Arrivederci 2020: HeartRome year in review

Every year I sit down to write my year in review. To fit in with the theme for 2020, of course this one was different. It’s been the longest March of our life. A year no one expected, a year no one will ever forget. I’m sure I’m not alone in selfishly thinking on more than one occasion, couldn’t the greatest health, social and economic crisis of a generation happen on someone else’s watch? I still pinch myself. As one of my close friends so eloquently put it, we’ve never pandemic-ed before. And it’s impacted everyone on the planet in very different ways. This year I’ve felt alone, afraid, unsure about the future, anxious, displaced. I’m sure to varying degrees you have too. I’ve felt like I’ve lived two pandemics – in that, I have two homes and while I’ve lived most of the emergency in Australia, Italy has been on my mind. Every single day. And night. No one could have predicted the trajectory of the pandemic in March when I boarded a plane to Melbourne to be closer to family. I packed hurriedly. I’ll be back in a couple of month I thought. I mean, how long will it take for this virus to take its course? Even though I know pandemics are long and painful, the reality that they can last years hadn’t dawned on me in that moment. It’s been a learning curve for us all. The Rome and the Italy I left doesn’t exist anymore. Of course some things never change, but the country has been devastated on so many levels. And that has also been difficult to accept. I am so grateful to have spent two long and very hard lockdowns with family (one of which lasted 112 days!) Grateful that no one in my immediate circle of family and friends is a frontline worker. We are all safe and well. Not everyone can say the same. Grateful that I have a roof over my head and food on the table, despite losing much of my work and income. Not everyone can say the same. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, and the scars of this year are deep and will take many years more to heal. It’s been one of the longest, hardest, most challenging years. And I had just come off 8 hospital admissions over the preceding 18 months. Needless to say, I’m not alone in thinking 2020 was going to be a fresh start. My year! Then it turned upside down. I’ve now been away from my home in Rome for 9 months. And as the year went on, I only found that the fatigue and strain of it all deepened. It’s been mentally and physically taxing. But I survived it. I wrote less articles than I normally would but CNN, USA Today and Condé Nast are among this year’s bylines. I was interviewed by Australia’s local Italian newspaper, Il Globo, the Untold Italy podcast and Il Papiro blog. I sold a record number of my book, I Heart Rome (everyone has been cooking away in lockdown!) and I wrote a book. Yes – I wrote a book in lockdown! A milestone I will never forget and an opportunity I never expected to come to fruition in a year like this. And so it got me thinking, how can the worst year of your life also be sort of the best? Being creative while a pandemic raged wasn’t easy. It has literally drained me of the little energy I had. Only on submitting my manuscript did the enormity of what I’d achieved set in. I’m super proud of How to be Italian. It will be released internationally in October 2021 and in the meantime, I hope to wipe some of the exhaustion away over an Australian summer spent with my family with some taste of normality given such low virus transmission currently in Melbourne. My year in review video doesn’t have fancy dinners and exotic destinations. It’s full of screenshots of video calls made to friends and family locally and around the world, Australian beach sunsets (my saving grace in lockdown) and lots of baking and cooking. They are photos of a year practically spent at home. Looking back I still manage a smile. For the fact that I have a home, two in fact. And for that I am lucky. And for the love surrounding me and the blessings that I am still fortunate to count. I’m not sure I’ll ever make peace with 2020. Will anyone? The grief of losing a year in Rome. Of not being able to travel with friends and family. Of lost time and moments with loved ones. Of spending what will end up being at least year in Australia that was a decision I made but wasn’t really part of my plan. Of witnessing such pain and devastation. Of seeing hospitals around the world overwhelmed, death and suffering in every daily global headline, coffins multiplying and mass graves being dug. For so many, the scars run deep and will take a long time to heal. I wrote this post in Uluru, a most sacred place in Australia’s outback centre. It’s the first time I’ve travelled for pure pleasure this year and am thankful that Australia’s current enviable COVID-19 record has allowed for it to happen. Here, we admired one of the world’s greatest wonders from one of the country’s most luxurious resorts. We saw Kata Tjuta – another incredible rock formation millions of years old. For just a few days, we disconnected from the world. Exactly what I needed. And had a chance to at least attempt to process what the actual hell happened this year! Like Rome, this part of Australia has ancient origins and there’s something spine tingling about experiencing the past, present and future in one spot. Standing in the shadow of something so monumental and imposing, was a humble reminder that we are all just passing through. 2020 has also been a reminder to live while you can. Do the things. Do all the things. The things you want to do. And don’t do the things you don’t want to do. Life is fragile and everything really can change in the blink of an eye. We’ve all been witness to this. To all my readers and followers thanks for your unwavering support. I wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy 2021. May it be less painful than the year gone by. It’s time to heal. Much love and buon anno, Maria

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