Coronavirus: How a new culture of resilience has emerged on balconies, rooftops and windowsills

Song and applause ring out above empty streets as communities come together in isolation

Andy Gregory
Tuesday 24 March 2020 20:35
People in Madrid sing and dance together from their balconies amid lockdown

As the spread of coronavirus sees personal freedoms curtailed across the globe, a new culture of resilience is beginning to emerge.

More than a quarter of the global population has been placed under lockdown as a result of Covid-19, with Narendra Modi most recently telling India’s 1.38bn residents: “Forget what it feels like to be outside of your home”.

As a result, life is increasingly playing out on the balconies, rooftops and windowsills of those affected — amplified to the rest of the world via social media.

Despite the often surreal devastation of a global pandemic, people across the world are finding ingenious and heartwarming ways to retain human connection, share culture and celebrate each other.

Some of the first such displays came from Hubei province, where the virus was first discovered.

Just six days into Wuhan’s lockdown, footage revealed determined chants of “Wuhan, add oil” echoing in unison between towering high-rise apartment blocks in the city.

The phrase, which can be interpreted as “stay strong” or “keep going”, was interspersed with cheers from those nearby, and soon spread on social media site Weibo as the rest of the nation showed their support for those battling the outbreak.

As the virus saw those in northern Italy confined to their homes, similar feats of solidarity emerged and were soon lighting up social media.

What soon became a viral movement is thought to have begun on a sleepy Siena backstreet, where choruses of residents joined together from balconies and windowsills for a rendition of the rousing local folk song, ‘Canto della Verbena’ (‘And While Siena Sleeps’).

“People breaking out in song, lifting each other’s spirits during this tragedy, is an act of striking beauty,” one person responded on social media. “It’s a reminder that, especially during a tragedy, the human spirit keeps us all going in hope. We shine our best in the darkness.”

Italians across the country were soon filmed dusting off musical instruments, with hundreds, if not thousands, lending their voices to musical displays in Florence, Naples and Turin.

While others began to blast pop favourites such as Scotland’s Lewis Capaldi from soundsystems, one Florentine tenor likely reduced his neighbours — as he did audiences around the world — to welcome tears with a performance of “Nessun Dorma”.

Hours after Maurizio Marchini’s rendition of the renowned aria, Spain’s prime minister Pedro Sanchez announced the country would also be going into lockdown.

His words were swiftly followed by a nationwide round of applause for medics working in the frontlines of the outbreak, coordinated and shared on social media with the words aplauso sanitario (I applaud the health services).

Residents in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Pamplona leaned from windows and balconies to clap and cheer, as shouts of “viva los medicos“ (long live the medics) were punctuated with the sound of firefighters sounding their engines’ sirens in appreciation.

Similar shows of solidarity with healthcare workers soon reached Italy, before being adopted in countries across Europe, including Italy, France and the Netherlands.

They are continuing to spread across the world, with India’s residents recently turning out on doorsteps, balconies and rooftops to “salute” emergency workers using pots, pans, metal plates and shanka — conch shells used in Hindu prayer.

Such displays have also become a nightly ritual in Istanbul, with boats crossing the Bosphorus adding their horns to the chorus of cheers and whistles.

Meanwhile, films and musical performances have also been broadcast from rooftops and balconies.

In Rome, images showed the 1950s classic comedy film Le ragazze di Piazza Spagna (Three Girls from Rome) being broadcast onto the side of a building.

The film’s star Lucia Bose was announced to have passed away from coronavirus-induced pneumonia on Monday.

Elsewhere, DJs have taken to the roofs of their apartment blocks to livestream sets to fans, while others, such as UK-based folk musician Laura Marling, took to social media to offer fans lessons on how to play their songs.

Others have turned to technology to ensure family members still feel cared for — with viral footage showing Lebanese mothers receiving roses via drone to their balconies on Mother’s Day.

Athletes have also made efforts to push the boundaries of home confinement and boost others’ morale.

In Spain, a fitness instructor was filmed leading quarantined residents in a group workout from a nearby rooftop, to remarkable effect.

Yet Elisha Nochomovitz went one step further in Toulouse in order to pay tribute to medics —​ running a whole marathon by traversing his seven-metre balcony 6,028 times.

With Boris Johnson officially declaring an enforced lockdown on Monday night, the UK is expected to give its own show of solidarity to those working within the NHS.

The organisers of “Clap for our Carers” are encouraging the public to applaud from their front doors, gardens, balconies or windows at 8pm on Thursday 26 March.

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