What it is with the face masks?

italy face mask rules

Italy, face mask rules

So, we have a new decree. Actually not very new, it’s been around for more than a month. Face coverage is mandatory. First, it was only after 6 pm., but then they changed it to be in force all day around. You can take it off if you’re jogging in the park, if you’re riding your bike, or if you’re doing any other physically demanding activity. You should always keep it with you though so that you can put it on immediately if someone is closing in on you.

In Italy, face mask rules are a bit confusing. If you are cycling in the city, maybe you should put on your mask if you stop at a traffic light and there are other cyclists close to you… Or not. How many and how close is up to interpretation. And the difference between walking on the grass-strip on the other side of the street, and running in the huge forrest outside the city, isn’t easy to understand.

Anyway, what they’re trying to avoid are big crowds of mostly young people outside of bars and other establishments, drinking, talking, and having a good time. (… You can drink and chat but do not dare to have a good time. That would bring us all down.) There have been many of those situations this summer, and the authorities want to make sure the spread in those circumstances is stopped. Because the disease is accelerating. In just a month or two, Italy has gone from one of the countries that were best off in this second wave, to a truly unsustainable situation.

The first wave

I remember back in spring… I saw an interview with doctor Kim Woo-Ju, Professor in infectious diseases in South Korea. He was talking about the importance of face coverage, and why we, in the west, didn’t use it. Because at the beginning of the pandemic, not many western countries recommended their citizens to wear masks.

He said that in the west, it’s not in the everyday culture to wear a face mask. In China, Korea, Japan, and other countries in the east, wearing a face mask is normal even under normal circumstances.He argued that maybe the reason for the reluctance to recommend face coverage in the west was that we needed the masks for our medical personnel. In March and April, there actually was a huge shortage of all kinds of PPE all over the world.

Italy face mask rules back in Spring.

I remember not one, but almost all of the western state immunologists and medical authorities, not recommending face masks. The masks were exclusively for doctors and nurses. Normal people should NOT wear a face covering.

The reason for this probably was just that, according to doc. Woo-Ju. The PPE should be reserved for the hospitals.

italy face mask rulesIt was not because face masks didn’t help normal people. Because they do help. And it’s not really a very disputable idea. It’s something we’ve known for decades… Even centuries.

SARS CoV-1

In 2003 there was another Covid-epidemic, the SARS. More deadly but less contagious. It could have been called SARS CoV-1 as it was a sister-virus to the present Coronavirus. That disease has been studied for years and the consensus among scientists is that the main indoor transmission occured through aerosols, it was mainly airborne. Read this excellent article about airborne transmission.

And you can go even further back. Doctors have had an idea of the air around a sick person as foul, and contagious, for centuries. It was seemingly obvious, already in the beginning of 1900, that the one and only disease that has killed more people in human history than any other, Tuberculosis, spread through coughing and sneezing.

The Black death

And in Venice, the rampant Black Plague hit the city no less than 69 times between 1348 till 1799. Every time with unspeakable sufferings for the people of the city. In those days the microorganisms weren’t known. Bacterias, let alone viruses, were yet to be discovered, and more or less the only cure they had was to build churches and pray. Still, they knew two things:

1. The body of the sick or the dead was contagious. You mustn’t touch anything, and the bodies were burnt, not just buried.

2. The air around the bodies was contagious.

 
 

The difficult decisions…

So, if they had a fair idea of what a face mask does and what it’s good for, already back in the middle ages, why do we still doubt the utility of it today?

I’d say it’s the same reason  we have fashion or trends. We want to be accepted, agnolished, in-line, and maybe admired. We absolutely do not want to be laughed at and pointed at…

   –   Look at that moron, there… He’s wearing a mask.

or…

   –   Look at that moron there… He’s not wearing a mask.

Italy is one of the European countries with the highest usage of facemasks (Well, in Italy, face mask rules makes it mandatory, so it’s no brainer.). Sweden is one of the countries in Europe with the lowest usage of facemasks.

Two case studies

Italy and Sweden are dealing with exactly the same disease. Sweden has taken a slightly different path but the main issues are exactly the same… Stay away from other people, try to limit the spread of droplets, ventilate, and wash your hands. Still, in Sweden practically nobody uses a face mask, while in Italy everybody uses a face mask. The distancing, and the hand-washing is pretty much the same. The ventilation is bad in both countries, cause we’re in autumn with winds and rains and no one wants to be cold.

