I don’t think I have quite understood the notion of a blog.
Steve keeps telling me I must write more often, more regularly, or people will lose interest. I don’t want that to happen. I will try and be a better ‘blogger’.
I lost my way a bit in the run-up to Christmas. I had no interest in it at all, and could barely manage to remember that it was even December. I had been looking forward to Steve coming home but over the two months since the last, vast series of earthquakes – those in October – I had become (and still am) rather wolfish. Solitary. I was apprehensive about how we would manage, as we must, living effectively in one largish room. My brother and his two young children had also decided to come – we evaluated the risks – so it has been a sharp contrast to the quiet and solitude I have grown to enjoy.
I have found comfort in sort of reducing my ‘borders’ – all I need is now contained in a small space. It turns out I need very little. I have also become quite astonishingly tidy. I feel secure if things are under control, spartan almost – believing deep in my lizard-brain that if I am good, organised and ordered, the chaos of these surging quakes will pass me by and I will be spared. Four walls, at ground level, are enough for me to worry about. I cannot spend my days racing from room to room counting new cracks and measuring the old ones.
I do regret that I didn’t start this story on Day One, August 24th. But there is no way that could have happened. I was stunned. There was very little coherent going on in my head. I was anxious, displaced, and at a loss how to think beyond the following half hour. At times I wonder if keeping a diary during the weeks with the Ferreris in Colmurano would have been cathartic. Then I think, no, it is better that that period remains a series of impressions and random – sometimes funny – memories. Some things are better left where you found them.
We all lived with our ears pricked up every minute of the first days, afterwards. Virtually everyone you met in the street would clutch your arm to show you photos on their phones of the dreadful damage that had befallen their homes and businesses. After August and the death of so many in Amatrice, the sense of mourning, loss and fear was palpable.
When in the bakery or tobacconist, chatting in what seemed to be a relaxed way to people in the shop, there would be a tremor – bodies tensed, faces tightened and there would be silence. A sense of such high alert, the shutting out of anything that might run interference – voices, traffic, shopping bags rustling – while you focus, focus, focus – everything reduced to the sound of a conch shell against your ear. Breathing normally was no longer automatic, as once it had been.
During those days, I did make the effort every day to return to Sarnano
(not least because I had to leave food for the various rescue cats we had acquired) but also because it was where I wanted to be. I had to navigate my way around red plastic ‘barriers’ and slices of red and white tape which spoke to the danger that was ever-present.
Our house was in fact safe enough (at that point) to live in but like so many of our friends and neighbours we did not have the courage to return, close our front doors behind us and sleep in the dark.
I found it disheartening going back ‘home’. Everything was very quiet and I was surprised how quickly a place, once so bustling and cheery, could go to seed.
During those two or three weeks immediately after the 24th August I felt low and disconnected. A lot of it was tiredness I know, but we were all worn out with it all. I was constantly on edge, worrying if I’d got my mobile and car keys on me, ready to flee. I had to start keeping them in the front pockets because once, I went to the loo, pulled down my jeans and they both fell out of the back pockets into the water. Straws and camels’ backs department.
Eventually, after about four weeks, most of the residents of Sarnano returned properly to our houses. Earthquake bags remained packed and parked by front door, but flower pots on front steps were replanted and windows were washed (earthquakes create a phenomenal amount of dust). People began fixing the cracks in their homes and reclaiming what had been so badly threatened not a month before. With nervous smiles, drawn faces and a determination to move forward we went home.
But no-one really believed we had seen the last of the earthquakes.
We were allowed only four weeks of calm. Four weeks in which life tentatively found its way again.
For me personally they were not exactly relaxing weeks, those that led up towards the end of October. I had to travel to the other side of the world for a bit to help out a friend who was having some serious health problems and as soon as I got back, Steve went out to Doha for Al Jazeera to work on a TV programme there. We had decided it was a good idea not least because we needed the money to help fix the damage and to redecorate the house after the August quakes. No sooner had he gone than my hound, Tinker, had to have a big operation for cancer which left her in a lot of pain and me sleeping on the kitchen floor to stop her jumping up on the bed and ripping out her stitches.
None of that was particularly joyful, but I would have done it all over again if it meant avoiding what would happen on that Wednesday evening, October 26th as I stood in the kitchen stirring vegetables around in a frying pan and wondering idly where I’d left the corkscrew.