Rome bar bans virus talk

The message is clear from the hand-written poster above the counter -- all talk of coronavirus, lockdowns or virology is strictly forbidden.

In this little bar on the outskirts of Rome, the manager hopes to give her clients a brief respite from the global pandemic while they drink their coffee.

"We've been talking about the same thing for months, so we chose to lighten the atmosphere," Cristina Mattioli, manager of the Feeling bar, told AFP.

As the first European country hit by the pandemic, Italy has been under the shadow of Covid-19 for longer than most, and endured one of the toughest lockdowns.

After a heady few weeks over the summer where life almost returned to normal, the pandemic again dominates everything, with deaths mounting each day.

"It's not at all about denial, or not understanding the difficulty of what the world is going through, but just about giving yourself a break," Mattioli said.

'Anything but that'

She said most customers in the bar, adorned with wooden boxes filled with tea on the walls and offering a tempting array of sandwiches and pastries, have reacted positively to the ban.

Bruna Piazza, a regular who comes in to buy lottery tickets, thinks it's a great idea.

"We're fed up with talking about Covid, we can't take it anymore, everywhere we go we only talk about Covid," the 58-year-old said.

"I'm happy to talk about anything except that, I'd rather talk about the weather, or celebrities."

Coronavirus is ever present, from the hand sanitiser to the masks worn by everyone not eating and drinking. The cafe itself has to shut early, at 6pm, under government orders designed to stem infection rates.

To help distract people, Mattioli has put up another poster offering ideas for conversation, including history and culture.

"It's a wise initiative, I would even say indispensable," adds hairdresser Maurizio Ciocari, another regular.

"You have to stop talking about it, you have to solve the problem, not talk about it."

As a rock'n'roll fan with the long hair to match, the 63-year-old says he easily finds other things to discuss: "We talk about everything. Me, I love music."

And what happens if clients start inadvertently discussing exponential curves or a potential vaccine?

"No sanctions, but I show them the posters," Mattioli, 35, says with a smile.

It seems she is on to something -- two new customers have heard about the initiative and come in to congratulate her.

"Another cafe manager in Trentino (in northern Italy) has also made similar posters, although she asked my permission first," she adds with pride.

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