But boy, the use of face masks is completely different. There are light years between the two countries’ approach to covering or not covering the nose and mouth. The difference is not so much among the scientists, as among ordinary people and politicians.

… And is not about Sweden and Italy, it’s about all of us.

It’s absolutely wrong to point at individual countries, and maybe the mask wearing in Italy and Sweden doesn’t matter in a hundred years from now, but it made me reflect. It made me think about why the stupid face mask is so darn difficult, so politicized, and so full of presumptions.

Now, are we so tied up in conventions, political correctness, and everyday habits that we can’t see the facts as they stand? Are we so locked in on what we are used to, that we can’t even take one small step off the straight path? And if so, isn’t that a huge problem when it comes to the human capability of resolving the truly big problems that we all have to face for the survival of this planet and the people on it?

Do we determine were we go, or do we just follow? 

italy face mask rules

Mose saved Venice from floodings on October 3.

high tide Venice

High tides in Venice.

Today, October 3, 2020, is a Biblical day for the high tides in Venice… Or the absence of them. The winds and the rains where whipping Venice. The temperature was high, summerish, and the high water-season seemed to start out with a whopping 135 centimeters. 135 is high. You can’t walk over Saint Mark’s Square, not even in rubber boots. You would need waders.

high tide VeniceSo, we tugged in, started up the coffee-machine, and prepared for a day inside.

But a saint came down from above, a miracle by the hands of MOSE, he who divided the red sea, and who shattered the Egyptian chariots with his staff, a thousands of years ago.

Well, no, not that Mose. But another, a technically advanced Avant-guard solution, with enormous sluice ports on the bedrock of the lagoon… Ready to rise up and close the gates to the Adriatic sea. A billion euro savior for the floating city.

The MOSE is operative. 

The forecast was for 135 centimeters, later 130, at 12.05 pm. At 8.45 the authorities started the procedure. Technicians had been working all night to make the necessary preparations, and at the first sun, the 78 gates were ready. Immediately after that the ships waiting to enter or to exit were all ordered to anchor and wait. 

MOSE VeniceAt 9.52 am, all the gates were up and the closure of the lagoon was enabled. At that time the water level was ca. 70 centimeter. That level was kept in Venice during the whole flood cycle. Inside the city, it never reached 75 centimeters, and we could confirm that the gates really closed off the sea, and prevented it from coming in. 

We all went out, and we were all astonished about being able to walk around in shoes. For a thousand years Venice has been fighting off the regular high tides, she’s been soaked, flooded, and destroyed by the saltwater that every year threatens to consume her.

High tides in Venice – The MOSE deniers.

I have to confess… I was one of them. And maybe I still am. But today my opponents have achieved a very strong argument. Because today wasn’t a test, it wasn’t just rising the sluice-ports on a beautiful summer day to see if it could be done at all. No, today was the real deal, the actual, fierce enemy…The whole Mediterranean trying to enter Venice. No mitigating circumstances, no staged show-off in front of the cameras. 

Today it was in bad conditions, it was windy, and the tide was high… Not a little over the normal, but well over a normal high water. It never reached 135 centimeters, but the 129 actual centimeters would have been enough to put half the city is under water.

So it was with metaphysical awe we walked around in Venice, down to Saint Mark’s Square, over Rialto, San Polo. We all felt that we were part of something historically important. In a hundred years, maybe they will talk about this day, the 3rd of October, 2020, as the day when the high tides in Venice were defeated. 

But it still isn’t ready.  

July 10, the total of the 78 gates was up and functional. But even though it was a calm day without any Venice’ high tides for miles around, the problems persisted. 6 of the sluice port didn’t settle into their housings after the test. 

high tide VeniceThe Commissioner for the MOSE project, and commanding chief of the operations, Elisabetta Spitz, said at that moment:

  • The MOSE won’t be ready until the end of 2021. 

All the politicians present, the Major, Luigi Brugnaro, and the President of Veneto, Luca Zaia, coughed and tried to smooth over saying that they would do their best to have it up and running by fall. 

I think we, the bystanders, all thought…

  • Yeah, right… If you can get it working at all, let alone by the end of next year… Then I’ll eat my hat.

I’m still not convinced that this will save my city, but I have to admit… It’s impressive. They’ve really succeeded in doing something extraordinary. Elisabetta Spitz deserves respect.

But anyway, it was just a test.

