Amatrice, the destroyed town that I still call “home”

If you are not living underground or on the top of a very high mountain, you might have noticed that this end of summer has been quite dramatic for most of us Italians. The earthquake that suddenly shook central Italy in the night of August 24th has stolen 296 lives and is still haunting the dreams of the ones of us who have been touched, directly or indirectly, by this reoccurring tragedy.

Yes, “reoccurring” indeed, since it happened before (in L’Aquila in 2009, in Umbria in 1997) and it will probably happen again. The centre-south of Italy is, in fact, one of the most seismically active areas in Europe, and the sheer structure of the ancient towns and villages scattered all over this wonderful country of ours can only make things more dangerous and dramatic when earth decides to do the twist.

That said, I’m not in for controversies about politicians’ faults or cheap indignation about unwise choices in satirical drawings. I’m writing now because my family comes from those places, because a part of me died that night and because I managed to pay visit to my (once) beautiful Amatrice just few days ago.

You know, it’s actually funny to think that, in a country famous for its inherent, somehow fascinating chaos, some places can still acquire a seemingly permanent state of stillnes, as if they were above (or out of) time and space. That was the case of Amatrice: a pearl nestled in between the ancient and colorful mountain chain of Monti della Laga, unique for its wide variety of flora and fauna and its historical and cultural background.

Being raised in a place like that makes you think that in a world where everything changes abruptly, those mountains will always protect your comfortable nest. And you get the feeling that you will always find a place where everything will be the same as it was, where time gets dilated and embraces the geologic biorhythm of stones laying over other stones, of the slow and yet unstoppable flow of spring waters, of the neverending succession of snow and sprouts and sun and dead leaves on the ground.

Now, imagine this feeling of safety being ripped off from your head in a 2 minutes horror trip caused by a neutral, unstoppable force which comes from beneath the ground and arouses the most ancestral and uncontrollable fears of the human soul, leaving behind nothing more than a bunch of ruins and lifeless bodies… Feeling uncomfortable much? But that is exactly what happened.

And yet, the sudden wave of destruction was not the more disturbing aspect of this unconceivable tragedy. The aftermath of a natural disaster is always a chaotic succession of news, people, pleas, cries, hopes and fears. And this, for a place which seemed to be stuck in time, is even more devastating than the earthquake itself.

Amatrice now looks like a disrupted anthill, with little powerless insects rushing here and there to save pieces of that once perfect part of universe that once was their entire world.

I don’t really know how a human being can cope with this. I know it is possible, but I do not know how. And I know there is hope, and I know that life goes on and that one day, hopefully, new babies – maybe not the generation that came back to school just yesterday – will be raised cradled by those wise and benevolent mountains, blessed by the feeling that nothing will ever be able to change their small, perfect world.

Emergency is not over. If you wish to help the population of Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata del Tronto you can donate or participate to one of the many solidarity initiatives organized by NGOs and associations all over the world: a reference page in Italian and in English.

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