Its been a whirlwind of a week getting my girls moved into their new apartment, a new school year, and major life transitions happening all at once…but my thoughts and prayers remain with Italy.
As the world knows, central Italy was devastated by a 6.2 earthquake, which essentially flattened the small town of Amatrice, and nearby towns Accumoli, Arquata del Tronto and Pescara del Tronto, The loss of life, almost 300 now, is simply staggering as it happened early in the morning while families were sleeping and so many families have no home, or even town, to go to.
While still holding out hope for survivors, Italy began it’s national period of mourning and burials, and it’s heartbreaking to watch the recovery unfold. I’ve struggled with how to write this post as I want to honor the lives lost in the terrible tragedy, while at the same time, share with you the beauty, love, and kindness Italians evoke with their warmhearted culture. On a more personal level, I want to share my photos with you from last summer and why I felt compelled to write this story about my experience in Italy. Today’s blog is dedicated to all the families affected by the earthquake.
It was this time last summer that my family wrapped up a 14-day vacation taking our 20-year-old daughter to Northern Italy for the first time. If you’ve been to Italy, you are familiar with the intense draw the country has on you – its people, food, art, architecture, design, villages, countryside and rich history. It may not be this way for everyone, but for me, when I travel I try to experience what its like to live there. My family and I do not go to all the tourist spots, but rather seek out the locals and try to create experiences that we will remember forever. We wander and linger, like this visitor (above) enjoying Gelato on a cool summer evening in Varenna.
For me, travel has a way of doing that….drawing you in, almost like leaving an imprint on your heart and soul. And, as an artist who loves textiles, the rich warm colors and texture of Italy visually is simply breathtaking and inspiring. This Mom & Pop cafe in Florence shows all the colors of Italy in one single photo.
The colors of the buildings, the roofs, the food, the sunsets – in Amatrice I’m sure they were so similar to many in Varenna. Small towns have those familiar qualities that make them so endearing.
Our view of the colors of Varenna from our hotel window. Varenna, Italy, 2015.
“Many homes in and around the small towns were completely destroyed by the tremors.” (from BBC News on 8.25.16 Italy Earthquake: Before and After Images Show Destruction.)
Layers and layers of rock and stone are the foundation of many small towns. Varenna, Italy, 2015.
August is THE month that families in Italy take vacations. We really saw that when we stayed in Rapallo along the Italian coast where multiple generations were enjoying their holiday and a local festival. Children were playing on the beach and the elderly were resting on a promenade bench. There was this ancient castle (below photo) right on the beach that was lit up in the summer evening sky.
It breaks my heart to think that families like these were torn apart because of Italy’s earthquake.
Elderly Italians sitting on a park bench in Rapallo, Italy; 2015.
So, take a few moments from your busy day and come along with me while I share why I can’t stop thinking about Italy. We enjoyed our very first evening of our vacation last summer in Varenna just staring at Lake Como watching a young man light the lanterns at dusk. Surely a basic nightly duty for him, but one that was so poignantly beautiful to watch as the night began to fall. It was totally quiet at dusk and so peaceful.
In Amatrice, peoples lives and livelihoods have been lost in this one tragic earthquake. As I read in a recent news article today, in just 20 seconds their lives were completely changed. I imagine how sad it would be if it had happened to this young man in Varenna, in this small community I grew to love.
Since the earthquake, I find myself constantly drawing parallels between Amatrice, (population 1,046) a small medieval town in central Italy in the rugged Appenine Mountains to the medieval village we stayed in, Varenna, (population 786) in the Italian Alps of Northern Italy. While of course, they’re completely different towns, regions and cultures within the country as a whole.
But having stayed three nights in Varenna, and knowing Amatrice and Varenna are both small medieval towns, I can’t help but feel the mood of the quaint village and the touch of the ancient cobblestones under my feet.
We did not take the ferry and sightsee, but instead spent four days relaxing and soaking up the feel of Varenna, its people, scenery, food, town square, and the church bells of the clock tower. I imagine that Amatrice, before the earthquake, looked very much like Varenna’s narrow cobblestone streets below in this image I captured.
But what is really hitting home for me is the clock tower.
Below is a powerful image of the clock tower in Amatrice that withstood the 6.2 magnitude earthquake and stopped at three minutes after the quake struck at 3.36.
With the usual vibrant colors of Italy gone in an instant – but for a faint red roof – it seems like a village reduced to dust in this haunting image below.
“The clock tower in the town centre was left standing but many of the surrounding buildings were not.” (from BBC’s Italy Earthquake: Before and After Images Show Destruction; 8.25.16)
I can’t help but make parallels with my personal experience in Varenna, because one rainy afternoon while my family napped, I walked the narrow streets, soaked in the feel of the town, and spent time visiting the Church of San Giorgio, as it’s right in the heart of Varenna’s town square. I’m not a religious person, but there is so much history and beautiful art in the large Duomo’s and small village churches that are the heart of Italy. While the Varenna clock tower was built much later in the 1800’s, both the clock tower in Amatrice and the Church of San Giorgio in Varenna were built around the same time period, somewhere during the 13th century.
