ROME – When Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte said the government would relax some parts of a nationwide lockdown, residents entering an eighth week of home confinement to inhibit the coronavirus dove for their dictionaries.
Conte announced that starting May 4, people in Italy will be permitted to travel within their home regions for visits with “congiunti,” a formal Italian word that can mean either relatives, relations or kinsmen. Under the lockdown, Italians only have been able to leave home for essential jobs or vital tasks such as grocery shopping.
The country's cooped-up citizens therefore sought clarification. Which relatives? What relation? Would a second-cousin count as kin? A brother-in-law? The additional freedom previewed by the premier Sunday night seemed to rest on a clunky, archaic-sounding noun.
The correct definition is more than pedantic in Italy, a country where the generous concept of family embraces extended clans tied by blood or marriage. Whatever the government's intent, “congiunti" would be part of what stitches much of Italian life together.
The next day, Conte sought to clear up the confusion. Instead, he created more. The premier allowed that “congiunti” is a “broad and generic formula.” What he meant, he said, was Italians could pay visits to “relatives, and to those with whom they have relationships of steady affection.”
Godparents? Longtime lovers? Couples engaged for years but without setting a wedding date, as is frequently the case in Italy?
An early morning talk show on state radio tried to parse what ties of “steady" or “stable” affection mean. Calls and text messages poured in.
One guest, a lawyer who specializes in marriage law, said he has met couples together for only a week with more stable relationships than some spouses who have been married for years.
As far as the issue of home regions is concerned, the show’s host raised the possibility that someone who lived, say, in eastern Sicily, could drive hundreds of kilometers (miles) across the island to see relatives, but couldn’t visit a loved one just a handful of kilometers away in Calabria, a different region across the Strait of Messina.
For Bianca Amodeo, 17, that host's hypothetical scenario is painful reality. Her boyfriend of 1 1/2 years — for many adolescents that equates to an exceedingly stable tie of affection — lives not far measured in kilometers but just across the Marche region border in the region of Abruzzo.
Deepening the teenager's anguish: Bianca has friends with boyfriends who live farther away but in the same region, and they are excitedly planning to see their sweethearts next week.
Said the girl's mother, Olga Anastasi, before passing the phone to her daughter: “There’s a deep sense of injustice."
“When a Carabiniere (police officer) stops to ask where you are going, can he determine what’s a steady relationship?” wondered Anastasi, a lawyer who deals with divorce and juvenile matters.
Some see more serious inequality in the government's policy. Same-sex marriages are not legal in Italy, so civil rights advocates worry that same-sex couples and their children might be excluded from the “stable affection” category.
When Italians finally determine whom they can visit, they’ll have to puzzle out how to express affection when they arrive. The new measure requires all to wear masks and stay a safe distance apart when visiting.