Monday, November 8, 2010


"In the end everything is OK, and if it's not OK, it's not the end."

Good words to live by if you ask me. After all, how many situations in your life have you encountered that seem--in the moment--to be all consuming dilemmas only to have them become trivial a short time later? If you say never, then you're lying. Even if the disaster is on a massive scale, (i.e Katrina, 9/11) there is comfort in knowing that, over time, some semblance of normality will return. At least we all would like to think so...

L'Aquila is one of those places that makes you re-think such statements as the one above. For those of you who don't know, L'Aquila suffered a pretty serious earthquake 18 months ago which killed roughly 300 people. Now while the death count may not seem astronomical as compared to other natural disasters, the destruction leftover could challenge the likes of most. Stepping off the train it became woefully apparent that this place had recovered very little since April of 2009 when the earthquake struck. Instead of solid flooring, the train station had a series of wooden planks which were used as "temporary" surfaces to walk on. Additionally, yellow caution tape lined most of the building and scaffolding covered nearly the entire front facade. This would be the standard for nearly the whole of L'Aquila. After waiting an hour or so in the station for my roommate Stephen to arrive from Perugia, we got on a bus and--following a whirlwind bus tour of the city--finally arrived at our hotel.
L'Aquila itself if located in the very mountainous and beautiful region of Abruzzo, and sits in a valley below some of the highest peaks in all of Italy--even when compared to the Dolomites. Like Ascoli Piceno, the mountains in this region were covered in fall colors trees like those found in New England. Even some of the city parks--which were relatively untouched by the earthquake--could easily have been confused for ones back home.  Sad to think that someplace so nice could fall victim to such disasters.

The next morning--with the advent of sunlight--we could finally see the full extent of the damage to the main city center. Looking out the 4th story window of our hotel room we could see a jungle of metal scaffolds, crumbling buildings, and debris scattered along the streets. Even the building next to our hotel--which, luckily for us, had been completely fixed--seemed ready to collapse at any moment. Adding to the bizarre nature of the city, there was nobody in the streets--like a ghost town in an old western film...only this time it was real.
After a  morning ride to the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga (the same park which I rode though in Ascoli--more on this some other time) Stephen and I met up to go find lunch and stroll the town. Leading to the main piazza there was only one street which had been opened to the public. Though given the military guards at its entrance and the scaffolding which lined the buildings on either side, you would have thought otherwise. Walking through these empty, "dead" streets was pretty surreal and often gave the feeling that one was trespassing.

Coming around one corner Stephen and I even found two crushed cars and a building with furniture still sitting inside as if the owners just one day decided to get up and leave.

                                                A church entirely surrounded by scaffolds

For nearly the whole day we walked streets like the ones seen above. Street after street, block after block, nothing changed. At some point you would have expected to come across some area of the city that maintained some level of normalcy. But nothing seemed to.

As night fell, we decided to slip into a cafe for some bottles of water. By this point, both of us were pretty depressed about what we had seen that day. While we both knew the earthquake had struck, the scale of the devastation was something neither of us were really prepared for. Making things worse was the fact that zero construction seemed to be happening during our time their and beyond the erection of some hastily made scaffolding, nothing else seemed to have been accomplished in terms of restoration or clean up. Storefronts still had shattered windows, glass still lined the streets in some parts, and rubble still lay strewn in alleyways. It was bizarre...very very bizarre.

After ordering a bottle of water and sitting for a few minutes, Stephen and I decided to stick around the cafe and watch a local jazz quartet which had been setting up their instruments outside the front door of the cafe. Shortly after ordering a bottle of wine from nearby Teramo, the cafe owner surprised us with a dish of  cheeses and meats to accompany our drinks. As the music started to play, people slowly started to file into the cafe and for the first time we actually felt as though we weren't alone in this city.
Perhaps the best way to describe what happened next can be summed up by something read about one of my favorite female jazz/folk singers--a woman named Eva Cassidy. While reading a review of one of her albums published in the Washington Post the author commented that ""she could sing anything...and make it sound like it was the only music that mattered." In a way, listening to this band play in some no-name bar gave the same impression. Sitting there and listening I can honestly say I forgot about the earthquake. I forgot about all the destruction I saw that day and how depressing it was. I have a feeling the locals sitting in the bar felt the same way too. For them, life just went on and even though it was probably hard to get by and cope, here they were laughing amongst friends enjoying a nice evening "out on the town."

Walking out of the cafe and back to the hotel a few hours later, Stephen and I once again found ourselves surrounded by the scaffolding and wooden braces which seemed to accompany us everywhere we went. However, this time was different. This time, it didn't seem as sad or traumatic; and for the first time, I finally felt as though--in the end--everything would be OK.

1 comment:

  1. EMerson! your blog is sick keep it up bubs