Venice Autumn 2019

Already tomorrow the forecasts are for 115 centimeters, but the MOSE won’t be raised. We will not be able to put away our rubber boots for good. The city will still suffer floodings. At least until December 2021. 

But after that…? Will Venice once and for all be dry? Will the high tides in Venice become something that we will tell our kids and grandchildren?

  • You may not believe this, but once upon a time, Venice was full of water.
  • But Grandpa…. How’s that possible?
  • It was a constant struggle. A few times every year, we couldn’t even walk around without rubber boots… And on Saint Mark’s Square, the were Gondolas… in the middle of the Square…
  • Nah… Come on… You’re kidding me… 

COVID positives in Venice

COVID positives in Venice

Rising numbers of COVID positives in Venice

We have an increase in the numbers of COVID positives in Venice. On August 6 there were a little more than 12.000 positives in Italy. Now there are 32.000. There’s no doubt that these figures reflect the loosening of the lockdown measures. It’s not as dramatic as in some other European countries, but it’s significant.

And it’s what we could have expected. We’ve been at home and not seeing anybody for months. Now we’ve opened up, gone out, moved around, and the virus has had much more possibility to spread. It’s a normal consequence of lowering the guard. From now on, it will be a difficult balance between safety measures, and the urge to get the wheels spinning again. 

coronavirus venice

The Italians have been adequately good at respecting the rules. We’ve had almost 90% mask-wearing, and people have avoided gatherings to a certain extent. From summer, from maybe July, people have been less rigorous in their social distancing though. As in all the other countries, this trend has been mostly among young people. 

Although Venice was still pretty empty in July, we could already see crowds of teenagers and young adults moving around in groups… Mostly without masks and very close to one another. On the land side in Mestre, in Padova, and Treviso, the crowds could reach impressive numbers. And the beaches in Jesolo were packed with people trying to cool off some of the summer heat. 

The COVID positives are mostly young people.

A TV-team from the Italian State TV, Rai 1, went over to Croazia and filmed the partying with a hidden camera. At one of the mega-discotheques, there were hundreds, if not thousands of young people dancing

  • COVID doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone, one Italian girl said spinning away into the summer night. 

The average age of those testing positive has gone from 56 years in March, to under 30 now. 

The discotheques are closed from July 17. It’s funny why they were allowed at all in the first place. The whole idea with a discotheque – At least in my time, a few years ago – is to get as close as possible to the other person. Not to stay far away. And the music makes speaking difficult. You have to scream. And we know that screaming increases the number of droplets.  

There are fewer deaths…

Fortunately, death rates are much lower now. Not a little lower but a whole lot lower. That makes a lot of people reason that the virus has lost its strength. I wish that was true, but I can’t see it. The total numbers in the whole world don’t confirm that.

  • From mid-July, the daily new cases have been 250.000 – 300.000 globally.
  • In the same period, daily deaths have been approximately 6000 globally. It hasn’t changed much from the middle of July.
  • In April the daily cases were under 100.000 but deaths were still slightly higher.
  • But in Italy, the death rate is much lower than in March ad April.

So the virus is weaker, less lethal now?

No, not really. The lesser death rate depends on other factors

  • The age of those who are testing positive to Covid-19 has gone down dramatically. And the younger a person is, the less severe the disease is and the less severe symptoms he or she will have. 
  • The lower average age is partly a result of more frequent testing. In the beginning, practically only people with symptoms got tested. Now many without any symptoms what so ever are being tested for reasons of containment. The more frequent testing also lowers the death rate, as many of the asymptomatic never got tested in April, but they are now.
  • The lower death rates are also a result of a better understanding of the disease and better treatments. But there are many fewer patients to treat now, as not as many get severe symptoms that require hospitalization. 
  • Another reason why the deaths are fewer now is one very interesting conclusion. Recent studies show that mask-wearing not only protects the other person as it limits much of the droplets coming out… But it actually also limits the amount of virus load that the mask-wearer inhales. And the number of viruses seems to have an impact on the severity of the infection. We still get sick, but the mask lets us be less sick, with a much higher possibility to pull through. 
  • We are now in the beginning of the next wave. It is likely that death rates will increase with time.
  • Another reason that would be very positive,  is that maybe the death rate never was as high as we thought in the beginning. The 6, 7,  or 8 percent of people who got sick that died, maybe wasn’t more than 1, or 2. Or even lower than that. Some estimates point in that direction.
  • And finally… I gotta say this one too, although it’s not an explanation to the lower death rate. But it could possibly lower it even further if it got implemented more. A Spanish study shows that Vitamin D in the treatment of COVID-patients could significantly lower the risk of getting severely ill or die. Here’s a link to the D-vitamin study.

