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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

L'Aquila: A lesson in Italy's failure to rebuild after the 2009 earthquake.

Post-earthquake reconstruction?  Six years later, this is L'Aquila.
The most recent devastating earthquake in Italy hit in the Marche province on October 26, followed by aftershocks. An August 24 quake not far away killed almost 300 people. 
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is promising complete restoration.  We are - sadly - skeptical.  As a poignant piece of evidence, we give you L'Aquila, where a 2009 earthquake in this large, historic center in the Abruzzo region that neighbors Marche, resulted in 309 deaths.

We had been in L'Aquila many years ago.  This classic medieval city, capital of the Abruzzo province, is less than 75 miles from Rome, but 75 miles that can seem like centuries, and that took several days to cover in Margaret Fuller's time.  The city sits at the foot of the Gran Sasso mountains we intended to (and did) climb; they reach over 10,000 feet, the highest Italian mountains south of the Alps.

Last year, 6 years after the quake, we decided to see what had been accomplished after the earthquake.  We had heard of the slowness of the rebuilding, mafia involvement, scandals, and the like.  But nothing prepared us for the ghost town L'Aquila still was - 6 years later.  The photo above of one street is, unfortunately, typical of most of the streets of L'Aquila. Buildings shored up, at best, but unreconstructed and uninhabitable.

A closer view of the cracking produced by the 2009 earthquake.

Here one can see efforts to protect the older, classic building windows and doors.
Again, this is the best the 'reconstruction' seems to offer.

Businesses stopped in their tracks.  And not re-opened, of course.  This was a
unisex hair salon.
We'll get back to the destruction.  But we must take a couple sentences to describe the highly unusual setting in which - without planning on our part - we found L'Aquila in May 2015: it was the annual national 3-day "raduno" or "adunata" - a gathering of the Italian Army's Alpini units - gatherings that attract several hundred thousand men and a few women.  And this year, in an attempt to bring life and attention to the devastated city, they were meeting in L'Aquila, even though there were only a handful of rooms available to them in the city itself.  Many took 1-2 hour long train rides into L'Aquila daily; others set up tents and slept in vans. 

The Alpini were formed as a northern mountain unit of the Italian army.  One finds Alpini almost everywhere in Italy these days.  They still are a significant branch of the army.  And, since my family is from the north (15 km south of the Swiss border), all the men belonged to the Alpini (see a photo of my great-grandfather below).  The Alpini would recognize L'Aquila, and its location in the Gran Sasso, as part of the mountain regions that Alpini love.
Our first shot of the Alpini, recognizable by a black feather in their caps
(officers get a white feather) was of them being tourists.  Here they are at L'Aquila's
famed 13th century "Fountain of the 99 Spouts" (Fontana delle 99 Cannelle)
The poster for the 2015 Adunata.  Note the emphasis on the mountains and the black feathers.
Here's how the Alpini managed their gathering in L'Aquila - they brought in their own pop-up restaurants and beer tents;
this one set up right next to the scaffolded building.

The Alpini gathered in St. Peter's Square at their 1929 adunata.
One of the empty L'Aquila buildings had a small exhibit of prior Alpini "adunate,"
which is where we found this, among many other photos and artifacts.
The Alpini here were singing a traditional song.  To the left is the hotel in
 which we stayed many years ago.  This is in a newer part of the city, 
where there was less devastation because of better building practices.
  The Gran Sasso can be seen in back.
Back to the destruction.  

The sign scrawled on this wall says "L'Aquila  will be arise (be reborn) from the Mafia."
It's not clear these buildings will be rebuilt.
The blocked-off streets are in the "red zone," where one cannot even walk.
This banner in the main square says:
"One finds a red zone everywhere and the issue is a national one."
Outside an obviously newer but poorly built "Students' House," photos
of some of the more than 100 "angels" who died there in the earthquake.
 Arrests followed the collapse of the building.
Housing built for displaced residents - but not near any work.  From the train,
we saw these on the outskirts of Paganica, about 15 km from L'Aquila.  
A view of L'Aquila from a distance.  The cranes are there, but where are the workers and the work?  Snow-capped (in May)
Gran Sasso in the distance.

Elizabeth Povoledo wrote about L'Aquila in the New York Times a few weeks ago. Remarkably, her photos don't look any different from ours of 2015.

There were a few signs of hope.

A bar on the central square, run by the Fratelli Nuria, was open. It was
 not simply an Alpini pop-up. Signs announced it as the first business
 to reopen after the quake. The family also made its own, excellent torrone  
(which we bought and ate). You can see a couple Alpini among the patrons.

This surprising restored house, with a woman watering her plants, was the lone
exception we saw.

Our hotel receptionist rode with us on the train from L'Aquila to Paganica where many people were housed (photo above).  She told us that 6 years later her house was not habitable but that she had to continue paying her mortgage, and continue living in Paganica, about 15 km away.   We wrote last December about a church, built into rock, in Paganica.

And below is Giovanni Mambretti, my Italian grandmother's father, standing at left, with his Alpini.

We hope to visit L'Aquila again, and that we will see significant progress the next time.  Should you wish to visit L'Aquila, our hotel was ideal.  It was in a newer building, below the city (you do have to walk up and down hills a lot in L'Aquila), and in 2015 it was fully open, including the excellent restaurant serving Abruzzi specialties.  It's the Hotel "99 Cannelle", because it's across the street from that famous fountain.


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