Thursday December 1st, 2016
These days my sleep is a gossamer veil, so fine that a spider walking across the floor will wake me. Deep sleep is dangerous sleep. This morning it was not a spider nor an earthquake, but an owl. Small, white and very loud. It’s now 5.10am but thanks to the gufo I’ve been awake since 4.00am.
I am cold and have drastically misjudged the wood situation here – there’s very little left – and I must wait till first light to dig about in the precarious woodpile, down the drive, to find lumber short enough to fit in my little stove. Last week a friend came over with his chain saw and spent two hours chopping bite-sized pieces of wood for me but I’ve managed to use them all up. A while back I found an old-fashioned looking axe in one of the outhouses and had vainly tried chopping wood myself but it was hopeless. I could barely lift the axe off the ground.
It’s just called ‘the red house’. A house I passed a thousand times before this happened
I feel sad and leaden this morning. It comes and goes a bit. I am so lucky to be staying here and not in a Red Cross Camp or one of the hostels or hotels. I should not complain. Every morning when I get up, the first thing I do is go out and look across to Sarnano.
The view in the morning that I have of my house and my town
I have to see, with my own eyes, that my little town is still there. I can see my kitchen windows.
Every single village and town in this region is old. Medieval old. Sarnano celebrated its 750th birthday last year. My house was built in 1267. These places are priceless and are living centers of commerce, hospitality, art and all the other things that make a life worth living. All have suffered tremendous damage. Some more than others, but all bad.
All the Centri Storici, the historic centers, around here are classified as a zona rossa. No one can go in or out because they are dangerous. Weakened buildings, where a sneeze would finish them off.
No way to walk past my greengrocer’s shop and under the Arco Brunforte to go to my house
Piles of rubble (for which read ‘piles of houses’) lie at every turn, though thankfully not here in my town. Hugely important churches and other civic buildings are ruined everywhere you look, around the region.
Weirdly, Sarnano is the only town for miles and miles that is what they call in piedi, meaning it’s on its feet, it still stands. I’ll tell you about why that is later on but right now I wanted to show you Gualdo, where I was with Iolanda on that Sunday at the opening of the little wooden school.
As I was leaving the inaugural festivities at the school I noticed that all the police, the various vigili, the fire brigade and the Army were busy scoffing down food that parents had brought to the celebration. Snapshots were being taken,
wine consumed and for a moment they forgot about the tremors and focused on the sterling work they’d just completed.
For once, they had all – at the same time – relaxed, taken their eye off the ball: no-one was guarding the various ways into the Centro Storico. It’s all cordoned off with the depressing red and white flapping tape (which ‘howls’ when the winds catch it in a certain way) and metal barricades.
That morning there were no handsome men in uniforms with shiny sidearms in leather holsters being vigilant: they were standing around smoking. It was my chance. My only chance.
So I clambered over the railings and started scuttling around the back streets of beautiful Gualdo. I knew it was potentially dangerous but I wanted to come away with some pictures so I could show people what an earthquake can do, up close and personal. I just kept saying, as I turned one narrow corner after another, ‘My god, my god’. It looked like a wrecking ball had rolled into town and smashed it to pieces. No street is wider than about 8 feet so it was hard to get the sense of scale – but here are a couple of shots.
Frankly one picture looks exactly the next – just what used to be houses now filling the alleys, streets and ways with mounds of rubble.
I felt quite sick by the time I decided to weave my way over the piles of walls,furniture and clothing and get back to the car.
I started driving the 20 minutes back home, through the glorious winding, wooded roads and I came across this house.
I’d like to say it is a rare sight. But I can’t.
It seems somehow indecent. Obscene almost.
What happened here? That I could scramble up mounds of rock and stone that were once someone’s home to stare, uninvited and gawping, into their bedroom? Their private spaces? The beautiful countryside reflected in this family’s bedroom mirror suddenly looked rather twisted to me.
I think I’ll write two or three more of these installments before I catch up with the ‘now’. I want to fill in the gaps for you, of the last few weeks, and then we can move on together, in ‘real time’, as it were.
. . . .
It is now 5 o’clock in the evening. I am very glad I did not press the ‘Publish’ button this morning (I knew how exhausted I was and wanted to check for typos later on).
At 12.30 this afternoon I thought I had finally chanced my arm once too many times and was going to die.
Five minutes away from Sarnano is a little 10th century abbey in a hamlet called Piobbico. I knew the abbey had been horribly damaged over the last few weeks, each new tremor taking away a little more of the building.
Steve has always loved this place and I decided to see if I could actually get inside and take some pictures before it disappeared from the face of the earth altogether.
The sun was shining, the snow on the mountain tops looked like sifted icing sugar and all was peaceful. So, I let my guard down, just like the soldiers in Gualdo had done. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I went inside and was aghast. It seemed somehow ‘devoid’. All wrong. I took a few photographs, very much on ‘the hoof’.
You could not make it up: the title of the hymn on this open page is “Oh come God, Save Us”
And then it happened.
A magnitude 4.0 hit. The epicenter was 19 kms away, as the crow flies. Earthquakes do not follow the road system.
And there it was again, that deafening – yet spectral – sound of the earth moving below me and the masonry of the church swaying madly above me. I screamed for the dog (who will not leave my side) and was thrown to the ground in the middle of the church. I could hear the falling masonry all around. I recall nothing else. I was totally unhurt.
This is the last image the camera recorded, as I fell …
… and this is what I saw when I stood up.
The worst of it had been ahead of me, where I had stood not a minute earlier
I did not believe I could get out before it all collapsed on top of me but I scrambled up and made it out. I sat down outside – it never occurred to me to try and run away – and got my breathing back under control. Rapid shallow breaths left me tingling. My legs were a little wobbly but I got back to the car and as I sat in the seat a great plume of white dust came off me, like a giant powder-puff. My hair was gray from the plaster and detritus that had landed on me.
I came home and was surprised at how normal I felt. Then I was suddenly very tired, started shaking and lay down. I woke up about half an hour ago. To write this. I don’t feel very normal now. I feel very anxious. My rib-cage feels two sizes too small, my heartbeat is erratic and I am very tense. All over again. The quake this afternoon hit the ‘re-play’ button in my head and that terrible Wednesday night, the 26th of October, came flooding back as if it were only yesterday.
A lot can happen in twelve hours. That owl? He seems a lifetime ago.