Part Seven | Land of the Forgotten Earthquakes
Yesterday it all started up again. Again.
A couple of hours before dawn, the room shook. Not madly, like the other Wednesday, the 18th, but I knew what was happening. Later, I would learn that it was a magnitude 4.0, very shallow and very near. I grabbed my new smartphone and staggered out into the cortile, happily fully dressed as is the norm for me (and most everybody I know).
I would be a bitter disappointment to the great Coco Chanel who said there were two things a woman should never do in bed: wear clothes or eat. I do both. Steve — in a dangerously careless moment — said that at night it’s like sleeping with Jessie James (long-johns and boots) and in during the day it’s like living with a woman who just won the Oxfam trolley dash. Can’t think how we’ve lasted all these years.
The noise was loud but only for a moment, more of a rumbling, coming in many short bursts.
Now that Steve has gone back to Doha for forty days (fitting as I am indeed in some version of a wilderness) I sleep with candles strategically positioned to assist in any sudden need for escape when ‘it’ comes again.
Well, I felt thoroughly vindicated yesterday morning, because ‘it’ did come again.
They’re called ‘eternal’ candles. Devout Catholics put them on their front steps to … what? … actually, I don’t know … but they burn for about 18 hours and never blow out because the metal top bit stops the wind getting in.
Each candle has a picture of the Pope or a Saint on the front and a pithy little aphorism like ‘Don’t be robbed of your hope‘ or ‘God is always with you‘. Not terribly helpful, under the circumstances, but meant well I am sure.
As I stood outside in the dark of yesterday’s dawn, I became alarmed. The App I have on my phones, as do many of us, the INGV one (lists all the quakes, their magnitude, depth and location) started buffering. A message kept coming up on the screen saying ‘downloading new events, please wait … downloading new events …‘ Where were they? Were they going destroy my town? By four in the afternoon, when I could no longer bear to look at the App, there had already been 47 ‘events’ over a 2.0.
However, the next big one came about half an hour later. It was a 4.2. I was oddly calm. Mostly I think because the snow is all but gone (still maybe 1′ left but it is very slushy) and I was properly dressed. Things felt like they were settling down and I went back inside. Made a pot of coffee, smoked a lot of cigarettes and sat considering the situation. What it meant for right now, and what it was going to mean for as many tomorrows as I dared think about. It is all so very strange, living like this.
Overall, though, I suspect I am actually a bit of a mess at the moment.
I can’t easily settle, concentrating is difficult, I’m massively forgetful and my temper is short (mostly with myself). There are many things I should do, need to do, but I just can’t focus properly. I feel vaguely ‘hunted’.
And here is a terrible admission: there have been times, when the tremors come one after the other, day on day, and my anxiety level is so high that I have thought: ‘Just do it then. Just get on with it, destroy my town, my home … I just want this torment of uncertainty to STOP’. It’s like being chased and chased for so long that in the end you stop running, turn to face your attacker and say ‘You win. I give up. Do your worst … I just can’t live like this anymore‘.
However, let me say I am not rigid with fear all the time: I laugh, paint my nails and walk the dog. I went and had a jolly lunch with some friends the other day and this glorious porcupine was by their kitchen door.
It was sheltering from the murderous snow-plows that entomb them on the sides of the roads in snowy mausoleums, as the snow forced to the edge of the road buries them alive. (Snow-plows are salvation for us humans, but deadly for small creatures). My friends feed it apples and potatoes and it was absolutely determined to stay put, stamping its back foot with annoyance as I got too close, with the camera. It tried to attack us, by reversing into us with its spines making a terrifying shaking noise, like a Rattle Snake. I got the message. Things like this funny creature make me laugh, smile and enjoy being alive. It’s not all negative all the time.
Nevertheless, the sense of hyper-vigilance, awareness is always there — just in varying degrees of intensity. I don’t go around clutching my face looking like Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream‘ but I am starting to get that look that Dorothea Lange captured in her photographs of women during America’s Great Depression … pinched and harried. In a certain light, my skin colour suggests that embalming fluid runs through my veins and not blood.
So, of late, instead of doing things that actually need doing I have, instead, manically tidied this room (more than once), re-arranged all seven pieces of furniture umpteen times only to put it all back in its original position, accidentally washed my specs (they survived, rather miraculously)
set fire to my hair (the candle rammed into the neck of a wine bottle toppled off the shelf under the bathroom mirror, back when there was no power), poured Steve’s cough medicine (he left it in the kitchen, for god’s sake … after his bronchitis) into a frying pan full of vegetables. The bottle looked just like the Teryaki Sauce bottle. Easy mistake. Rather more difficult to eat. I am an iron-filing to the Magnet of Disaster.
