Benjamin Clardy had been studying in Venice, Italy, for almost two years when the coronavirus pandemic emerged.
The Temple resident saw news reports of the coronavirus ravaging China in mid-January, but didn’t realize the disease would spread so quickly.
“I thought it was sad, but did not think for a moment that I would come to be living a similar experience,” Clardy said Friday.
Coronavirus entered his mind after he went to a crowded party and woke up with flu-like symptoms the next morning. He said he “started to freak out” because he hadn’t renewed his Italian national health care service, but later did.
His classes at Ca’Foscari University were first suspended and then schools closed. Many of his friends bought tickets to escape Venice before a quarantine was enforced.
He was “starting to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation,” Clardy said.
As coronavirus cases skyrocketed in Italy, Clardy decided to stay inside. By March 20, he and two elderly sisters he lived with had spent almost two weeks in lockdown.
Clardy told his parents by phone he was bored, but they told him to remain in Venice because they believed the virus would be short-lived.
A lockdown in Venice meant people couldn’t go anywhere without documents. The streets were patrolled by armed soldiers.
The decision was finally made to bring him home — and that was when the reality of the situation hit his mother, Carla Hahn Clardy.
“It really is family that comes through when the going is the toughest,” she said.
Clardy left the majority of his belongings in Venice since he had only a few hours before he took a flight to Rome.
“As for most seniors, the cutting off of my last year of university is heartbreaking. I never really got the chance to say goodbye to my classmates or relish the last days I’d live in Venice. A chapter of my life came to an unexpected and bitter close,” Clardy said.
Clardy’s trip home was halted when airport security wouldn’t let him pass through the gate because his form was out of date, officials told him. A new edict had been proclaimed. Returning home wasn’t a valid reason for travel. Neither was an urgent need.
The U.S. Consulate in Milan helped Clardy. He made it through security, got on the plane headed to Rome and faced an 18-hour overnight layover in the airport.
He then flew from Rome to New York City, and finally Washington, D.C.
Clardy’s cousin picked him up and drove him to an aunt’s home in central Maryland, where he gorged on homemade tacos and showered.
“I (took) my first shower in days and (fell) immediately asleep,” he said. “I am comfortable and happy to be back with my family.”