I know, I know. My essays are like buses: you wait for ages and … nothing.  Then, suddenly, two come along at once.

At the start of all this I think I promised you all a photo-blog.  The last chapter was rather more ‘blog’ than ‘photo’. This should balance things out a bit.

Also, as I seemed able to write about the deep, bruising experience in October, in the spirit of confronting demons, I’m giving you this.

I mentioned in a post, a while back now, that I had gone to Visso. It was a dreadful experience, as I think I probably said. I put up one or two of the images from that day, but here is a fuller description


I set off up the valley that took the first (and then subsequent) massive seismic attacks, that started way back in August 2016 and continue to this day. (We had a 3.9 yesterday that was strong enough for me to race out into the cortile with the earthquake bag and the dog).

This particular valley is called Val Nerina. It is beautiful. It is the valley that is just over the mountains from us. It hold towns that I hope you have heard of: Visso, Norcia, Ussita and Castelsantangelo sul Nera (I would guess that when new maps are printed of this region, Castelsantangelo won’t be on it). I forgot to take any photographs of the beauty.  I didn’t see the beauty.

This was one of many villages that were severely damaged, if not outright destroyed. It isn’t a good photograph but the sight of that laundry on the line moved me. I wondered who had hung it up and what they were thinking at the time. No idea of the horror coming.

I started off in Pievetorina (a hugely damaged little pink and gold town) and then just kept going, winding my way up the valley, past hamlet after hamlet, smashed to smithereens. I had no destination in mind. I only wanted to drive until the light faded and I would be forced to go back. I took pictures every couple of kilometers …

… all variations on this theme


I felt peculiar. Not me. I was a person with a camera. Nothing more, nothing less. I took a lot of stupid risks clambering over rubble and in and out of rooms and half-floors in houses that were now ruined forever.

I remember when the psychiatrists and the psychologists came to Sarnano a few months ago to talk to us about our PTSD, they said that we should look out for any unusual risk-taking behaviours(s) that we were adopting. I do it all the time. I put myself – and my camera – in ludicrously dangerous, precarious situations, where nobody is around to help if I break a leg or get stuck. I’m honestly not trying to sound brave or impressive (well, it isn’t, is it? … just plain dumb) because I am not afraid when I do these things. I go into some disassociated mode, and just plough on. Half the time my body looks like an 8 year old boy’s – all grazed knees, scratched elbows and bruises here and there.

I climbed up about 20 ft of rubble and snow-covered masonry to take this. I also crawled down, on the other side, into the chaos …..

and saw this

Look at the colours, the love and devotion that went into creating this. Who will ever see this again?
Through arches and down what was once a street full of homes


I carried on and finally reached Visso. I had thought I would wander around the town for a bit, talk to people and get a feel of what had happened.

That never happened. And there were no people. As soon I reached the edge of town there was a police check-point.

There was a group of police and military who stopped and checked every vehicle coming towards Visso (including mine). We were told we could not enter without ‘documents’ and the ‘correct papers’

I pulled up just past where this picture was taken. I was being watched by the soldiers and when I tried to take photographs of them I was told to stop. They were friendly and merry but firm. Any images of police and so on, are therefore all taken from behind, when they were not looking.

I was sitting here, outside the one and only cafe open. Considering my options. Inside the cafe, behind me, were men standing around having a coffee or a slice of pizza. Every one of them were Army or Firemen … there was not a civilian anywhere. Nor did I see any women. So it was that I stuck out like a sore thumb and did that ‘considering’.

I could see a sort of Vigili del Fuoco position, set up about 500m ahead of me, where the road turns towards Norcia. There were many firemen milling about and I decided they’d be easier to handle (manipulate?) than the police. Plus, firemen don’t carry guns. Always a plus, I feel. You know, when you are about to tell a whopping great lie.

I bowled up looking smiley but worried – my story was that I was a journalist for The Guardian and I had – in some ditzy, charming, girlie way – lost my credentials. I explained that if I didn’t go back to London with a story and pictures I’d likely lose my job. Honest to god, it was that easy. Out came the lovely Luca, stuck a hard hat on my head, took a picture of me so my hack mates back home would be impressed, and off we went.


I wouldn’t smile again for the rest of that day and then some.

Visso was a glorious town. I loved it. It is as good as destroyed now.




It was very cold. My hands were stiff and I found it hard to hold the camera, let alone in a steady way. My head started to feel tighter and tighter until within half an hour I had a blinding headache. It was awful to walk, with Luca by my side, in almost total silence. There were no people. Nobody. Anywhere. A sick movie set, after shooting a scene about a war-time bombing.

Visso’s theatre


On and on it went. Street after street. It was sickening. It had to be unreal. This could not have been a bright, thriving town once busy with people making lives, making plans … living



At least some of our lives ought to be private. You close a door on the world and you expect it to stay closed. Not for your privacy to be so naked, so exposed. Not there, for someone like me, to come along and photograph it. Lampshades, books, pictures on walls … horrible, horrible.


Luca himself did not speak very much, and he had see all this many times before, living and working here …

A picture of Luca, still stunned

I was virtually struck dumb. Normally, I am full of questions, full of comments, full of things to say. Not in Visso.

The only other living souls I saw in Visso on that day

We came upon a street corner where the remains of yet another home lay in a huge, almost disrespectful pile …


At this point, Luca took out his phone and using Google Earth he showed me, from exactly where we were standing, what this corner and this house had looked like, one happy sunny day not so terribly long ago ….


We trudged on and on for about 2 hours. I was cold, felt ill and couldn’t bear it anymore. I wanted to leave.  I asked to be taken back to the check point. It was then that Luca said  he wanted me to see something, first.  It was this…

These are three scarecrows, put there by residents to ward off the evil of earthquakes … saying, please, no more ..

