We’ll be heading often to L’Aquila now: Pino’s restoration company has just won a bid to restore three buildings there, damaged in the April 6. 2009. As the job will take two years, Pino’s now looking for a rental for the six workers who’ll live there Monday-to-Friday while on the job.
During the restoration project, Pino will be heading to L’Aquila at least once a week to check on work and I’ll go along when not busy with Umbrian hill town guided tours.
I look forward to seeing that “wounded eagle” (“aquila” = “eagle”) rise again. For now, this eagle’s wings are fractured and Abruzzo’s provincial capital has become a ghost town.
Plastic canvases cover scaffolded buildings – faithful reproductions of the cloaked façades of noble Renaissance family palaces and elegant Baroque churches – and veritable artworks in themselves.
“L’Aquila Rinasce” ( “L’Aquila will be reborn”) is emblazoned on the canvases. But…. when?
Wander the town and you might meet a few people: stonemasons on break heading for an espresso or perhaps an elderly couple, arms linked, taking a nostalgic walk to their scaffolded home.
Depression is diffuse: many aquilani are convinced they’ll never see the restoration of the homes where they grew up and in many cases, where they were born (where even their grandparents were born).
In one winding backstreet, we met an elderly gentleman, Antonio, peering up at his scaffolded family home: he comes into town periodically just to “check. ”
But on what? In this town now, the only sounds 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.
You know longer hear water bubbling in town fountains, merchants calling out from market stalls, motorbikes buzzing and cars beeping, shop doors slamming and locals greeting each other on the streets. Church bells are silent in this wounded “citta’ delle 99 chiese” (all belltowers are scaffolded). The silence is shattering. L’Aquila’s social fabric has disintegrated.
Antonio stayed and chatted with restorer Pino about the hopes for L’Aquila restoration. Clearly enjoying our chat and the social interaction, he offered to take us to see the magnificent 13th-c Basilica di S. Maria di Collemaggio, closed now due to earthquake damage, though the pink and white limestone facade intricacy was worth the visit. Antonio left us in the centro, heading home for lunch.
We headed to the only surviving restaurant, Il Guastatore for a tasty lunch of pasta caciopepe ( with sharp pecorino cheese and black pepper) for me and arrosticini (lamb tidbits) for Pino.
Our young waitress, Laura, started us off with shiacciata, a local focaccia made by a smiling piazzaiolo – from Morocco. Student at l’Universita di L’Aquila (once enrolling 30,000, now about 19. 000), Laura 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!). ”
We opted for espressi in one of the few open cafes where a pair of elderly aquilani talked about the preeminent local conversation topic: the tardiness of restoration.
A man in a plaid coppola beret sat in a chair reading his newspaper – right under a maiolica tile depicting a soaring aquila.
Pino, do your part, per favore, to help this eagle soar again.
Read more on L’Aquila, “wounded eagle”
Read about another Abruzzo town
Read about an appreciated cultural contribution to L’Aquila from Pino
Read about inexpensive good-eating in L’Aquila
Plastic canvases covering scaffolded buildings – faithful reproductions of the cloaked façade and veritable artworks – proclaim, “L’Aquila Rinasce.” Will L’Aquila be reborn? When?