L’Aquila (“the eagle”) must once again take flight: now, its wings are fractured. Graced with medieval churches and elegant Renaissance and Baroque palace, Abruzzo’s provincial capital is a ghost town now. A walk in the midst of the scaffolded buildings – devastated five years ago on April 6th by an earthquake – is lacerating. 308 died, over a thousand were injured and 73 000 aquilani were left homeless. Survivors were transferred to tent cities and then to anonymous modern structures in the outlying periferia. “Deaths among the elderly rose to 40% within two years after the earthquake,” a local man told us. The devastation to their family homes – where many had been born – and re-settlement in sterile pre-fab housing, far from their neighborhoods and friends, annulled their will to live. He added, “Depression is diffuse: aquilani are convinced they’ll never see the conclusion to restoration.”
Plastic canvases covering scaffolded buildings – faithful reproductions of the cloaked façade and veritable artworks – proclaim, “L’Aquila Rinasce.” Will L’Aquila be reborn? When?
The city’s only sounds now are the rumble of bulldozers, grinding of cement mixers, the thwack of masons’ mallets, whir of cranes, and the strident whine of the diamond-bladed power saws.
Absent sounds? The bubbling of water in the town fountain, merchants calling out in the outdoor market, motorbikes buzzing, city buses rumbling, cars beeping, the banging of truck doors opening and shutting as goods are unloaded for stores, shop doors slamming and locals greeting each other on the streets. Church bells are silent in this wounded “citta’ delle 99 chiese” (lit., city of 99 churches), all the belltowers are scaffolded.
The silence is shattering. L’Aquila’s social fabric has disintegrated.
At lunch in the only surviving restaurant, our young waitress, Laura, student at l’Universita dell’Aquila (once enrolling 30,000, now about 19,000), told us, “I wanted to come here – to contribute to giving life back to this city. We must. I love L’Aquila, even as it is now. But don’t repeat that to the aquilani!”
After lunch, we crossed paths with a couple of pensive locals (taking a walk to see their unrestored homes) and clutches of stonemasons, heading back to work. At a café’, stonemasons sipped espresso and two elderly aquilani chatted with us about the main local conversation topic: the tardiness of restoration. At a table nearby, another signore read a newspaper. Behind him on the wall, a maiolica tile depicted a soaring aquila.
The phoenix rises out of the ashes. This Abruzzo “eagle” must rise, too: out of the rubble.