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Amatrice and the Politics of the Big One

One of Italy's prettiest villages isn't there any more, according to the Mayor. People have come together to save what they could.

A recent earthquake has been a tragedy of monumental proportions for residents of Amatrice and smaller villages that surround it. An idylic corner of Lazio was reclaimed by the earth from which it sprouted. A city you are sorry you missed has been leveled.

Yet, even as the Travel Curmudgeon, I have seen amazing things grow from this tradgedy. Sudden, natural disasters bring people together in an amazing way. African immigrants volunteer to don hard hats and dig into the rubble. People and pets presumed dead rise from the ash and rockfall to live again.

But here's the thing, pessimist as I am, I still think the mayor of Amatrice is wrong. There is always something there. Foundations are there. Rocks can be re-stacked just like they were stacked to make the huddled-together lodgings in the first place. Whole towns can be rebuilt--and have been rebuilt in the past. There is no shortage of labor in the world. There is a shortage of desire and the inexcapable tyrany of I ricchi, the rich we worship and to whom we tithe. Balance has left the building.

Ever hear of a little burg called Munich? Bombed. 71 air raids over a period of five years. The historic buildings rebuilt. The recipe: desire, stones, plaster, artisan craftsmanship for the details. Now there is wealth, happiness, and beer.

One of the most amazing statements about this tragedy came from a facebook post by an American who posted a lamentation on the destruction of beautiful old cities like Amatrice. I often wonder--if we trully love these cities with compelling architecture and people-friendly public spaces in which citizens enjoy the warmth of congregation--why we don't demand from our "leaders" these same characteristics in our modern world? Because our "leaders" no longer feel it neccessary do the people's work? Because we just don't care enough? Because we're all too busy looking for a job?

Amatrice could be rebuilt better than it was. A big part of the tradgedy has recently been linked to Mafia seismic updates that were never performed. We the people demand cheap and get even cheaper. Stop it. Grab a rock. Stack it. It's a start.

There is a symbol of Amatrice that is really quite spectacular when you think of it.. It's called pasta all'Amatriciana. It's big in Rome, where they make it with bucatini. The sauce is traditionally simple: cured hog jowl (guanciale), tomatoes, some hot pepper to taste and a dusting of pecorino cheese. The thing is, you see it all the time outside of the region of Lazio. But people react differently to it than they do to other out-of-the-region concoctions. Say you see "Tagilatelli Bolognese" on a menu in Venice. If you are "in-the-know" you'll snigger at the notion and move on gingerly. Nothing Bolognese should be eaten outside of Bologna unless you're a tourist uninterested in local food and custom. But Amatriciana, in my experience, is universal. Its existance on a menu doesn't mean that the restaurant has caved to tourist "taste". After all, Americans would shy away from hog jowl anyway. (Here's a page that gives you more info and shows you how to make a deviant Amaticiana)

So if you see a restaurant willing to feed you this fantastic pasta dish and contribute a portion of the cost to earthquake relief in Amatrice, eat hearty. Have a couple bowls. Think of the little villages that surround Amatrice. Some of them were crammed with second homes of city dwellers who wanted their children to know the safety of living and playing in a small village in the countryside. Italians are known for having acquired second homes as the population ages and parents pass away; a stone house lasts a very long time if you keep the roof in good shape. Usually.

Ironic, isn't it?

Enter Renzo Piano

According to a recent story in the Guardian, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is consulting Architect Renzo Piano for help with the reconstruction, a "national recovery plan" that seems like a fantastic one.

It's brilliant. For details, let's head on over to the Transparent Language Blog where you can read in English or Italian. Here's a juicy bit:

“Non si deve allontanare la gente da dove ha vissuto. Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto, Arcuata, Accumoli, Grisciano: bisogna ricostruire tutto com’era e dov’era. Sradicare le persone dai loro luoghi è un atto crudele. Vuol dire aggiungere sofferenza alla sofferenza”.
“You mustn’t take people away from where they have lived. Amatrice, Pescara del Tronto, Arcuata, Accumoli, Grisciano: we need to rebuild everything as it was and where it was. Uprooting people from their homes is an act of cruelty. It would mean adding suffering to suffering”.

Yep; stack the rocks. Only better this time.

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