Onna, Abruzzo Wounded
When we opened the shutters, the view of the majestic snow-capped Gran Sasso (“big rock” and it IS) unmistakably defined our location: Abruzzo. After breakfast, we headed to the new Comune (L’Aquila’s old city hall and most of the centro storico were destroyed in the 2009 earthquake) where Pino had to present a proposal for seismic restoration. I waited across the street at a new cafe’ – with modern minimalist lines – and talked Aquilani, stopping there for an espresso before or after one of their innumerable visits (over the past years) to the Comune. Most are still in pre-fab housing and almost nothing of the centro storico has been restored. Only those with houses (now in ruins or leveled) can enter the city center and no car traffic is permitted.
A pretty dark-haried young woman, Arianna, served me coffee as I stood at the bar near dark-suited employees of the Comune holding rolled up documents in their hands – restoration permits, i guessed- as they chatted over coffee.
“When do you think L’Aquila” will be restored?”, I asked. Sipping reflectively his espresso, Gianni (not his real name – no one wanted me to use their real names) replied, “Mai” (“never”). He added drily, “L’Aquila sara’ destinata alla spazzatura..come Pompei” (“L’Aquila will be buried – literaly ‘put in the trash can’ – like Pompeii”…)
“Where do you yourself live, now?”, I asked him. “Here and there….come zingari” (like gypsies”), he replied with a caustic smile.
When I asked the three city employees their estimate of the percentage of homes restored, one cited 10 %. Another chided him for his optimism, saying “closer to 5%”. Pino told me why: there are no funds.
The impiegati comunali invited me up to their offices for more information and left me coridally but refused to be photographed. I talked to many other people and heard more than once a comparison of L’Aquila to Pompei. Young Stefano – there to ask permission for an extended stay in the temporary housing unit – told me matter-of-factly, “L’Aquila will enter history as lost town – like Pompei, like Herculaneum.” His wife Susanna sadly nodded agreement.
We left the “new town” area of L’Aquila and headed to the ghost town of Onna, tiny town on the Atero River about 10 kim from L’Aquila where 80% of the homes were devastated, the other 20% had to be abandoned and 41 of the 350 inhabitants lost their lives a total of 309 persons died in the April 6, 2009 L’Aquila area earthquake). A sign was posted in front of a pile of rubble: “Lavori in corso” (“work going on”) but as I walked the alleyways in the midst of deserted piles of roof beams, terracotta rooftiles, twisted remains of wrought iron balconies, wooden doors off their hinges, I saw no one.
The children’s slide in the village park and the nearby gazebo for picnicking families remain sad remembrances of village life. The limestone memorial commemorating the massacre in June, 1944 of seventeen Onna citizens by bretreating Germans is still affixed to a wall of the crumbled Comune, though the traditional laurel wreath of victory has fallen to the ground below. The only telephone booth of the town stands nearby, undamaged in the midst of so much devastation. Across the street, a prayer card hangs on the grated window of a collapsed house, empty vases – one broken – still on the window ledge. A teddy bear and a mineral water bottle sit yet another window ledge. The house is a mass of rubble.
On the walls of one large collapsed house, the owner returned to paint his name on the walls, a sort of ownership claim: DeFelice was scrawled in black letters. Many doorways of Onna were arched and some limestone arches appeared as old as the 16th or 17th- century. The arches of Onna remain proudly standing in the midst of the rubble.
As I left the town, four or five men in hardhats were sitting on a bench, eating sandwiches, sharing bottles of wine and beer. They were their to guard Onna’s rubble – not to rebuild.
(note: L’Aquila earthquake was April 6, 2009 – 309 dead – about `15% of all deaths in the small town of Onna)
The arches of Onna remain proudly standing in the midst of the rubble.