I have also started trying — yet again — to chop wood on my own, this last week. Loathsome job. Knackering. I get mightily sick of going through all this ‘tremor-trauma’ on my own. Not cool to say it, I know, but I wish that Steve, a man, was here for the tough stuff. It’s no fun doing all this on your own. It’s not impossible … just hard. I suppose that every feminist who was following me had just logged off. I’m just not made for all this ‘survivalist’ stuff. Steve feels rubbish at not being here but someone has to earn the money to try and put things right when this all over, and that person isn’t me at the moment. I’m doing the ‘home-fires’ maintenance bit, but I do miss him terribly.
The wood-chopping is not a reflection of my precarious state of mind but rather a practical response to the fact that no-one round here either has any wood or else they can’t deliver it because of the weather or it’s been ruined by all the wet snow. Whatever, I’ve had to go back to the wood-pile, dig out ridiculously large logs and start trying to turn them into something that will actually fit into the hateful stufa. I swing the mallet thing down so hard that were I to miss the axe, I’d smash my knee to fragments. I don’t miss. I pretend the axe is Donald Trump. (What a stupid name).
After yesterday’s quakes we are all a little changed. Again. Betrayed by a few days of relative calm, after January 18th. Most of us believe, know, there will be more to come. We’ve all but lost what teeny shreds of confidence there might have been, that this swarm of earthquakes was coming to a close.
I was talking to Roberto, who has a restaurant on the edge of town (damaged and out of action now), the other day and I saw how pale and drawn he looked. He’s a big strong ‘manly’ bloke who was quite unabashed as he spoke of his fear at night and his jumping at any loud, sudden noises. No-one pretends that they are not afraid.
How that awful week around January 18th ended
Franco, our fab cop, called in the Vigili del Fuoco, the fire brigade, after I’d had 4 days of total captivity and isolation here, trapped as I was by the meters and meters of snow. So, late morning on Thursday 19th, a fire truck, a load of firemen and a snow-plow turned up at the bottom of the drive. I could have cried at the sight of people. I didn’t, though. I was carried to the road that the firemen had been clearing. I just collapsed into Franco’s arms. I could think of nothing to say. He sat next to me in the truck and held my hand a bit as they drove me back to my beloved town, Sarnano.
HERE IS A LITTLE 30 SECOND ‘VIDEO’ ….
I clambered out of the fire truck in the town square and spoke to a few people but the truth was that none of us could cope with a conversation, with talking. What could we say? We had all been so utterly terrified by the previous day that we were very nearly silent. So, I climbed slowly up the narrow streets of the old town to my house and fed the cats that had been locked in for days and checked for new damage to the house.
Franco had told me to call him when I needed the ride back here but I decided to walk, to be alone. I felt sad. I felt a fear that the life we had built here, the lives that existed before we ever heard of Sarnano might be slipping away. Might disappear into obscurity, or worse. I shucked along the freezing, misty road in snow boots that were slightly too big for me, the palms of my hands being cut into by the heavy bags full of provisions and I felt low. Deep down I understood that things are actually very, very serious here, in this region. We are threatened.
Everything was gray and it was a deep, molasses-like sadness I felt in my body.
It is a longish walk back here, from town, but I was lucky … two merry hunters saw me, picked me up and drove me nearly all the way home (the final bit of road was still dodgy for anything other than fire trucks or the military’s vehicles).
I had just spent four days desperate to be out and yet here I was equally desperate to get inside and close the door against the relentless gloom of it all.
That day we did have a few more tremors but there was nothing that froze my blood.
I did think about putting in some pictures that I took of the amazing snow-scapes here, but then I decided that people showing their photos of snow is the visual equivalent of people telling you about their dreams. Frankly, it’s really rather boring
I made it from that Thursday afternoon until the Sunday when Franco called and told me that the Air Force were coming with a special vehicle that would suck up (and then spit out) the snow from near the drive, and then, by hand and with shovels, they would dig up to my car, dig the car out and liberate me. I didn’t really think the car would have survived to be honest. The Air Force did come …
… and worked for hours moving the snow off the drive, shovel load by shovel load. There was so much solid ice, under the top fluffier snow, that they went through several shovels before …
… the job was done. I love the Italian Air Force. Love them.
So, that awful ten-day period finished, and yesterday the quakes came back again
It was hard but I am also critically aware that most of the world is suffering, and suffering badly — Palestine, Syria, Libya … well, practically everywhere that isn’t Europe. It is sometimes hard to get a sense of the correct balance, but I suppose it is a bit like telling a man, in hospital, who has had one leg amputated to stop his moaning because the guy in the next bed has lost both legs.
I am so grateful to all of you who read this, that spread the word, that follow the blog site, that write to me with encouraging words — when you all have your own problems and complicated lives. In recent weeks your words have given me a bit more energy.
I’m now becoming angry — angry with the indifference of the rest of Europe’s governments and ashamed of my own government, here in Italy, which has essentially done nothing. Anger, I was told recently is not an emotion of despair — it is one of action — so, ‘active’ I will become. And that is thanks to you guys
Originally published at tamcourtenay.com on February 4, 2017.