The Russians have taken over Milan. They of the hearty stock and with their unflappable physical and emotional essence. It didn’t take them long to infiltrate in clusters and then droves. Now that no one else is left to visit Italy as a result of the U.S.’ ultimate death blow (apart from the existence of New Jersey and Long Island “Italians”) of telling Americans not to travel there, they reign supreme over the land. Particularly the once overrun by many nationalities Piazza Del Duomo. Where now Andrei and Nadia take selfies with one another unmarred by the presence of the usually ubiquitous Chinese or American tourists.
“Little bitches,” Andrei remarks to a British reporter wearing a surgical mask (just another person who has ignored the advisory that these masks should only be worn by those who are actually ill). This in response to the reporter asking what he thinks about the sudden lack of a particular breed of tourist in the Lombardy region, nay, in all of Italy thanks to a certain virus. Nadia is the one who said they should come, he adds, noting that she thinks it’s just propaganda and that there is nothing to be afraid of. Nadia, indeed, is off in the background posing in front of the famed Gothic cathedral as pigeons swirl about her. Yes, the pigeons are the only other beings to contend with in terms of carving out a blank space for oneself to get their photo snapped in front of the near mythical edifice. As though the cathedral had been shut down to the public solely for a queen’s visit. Today, Nadia is that queen, and Andrei her king. Even if a bit of a buffoon. Then again, buffoonery is a common characteristic of any male monarch. Or president.
Andrei goes to the nearest caffetteria to order an espresso from a downtrodden barman named Ettore, who looks as though he’s seeing his entire life flash before his eyes. Maybe because the presence of only these Russians feels like a kind of death to him. The death of profitable tourism. The death of gleaning any sense of enjoyment from his job. His friend, Alessandro, who works at one of the most expensive alberghi in the zone, Bulgari (which, yes, is the same as Bvlgari, since the jewelry brand decided hotels were an essential operation to their aura of luxury as well), has already stopped in three times today to tell him that it’s been as dead as a doornail. Or as dead as an old person with coronavirus.
Even the rich don’t believe their money can save them from it. And that’s perhaps what’s scariest of all. Maybe that’s why the Russians are so emboldened to come here. They’re already poor, as a rule (let’s be honest, Ettore says conspiratorially to Alessandro, “Questa gente non ha una moneta, non per fare le grande cose come gli americani.”). And when you’re poor, you truly have nothing to lose. Death is a blessing, not something to fear, but rather, something to taunt and laugh in the face of because you know it won’t take hold of you. Life is far worse than death when one is a broke ass. Meanwhile, Ettore will probably have to learn how to make Russian peasant soup to appeal to his only clientele for the foreseeable future. He speculates that the reason the Russians haven’t reported any cases of coronavirus “incidents” is because either 1) they manufactured it themselves or 2) their government has killed off anyone who has been thought to bear the symptoms, thereby eradicating any chance of the spread. Stalin, after all, established a template for someone like Putin to emulate.
Whatever the reason, Ettore smells conspiracy like baccalà on a Neapolitan fishmonger. He hates what has become of his once bustling metropolis. That it is between desolation or a smattering of Russians. Has Italy not endured enough in its history, already so chock full of tales of disease and contamination (here’s looking at you, cholera)? Evidently not. Evidently, there is some bounty on the head of this country stemming from centuries ago. Maybe somewhere around the point when the Greek gods were renamed by the Romans. Maybe the gods didn’t take kindly to their rebranding or something. And you can always count on a curse to originate from the Greeks. Especially when it comes to the unspoken competition between them and the Italians for Achieving the Highest Level of Art and Philosophy.
He supposed it didn’t make any real difference where the hex arose from. It was here and ever-present, and that was all that mattered. Did America’s president have any consideration for the fact that Italians are already barely living on bread crumbs without having their only consistently profitable industry–tourism–wiped out? No, there was no consideration at all from anyone outside of the boot. The Italians were a tainted people now, deemed “the sick man of Europe,” and would be for quite some time. If they were lucky, maybe the fears and phobias would subside by next year. But by then, they would all be destitute. Subsisting on the few alms a Russian was willing to give.
What’s worse, the wine selling business was taking a hit, too. Suddenly, it was all demands for vodka. And talk of how “Italian vodka” ain’t shit. As if the Russians would know the difference between vaginal discharge and quality vodka. They would drink anything if it fucked them up with one sip, Molotov cocktail included. And of course they were unmoved by offers of grappa by the bottle instead of by the shot glass. “What is this you give me?” Andrei balked later that night as he took Nadia out to further celebrate the city being theirs. “Is this water?” he “quipped” as he laughed diabolically with Nadia, who pulled out her own giant AK-47 shaped bottle from her freshly purchased Gucci bag. She tittered, concluding of the grappa, “This is very cute. Thank you very much for ‘alcohol’ appetizer.” And with that, she and Andrei burst into laughter anew.
“The Italians they are so delicate. Just like Americans,” Nadia told the same British reporter doing his segment on the present lack of tourism in Milan. “But they have very nice things here. Just not liquor or sense of strength.”
Ettore had the notion to jump from the counter, run straight to the piazza and strangle them both with his bare hands (coronavirus risk be damned) and show them just how forceful an Italian’s “sense of strength” could be. But he refrained. He couldn’t kill any of the few tourists still remaining in the region. Russian or not, they were his livelihood. And that, one supposes, is how pandemics briefly relieve someone of their prior prejudices (in addition to causing them to flare up even more).