Jasmina Tesanovic: Earthquake in Italy

(Ed. Note: The following guest essay was written by Jasmina Tešanović. Full text of essay continues after the jump, along with links to previous works by her shared on Boing Boing. Image: "Earthquake," by Flickr user mirkosim, via Flickr blog / Heather Champ.)

Here in northern Italy, we overslept the big earthquake in Aquila, which is a beautiful, ancient small town now completely in ruins. My agent, his wife and his cat were in Rome one hundred kilometers from the epicenter. He jumped out of his bed at the early hours of 6th April. He phoned me a few hours later: this is like a bombing, he said.

As I write this, I am watching RAI 2 channel: they talk of natural disasters, and two, new, strong quakes shake their TV crew. Two buildings in Aquila -- among many historic town buildings from the Renaissance and Baroque -- groan and half-collapse. The TV crew shifts to a safer spot.

A big debate is going on: all about the dead, the wounded, the reconstruction, the solidarity, the future. But a very Italian debate parallels it: a so-called scientist claims he predicted this quake. Other seismologists claim it is impossible to predict any such thing, even though there were tremors a week ago, and a major one was expected.

A psychologist is speaking of God under the ruins. He is almost screaming while preaching peace for the dead and aid for the survivors. A politician is asking for renewed unity for a very split and quarrelsome Italian society. Berlsusconi, the right wing president, declared an emergency state in that region, as soon as he returned from G20 in London where he had to mingle with the first-class of world politicians. While Berlusconi was away there was a huge rally of the opposition in Rome against his bland denial of the Italian financial crisis. But then this sudden natural disaster changed the subject: Italy is always a landscape prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. I know a war journalist who build a beautiful mansion under the volcano Etna. He survived many wars and eruptions, yet he died of a too much food and wine under his favorite volcano.

In the seventies in Friuli, northern Italy a massive earthquake killed thousands. I remember being in Milan in those days. We trembled with those refugees. Italian solidarity aided the survivors. All Italians are survivors.

In Aquila, famous historical monuments are down or half-collapsed, art objects are scattered and waiting to be trampled or looted. Rescue troops search methodically, still hoping for survivors. People sleep under tents praying for good weather. Italy has not seen a true spring yet. More rain is forecast, even floods.

As I watch the TV, I know this is not a science fiction disaster movie, this is the new realism. Only last night the same television showed me an old movie with Ana Magnani: the post war late 1940s in Italy. It seemed so different: the good guys had defeated the bad guys. There was hope. Watching these high tech rescue squads, ambulances heavy with gear and with high pitched Italian sirens, politicians in Armani suits with Missoni ties, blonde sexy news announcers with cosmetic lip surgery, all scampering among the ruins, I feel uneasy. Where are the real people? Whatever became of normal life? Trained dogs sniff for normal life beneath the rubble.

Marta, a 24 year old, has been saved after 23 hours of advanced post-disaster research. The disaster technicians sawed through metal, they pried the rubble off her: her broken voice out of the broken body: grazie ragazzi, grazie! Mother and father without voice waiting for their child to reappear from their smashed home: they still hope she is alive, but the Italian earth still trembles.

Scenes of primordial trauma, like Pompeii. That earth opens above or beneath us, and we can do nothing about nature. Can that still be the truth? It doesn't sound very modern.

A survivor in a reality talk show , a journalist, weeps, remembers how his colleague found that two of his children were killed. Old, poor people sitting next to their destroyed building say: we are here, we are waiting. They don't say what they await: maybe nobody knows. People owning cars sleep inside those cars. There are also tents, some tents fancier than others, though none as fancy as the hotels where the luckier refugees are still unhappy. The victims talk under shock, trying to remember the details of life, trying to remember what they lost: they speak in details, like Katrina refugees, like Kosovo or Bosnian ones. Any memento from a destroyed home -- like a stone of your house -- counts more than a jewel. A salvaged photo is more precious than food. People hunt through their rubble for their future values.

Volunteers are coming from all points. The hospital has collapsed. Pundits call for high tech sensors while the journalists ask the predictable questions. The whole world is watching you, Italy: anxious for the fate of the foreign tourists, foreign students... even my own email is full of foreigners asking me: how are you in Italy? I am in Italy in solidarity with Italy.

Berlusconi is telling the refugees: go to the seaside hotels for Easter, enjoy! We are paying! His jokes are beyond bad taste!

Jasmina Tešanović is an author, filmmaker, and wandering thinker who shares her thoughts with BoingBoing from time to time. Email: politicalidiot at yahoo dot com. Her blog is here.