Church of San Georgio, with its clock bell tower, in the center of Varenna, Italy, 2015.
“A church in the town of Amatrice was also badly damaged, losing much of the top of the building and its roof.” (from BBC ‘s Italy Earthquake: Before and After Images Show Destruction; 8.25.16)
“Amatrice’s clock tower was one of the few structures to survive relatively intact.” (from the DailyMail, story by Ted Thornhill, 8.24.16)
The parallels, between the small size of Amatrice and Varenna and that their clock towers are both at the heart of the towns, does not escape me. All we had to do was look out our hotel window to see Varenna’s clock that chimed so beautifully every hour.
The Church of San Giorgio, with it’s clock tower, outside our hotel window. Varenna, Italy, 2015.
It is said (photo below) that while the bell in the top part of the Amatrice clock tower fell, the tower stood tall and strong while the rest of the town crumbled beneath the powerful force of the earthquake. And the clock stopped at 3.36, right after the earthquake struck. How tragically poignant, but also significant in its meaning.
“The clock on the 13-century tower in Amatrice, Italy, poignantly stopped just after Wednesday’s earthquake struck at 3.36 a.m.” (from the DailyMail, Ted Thornhill story on 8.24.16)
I was talking to my daughter Qin last night about my feelings in writing this post and asked her what I should title it? We discussed the power of a great blog title, which is something I’m still learning how to write effectively. She asked me what I would be writing about and I told her I wanted to make parallels with our experience in Varenna, talk about the earthquake and the clock tower, and end the post about my special Italian friend Cristina.
Qin said, “Well its got to be short Mom and meaningful.” And out from her lips came so simply and clearly: “Italy’s Clock Tower of Angels”.
I was taken aback. It sounded so beautiful, like the title of a novel or song. I asked her why that?
Qin said, “Its very simple Mom. You want to write from your heart about Italy, your experience, the earthquake, and the clock tower. This title has the word Italy and it mentions the clock.
Then I asked her, “But what about the angels, what’s that part about?”
My daughter said with such childhood innocence,
“Don’t you see Mom? The angels are all the people that died in the earthquake and have gone to heaven. They are now the angels of Amatrice.”
Needless to say, my heart skipped a beat. My daughter has a special way of getting to the heart of what matters. And children have a way of understanding life with a special innocence that we don’t always see.
I can think of no better tribute to all those who died in the Italy earthquake than the title of this post. Below is a photo I took of the inside of Varenna’s Church of San Giorgio, as I’m sure the churches of Amartice looked as movingly beautiful.
The inside of Church of San Giorgio, Varenna, Italy, 2015.
Below, in the Duomo di Milano, last summer, I’m lighting a candle for a friend battling breast cancer. If I were there today, I’d be lighting many candles for all of Italy, for all those who died, and all those having to rebuild their lives and towns from nothing but the strength of their souls and faith.
I don’t make these parallels lightly. But my personal experiences in Italy last summer help me feel the loss of life more profoundly. The complete devastation that has affected these small towns – its churches, its schools, its cafes, its people – cuts at the very heart and soul of these beautiful Italian towns that are so rich in history and generations. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
So I will leave you with some beautiful photos of my Italian friend Cris, who owns a 300- year- old truffle farm on the outskirts of Ferrara, between Venice and Florence, called Le Occare.
300 years pales in comparison to a medieval town such as Amatrice, but not the people. I was so relieved to hear that the quake was nowhere near where Cris and her husband live with their two dogs.
Cris is a great example of the love and generous spirit Italians have toward complete strangers. Americans visiting from Texas were immediately treated like family. I was lucky to email her back and forth as she so graciously gave me tips on planning our trip, so by the time we actually arrived, we felt like old friends. She let me into her kitchen. My daughter and I walked with her and her dogs. (This is no pig truffle farm. Cris’s amazing truffles are dug up by her dogs).
She spoiled us with her incredible cooking. Such love Cris put into every dish made from scratch. I will write more on her fabulous cooking in future posts about Le Ocarre Guesthouse.
We only had 24 hours at her guesthouse, but in many ways, because of the welcoming atmosphere Cris creates in her home, we felt like we’d been there far longer…and can’t wait to go back.
As Italy mourns the devastating loss, please think of Amatrice this week and the families affected by this tragedy, affected forever as their whole town has been leveled. And enjoy the photos, a glimpse of Italian country life at Le Occare.
Perhaps you will one day visit Italy and feel the cobblestones under your feet, enjoy the ambiance of a small town cafe, hear the ring of a medieval clock, and be touched like I was by the history of its towns, the stillness of its countryside, and the hospitality of its people.
I hope to share more of my inspirations from Italy in the coming months. But today I wanted to take some time with you to recognize Italy’s loss and grieve with them. That’s the least I can do.
If you live in Austin, please support our Italian friends and newest neighborhood small business, Venezia Italian Gelato, and others, that are helping via Italy Meets Texas to raise funds for earthquake victims to send back to Italy. We’re blessed to have Alice and her husband’s homemade Gelato right at the end of our street. Till next time, goodbye to summer, happy Labor Day weekend, and enjoy some Stracciatella, my fave! XOPG