. Lunch is usually around 13:30. One perk of being at home is that I get to cook for lunch, a meal I would otherwise have to prepare the night before. Lunch has become an important recharge moment for me. Usually, I look forward to lunch with colleagues. It’s the moment of the day when we get to connect on a more personal level, one thing that has really helped to create the sense of what a team should be like – something incredibly valuable. Now that I have lunch alone I use it as a moment for myself. Time alone is important and this experience is really teaching me that. 

Lunch is usually capped with another coffee (last one for the day, I promise) before it’s back to work. I like to power through the afternoon so that I can take a break to feed off the last few moments on sunshine on my balcony before wrapping up for the day. My evenings are usually spent catching up with friends from around the world or chatting to family back home. Video calling used to be a rarity for me, but I’ve really taken a liking to it since being isolated from the world. The final moments of the day are spent catching up on news, watching a new show, or reading, all of which give value to my day in their own way.

5) How much longer are you expected to stay at home?

The most recent reports suggest the lock down will last until the 3rd of April, although it’s probably safe to assume it’ll be quite a few weeks longer. Safety first, and I’m all for it.

6) Do you have any advice for South Africans at this uncertain time?

Last night (23rd March 2020), I watched President Ramaphosa address the nation and announce that the country would be put on full lock down. As daunting as it might sound, I am so glad that the decision was made relatively early. South Africa has an extremely vulnerable population so the greatest measures do need to be taken in order to ensure the safety of everyone. Having said that, there is only so much the government can do… The rest lies in the hands of the greater community.

My first bit of advice would be to stay at home. If you had asked me this question 2, or even 3, weeks ago I would have said the same thing. It is the smallest sacrifice you can make for the greater good of your family, your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, your community and your country. It won’t be easy, but it doesn’t have to be unbearable. See it as a unique opportunity. A time to spend with people close to you. A time to reflect. A time to finally put together that scrapbook of photos from your holiday to Israel in 2016. A time to learn a new language. A time to connect with old friends from overseas who you’ve been meaning to call but ‘haven’t had the time’. Well guess what, now you have the time. And you have a lot of it, so don’t waste it!

My second bit of advice would be to stick to routine. If you’re lucky enough to be able to work from home then treat every day as you would any other. Your morning routine, whatever it might me, will keep your body and mind on track and in focus. It’s incredibly important to keep your mind active so sticking to what it’s used to will be one way of looking after your mental health. If working from home isn’t an option then it’s important to keep yourself busy with hobbies or stimulating tasks. This can include learning a new recipe, taking online courses, reading or being creative with the household items you have available to you. 

The internet is an encyclopaedia of ideas, so get creative! It is also important to stay active and continue to eat healthily. Keeping your body healthy will help you to combat any illness you might get, but will also keep your mind healthy, something we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of.

Third, stay connected: to your family, your friends and your community. Check in on your parents, grandparents and people close to you if you’re not living together. Share stories and memories, and talk about the things and moments you look forward to sharing when this is all over, because it will be over. 

Fourth, manage your media intake. Staying connected in a time of physical separation is important, however, I have found that constant connection to the media does take its toll sooner or later. It is definitely important to maintain an understanding of events as they unfold around us but I have found it to be a lot less draining if I allocate a specific moment in the day specially for news and media. After a while, too much exposure to the media can become a bit overwhelming, so don’t be scared to disconnect once in a while. It’s good for you. 

Fifth and final bit of advice is to be patient, it’s a team effort. You are going to be spending a lot more time with the people you are in quarantine with than you usually would, so be calm, be understanding, be honest and communicate. It’s important to give each other space when needed and to communicate when you need that space. It’s also important to ensure that everyone is as happy as they can be, because it won’t take much to change the mood in tense moments like these, so try your best to stay calm and rational. 

Philip Kolevsohn

BAS [UCT], MSc.Arch [PoliMi]
From Milan, Italy

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