Do you remember? This is how it was…

COVID positives rise but the Government strikes back.

The Government has imposed new regulations to try and contain this new tendency. As I said before, the discotheques are closed. It’s also mandatory to wear a mask even outdoors if you’re in an area where social distancing could be difficult. And the football (soccer) matches are played without public. For someone who’s not Italian, it’s very difficult to imagine what that means.

For a normal Italian man, three things are important in this earthly life:

Football, Football, and Football.

For you wonderful people, who intend to come and visit us, there are new restrictions to be aware of. The Italian Government is obviously terrorized that the situation develops into something similar to what it’s like in Spain… Or in France for that matter.

We’re running out of tools.

COVID positives in VeniceThe problem now is that we don’t have the lockdown measure anymore. We’ve already played that card and it didn’t have the effect we wanted it to have. We’re sort of back on square one. What they will do now is to try and contain the outbreaks as well as they can. Isolate everybody and track their connections… But keep the industry rolling. 

That will just work until a certain point though. When the outbreaks are too many, you will have to surrender. And that is what seems to be happening in Spain. 

Isabel Díaz Ayuso the President of Madrid said on Wednesday 2: “Practically all the children about to return to school in the region are likely to pick up the virus over the coming months”. That is like saying… We can’t do anything more now. They’re all gonna get it, so be aware. Lock up your old and sick and let the storm pass. 

And maybe we’re moving towards that kind of strategy, all over Europe. We don’t have any more firepower, so we just have to wait it out.COVID positives in Venice

…Just like they did in Sweden. 

But Sweden now has a lower death toll per million inhabitants than both Denmark and Norway. So they were right all along, and all the rest of the world was wrong?

I’ve been very hard on them ever since the first outrages comments from Anders Tegnell, the chief architect of the Swedish heard-immunity-project. They’ve sacrificed their old and sick, just to keep the factories going. A very cynical response to a pandemic that involves the whole world and still kills thousands of people every day. 

But now, when we down here don’t really know what else we can do… Maybe they were right all along?

Then again, we have three major pharmaceutical companies that are in phase 3 studies right now. One of them claims that they will have a vaccine ready at the end of October. They are already producing it. If that’s the case, then we just have to stand the ground for another month or two, and we’ll be out of it. At least we in the west, who can pay and pre-order.

… And maybe, just maybe we have all learned something from all of this… Or?

Here’s all you need to know about travel restrictions.

COVID positives in VeniceDisclaimer. I’m sorry that I insist on this depressing subject. I could have talked about all the positive stuff going on because there are such things too. But no. I have to keep repeating the bad news like a doomsday priest from the middle ages. 

Ok… I get the message. The next blog will be all sunshine, I promise.

Venice Filme Festival 2020

venice film festival 2020

Venice Film Festival 2020

venice film festival 2020

Venice Film Festival 2020 was uncertain for quite some time. It wasn’t until July that the restrictions of the Italian borders were lifted and even today, most countries’ citizens are not allowed to enter the national territory. Fortunately, we live in a Cyber-age, and images, both still and videos, move just as effortless over boundaries as storm clouds. 

The general situation, and especially the last week’s increase in Covid.cases in Italy and in other European countries, has forced the organizers to come up with new ideas to contain the disease and protect the public and the participants, actors, and directors, etc. 

It will be a festival like one we haven’t seen before.

The number of participants has been moderated somewhat and there will be a few other changes to minimize any risk connected to the current pandemic:

  • The dates are September 2 – 12.
  • Venice Classics was included in the Il Cinema Ritrovato-festival in Bologna, at the end of August.
  • Venice 77 (The official competition), Orizzonti (Horizons), and Out of competition are confirmed and will be shown at the traditional Palace of Cinema at Lido. 
  • The total number of films is around 60.
  • Sconfini will not take place. 
  • Documentaries on cinema will not take place

venice film festival 2020This is how many films there will be.

Check out the titles here.

