When driving on the Salaria road from the coast, a snowy landscape can be seen on both sides of the road, the snow looks as if cut by a sharp blade edge and the bright white of a sunny day immediately takes over.
The people were all evacuated, the army helicopter recovered the last scattered individuals, who were stuck isolated and without electricity for days. The rescuers, often swimming in the thick mantle and in very difficult conditions, exhausted after hours inspecting the houses already vacated, are now catching stray animals that run around dazed in the villages.
Today, Borgo di Arquata is dimmed down, there are very few civil protection and fire departments vehicles, the camp was demobilized, a young policeman caresses Ciaone the outdoor cat; the only open Community location, as it happens in many mountain villages of the many Italy, is the post office. Outside the container, a black-haired lady hugs her coat tight, attempting to protect herself more from the exhausting shocks than from the bitter cold. She says in dismay: “There is nothing here, you see? It was already a fragile area holding by miracle, now everything came down.” She starting walking away, she is about to leave, but then she turns around to talk with me so I don’t get disappointed: “Maybe my children will see the reconstruction, if everything continues like this. We get no answers from anybody, not even the tower was fenced.” Her outrage is mixed with a thwarted pain and she is offended by the circumstances. She participated in the protest rally held in Rome on January 25th, but she insists they were boycotted. Only three of the buses escorted by Fiano Romano reached their destination.
NEAR HER, THREE MEN are chatting, their faces are sullen. They come here every day, one of them had a shop in the village that was crushed by the rubble. The portly merchant says defiantly “It’s all motionless, didn’t they tell you?” In the meantime, the younger one who used to live in Pescara del Tronto, sporting an unkempt beard and a black hat, added indignantly: “The inaction of the State is impressive, everything here is like five months ago.” The camp is half-empty. At the top, where the hamlet begins, an army truck blocks the access. On the camp on the side field, a large tent smashed by the snow seems the emblem of the collapse. The man with the hat says: “We were able to heat it up by lighting something inside, but it collapsed.”
The town’s blonde postwoman has already returned from her tour. She says: “I go to Trisungo and Borgo, that’s it. I put a lot of mail in the mailboxes of empty houses as if I were delivering mail to ghosts, others have done the service. Follow me, they come here to get it.” She, too, like many others, moved to a town on the coast.
THE BLUE BAR located below the town, along the Salaria road, has moved into another container, near the damaged building. They reopened on December 28th and is the only operating economic activity, along with two farms in the area. The two side columns crumpled, although it had been built according to anti-seismic methods. Emily Chiesa, the cheerful and smiling girl serving at the counter, came here from Piedmont to join her boyfriend, who is from Arquata Scrivi , a suburb of Arquata del Tronto: “I moved out of love, but perhaps I did not choose the best place” she quips. She adds: “They should begin to urbanize the area of Pescara del Tronto, but everything is motionless, people are angry.” Outside, the snow piles around the square, next to the deserted gas station, surrounded by cars parked against the drifts.
Emily says: “The problem of the snow is not the snow itself, the Salaria road was blocked only for two days.” The other bartender Angelo, a thin man with graying hair, is fumbling in front of the Gaggia espresso machine. He slept here two nights to bring relief to the truckers stranded by the storm. There were about fifteen, between Italians and foreigners. A Cascia hauler with the tanker loaded with milk also slept in a sleeping bag inside the bar, while others took shelter inside the truck bunks.
He confirmed: “They were stuck here from Tuesday to Thursday, the relief crews were not able to open the road, they say the snow plows broke down and a turbine vehicle could not go up the roadway.” He says it skeptically, with the air of one who does not believe it. “They ate, they drank, then they removed the snow from the roof, and Wednesday night we went to save an 80-year old man who lived in a trailer.” He says amused that two of them were carrying fresh eggs in the trailers, which they used to prepare food. “Omelets and carbonara pasta, we cooked more than one hundred portions in two days.” He says, laughing again, “it was an adventure.”
THE POSTAL EMPLOYEE Andrea Paci, Emily’s boyfriend, tells us what it means to live inside the earthquake, bombarded with more than 50,000 shocks in five months. “The roar on August 24th is unforgettable, I could not get out of the house, because the shocks did not have a direction, it was trembling all over.” He says that now “you live and expect the earthquake, you go to bed and wait for the earth to shake.” In a strained voice, he tells us that there are children who wake up agitated in the middle of the night and cannot fall asleep anymore, others have had epileptic seizures. “Fifty thousand shocks, one every four minutes. The earth shakes, and shakes and shakes. The roar is really disturbing, I will never forget it.”
