MARINO DE MEDICI

Marino de Medici, of Winchester, is shown recently at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. He returned to the U.S. shortly before flights from Europe were halted. He is now in self-quarantine at home as a precaution against possible exposure to the COVID-19 virus.

Escaping Europe shortly before travel to the U.S. was suspended on March 13, Winchester resident Marino de Medici considers himself lucky.

“We got back just under the wire,” he said on Wednesday.

Now, self-quarantined in his home for two weeks to make sure he was not exposed to the new coronavirus while traveling in Cyprus and Greece or while flying home, he said he’s been reminded of a book of short novellas written by Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the leading Italian authors during the Renaissance.

The book, “Decameron,” relates the experience of 10 people living in a villa together in Italy while isolating themselves from the bubonic plague in 1348.

Every day, to pass the time, they elect a new king or queen among themselves to tell stories. By the end of the book, he said, they have 100 stories.

“They tell these stories, and what is amazing is they range [across] a very large literary scope,” said de Medici.

Whether humorous, dramatic or romantic, he said, the stories all talk of a “culture of living happy lives.”

Cognizant of how dangerous the COVID-19 virus is for older people to contract, de Medici, 86, said he’s keeping his distance from others, though he feels fine and is home with his wife of 36 years, Nicki. He plans to spend his time in quarantine doing what he loves: writing.

A journalist for most of his career, de Medici, a native of Italy, was the dean of foreign correspondents in America and for more than 20 years covered news in Washington, D.C., for the newspaper il Tempo in Rome.

He moved to Winchester in 1998 and has since written the book “SCRIBE: 30 Years as a Foreign Correspondent in America.”

He currently writes a column for The Northern Virginia Daily.

In Europe for nearly 10 days this month, he was traveling with members of the National Press Club in Washington.

“All my life as a journalist, I covered Washington for 30 years but I traveled a lot,” he said.

Now, including Cyprus and Greece, he said he’s been to 121 countries and recalls favorites like Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, where he and his wife, daughter and granddaughter traveled to see Victoria Falls.

“I think all in all I like New Zealand,” he said, calling it a beautiful country.

“I like France and Spain,” he added. “I am a European after all.”

But on his recent trip abroad, he was looking to take a walk through history.

“This was a curiosity,” he said. “Curiosity is the most important thing that drives me as a journalist.”

He wanted to see the Byzantine churches and beautiful beaches of Cyprus.

In Athens, he was there for the museums and the Acropolis.

“You walk, you look down and see the old part of the city at the foot of the mountain where the Acropolis was,” he said.

It’s “a striking way” of “walking over ancient remnants,” he said.

As the COVID-19 virus pandemic continues circling the world, he said Greek and Italian tourism is going to suffer.

“Losing tourism is going to hurt them tremendously,” he said.

“I took a risk, because of the coronavirus.” In Greece, he recalled, “There were some [safety] measures. No sooner had we left, [then] the Greek government imposed the same measures that Italy did.”

Now, as in Italy, he said most of Europe is on lockdown.

“It’s all shut down,” he said. “All of Europe is a jail. … They cannot leave their homes.”

People can go to the grocery store and leave for specific reasons if they have documentation, but he said freedom of movement is not as available as it is in the U.S.

Taking a flight home from Frankfort, Germany, he said he felt like he was in a petri dish because of the large concentration of people. He arrived in the U.S. on Friday afternoon, and that night at midnight, flights from Europe ended.

“I was lucky,” he said. Thousands of other travelers were stuck wherever they were.

And so he was reminded of Boccaccio’s book about people huddled together in self-imposed isolation, trying to make the best of an uncertain situation.

“And telling each other stories,” he said, “beautiful stories. The whole gamut of human emotions.”

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com