And this is picture of Luca holding the card that one of the scarecrows is clutching, with a message that was never heard, never heeded …

I’m ugly, yes, I know … but I am nice! … Many crows I scare away … to save my beautiful meadow! …With my help, you will see … I will scare away the earthquakes … and with joy, light-heartedness and good will … our beautiful town can be re-born !!

You wouldn’t really expect earthquakes to listen.

But you would expect the government to  listen. They don’t. They can’t hear above the noise they make bickering about the next decreto and the bureaucratic niceties of getting anything actually bloody done.

Why aren’t these pictures and dozens of others like them, from dozens of other towns (far worse hit than Visso) all over the European press? Why isn’t anyone doing anything?

I’ve said it before. This area might as well be a war-zone.


It has endured months of subterranean bombardment. Months. Lives destroyed, children with little future, businesses wrecked, farmers losing their sanity and everyone wondering if there is really any point in carrying on. With no support, no international recognition (beyond the bloody Basilica in Norcia – which now that money has been promised from Europe to fix it – everyone seems to have gone away, sure in the belief that now everything is fine here).



I drove home in a bit of a daze. I got back here and went into the bathroom. I threw up.



12 thoughts on “Part Ten – Visso

  1. There is an immeasurable importance in you doing this. It reminds me of how the world lets wars go on. Except I have never felt it first hand, which is how your testimony makes me feel. I feel you anger but also your not so slight recklessness – of which you were warned by the PTSD team. They were not just being cute. Keep yourself in shape to keep reporting about this. Please.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Distressing but striking photos of a place I knew quite well both in summer and winter and Spring for a Val di Nera flower festival. I wonder if any festivals will happen this year , or next ? The snow may have gone, probably there will be more until the late Easter. The shocks continue, I know. Good news I read just now on Rai that Brussels is handing over relief funds of over 23 million €€. I hope it will be well used and that the swarm will settle to enable proper reconstruction. My optimism is cautious though.
    Thank you, Tam and DO be careful.


  3. I remember a trip to Visso and going into the church (or was it a museum?) in the main square. It contained an absolutely exquisite Madonna and child. I’m not usually a sucker for religious stuff, but the guy who had appointed himself our guide (!) wanted me to see round the back, where the baby was holding on to his mother’s dress. With the material scrunched up by his chubby little baby hand, it was so perfectly executed that it remains in my mind to this day. Who knows how long before life returns to this little town so that others can marvel again at that tiny exquisite detail.


  4. Thank you for the staggering pictures. I wonder if these lovely villages and small towns will ever be rebuilt. I don’t think I would have the heart to rebuild if it was my house knowing what you have been through. Good luck and be careful. We are thinking of you. Yours Roy Madorin.

    Land of the Forgotten Earthquakes wrote: > a:hover { color: red; } a { text-decoration: none; color: #0088cc; } a.primaryactionlink:link, a.primaryactionlink:visited { background-color: #2585B2; color: #fff; } a.primaryactionlink:hover, a.primaryactionlink:active { background-color: #11729E !important; color: #fff !important; } /* @media only screen and (max-device-width: 480px) { .post { min-width: 700px !important; } } */ WordPress.com Tamsen Courtenay posted: “I know, I know. My essays are like buses: you wait for ages and … nothing.  Then, suddenly, two come along at once. At the start of all this I think I promised you all a photo-blog.  The last chapter was rather more ‘blog’ than ‘photo’. This should bal”


  5. Another amazing piece Tam. Certainly can’t keep a good journalist down. Such honesty, such courage. I will try to share it with people who may be able to help find a wider audience!


  6. I feel just a little weird saying “well done,” in light of the awful things you’ve seen and documented, but I do mean it in the best possible way. As we discussed, this is probably therapeutic for you in some small way. I certainly hope so. And you are doing Le Marche a service by shining a light on the situation. I’ve shared it on social media. Stay safe. Take care of yourself and keep on.


    1. Hey you … therapeutic? Yeah, maybe! I just feel compelled to write it … not much of a light, though, is it? I’ve got to start thinking ‘bigger’ …! Bless you for sharing and I hope you & yours are well. Say ‘hi’ to Kerry. Tam x

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Tamsen,

    Great work. I know you stay because you feel that you have no choice, but it’s still brave. Not a day goes by, however, when I am not grateful for the fact that we do have a choice. Our house in San Ginesio was condemned in October, but a flat in London is a haven.

    I wondered if you’d see seen this. It’s a graphic showing the distribution of quakes from early August. When the swarm hits the effect is shocking.


    Un abbraccio,



    1. I’m so sad to hear about your house … San G was hit so badly. Will it be fixed? I can only imagine how much love and care you must have put into it & the life here. I hope you can come back … Yes, the graphic is a horror to see, isn’t it? Take care, Tam


  8. Read it all – awful stuff – the so called politicians (self serving hypocrites the lot of them) should be brought here and forced to rebuild the place with their bare hands! except for the Norcia Basilica of course! where’s the help from the Catholic Church to all the loyal worshippers and parishioners of this area? no doubt a lot of hand wringing and ‘prayer’ will be going on in the Vatican at this moment – but then again probably not….

    Mind you are you really surprised? it’s 8 years or thereabouts since the L’Aquila disaster and as I understand it, the city centre is still in ruins and closed to residents and visitors alike. Welcome to Italy where no-one in power gives a shit!



    1. Not a shred of sensitivity amongst the lot of them … did you know there have been deaths among the old – who’ve been moved hundreds of kms away from home – deaths from grief. Grief. Need I say more?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s