An Italian couple has become known as the “Romeo and Juliet” of the coronavirus lockdown.
But the love story of this pandemic couple does not have the tragic ending of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. In fact, six months after they met from afar, the covid-19 sweethearts are engaged to be married.
Michele D’Alpaos, 38, first laid eyes on Paola Agnelli, 40, in mid-March when she walked out on her balcony. Agnelli spotted D’Alpaos that night on his terrace, and said it was love at first sight.
“I was immediately struck by the beauty of this girl, by her smile,” D’Alpaos said. “I had to know her.”
Agnelli stood directly across from him on her sixth-floor balcony while her sister performed a violin rendition of “We Are The Champions” as part of a nightly 6 p.m. musical performance, intended to uplift the quarantined neighborhood.
A few minutes into the song, Agnelli caught D’Alpaos’s gaze.
“It was a magical moment,” said Agnelli, who has lived in the same apartment complex since she was 5 years old. She had never met D’Alpaos, even though he has lived opposite her, on the seventh floor, for most of his life.
“I immediately thought, ‘What a beautiful boy,’ ” she continued.
It just so happened that D’Alpaos’s sister knew Agnelli — the two had exercised at the same gym before lockdown began. She gave him Agnelli’s name.
“I started looking on all possible social networks,” explained D’Alpaos. “I saw that she had an Instagram profile, but I didn’t. In five minutes, I created an account.”
“He followed me on Instagram, and from there we started writing until late at night,” said Agnelli, adding that they initially communicated on the app and then switched to texting. “When he contacted me, I was happy, but I didn’t want to deceive myself.”
To her surprise, the conversation stretched past 3 a.m. Their connection was immediate, she said, and for the days and weeks that followed, the pair continued to talk constantly, often losing track of time.
Although they longed for an in-person date, Italy remained in a mandated lockdown. For 10 weeks, the blossoming relationship was confined to hours-long telephone calls and daily cross-balcony flirtation.
Still, their bond strengthened.
From a distance, the couple got to know each other, and learned they share similar ideas: “The values you could build a relationship on,” Agnelli said.
For one, they are both professionally driven, she said. Agnelli is a lawyer and D’Alpaos works in computers. But more importantly, she said, “Michele has a good heart.”
Barred from stepping closer than 200 meters away (about 220 yards), a smitten D’Alpaos was desperate to show his affection to Agnelli. He started by sending multiple bouquets of flowers, but then decided that wasn’t enough.
In an effort to put his love on full display, D’Alpaos hung an old bedsheet with “Paola” emblazoned in big, bold bubble letters from his apartment complex in late March.
The romantic gesture drew the attention of local news and social media, and that’s when the couple became known as the modern-day Romeo and Juliet.
“It was such a lovely surprise,” said Agnelli, adding that the banner made her even more excited to meet her very own “Romeo” face to face.
In early May, she finally did.
They met at a local park, and at long last, removed their masks to share a kiss.
“We are very much in love,” Agnelli said.
The relationship got off to a strong start, and by July, the couple had met each other’s families, and began discussing the prospect of spending the rest of their lives together.
D’Alpaos now shares an apartment with his parents and Agnelli lives with her mother and sister, though they are planning to move in to another apartment D’Alpaos owns in the city when they eventually tie the knot.
In keeping with their beginnings, the couple continues to have nightly phone calls, sitting across from each other on their respective balconies.
As a nod to their fated first encounter, “it would be a dream to be able to do the wedding ceremony on the terrace of my building,” D’Alpaos said.
The coronavirus pandemic has yielded few silver linings, but for this Italian couple, the lockdown led them to each other.
“Such a thing has never happened to either of us. The sensations we are experiencing in this period is something we never felt before,” D’Alpaos said. “We are more in love than ever.”
Agnelli agreed, adding that she believes they were destined to meet, as Michele is also the name of her late grandfather.
“Many times, I think that it was he who sent me Michele, with the same name, the same kindness, the same sympathy and intelligence,” she said.
Although their tale of sudden and dedicated love bears similarities to Shakespeare’s classic script set in Verona, the ending is quite the opposite.
“Our goal is to make a beautiful family together,” Agnelli said.
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