Part Ten — Visso | Land of the Forgotten Earthquakes

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.

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.

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.

Originally published at on February 15, 2017.