  • In the main competition 18 (2019 there were 21)
  • Out of competition 23 (2019 there were 24)
  • Orizzonti (Horizons) 19 (2019 there were 19)
  • Short films 12 (2019 there were 13)

So, the difference isn’t all that big. I think the main contrast to an ordinary year, will be the number of people… Both the film-stars and the public. It will be a calm and tranquil event, compared to what’s normal.

Cate Blanchett

The Australian superstar will spread some star-light onto the festival, as the President of the Jury. Looking at the participant films, I don’t think last year’s heated debates about directors would arise. And Polanski is back in Paris, where he will have to contemplate over the sentence by a Judge to not restore his membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). Polanski sued in April 2019, asking the court to compel the Academy to make him a member in good standing again. 

Though, some things are already moving. What is a great Festival without a mandatory scandal?

Le Sorelle Macaluso (The Macaluso sisters), a film by the Italian director Emma Dante, is scrutinized. It is claimed that a supposedly explicit screenshot, showing a young girl in underwear in a room full of pigeons, is the official poster for the Venice Film Festival 2020. The official poster of the festival is this one, though. They are always paintings, never photos.

Together with Mrs. Blanchett in the Jury, there will be the American actor Matt Dillon, as well as Veronika FranzJoanna Hogg, Nicola Lagioia, Christian Petzold, and Ludivine Sagnier

More options to visit the festival online.

venice film festival 2020Festival Scope will show 15 of the films in the sections Horizons, Out of Competition, and Biennale College Cinema free of charge. Not the main competition, but it’s a great way to get acquainted with some of the participants from home. You just create an account and you will be able to see the films. Here’s the link.

The films

The organizers have tried very hard to assure the quality of the festival. Although the times are what they are, and the overwhelming crisis has made it difficult to manage such a big event, the Venice film festival 2020 is definitely a valid manifestation. Some countries are more penalized by the pandemic. 

Obviously the USA has fewer films on the list. And as the United States still is the major film producer in the world, that means a significant draw-back. But looking at the titles, I’d say that the festival-board with the president, Alberto Barbera, has managed to compensate very well. 

And many countries have had entries canceled or postponed. In short, the festival has a slightly more European weight. There are still many interesting names in the Venice film festival of 2020. 

Majid Majidi (India), Nicole Garzia (France), Gianfranco Rosi (Italy-USA) Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Japan), (Nope, no relative to Akira). These excellent artists, as well as others certainly will not let us down.  

And some Americans are contributing even if we’ll have to wait and see if they will come over in person. 

 

Security on the Venice film festival 2020.

There are quite a lot of special rules. To avoid any transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus the Venice film festival 2020 will be very different from previous years. And anybody who would like to attend will have to be prepared. Here’s a list of everything you should know before buying a ticket:Crowded Film Festival

  • The Red Carpet. There will be no possibility for the public to witness the access of delegations to the Main Hal at the Film Place at Lido. For photographers and other authorized personnel, there will be a strict protocol for distancing.   
  • Access. The area of the Venice film festival 2020-area will be accessed through 9 road/lagoon-gates. These gates will be equipped with a system for measuring body temperature. In case of temperature over 37,5° celsius (98,6°F) access will be denied.  
  • Tickets. All tickets will have to be booked in advance online. No tickets will be sold through ticket offices. Here’s the link.
  • Printed materials. Most of the information concerning the festival will be given to the public in electronic format, reducing the distribution of printed materials.
  • Every second seat will be empty during screening. 
  • In all public areas, hand sanitizers are available. 
  • Mask wearing is mandatory inside and outside.
  • Testings. Guests and accredited guests from non-Schengen countries are requested to test for Covid-19 in accordance with the regulations for entering Italy. The test is to be carried out before departure. A second swab will be carried out in Venice by the Biennale, again only for those for whom testing is required.
  • Tracking of all participants. All participants – accredited, holders of passes, tickets, and season tickets – will be tracked while accessing the rooms or other functional areas within the buildings.

