By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli
The earthquake that devastated the small Italian towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto reminded Italians, who already have it emblazoned in their minds, that the seductive charm of Italy belies an ominous truth: She is vulnerable to devastating earthquakes. The last one occurred in 2012 in the province of Emilia Romagna. 2009’s massive earthquake nearly annihilated L’Aquila in the Abruzzi.
Beppe Severgnini, who writes for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, penned an insightful article entitled Italy’s Fragile Beauty. Tourists trek to Italy to take picture perfect photos of the glories of Rome, of the ethereal beauty of Venice, of the inspired artwork of Florence, and partake of Naples’ incomparable pizza. Yet underneath the superficial travels of tourists lurks what Italians know all too well: Earthquakes. Like the Walls of Jericho, those picturesque Italian towns balanced atop the Apennine Mountains might well come tumbling down when the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collide in Italy.
Years ago I asked my father about earthquakes in Italy. I was writing a report for a school assignment and I figured he might shed light on those massive rumblings. He had emigrated to the U.S. from Italy when he was 23, long before more sophisticated means of tracking earthquakes were in place. He explained that in his village in southern Italy, the only thing to do was to brace oneself in a doorway. This, he said, served only several members of a family of eight. There were not enough doorways for everyone in his family. The alternative was to flee into the streets, hardly appealing when large rocks rained down from the Apennine sky. A tornado was preferable to an earthquake, he informed me, for with a tornado shelter could be sought in a basement. Basements were not an option in his Italian village; it was all rocks below the houses.
The beguiling beauty of Italy and her people are dear to my heart. I have known quite a few people who stampeded through Italy to take their picture perfect photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to ride in a Venetian gondola while snapping away at structures. Yet these travelers of several weeks rarely take the time to talk with the natives who live, breathe, and toil in this ancient landscape. Most of them are hastening with family and friends through the countryside, driving their way down the narrow roads. Took a quick tour of Rome – check. Trekked in Cinque Terre – check. Saw Michelangelo’s David in Florence – check. Plan next summer’s trip to another country – check. I prefer to position myself in one locale for a month or more, get to know the shopkeepers’ names, frequent the local eateries, settle in to the rhythms of the town and take in its sites. But mostly for me it is about the people; that is the true adventure.
Ergo, the most recent earthquake and its aftermath tremors reverberated with me. I wondered about those residents of Amatrice, how they had planned for the Festival Amatriciana, how within moments the rocks and structures had fallen over and around them. Yesterday I watched a news video of rescue workers pulling a golden retriever from the rubble ten days after the earthquake. The dog named Romeo emerged intact. Unlike Shakespeare’s ill-fated Romeo, this one wagged its tail as he shook off the earth’s dust. Overjoyed at finding life, the rescuers carried Romeo down the steep pile of rocks. Several days before, other rescuers had unearthed a cat alive. The cat’s name was Gioia, meaning Joy. That name captures the indomitable spirit of Italians, for they will overcome adversity and rise again, as they have always done.
Ciao for now.