Yesterday was my first day back at work after a summer holiday. I say ‘a’ summer holiday because I have had two. Two separate weeks, one on the island of Lipari in July and one just last week visiting friends and family in Calabria. I mention it as many people in Italy still benefit from very long summer holidays (I am considered deprived with just two weeks), with some taking the whole month of August by the sea or in the mountains to beat the intense heat of the cities. A friend has been at the coast since late June. It is not uncommon.
After such long breaks, returning to work can be problematic. Stressful even. In Italy, they have a particular term for it – the dreaded rientro or re-entry. The looming knowledge that summer delights and lazy days are about to come to an end as we face return to the daily grind. There’s even a rientro syndrome with prescribed methods of how to avoid its malignant effects. Following a week’s holiday it doesn’t feel so much of a challenge, after a month it might feel like an impossible hardship.
However, this year I think the pain of rientro will be somewhat muted. After last week’s terrible earthquake in central Italy, the return of routine just doesn’t seem quite so bad. As a friend said to me yesterday, at least I have a home to come back to.
Last Wednesday 290 people lost their lives and 2,700 people were made homeless in the gorgeous medieval towns of Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto. The earthquake was felt in Rome, but reverberated across the country. As Beppe Severgnini described so well, Italy is a stunningly beautiful country, but it is also fragile. The Apennine mountains which stretch the length of the country have the highest seismic hazard in western Europe and earthquakes are common. Italy’s treasures are immeasurable, but are often neglected and vulnerable. There is a side to Italy that sometimes feels on the edge. At times this is thrilling, at others it is devastating and cruel.
Questions have already been raised as to whether more could have been done to prevent such damage and loss of life. “There are pretty cheap anti-seismic measures that deliver significant improvements in the event of an earthquake,” says Paolo Riva, vice-president of the Italian seismic engineering association: “particularly in stone buildings like those which collapsed in Amatrice and the other centres.” Investigations will consider if anti-seismic building regulations were followed, whether previous funds made available after the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake were properly used. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi talks of a new national plan for earthquake prevention and Italian architect Renzo Piano of a 50 year strategy and the urgent need to strengthen laws on making structures earthquake resistant. Italy’s government this time must ensure that funds provided are coordinated and effective. There will surely be much discussion in the coming weeks of future plans and frustration at Italy’s past failures. But in the affected areas, there is also a deep sense of community and togetherness, with people determined to rebuild and reconstruct. “The town just isn’t here any more,” said Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, where the vast majority lost their lives. “Our heart is broken, but will be resurrected,” he said. Inventive ways of raising funds to help the area have included museums donating their fees, restaurants donating receipts from plates of Amatriciana the town’s signature pasta dish – using the very best of Italy to benefit its stricken communities.
People ask at these times how can such terrible things happen, how can such devastation be inflicted particularly on such beauty. They look for and need answers and reassurance. For myself, I’m not sure that there are any beyond the recognition that life is fundamentally precious. That we should try to be grateful for every second that we have and appreciate those we have around us. Look after them and try to keep them as safe as we possibly can. The people of Amatrice, Accumoli and Pescara del Tronto will need help in rebuilding their communities. We owe it to them to make sure that the next time Italy’s earth quakes it is not quite so catastrophic.
The Italy Magazine has an update on the current situation and relief efforts.
Should you wish to help, donations can also be made through the British Red Cross via their website: www.redcross.org.uk/Donate-Now/Make-a-single-donation/Italy-Earthquake-Appeal/