The Italian Kiss at Risk

Few things are as Italian as the kiss. The double-cheek variety is performed everywhere by everyone up and down the peninsula. In Italy it is as common as cappucino and any traveler observing life in Rome, Florence or Venice will be amazed by the number and frequency of kisses exchanged at all hours of day and night. Women kiss men, men kiss women, women kiss eachother, men kiss eachother and everyone kisses children. It is ingrained into the cultural psyche, an act of love, fondness and respect with distant origins that provides essential clues into what it means to be Italian.

Yet today under the extreme circumstances in which we now live the kiss is on the verge of extinction. No one kisses when the consequences of physical interaction are so dire and decrees make it impossible for even those still inclined to get close enough to plant one. Kissing is now dangerous and has become associated with the spread of disease rather than love, friendship or respect. Of course there are alternatives but the bow and elbow bump are foreign interlopers and fail to provide the same level of intimacy as the double-cheek kiss. There are no substitutes.

When this collective predicament ends and we are released into the world once again it will be difficult to place lips on cheeks without epidemic thoughts running through our minds. The symbolism will be transformed and it may take months or even years before a kiss is just a kiss. Fortunately Italians are patient people living in eternal cities where everything has come once or twice before. They will wait for those once ubiquitous exchanges to return and for Italy to regain the dolce vita that it so dramatically lost. We all have a part to play and this time it will only require a kiss.

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