Thursday, April 9, 2009

Driving through Abruzzo

I believe there is a level of hell where macabre cartoonists are subjected to all the cruelties they vicariously inflicted on the subjects of their drawings. That means that in addition to having his head catch fire, the Korea Times op-ed scribbler (who I believe is a Frenchman based in Thailand, not Korea) will also be buried in sand. At least for a while.

Sure, one could guess at a "hopeful" message here where the rescue workers are in a race against death, literally, but there were so many other less macabre things about this tragedy. Specifically, that many ancient structures built by the Romans remained standing while some of those put together by Italians within the past few decades collapsed.

Everyone who knows me knows how much I love Italy. I've spent only a total of about two months there, but I have managed to go many places, including a drive through Abruzzo and nearby Lazio.

Not far from where the earthquake occurred is this "dying town" (il paese che muore), called Civita di Bagnoregio. My parents and I managed to get there as the sun was going down, which highlighted the isolation of this town built long ago on top of a tufa mound, for security, like many towns in the area. The tufa on which it's built is slowly crumbling away, though the authorities are trying to stave off this centuries-old town's destruction.

We visited the inn of Franco Sala, highlighted in this New York Times article, which Signor Sala proudly had framed on his wall. We had not read the NYT article, but stumbled on this unique village almost by accident, thanks to the suggestion of locals in the Lazio town of Soriano nel Cimino where we were staying.

Signor Sala is a talkative man — who, fortunately for us, speaks English, since my Italiano is virtually nil. My parents and I were unable to carry on any kind of private conversation because the garrulously loquacious proprietor. It was an enjoyable evening.

My heart goes out to the hundreds who have died in Italy. Earthquakes are frightening things I've grown up with all my life. But I must admit that I wonder about places like the Civita, which is dozens of miles from the epicenter but still vulnerable. The people who live in those towns are probably barely holding it together, their loved ones dead or injured and their homes potentially ready to crumble. They deserve better than this macabre cartoon.

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