Apr 6, 2010

3:32 a.m.

It was the middle of the night. It felt like someone was shaking me awake.

My 3 year-old son had crawled in my bed earlier and for a moment I thought it was him. But no, he was asleep. All this did not happen in a split second. My reactions were slow. My senses and mind were blurry from deep sleep and it took me a moment to realize we were in the middle of a very strong earthquake. This went on for several long seconds. I held my child's hand as he snored blissfully, maybe just to reassure him that it was all OK. Although something made me understand that it was not.

Mainly the noise.

The noise of the earthquake is horrible. Just writing about it sends a chill down my spine. It's like a giant and grotesque earth-belch. An insult coming from a deep and dark place beneath.

I looked over at the clock and tried a mnemonic trick to remind myself of the hour. "I'll have to check the news tomorrow, 3:32 a.m.

The tremor ended, and I just lay there, frozen in silence, in the dark, watching the outline of the paper lantern hanging above my bed swaying back and forth. The noise subsided, and in its place a concert of car alarms and dogs barking. I didn't hear people in our apartment building run down the stairs, voices or other doors opening, so I quietly waited, listening to my heartbeat slow down, hypnotized by the decreasing sway of the overhead light fixture.

My son and I live in a small flat on the second floor of a 7-storey apartment building, and the shock was very strong, even for Rome. Even for me. The strongest I have ever felt, compared to the million California daily mini-tremors and the devastating 1980 Irpinia one I experienced in the past. I have a terrible fear of earthquakes. Despite that, I slowly regained courage and forced myself to sleep. The following morning I learned that the epicenter was only 60 miles away.

On April 6th, 2009, the history of Abruzzo changed forever. At 3:32 a.m. a terrible earthquake devastated the region and the dignity of an entire population. The once gorgeous city of L'Aquila was razed to the ground and many surrounding districts suffered atrocious losses and irreparable damage, both material and moral.

The 6.3 Richter scale tremor lasted an endless 35 seconds and killed 308 people, wounding thousands. Seventy thousand people lost their homes and many had to be permanently relocated in tented camps. Some live in newly built homes, but for the most part many of L'Aquila residents have not been able to return to live in their city.

I worked in Abruzzo for 4 months in 2010, and by interacting with the population I learned of the destruction and horrible consequences brought by the earthquake long after the shakes ended.

In Abruzzo, the rubble and distorted metal frames that once were homes, restaurants, schools, offices––the debris of a past life––still crowds the big cities and the small towns to this day. As I walked among the ruins every day, helpless, I breathed in the solidarity and felt the population's proudness, but also was overwhelmed by the Abruzzesi's desperation and suffering. I learned that more than 50 survivors commited suicide, because their families and homes didn't exist anymore. I learned that until very recently, folks were still living out of containers and port-a-potties. Mostly, I learned that when you deprive a human being of his home, of his roots – you bare that person, defacing him.

At 3:32 a.m. tonight, a candle light vigil crowd will very silently march in the closed off "red zone" of L'Aquila. The bells will strike 308 tolls and the name of each one of the victims of the April 2009 earthquake will be called out in the night. A mournful celebration of a night that has tainted the history and territory of Abruzzo forever.

My prayers and heartfelt compassion goes out to them, both the victims and the survivors. The brave, frustrated, strong and noble Abruzzesi are not forgotten. Not forgotten.


  1. Oh my goodness Lola, when I read about Abruzzo and what could have happened to you and your son I went al cold. What a terrible shock you had and how fortunate that your son slept through it.

    By the way since removing the Anonymous facility from my comment box all my spam has disappeared


  2. A picture says a thousand words. Thanks for reminding us all of the horrors and devastation that took place there a year ago.

  3. Thanks for personalizing the story so beautifully. I hadn't known about the suicides...such a high cost in the aftermath.

  4. It must be horrible to be in an earthquake. Nowhere to flee to, nothing you can do. Terrible for everyone in it, but I`m so glad you were not harmed, Lola. One surely never forgets the feeling, even if a year has passed. Take care always.

  5. A fitting post to remind us all of the anniversary.

    We were just far enough away from the epicentre not to have suffered any damage, although we woke around that time ,we did not realise why until the morning.

    I am going to try and link post this to my blog, hope that is Ok?

  6. It is not forgotten in my household in Washington, DC area. We have many friends in Italy. I keep up with the disgrace that is NOT the reparations. As a young student, I was in Naples, oh in the 1970s. Visiting friends. And there was damage from an earlier earthquake that had not been taken care of...for years. I'll never forget that either. Infuriating. I am glad that you & son are OK. And yes, an earthquake is hugely frightening.


  7. Our thoughts are joined today. Yes, a person displaced and homeless will never feel whole again. Thanks for the reminder; thanks for these expressive pictures.

    We lost our home in the 1994 Northridge/California Earthquake that collapsed two freeways and hundreds of homes. It took us two years to rebuilt, living here and there. The first few months are the worst.

    Emotionally and financially we have never recovered.

  8. I'm so thankful that you and your son are here - reading this gave me chills.

  9. I have lump in the throat after reading your post. The photos cry so loudly. Poor souls.

  10. such a touching post...they seem to be coming more and more frequently leaving behind those who have lost everything. a heart wrending experience...told so vividly in your words and pics.

