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‘More dogs around than people’: Life in lockdown from a bench in Milan

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Virus Outbreak Italy
Virus Outbreak Italy   -   Copyright  Luca Bruno/AP Photo
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Lockdown, day 21: it's a wonderful morning in Milan and I decide to step out for a stroll.

I want to enjoy my 200-metres of freedom: that's how far I'm allowed to walk from home.

Our ability to move has been drastically reduced after the government closed off the region of Lombardy on March 8, before the whole country followed suit a few days later.

I’m a lucky person, I think, as I walk to the nearest gardens. The abundance of green areas in my neighbourhood has made "quarantine" more bearable.

I sit on my favourite bench, look at the sunny sky and smell the air. It's never been so clean for months, maybe years, due to the almost non-existent traffic.

It's quiet, sunny and warm, and for a moment I almost forget about the lockdown.

Then I see a military van standing a hundred metres away. It's not doing checks on people, but it's enough to remind me how far I'm allowed to go.

The silence is broken by the sound of ambulances coming from the nearby motorway. I’ve been hearing a lot more of them in the last few weeks, I notice.

I try not to think too much about it as I start to list the things I could do during the day: bits of work, sorting out administrative papers, working out and, of course, eating.

My brother’s been spoiling me with sensational treats like risotto allo zafferano (saffron rice). Cooking and eating together every day has been one of the best things about this quarantine so far.

Reading is also a central activity these days. I've got many books to finish up, and I can still buy magazines. I take one out of my bag and start to read.

On the cover, there is an amazing picture of a woman playing the accordion on a balcony in Milan. She looks as if she's almost in ecstasy.

Thankfully, news kiosks have remained open - one of the very few businesses that are, along with pharmacies and food shops.

Having another place to go to is pure oxygen. They've also started selling masks, now, which makes them even more vital.

As I finish the first article, I look up and see an off-leash dog area. Pooches run around and joyfully play-fight.

Their degree of interaction looks even higher than ours nowadays, I think, as I look at the owners rigorously standing metres away from each other.

Weirdly, there are more dogs with their owners around than kids with their parents.

At least we still have online interaction, I guess, as I take out my phone to read a message from a friend in London.

When the epidemic first struck here, at the beginning of March, many friends living abroad got in touch asking how I was. Some of them had planned trips to Milan, which they sadly had to cancel.

Now, as coronavirus spreads all over the world, it's becoming the other way round. It’s me asking them how they're coping.

While I start walking back home, I think about how many of them I should have caught up with during these months, in Italy, France and the UK.

Coronavirus cancelled all those plans, as well as any possible booking or reservation I made.

I used to think of Europe as my home, and now a small park in my neighbourhood makes up my whole world.