Previous essays by Jasmina Tešanović on BoingBoing:

- 10 years after NATO bombings of Serbia
- Made in Catalunya / Lou and Laurie
- Dragan Dabic Defeats Radovan Karadzic
- Who was Dragan David Dabic?
- My neighbor Radovan Karadzic
- The Day After / Kosovo
- State of Emergency
- Kosovo
- Christmas in Serbia
- Neonazism in Serbia
- Korea - South, not North.
- "I heard they are making a movie on her life."
- Serbia and the Flames
- Return to Srebenica
- Sagmeister in Belgrade
- What About the Russians?
- Milan Martic sentenced in Hague
- Mothers of Mass Graves
- Hope for Serbia
- Stelarc in Ritopek
- Sarajevo Mon Amour
- MBOs
- Killing Journalists
- Where Did Our History Go?
- Serbia Not Guilty of Genocide
- Carnival of Ruritania
- "Good Morning, Fascist Serbia!"
- Faking Bombings
- Dispatch from Amsterdam
- Where are your Americans now?
- Anna Politkovskaya Silenced
- Slaughter in the Monastery
- Mermaid's Trail
- A Burial in Srebenica
- Report from a concert by a Serbian war criminal
- To Hague, to Hague
- Preachers and Fascists, Out of My Panties
- Floods and Bombs
- Scorpions Trial, April 13
- The Muslim Women
- Belgrade: New Normality
- Serbia: An Underworld Journey
- Scorpions Trial, Day Three: March 15, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day Two: March 14, 2006
- Scorpions Trial, Day One: March 13, 2006
- The Long Goodbye
- Milosevic Arrives in Belgrade
- Slobodan Milosevic Died
- Milosevic Funeral


  1. This is a huge shame. I went to Italy in 2005, loved Rome and Cique Terre, and the people of Italy. My condolences to the deceased’s families.

  2. Unfortunately, earthquakes cannot be stopped.

    But Berlusconi is pushing to build five nuclear power plants (older, less safe models) around Italy, which is a country known for:

    a) having over 80% of earthquake-prone land;

    b) having such corruption among the building industries that it is considered normal for buildings to be built with “fake concrete” – a cheaper mix that will simply crumble down at the lightest shake

    Earthquakes can’t be stopped. Berlusconi can.
    And if nobody intervenes (from abroad, because Italians have their hands well tied by Berlusconi himself), someday you will all be breathing the radioactive consequences of your inaction.

  3. Seeing Berlusconi fuel his political campaign for the EU seat among those poor souls makes me puke. That criminal should have been jailed decades ago.

  4. Rome here. The two main quakes were among the most powerful I ever experienced in the last 30 years or so in Rome. They were damn long too: about 20 seconds the first hit and 15 the 2nd which seems a double eternity when you’re experiencing it.
    Strangely, my cats didn’t gave a flying furball about the quakes; they kept doing their stuff or sleeping all time during the hits.

    A minor correction on the city name: it’s L’Aquila, with the article, which means The Eagle.

  5. Berlusconi is an utter douche.

    If it weren’t horrible enough going through this disaster, you have to endure him wailing on about it. Zippy @4 beat me to it.

    Another thought: is there an increase in seismic activity worldwide, or am I just happening on more reports? Is it just happening in places where there are more white people to report on, not those horrid poor, dark-skinned places we don’t need to hear about?

    I’ve tried finding sites that have worldwide seismic / volcanic activity broken down into simpler stats, or on a map with frequency and severity, but haven’t had much luck.

    Can anyone point me to such a resource?

  6. Now that Bush is out of the picture, Berlusconi is officially my most-hated politician. What a douche.

  7. I know realtime stuff, i’m looking for a statistical orgy of past and present info.

    Seems like something i’d have to actually compile / deduce myself.

  8. Berlusconi shaken not stirred! However….. hopefully this is Berlusconi’s Katrina moment when people will see that the emperor wears no Armani. But alas, he control’s the country’s media. Oh well. I felt the quake in Rome– too intense. It brought back memories of ’89 when my Oakland apartment was destroyed (with me in it!). It’s intense to feel so out of control. The earth just holds you in her hands, then sometimes closes her grip. Last night we felt more aftershocks. Those are actually much worse. You keep thinking, “Here is the Big One!” And you wait.

  9. What we are looking to now is rebuilding process: we have in our recent history the two extremes. The Friuli earthquake of 1976 was even more powerful then this last one, but the reaction of the administrations and the people was amazing and after ten years whole villages were rebuilt from scratch. On the other hand, four years later the disastrous Irpinia earthquake that caused almost 3000 deaths was a complete failure – for some it is the emblem of bad italian attitude in governance. Rebuilding funds were subject to looting by crime organizations and administrations with no scruples that caused an enormous waste of money for the state. As of today, there are still parts of the cities stricken that have not been finished rebuilding after almost 30 years.

    This earthquake happened just in the days in which the government was about to vote on a new law to encourage building and renovations of houses (to help the economy), which was seen by some as just a license to kill (not only architecturally speaking) handed out to greedy builders, probably the same that made the new L’Aquila hospital (supposedly anti-seismic and all) so weak that it collapsed entirely. The government was quick enough to tie this new law with the rebuilding of the earthquake zones, not before scrapping a small little comma in the law called ‘simplifications in anti-seismic matters’.
    I suppose earthquakes are somewhat random in their effects, but a small builder in one of the most violently stricken zones had his own house made with all the anti seismic procedures applied to the letter and guess what: the house is still up, without a crack.

    So now everybody is hoping that the rebuilding will be quick and honest, but this really goes down to the people: at every level from the prime minister to the small builder there is the chance to loot and make profits and the only thing that can keep things on the right track is really each one’s ethics.
    The trend of the last years gives us not entirely good vibrations about this, but we’ll see.

  10. Hi. I’m an italian guy from rome, italy.
    We felt almost 3-4 earthquakes in these last 3 days..

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