The Earthquake Soundtrack – L’Aquila

The notes from a single violin drift through the cobblestoned street. It has such an eerie sound that the Italian Red Cross volunteers and I stop and look at each other. We wonder who is playing the violin in what we think is an abandoned street.  It is a fitting serenade to the street, filled with historic buildings that are propped, braced and covered in scaffold in a way that is so familiar to us.

We wander street after street, we can no longer hear the violin, in fact we can’t hear anything – it is ghostly.  I find an image by Grillo amongst a group of posters pinned to the bracing of a building.  One strikes me, a former major thoroughfare used to keep the rain off, with the ghost of the people who used to walk there.

The faces of students who died in the fenced off school during the L'Aquila earthquake, Italy.We stop at one of the most tragic places – it is so similar to one of our own I take a sharp breath.  It is a large brick building, the wire barrier fence tells the story.  Hung there are the photos of the eight teenage students who died at the school.  Permanently silenced – another part of the earthquake soundtrack.  I can’t read the handmade cards and signs but I know what they say…  Last night I noticed a typo in an Italian Red Cross report, for three pages it referred to the L’Aquila heartquake – now I think perhaps it is not a mistake.

We move on to a residential area where only the birds are left chirping in the trees above the silent playground.  Emanuela, my Red Cross translator, points to the house she lived in for forty years, she happened to sell it just before the quake.  She goes on to say, “I was displaced living on the coast in a hotel – how could I be on holiday? How could I be out getting a suntan when my town was in trouble, I couldn’t stand it so I came home.  I was the first in my street to come home; it was like a desert, dark and quiet. It was scary, I had to drive rather than walk – there was no one around.  The market in our town square was our city’s living room, it left with the people, when we have our ‘living room’ back I will know that our city is back”.

It hurts the people that their beautiful churches have lost their domes; they shake their heads and tell me “the acoustics have changed, you can’t hear so well, the voices and the music is so much quieter now”

I feel like Christchurch and L’Aquila are playing a duet, the soundtrack all too familiar.

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