I was sitting on our bed this morning about 9 a.m., finishing the chapter in the book I was reading, when I heard the tinkle, tinkle, tinkle of small objects moving, and a millisecond later felt the bed swaying beneath me. Uh oh, I thought, that sure sounds and feels like an earthquake. I shouted down to Speedy who was working out on the terrace, but he had felt nothing, so I went back to my book.
Later in town, the friend with whom I was having a cuppa in her apartment near the top of a seven-story building asked me if I had felt the earthquake. Oh yes. And no sooner did we start discussing it than we felt an aftershock, much gentler. This was certainly alarming, as an apartment building is no place to be for an earthquake. Fortunately for us, that was the end of it.
But the north/central part of the country was not nearly so fortunate. The 5.8 quake was centered near Modena, right near where the last one occurred, and more buildings, many already weakened by the previous quake, came tumbling down. Early reports indicate ten people have died, and more are trapped under rubble.
A week ago Sunday morning a 6.0 earthquake centered between Bologna and Mantova killed seven people and did untold damage to buildings. Italy is no stranger to earthquake; a rocky country covered with ancient buildings made of stone, the effects are often catastrophic.
Meanwhile in Brindisi, just a day before the first quake, a bomb went off outside a girls’ vocational school, killing 16-year-old Melissa Bassi. An only child, she was at the top of her class. I think of her as she might have been earlier in the morning, getting up, getting dressed for school, fixing her hair, putting on make-up, making plans, maybe day-dreaming a little. And then bam, gone before her life was truly under way.
Italy is in mourning. These tragedies, perhaps small in the Grand Scheme of Things, are large in the national psyche. Both instill a sense of fear: on the one hand for the Big One, like the quake that destroyed Aquila in 2009 which killed over three hundred people; and on the other for the return of the ‘years of lead’ in the 1970’s and ’80’s when the Red Brigades terrorized the country.
What these events all have in common is their utter randomness, meaninglessness and ultimate uselessness. Is that what makes them tragedies?
Already beset by a worsening economic crisis, the recent tragedies have only added to the sense of unease abroad in this beautiful country.