The films at the Venice film festival 2020

Venezia77, the main section

  • Amants, by Nicole Garcia (France)
  • The Disciple, by Chaitanya Tamhane (India)
  • Dorogie tovarišči, by Andrej Končalovskij (Russia)
  • Khōrshīd, by Majid Majidi (Iran)
  • Laila in Haifa, by Amos Gitai (Israel, France)
  • Miss Marx, by Susanna Nicchiarelli (Italy, Belgium)
  • Nomadland, by Chloé Zhao (USA)
  • Notturno, by Gianfranco Rosi (Italy, France, and Germany)
  • Nuevo orden, by Michel Franco (Mexico, France)
  • Padrenostro, by Claudio Noce (Italy)
  • Pieces of a Woman, by Kornél Mundruczó (Canada, Hungary)
  • Quo Vadis, Aida?, by Jasmila Žbanić (Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Austria, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, France)
  • Səpələnmiş ölümlər arasında, by Hilal Baydarov (Azerbaijan, Mexico, USA)
  • Śniegu już nigdy nie będzie, by Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert (Polonia, Germania)
  • Le sorelle Macaluso, by Emma Dante (Italia)
  • Supai no tsuma, by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Giappone)
  • Und morgen die ganze Welt, by Julia von Heinz (Germania, Francia)
  • The World To Come, by Mona Fastvold (Stati Uniti d’America)

Venice Film Festival 2020 – Out of competition

Fiction

  • Assandira, by Salvatore Mereu (Italy)
  • The Duke, by Roger Michell (UK)
  • Dì yī lú xiāng, by Ann Hui (China)
  • The Human Voice, by Pedro Almodóvar  (Spain)
  • Lacci, by Daniele Luchetti (Italy)
  • Lasciami andare, by Stefano Mordini (Italy)
  • Nag-won-ui bam,by Park Hoong-jung (South Korea)
  • Mandibules, by Quentin Dupieux (France, Belgium)
  • Mosquito State, by Filip Jan Rymsza (Poland)
  • One Night in Miami, by Regina King (USA)
  • Run Hide Fight, by Kyle Rankin (USA)

Non Fiction

  • City Hall, by Frederick Wiseman (USA)
  • Crazy, Not Insane, by Alex Gibney (USA)
  • Final Account, by Luke Holland (UK)
  • Fiori, fiori, fiori!, by Luca Guadagnino (Italy)
  • Greta, by Nathan Grossman (Sweden)
  • Hopper/Welles,by Orson Welles (USA)
  • Molecole, by Andrea Segre (Italy)
  • Narciso em férias,  by Renato Terra and Ricardo Calil (Brazil)
  • Paolo Conte, via con me, by Giorgio Verdelli (Italy)
  • Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams, by Luca Guadagnino (Italy)
  • Sportin’ Life, by Abel Ferrara (Italy)
  • La verità su “La dolce vita”, by Giuseppe Pedersoli (Italy)


Venice Film Festival 2020 – Orizzonti / Horizons

  • Bùzhǐ bùxiū, by Wang Jing (China)
  • Dashte khamoush, by Ahmad Bahrami (Iran)
  • The Furnace,by Roderick MacKay (Australia)
  • Gaza mon amour, by Tarzan e Arab Nasser (Palestina, France, Germany, Qatar)
  • Guerra e pace, by Massimo D’Anolfi and Martina Parenti (Italy, Switzerland)
  • Jenayat-e bi deghat, by Shahram Mokri (Iran)
  • Lahi, hayop, by Lav Diaz (The Philippines)
  • Listen, by Ana Rocha de Sousa (UK, Portugal)
  • Mainstream, by Gia Coppola USA)
  • The Man Who Sold His Skin, by Kaouther Ben Hania (Tunisia, France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland)
  • Mīla, by Christos Nikou (Greece, Poland, Slovenia)
  • Meel patthar, by Ivan Ayr (India)
  • Nowhere Special, by Uberto Pasolini (Italy, Romania, UK))
  • La nuit des rois, by Philippe Lacôte (Ivory coast, France, Canada)
  • I predatori,by Pietro Castellitto (Italy)
  • Sary mysyq, by Ádilhan Erjanov (Kazakstan, France)
  • Selva trágica, by Yulene Olaizola (Mexico, France, Colombia)
  • La troisième guerre, by Giovanni Aloi (France)
  • Zanka Contact,by Ismaël El Iraki (France, Marocco, Belgium)

One scary cave.

scary caves
scary caves
Castellana Grotte in Apulia. Italy. Courtesy of Alessandro e Damiano.

Scary Caves in Italy.

No there are no scary caves in Venice. Underneath the city, there is only mud. It’s not like the Bond-film Casinò Royal, where a whole palace is sinking right on the Canal Grande. Well, that could never happen.

