ROME – Two workers are busy repainting the sign for Battistini, the oldest private beach in Ostia.
The Roman coastal town is preparing to open despite the total absence of visitors, while its inhabitants look on tentatively at the prospect of a summer season like no other.
With a sandy beach that stretches for ten kilometers, Ostia is just half an hour from Rome and is a favorite spot for Italians and foreigners alike.
The hoteliers believe that the losses of the last months are “unrecoverable,” according to Lia, the owner of a bar near the beach.
Restaurant owner Roberto says that before the lockdown, issued 10 weeks ago, oysters were widely available but now seafood supplies have depleted, and so have customers.
“I am terrified to say it, but we have lost around 70%,” he laments.
That is why he decided to go on strike on May 18, like many other businessmen, on the first-day hospitality businesses were allowed to reopen.
“The State has abandoned us, we have not received any help,” he says.
Outside, on the beach, many people are strolling and a few are swimming.
Romans have flocked to the seaside to enjoy the fresh air after months of confinement.
“Seeing the sea is a beautiful feeling, it gives the idea that something is improving,” says Valentina, who is from Ostia but had not set foot on the promenade until then.
Her partner, Simone, has come from Rome and appreciates this “rehearsal of normality.”
When asked about their work situation, they both say in unison that they are “momentarily unemployed.”
The devastating blow on the labor market caused by the coronavirus crisis has meant many young couples, like Valentina and Simone, can spend a day on the beach, many with their children.
Lia is the only one who works in her family. Her daughter is a waitress in a bar in Sorrento, a small tourist town near Naples.
With few inhabitants and greater dependence on tourism than Ostia, “the situation is disastrous,” she says.
Her other son runs a tourist apartment in the center of Rome and has not received a reservation for the summer.
“I don’t expect them to go back to work before spring 2021,” she says.
Italy has accelerated its de-escalation to revive a flailing tourism sector, which accounts for 13% of the country’s GDP, according to the National Tourism Agency (ENIT). Borders between regions and abroad will reopen on June 3.
Entrepreneurs hope Italians will choose domestic tourism over international destinations.
“Our hope is to work with Romans, who will not be able to go far this summer,” says Giorgio, owner of a historic jewelry store whose survival is on tenterhooks.
The owner of Battistini, the first private beach to open in Ostia in 1919, describes this year as a “complete disaster.”
Silvana, who wears a mask with the Italian flag, believes local tourists “are not enough” since they normally rely on plenty of foreign tourists from Spain, Germany and France.
“I have 12 workers; I don’t know if I will have to fire some. Now they all work, but if people don’t come …” Silvana trails off.
The reopening, which was expected for April 25, has been delayed in the Lazio region, where Rome and Ostia are, until May 29.
Outside, an excavator is spreading the iconic black sand of this beach.
Bathing is allowed, but sunbathing is banned until June 1.
Some families defy the rules and sit down to enjoy the warm Spring day.
Most people wear masks despite the heat.
Roberto, a retiree who has come to enjoy the sea with his wife, thinks it will be difficult to keep social distance on the beach with children.
“The sea seems very clean, we missed it a lot. We are excited to see it again after such a delicate moment,” says Rosalba, who is also retired.
She turns to her husband and scolds him for having rolled his mask down to his chin during the interview.
An air of tense excitement hovers over Ostia as Italians get a taste of normality after months of restrictions.