Suddenly together again

Speaking as someone who has been able to look from both sides of the camp, these old-new – erste-neue, as they say on Italy’s Austrian border – shows and exhibitions have had a slightly different impact this year. Different, but no less important than what we were used to before. Pre-Covid socials will never be forgotten, but in some way feel consigned to the pages of history.

Memory is selective. It’s a bit like a cobbled street: some cobbles are bright, some are dark, some are grooved, some are chipped. Yet we remember those long days, in rain or shine, squashed into crowds, our elbows driven into our ribs, our feet swollen, our backs aching.

We’re back to those old days that went a furious pace, when you had to fight for a place to stay and decide which hundred things you were going to see and which thousand you were going to miss. Friends and acquaintances, sweaty handshakes, the embarrassment of the hey-how-are-you and then of the internal what-the-hell-are-you-called-again. Squirming out of the embarrassment with “how’s it going over there?” Of course, you had no idea where ‘over there’ was, but they didn’t need to know that. Then the axe fell, somehow.

This year, all of a sudden, our inboxes have started to fill with invitations again; the calendars filled with crosses. We’re looking again and again at the train timetables. Badges and passes and ID and curses directed at the scanning devices at the entrance, the electronic equivalent of the jobsworth who is only doing their job.
In sweet April and May, fairs and conventions have been happening all over the place: big and fat ones, small and secret ones. Vinitaly and Summa, Identità Golose and Cibus, to name just a few. Stuff to get excited about.

Yet we still move rather hesitantly, a bit like the cat that eyes the half-open door, wanting to step outside but fearful lest it be shut out. Others have no such qualms, marching onwards with their ties and their iPads and their old battle cries. Some are cautious, walking around with their masks hung around their necks. Others throw caution the winds, living it up from morning to night. Those who want to save energy hunch behind their laptops, while the social butterflies flit here, there and everywhere. Everything is served with a mixed salad of smiles, some guarded, some not; and white knuckles, which until recently were balled into fists, are now simply white knuckles.

And once again, in the evening, we feel our feet swollen and our backs aching. And we don’t complain about it, because that’s what tiredness is. And better tiredness than fear, any day.