  11. A brilliant piece Ele & sad synopsis of where the people of the little hill villages and city of L'Aquila are 1 year later. It's much easier to knock down rather than repair & tidy up but that is what is needed for people to blossom, knowing that their houses, businesses & heritages are to be preserved & built up once more rather than knocked flat & no longer local.

  12. Beautifully written. Thank-you for reminding all of us that when something disappears from the news - it does not dissapear. The suicides break my heart. The pride and dignity of the people are healing tonics.

  13. Thank God you and your little boy are alright - I had no idea about this! I am very shocked and indeed my heart goes out to the people who suffered and still do in the violent earthquake just one year before. Uncanny! I cannot imagine the fear you experienced and to go back to sleep when a bigger one might occur is almost unimaginable to me.

    The photos of the carnage and your description of the people suffering got to me. Hugs my friend ~ Eddie

  14. Sadly, Ele, your documentary photos and writing make the devastation all too real. Mi dispiace molto.

  15. My heart goes out to such a wonderful city and their strong citizens. Thank you for sharing this somber moment of time.

  16. Reading of your account of this terrible earthquake had me relive the 1989 6.9 Loma Prieta Earthquake in the San Francisco Bay Area Daniel and I experienced right after we moved there. It was unlike anything we'd ever experienced and the aftershocks had us unsettled for months. The photos you are showing speak so loudly of the personal tragedies. I am grateful you and your son were alright! Much love, Silke

  17. The photos were very emotive. Sending prayers.xx♥

  18. The photos were very emotive. Sending prayers.xx♥

  19. I can't believe that was a year ago already. I remember reading your posts about the earthquake last year - it was right after I first discovered you and your blog! Amazing photos. It's so sad how natural disasters affect people over time.

  20. Very strong writings plus photo's! Lola,I remember those hard nights well, I never experienced the ground shake below my feet! I am sure it would have a lasting affect.
    Take care.

  21. God bless all those from Abruzzi. And bless you for caring so much and reminding us of the tragedy so far from our home here in the states. It's so easy to become complacent and not really understand the devastation of an event such at this. Ciao, bella.

  22. what heartfelt and heartwrenching photos and words. seeing cement piled up like this dishonors our human spirit.

    did you mean to say 3:32am in both instances? if so, that is spooky.

    it is good for me to learn about you. i enjoy that. i know enough to know you are a renee of friends and your knowledge of food and photography and life inspires me!

    thank you, ♥

  23. The thought that 50 people killed themselves because their homes and family were gone is very sobering. Life is tenuous. And sometimes simply too much. I also lived on the west coast and had my fill of earthquakes. They scare the hell out of me. I understand the concept of never recovering from such an event.

    The destruction and helplessness scars the body and soul forever.

    I can imagine how you felt with your boy.

    This year has been on of such intense destruction through earthquakes, one is starting to think there are no safe flat places anymore.

  24. How terrible it was. Earthquakes scare me too. We get tremors sometimes, minor o nes, usually. But who knows? It is a terrifying thought.

  25. Hi Lola
    Thanks for reviving the memory of the earthquake in such a personal way. I watched part of the candlelight vigil on TV, very sad..

  26. Dear Ele,
    Thank you for sharing your personal grief during the devastation. Your piece moved me as I felt the same tremor in NYC with my personal loss. My passion/inspiration as I speak about my book "Breaking Bread in L'Aquila" is giving back! I'm blessed how we met and continue our journey!

    love maria x

  27. Thank you all for leaving your warm words of comfort. I would like to reply to each of you with a personal thank you, but I will make this a communal embrace instead.

    I have decided to post a happy recipe post today, and not linger on the suffering and sadness evoked by this rememberance post.

    So please forgive me for not responding to your comments like I should have, but let's rather meet once again around the table for a bite, a sip and a warm, hearty laugh.

    Evviva la vita!

  28. Such a horrible event and aftermath,
    it breaks my heart - I have dear friends from the Abruzzi region and love to travel there.

    I remember when Eboli and surrounding places near Naples were hit by an earthquake in 1980. I was at a friend's home on the seventh floor of an apartment building in EUR and the flowers on the table all of a sudden started to shake violently. It lasted for several minutes, and we stayed frozen in fear, not knowing what to do. Seven floors up seemed like there was no way to flee fast enough.

  29. Merisi, I was in Rome too on the night of the Irpinia 1980 quake, what a fright. But experiencing it on the 7th floor must have been horribly scary.

  30. Yep. I was just outside Naples proper during 1980 quake. Apparently a lot of us were (who read this) whether we're in Italy now or not.


  31. A touching remembrance and commentary honoring the suffering of the citizens of L'Aquila.

  32. Hi Eleonora,
    I just landed on your blog by chance and I immediately find out we have something in common. We both have been at the Buca Di Bacco. I used to go every year. Positano was one of my favorite places to vacation in.
    I loved the boat rides from the villa to the center and then sitting at the restaurant for some of the best meals I have ever had.
    I would love to exchange links with you if you like. I think our readers could benefit from the similar taste in food.