Venice is closed. Nobody comes here anymore. The tourists are gone, and soon the high water season will be over us and after last year I don’t think it will be a pretty sight. Business is terrible, money is rare… I can’t remember what a pay-check looks like anymore…

Am I exaggerating? Yeah maybe I am, but these days we are living with a considerable strain to our economy, our psychological well-being, and our capacity to see the silver lining on the clouds. They are there because I remember that I could see them before, but now… Well, it’s kind of greyish. And no silver in sight.

So what do you do?

Already at the beginning of June, we were able to travel within Italy as well as within the European Union without any restrictions. So, even if certain countries still are risky, especially now that we all are opening up and people are out and moving, it is definitely possible to travel. And if traveling to other countries isn’t on the map, Italy has quite a lot to offer. Italy is in fact the one country in the world with the most historical tourist sites. and the most Unesco World Heritage sites. 

So we packed the car and went to Apulia. Kids and wife wanted the beach, but the beaches were packed with people (… Don’t they know there’s a pandemic going on?), so we tried to go where it was a little less crowded.

Anyway, it wasn’t that, I was going to tell you about… It was this one scary cave. A terrifying experience, and I was totally alone when it happened. 

Scary caves in Apulia. 

scary caves
Grotta dell Trullo, Fasano, Apulia, Italy

Apulia, the heal of the Italian boot, is a karst landscape. It’s like swiss cheese, full of holes, tunnels, caves, and underground rivers. In Apulia, there are no rivers on the surface cause all the water penetrates the soil and is accumulated under the ground. The water runs and drops and doing so it digs caves and tunnels, and it creates the most beautiful stalactites and stalagmites inside those caves. The most beautiful is without a doubt Castellana Grotte. But there are many others, and only a handful is open to the public. One of those is the Grotta del Trullo in Putignano, another astonishingly beautiful cave. 

But this is not what I was going to tell you about…

It was another of those caves, one that is hidden, and far away from the tourist trails. 

Grotta San Martino

Castellana is a major tourist site. It’s crowded, and you have to sign up for a guided group… You will have to wait quite a bit if you go in summer, or on the weekends. It’s lit up and you follow the guide on a fixed path with railings. You can’t fall behind, and you can’t go wrong. 

The cave, I’m going to tell you about here, one of the scary caves, was very different. The Cave of San Martino is so unknown that not even the tourist information in the close-by town knew anything about it. I’ve even talked to a friend of mine who’s from that area, and she didn’t even know it existed.

So, to get there I had to drive miles and miles passing other scary caves through olive groves on dirt roads sometimes so bad that if I hadn’t had my trusted 4 wheel drive, I would still be there now, swearing and cursing the Italian road administration, with the car stuck in the mud. 

scary caves
The opening

But, in the end, I got there. I stopped the car, went out, and there was absolutely nothing… Apart from millions of olive trees. Then I spotted a small sign. It was so old and rusty that nothing could be drawn from it… Not one single word. But it was a sign and there was a small path into the field from the road. 

The Opening.

After a few hundred meters going downhill, the path turned, and on the backside of the slope, I spotted an opening. It was no more than a hole straight into the ground. Dark and foul, it was in no way inviting, but since I got all the way out here, I figured I should at least take a peek. 

Did I mention that I was alone? The rest of my family had opted for the Zoo-Safari in Fasano nearby. They aren’t into exploring scary caves in forgotten corners of the world. Alone is actually an inaccurate word as it could make you think of alone – as in alone parking the car while the others are going ahead. 

This was a strange solitude-like feeling… As if nobody in the whole world was there anymore. A dead, silent stand-still. I remembered that driving there I had passed farmers in the fields, on tractors, but now there wasn’t a sound in the air… The diesel-engines of the tractor-engines couldn’t be heard. Not even the high, sun-burnt grass swayed in the wind. It was silent.

Inside.

scary caves
The entrance to the first tunnel

Inside the cave, it was very dark coming from the sunlight outside. I lit the torch of the mobile and saw a round hall. Maybe 15 meters across and 2 – 3 meters high. It was covered with gravel… Some garbage in a corner, a few pointed wooden poles, an old plastic chair… Stuff like that. But not as much as you would expect if it had been inhabited by some poor homeless. It was definitely not inhabited. 

