Today’s podcast comes from Rome, where Colm Flynn from County Clare works as a television news reporter, covering The Vatican for EWTN, the Catholic TV network based in America.
Click on the player below to play the podcast audio (download: 15:33; 9MB; MP3), or scroll down to watch the video.
Colm and I are old friends from our local radio days, but I’ve found it hard to keep track of him in recent years. Some will recognise him from his reports for Nationwide on RTÉ, but he has also done freelance work for the BBC and lived in New York for the past five years.
Two months ago he took up his post in Rome. He was originally supposed to go in the Spring but as Coronavirus raged in Italy, his employer decided to keep him in New York, which soon became one of the worst hit cities in the US.
Because New York is a city of dreams, in many ways, Coronavirus has caused a major transformation, he says.
“33% of everyone in New York – a third – they’re immigrants. They come from all over the USA and they come to work in the financial district; they come as actors to follow their dreams; they come to make it on Broadway – whatever the case may be. And they put up with living in tiny appartments for sky-high rents, packed in like sardines, to follow their dream and to pursue their careers. So when that stopped; when people told them: you can work from home in the financial industry; when Broadway closed, acting all stopped; the creative industry was decimated; they had no reason to stick around. They all went back to their homes in different parts of the US and in different parts of the world, and New York was just empty. And then you had the protests on top of that, the election looming when I left. It was just a strange, strange place.”
While there are some restrictions in Italy, and specific regional lockdowns, the country has not returned to the kind of strict measures employed during the first wave of the pandemic. So I was surprised to hear Colm say that the numer of cases now is actually higher than it was then, though there are fewer deaths. It’s the subject of intense debate in the country right now.
“Normally, after I finish work … we would go out, we’d go to a little café or restaurant, have a bite to eat. All cafés and restaurants now have to close at 6pm and the curfew is 10pm, so you cannot be on the streets after 10pm here in Rome, and that stays in effect until 5am the next morning. But they were suggesting that the new lockdown would mean that all cafés and restaurants would close … but at the moment they are allowed to be open until 6pm”
Over the five years he lived in New York, Colm witnessed the increasing polarisation of American society.
“The US is such a divided country. You know that – everyone knows that. But when I moved there five years ago it didn’t seem that bad and I just watched it get progressively worse … It pains me to see it. People who have different opinions will not, can not, are unwilling, to meet and talk and look at the commonality that they have between them.”
Colm hasn’t seen his family since January, but he’s hopeful that he will be able to get home to Ireland for a visit at Christmas if the rules allow.