Fairy tales in confinement – cosmic wisdom vs. Covid-19

Florence, Italy

6 April 2020, day 29 of Covid-19 confinement. Once upon a time, there were approximately 200,000 tourists visiting the city every day. Even though I have lived in very packed places across the world, I was never a big fan of those crowds of people. It can feel like fast food, but for sightseeing and fashion. Then Covid-19 came and Italy closed down; Florence consequently did the same. During the first two weeks, I allowed myself two walks in the city centre, and enjoyed that great empty. Tourists had disappeared, leaving Florence alone in its renaissance beauty. 

We all went through – I believe – this feeling of being abandoned suddenly, in the middle of something we were busy with. Life took on a slow-motion pace, like when you’re driving fast on a motorway and have to slow down to 20 km/hour because something has happened a few cars ahead of yours. Public space suddenly shrunk, giving space to the private one, catching people (many at least, among us, or those that I know) unprepared for how to manage the intimate time with the self.

So, with new restrictions in place as of 23 March 2020, I stopped wandering around, reducing my walks to the few hundred metres that separate my flat from the supermarket. Hence, my flat has become my temporary world, shared with the other citizen living in it – my partner. This was a big change for me, who as a child would have put an atlas amongst my favourite toys. 

I have started reinventing my temporary geography. Within the limit of 75m2, finding that a balcony, despite being small, can be as big as an airport, and like an airport can connect us with other neighbouring worlds. From the balcony, I’ve seen innovative dance performances and listened to songs sung lustily. On day 4 of confinement, I thought that my partner and I had enough space and time to share them with other characters. I started to polish off fairy-tales – books I had collected from different countries around the world. Characters started entering our small world from those books. They do not need to wear a mask or wash their hands frequently, they just share their story and leave. 

As of day 4 of confinement, I have been narrating fairy tales and my partner has been helping me to record them every evening – a tale a day as a commitment to myself. It has become the daily nourishment for the soul, setting it in motion, and our personal “mask” against Covid-19 and the excessive flow of news, as well as a way to assure family and friends that it will go fine. 

Fairy tales are not only for children, but for anyone. They communicate basic truths about human life and about the world. They are archetypal stories present in every cultural tradition and a source of deep wisdom about the world and about the human condition. As a remedy to confinement, I have tapped into this box of cosmic wisdom. 

Mostly exploring the Sicilian oral tradition, I have started looking for and narrating similar tales in other traditions across Europe and the world. Interestingly enough, certain characters, themes and situations are found in the stories of different cultures, such as the Arab tale “The story of the safe” and the Sicilian tale “The belly that talks”, indicating the common features of humankind. Fairy tales are in part allegory, in that the characters and situations stand for something larger than they do. However, they also portray the mundane aspects of life the possibilities for the future. 

Indeed, “fairy tales are true. […] these folk stories are the catalog of the potential destinies of men and women, especially for that stage in life when destiny is formed, i.e., youth, beginning with birth, which itself often foreshadows the future; then the departure from home, and, finally, through the trial of growing up, the attainment of maturity and the proof of one’s humanity”. [Italo Calvino, Italian Folk Tales, Torino: Einaudi, 1956, translated by George Martin]

Should you be curious to listen to the fairy tales, you can find them on www.radiocavolo.org. In exchange, I am keen to receive your favourite fairy tales, and perhaps to narrate them together in different languages!

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