In front of the window, there are technicians and engineers engrossed in a conspiratorial conversation. They talk about a building project that should start because it has been financed already. The maps are scattered on the three round green tables. It is a road that should connect Trisungo and Favalanciata, a tunnel two kilometers long and more cement. It is a €116 million Anas’ project [National Autonomous Roads Corporation], to eliminate four curves. In this area, beaten down to the extreme, it will cost €50 million per kilometer. Enzo Rendina, the last resident of Pescara del Tronto and the living memory of the earthquake, had already told me about this in Borgo. I saw him again outside the post office, sporting his long bleached beard and a dark hat, carrying a backpack that contains a black box with his documents. “We do not need that project, it only serves to pour cement on the only decent stretch, while the road from Favalanciata to Acquasanta is the most critical section of the Salaria road, because of rockfall and flooding.” When you meet him, an uninterrupted story pours out. He begins by saying argumentatively that “from September to December, the state administrators have wasted time, the times of earthquake recovery are always very long, and then we are in today’s Italy.” He is a Pharmakos, a scapegoat, some argue that he is crazy while he tells the truth, he makes conjectures and connections. “When I started the protests in August, they reminded me of the clink of handcuffs” he repeated mockingly, “but they were not able to send me away, I experienced all the shocks here.”
When I am about to leave the Blue Bar, Florindo Petrucci comes in. He is the old man who was carried to safety by the bartender. He has bright eyes, the good gaze of a gentle and slow-moving soul, his face wrinkled and beard unkempt. He lived alone in his trailer. He comes here every day to look out for the rabbits, cats and ten sheep. He takes the bus from Porto d’Ascoli to Arquata every day, and goes back melancholy to the hotel in the evening. He tells the story of his rescue with a smile: “The weight of the snow broke the door jamb, I phoned the bartender and they came to get me.”
ON THE WAY TO AMATRICE, beyond the red containers of Pescara del Tronto, a whole ruined hamlet can be seen on the left side of the Salaria road, where the Tronto river flows. The hamlet was run over by wild boar. I see a herd moving in the snow, the big and stubby heads, daredevil mustaches, they frolic fast leaving traces on the snow, while the few cars keep running in both directions.
At Grisciano, close to the border between the Marche and Lazio, the village’s mutilations can be seen from the road. The slanting roofs melted on houses like hair chunks falling over the eyes, the partitions are on sight, the facades disappeared. They show the interior furnishings, the intimacy of secret life violated: a table in the center of the room, the silhouette of a refrigerator, a bed against the wall. In front of a damaged house where two firefighters stand guard, you can see the carcass of a small car crushed by the rubble, its metal sheets smashed, near to a truck with a nativity scene set up on two plastic chairs, the Virgin Mary and the Holy Child on the white one to the right, a praying angel on the dark chair on the other side.
THE ROAD THAT GOES FROM SALETTA to Amatrice is deserted, lined with snow piles. Snow is higher and thicker at the sides of the roadway. It covered the woods, it wraps and grips, stretches of frozen asphalt can be seen. We rarely come across army vehicles, the Lynx vehicles aligned in a row that descend or ascend back, vehicles of civil protection services and fire brigade vehicles pass at low speed. The town of Cossito has the same air of desolation, an empty place with collapsed, gutted houses with roofs that fell vertically among the ruins of stones, rusty iron, and thickened black snow. At Villa San Lorenzo a Flaviano, the rubble has been erased by the thick blanket, and it is as though its whiteness would befit the motionless tragedy: a house crumbled on itself, and nearby, another tilted in its unstable equilibrium, the casing broken, doors and windows torn. It feels as if we are going across a place where hell broke loose. It is a landscape of ruins inhabited by the few remaining souls in the houses. They look like ghosts when you see them sitting on the gate thresholds, I hear echoes of furious dogs that bark at nothing, and above, the breathtaking beauty of Monti della Laga that reminds us of the powerful and evil nature and its wild, creative and destructive strength. The dazzling white illuminates a view that the sunset makes even more mysterious and fabulous, with the silhouettes of leafless trees and lights of the scattered homes. Still above, below the mountain, I see the last abandoned suburb before descending, narrow houses one next to the other – as if to lend support and comfort to one another – they look alive. The one stripped of its façade appears unarmed and naked, as if it had been undressed suddenly. In a roofless room, a straw chair rests quietly in a corner.
I reach Amatrice at sunset, on the road leading down to the village is the monumental building of the shelter “Padre Minnozzi.” It is the only structure that stood the telluric fury. Further down, workers are hard at work in the equipped area where they set the temporary houses. It is a mess of electrical cables, drilling noises, thumps and hammers, men move around the prebuilt structures.
AT THE END OF THE ROAD, police cars and Rome’s fire brigade bar the passage. Beyond the vehicles, there is a road to the town that no longer exists, the ruins of a ghost village raped by the shocks.
The Rinascimento bar is so crowded you cannot get in, close it is hard to go from the entrance to the counter. The curly haired stout girl, wearing black behind the counter, is pouring wine schnapps, coffee and hot tea. The restaurant withstood the shocks and opened a month after the first quake. In the back, some old men are talking. Through the window, you can see in the semidarkness the elegant snow covered Monti della Laga, Pizzo di Sevo, Cima Lepri and Monte Gorzano to L’Aquila, further down the Vettore, where everything broke loose. Behind the counter, there is a shelf with bottles held by a narrow green wire tied to two small harpoons: Lucano Amaro, Molinari Sambuca, Borghetti, mandarin punch, and of course the locally made Varnelli anise. Behind me there is a framed picture of the town. When there was a town.
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