Retreat into your home, not into yourself

Shame and social conscience during lockdown

Harry Cochrane
March 17, 2020 - 16:15

I was at a birthday party when the news came through. Italy was under lockdown. It was 11pm or so. Buoyed by other people’s wine and other people’s cigarette fumes—I have always been the most passive of smokers—I took it with gung-ho optimism. Well, social gatherings might be banned, but that’s exactly what we’re having right now, isn’t it? Cin cin, ragazzi. Here’s to self-isolation.



The real last hurrah, I now see in hindsight, was on Wednesday March 11, when I went to my local bar for a light lunch and then returned a few hours later for a cocktail. I talked to the owners, Marco and Daniela. “I was optimistic a couple of days ago,” Marco darkly omened, “I’m not now.” Little did I know, though I might have suspected, that the next morning his door would be closed.


If #iorestoacasa is having an effect, it is because it appeals to one’s sense of shame as much as to one’s social conscience.


A week later, I have learned the simple truth. Solitary confinement is rubbish. I am a habitual fidget, and #restareacasa for a whole day has been impossible for me ever since my parents indoctrinated me with daily country walks. “Exercise is a curse,” my old Kung Fu instructor told me what I already knew. “You get used to doing a certain amount, and then you need a little bit more.”




ph/ Francesco Spighi




This last week has forced me to go cold turkey. I drink up the few minutes of sun on my way to the bins or the supermarket, which I wish were further away. Everybody knows everybody in my piazza, and they take it on trust that if you are out and about, you have a good reason. But if #iorestoacasa is having an effect, it is because it appeals to one’s sense of shame as much as to one’s social conscience. Pedestrians give each other wide berth—all to the good—but eye contact seems harder to come by than it used to be: certainly, I catch myself dropping my gaze, shying from the glares of my fellow sinners.



This, I realise, is decidedly not the right course of action. Human contact is now so rare, so etherized, that I should be grasping it whenever the chance arises. Apart from the few inevitable busybodies, nobody relishes the great guillotine that has come clanging down through the social fabric, especially with days of sun and warmth promised by the BBC. Stay at home, do, but to you lucky people with terraces and balconies, I hope you’re out on the deckchairs, lapping up the rays. Raise a glass to your neighbours, chat with them from a safe distance, let them know you’re alive and well. Let them see the whites of your eyes.




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