When I think about one activity that I can always recommend in good faith and personally use when family/friends visit Italy – what comes to mind is Scooteroma Tours and their fabulous fleet of Vespa-driving Romans, often with a blond Minnesotan capitana Annie leading the way.
Just last summer Nico and I took his niece, nephew and dad on a Vespa and Ape tour adventure through the bewitching Roman capital, wind flipping around our hair as we laughed about the weather changing in a blink of an eye. Even today, they can’t stop talking about this day and for Christmas we made a photobook of the trip with the kids smiling ear-to-ear on the cover, perched on the Ape parked on Rome’s Aventine Hill.
Far from being solely a business contact, I’ve known Annie for a number of years and she’s become a good friend exuding so much vibrant energy you wonder just how she does it. Case in point: every single time we walk into one of her favorite haunts near Piazza Navona whomever was working would stop what they were doing to hug and catch up with Annie, warmth radiating from every corner. This is not someone who came to Italy to find themselves and observe locals with piqued curiosity from their privileged perch but a person who has fully immersed herself in every possible way.
She’s also the type of person who doesn’t shy to hard work and long hours, but always sets aside time to lend a friendly ear. I for one, can appreciate that, and even more so during these past few years when I’ve only had the energy to keep close relationships with people with whom I can live in a judgement free, completely open zone.
Now, like so many others, it is a difficult period for her as tourism is all but a memory at this point. I asked her to share more about her work and how it was affected by this current pandemic and life under lockdown in Rome, along with her original photography taken during these difficult days.
I am an American living in Rome for the last 15 years. I own a tour company that focuses on private experiences in Rome & beyond. We are known for our Vespa tours of Rome but at the end of February our fleet of wheels came to a screeching halt.
On Sunday February 23rd, the world news began reporting the unfiltered reality of what was happening in Northern Italy. All of us in tourism immediately felt the impending doom of what was to come.
Or shall I say what was not to come.
Not a tourist in sight and three months later it is still the status quo. By the next morning our inboxes were overflowing with concerning emails from clients asking about the Coronavirus situation and if they should cancel their future Roman Holidays.
I’ll be honest it was a very tough question to answer since our clients’ safety is our number 1 priority on and off the road. In the two weeks that followed I created and exhausted Plan A to Plan F in trying to save my business when eventually I finally stopped and surrendered to the situation.
Now 3 months later, nearly all of our reservations for the 2020 season have been cancelled. Even though this is the reality, we know our Squad has only been curbed not cancelled. We look towards the future with hope and trust that Rome will rise again exactly how it has so many times over the centuries!
The first week of quarantine I was exhausted from previously working 12 hours a day fielding COVID-19 defense. By the second week, all of us in Italy began to settle into our new reality of staying home with all options being cleared from the slate. Italy’s new anthem ‘tutto andrà bene’ – ‘everything will be okay’ was born and we collectively had one goal; stay home, stay safe. After the United States and my family transitioned into this identical world there was a palpable silence that became my constant companion during my solo quarantine.
I told myself repeatedly every single day… you do not have to be an overachiever in lockdown. You do what you can and if some days you can’t do anything at all, that’s okay too.
After a month of lockdown, I grabbed my ‘real camera’ as I like to call it and brought it with me to the pharmacy. And that’s all it took because I quickly became very passionate about photographing everyday life in Rome during the times of Coronavirus.
I would look out through my lens to capture empty squares and lonely alleyways lined with closed cafés and restaurants and could think of only one daunting question…
When will the tourists return?
I began to bring my camera with me religiously as I went on my essential errands to the grocery store, butcher, pharmacy and post office. I’m so very lucky that Piazza Navona is in my backyard and my grocery store is just around the corner from the Pantheon for it made these banal errands that more exciting.
I snapped no glamour shots of the Trevi fountain nor the Colosseum because these famous sites were certainly located outside the 200-meter limit from my house.
Hindsight is 2020 and I now realize that one of the reasons I was so committed to completing this photo series was that it had a beginning, a middle and an end. There was no limbo compared to my business and how my future life will be.
Limbo that I think many people around the world are feeling and even now in Italy as it slowly begins opening up during Phase 2.
I have chosen 40 photos of the people, places and things I encountered during these coveted errands, at times these errands were my catalyst to leave the house. Not necessarily one photo for each day but instead a total of 40 images.
Perhaps you know that the word quarantine originates from the Italian word “quarantena” from the Venetian language, meaning “forty days”. This referred to the 40-day isolation of ships and people practised as a measure of disease prevention related to the plague.
These 40 days turned into 50 and then 60 and now in some ways we are still counting. Waiting, hoping and praying. Much like my business, Rome has only been curbed not cancelled and will rise again even stronger, more beautiful than before.
I asked Annie if she was ok with people printing her pictures and using them as prints for their home (as I definitely will do) which she gave the green light.
Save these photos and let them bring you closer to Italy when you can’t physically visit. To share (you can tag @scooteromatours on IG/Facebook or Twitter and if you want to help her out during this difficult period you can donate to her PayPal account email@example.com.