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
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
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