Coronavirus

Italy Fights the Coronavirus With a Flash Mob -- At a Safe Distance

Italy, Coronavirus
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

A general view of the Brera District on March 10, 2020 in Milan, Italy.

MILAN — Thousands of Italians on Friday (March 13) decided to break the monotony and loneliness of the country's strict anti-coronavirus lockdown by joining in a nationwide “Sound Flash Mob.”

Unlike typical flash mobs, like those in Times Square, this was a flash mob at a distance. With Italy's 60 million citizens obliged to stay home until April 3, and possibly beyond, people fought back against restrictions on public gatherings by standing on their balconies and leaning out the windows of their apartments.

At 6 p.m. local time on Friday, citizens grabbed their computers or whatever instruments they could find, even pots and pans, and made music. In Milan, people waved Italian flags and tended to play the national anthem, "L’Inno Mameli" ("The Mameli Hymn"). In Rome and further south, many Italians simply banged on pots and pans as they waved to neighbors in other buildings.

More talented musicians filmed themselves playing a variety of tunes at their windows and posted their contributions on social media.

On Thursday, one day after the country’s death toll from the COVID-19 virus passed 1,000 -- Italy is the second worst-hit country after China -- organizers urged Italians to participate in the Flash Mob Sonoro ("Sound Flash Mob"). “Let's open the windows, step out onto the balcony and play together, even from a distance," they said on Facebook. "Let’s cheer up the cities!”

The flash mob initiative was promoted by Fanfaroma, a Rome-based brass collective whose name is a combination of fanfarone (“braggart”) and Roma (“Rome”). Organizers billed it on Facebook as a "way our country will, for just a few minutes, become one gigantic free concert."

Word of mouth and social media drove Italians across the country, especially in Rome, to participate in the spontaneous event. Milan’s prestigious music school, the Conservatorio, also lent its support.

Last week, the Italian government banned all concerts, live events and public gatherings until April 3. Then this week it imposed a national lockdown. “No more nightlife,” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared on Monday in a TV address.

Health officials have discouraged Italians from leaving their homes; they face fines if their reasons for doing so aren’t sufficiently valid. The only establishments that remain open are pharmacies and shops selling food. Everything else -- bars, restaurants, schools, universities and even churches -- are closed, while most Italians are working from home.

But the fact that the nation’s city dwellers tend to live in apartment buildings means there is nothing to stop them from standing on their balconies, instruments in hand, and playing music.

The Sound Flash Mob was not the only musical event on Friday. The Ministry of Culture also staged an 18-hour live-streamed “marathon” titled L’Italia chiamò (“Italy called”) from 6 a.m. until midnight local time. It featured musicians, artists, actors and scientists who endeavored to explain, “How to react to an emergency that is without precedent.” It had the support of FIMI, the trade group of Italy’s major record labels. Its name is a quote from the country’s national anthem.

The celebration is poised to continue Saturday. At noon, people all over the country are expected to gather on their balconies and clap their hands as a token of their appreciation for what everyone is doing for the country. Later in the day, at 7 p.m., there will be another nationwide pots and pans-banging session organized by a group called Mestolata Collettiva ("Collective Ladle"). Its slogan is “Let’s make noise so that we feel close to each other.”

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