After a few weeks off from work, I returned to Rome. But the city feels different this time around — it’s quieter. The cobblestone streets of the eternal city aren’t teeming with crowds, and instead lack the same hustle and bustle to which I had grown accustomed. It’s quite nice, however, to walk around and see the sights without having to compete with massive herds of people. Unfortunately, the weather conditions remain untouched, and although I feel it dwindling, the humid heat still gets the best of me.

Italians cherish the month of August because it is when the majority of them travel or pursue other plans to enjoy their summer vacations. Shops, restaurants, and cafés close their doors for two weeks, three weeks, or the entire month to give their employees the ability to truly rest and recharge. Here at the Center for American Studies not everyone has returned from their holiday, so it is also quiet and calm.

You definitely don’t see this kind of pause happen in capital cities throughout the United States. It is part of the Italian work-life balance culture that greatly differs from what we’ve been indoctrinated with in America. The United States fosters a “go-go-go” type of mentality of long work hours, very little time off compared to other parts of the world, and a later age of retirement. Many Italians view these American practices as unsustainable or unpleasant. I personally value the American work ethic and desire for productivity, but at the same I think there’s something to be said about how Italians allow themselves to rest in order to avoid burning out, and simply to enjoy life.

My third night back in Rome I couldn’t seem to snap out of my jetlag, so it was a long night of staring at my apartment’s ceiling. At around 3:30 AM I felt my bed subtly shake, at which point I comically began to think that due to my lack of sleep and overtiredness I was hallucinating. It wasn’t until I received a text message from a friend back in the U.S. inquiring about my safety that I realized there had been an earthquake near me. Fortunately, I barely felt the effects of the earthquake; such was not the case for others across the country.

With a magnitude of 6.2, the earthquake that morning wrecked havoc in three regions along central Italy: Umbria, Lazio, and Marche. Towns such as Amatrice, which is famous for inventing Amatriciana sauce, were completely leveled and turned to ruble. The death toll has risen to at least 250, with even more injured, and others still unaccounted for. The buildings and infrastructure of these towns were not particularly strong or stable, and thus made them even more prone to an earthquake’s destructive power. This sort of tragedy is not new phenomenon for Italy, because the nation has a long and devastating history with earthquakes or “terremoti.” The last major earthquake in Italy back in 2009 left almost 55,000 people homeless, and upwards of 300 people dead. The challenge now lies in continuing the search for missing people, rebuilding towns and giving those displaced necessary support, and ensuring that the Mafia doesn’t infiltrate construction contracts for those towns. Easier said than done, but forza Italia!

Written by Alejandro Rosenkranz ‘17, B.A. candidate in Political Science at Stanford University. Alejandro was an FSI Global Policy Intern at the Center for American Studies in Rome, Italy in Summer 2016.