At the far end, there was an opening to some sort of a tunnel. 1 meter wide and 1 meter high. I closed the flashlight and when my eyes had adjusted to the dim, natural light I pressed forth. The floor of the tunnel was covered with the same gravel as the entrance hall. People had walked here. The tunnel narrowed very little, almost non-perceptible, and after some 15 meters I had to go down on all four. Another 10 meters in it wouldn’t have been more than 40-50 centimeters high. I didn’t want to crawl and ruin my clothes, so I went on on four legs, hitting the roof of the tunnel continuously. Uncomfortable! I also had to light my way with the mobile phone. A short turn and there was another room, 7-8  meters in diameter and maybe 1 meter and a half in height.

The sound.  

Unfortunately, I don’t have any images from this chamber… I stood up and looked around, and noticed another small opening at the far end. Much like the first, bigger room, there was a tunnel-opening, and just like this space was much smaller than the first, the tunnel was also much smaller… The entrance was about half a meter.

I had just decided to not go any further when I heard a sound. A muffled thud. As if somebody hit a big wooden object at something… Thump! Thump! Regularly beating with maybe 5 seconds in between. Thump! Thump!

It wasn’t reassuring at all. Was there somebody else in there with me?

Thump! Thump!

Maybe somebody needed help?

– Hello! I shouted, in a voice that was too low to actually be heard. 

San martino
Inside the first tunnel.

The sound stopped. Then I heard something that sounded like crawling or slithering. It wasn’t feet moving but long scraping sounds…

– Hello! I said again, this time with a little more courage. 

And the sound stopped.

I know that it could resemble a horror novel, but there was a stench coming closer. I had noticed it already when entering the small chamber, but now it was stronger. Overwhelming. 

One more thud, but this time it was much closer. Just inside the opening of the gallery on the far side. I waited for half a minute. 

Scary caves and why you should avoid them.

Then I turned to start heading out again. The situation was not to my liking. Trapped inside a cavern with just a small tunnel where I would have to crawl to get out… 

I looked back at the tunnel-opening one last time, and there I saw it. 

San Martino Cave
Looking at the entrance from 10 meters into the first tunnel.

I pointed the light towards it, but mobile phones don’t direct the light at where you aim. They light up everything around you, and the tunnel opening was still in shadow. There was a person, a shape, a figure. He was built like a man. Very dark. I couldn’t see if he was dressed in dark clothes or why he was so dark, but the figure was black.

He seemed to be looking at me, and for an instant I got the impulse to ask if he needed help, but I didn’t. I just threw myself back into the tunnel and started crawling with insane speed. I hit my back, I scratched my knees, and when I reached the part of the tunnel where I could stand up, I got up with such a force that I hit my head. It was still very low. 

Once out in the big room, I calmed down somewhat. I hurried to the entrance opening and only there I turned around to look back. 

Nothing. It was as calm as when I had entered. The smell was still there though, and when I walked out I noticed how millions of flies whirled confused outside the opening. I could hear one or two wasps as well but the number of flies was incredible. I’ve never seen so many in my life, and they hadn’t been there when I entered. I looked around to see if there was any carcass of some dead animal, but I couldn’t find anything. 

The Insight.

I hurried back to my car. With the engine running and the first gear in place, I stopped again to think about what had happened. And there was something about all this that didn’t add up, didn’t make sense. And then it hit me. 

The tunnel opening in the second, smaller room was small. I estimated it to be half a meter in height. Still, the person had stood up in his full length when I saw him. He had been right in the opening standing up, not bending or curving his head, but in his full length. Could I have mistaken the size of the opening? Could the absence of light and my cell-phone flashlight have created shadows that had tricked me in believing it was smaller than it was? But the ceiling in the cavern was low. I couldn’t stand up fully. And the tunnel was much lower.

The figure would have been 40 or 50 centimeters high… Was it a child? 

Aftermath.

I didn’t go to the police. Actually I didn’t tell anybody except my wife, but she is of the opinion that II have a very imaginative imagination and doesn’t always believe me. In this case, she didn’t. 

I know that I have to go back sometime in the future. I’ll bring someone with me, and I will bring better equipment, better lights, and better clothes. I probably won’t find anything special or extraordinary, but I want to get close to the second opening to see how high it is. If it’s a meter or more, it could have been a homeless guy, a drifter that had found shelter in the abandoned cave. That wouldn’t be the first time in history that happened, and maybe he even tried to scare me, to keep visitors from coming there and bother him.

… But if it’s a big as I remember it, around half that size, well, then it has to be something different.

In any case, of all the scary caves I’ve been into, this one was by far the scariest…

I’ll keep you updated.

scary caves
Driving home

 

 

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