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14 Jun

The earthquake diaries: my never-ending fear

The quakes of the past 3 weeks in my region Emilia-Romagna killed 26 people, evicted thousands, affected us all. Their most destabilizing aftermath is an overwhelming uncertainty that could last for months, if not years.

Few endless seconds of earth shaking are just an infinitesimal part of the phenomenon called earthquake.  If you are lucky enough not to get injured in those moments, the hardest part comes when the earth turns still again. 


The thought of the earth shaking became an intrusive presence lingering in every instances of my everyday life. I perceive imaginary earthquakes all the time, finding myself staring at the hanging chandelier in my living room to check whether it’s swinging or not. If the pendant is still, I can always look at twitter and get a consistent source of drama checking out the viral hashtag #terremoto. I ended up losing my distress, my sleep and ultimately my way of living.


Although I felt distinctly all the major episodes, I have been in the lucky party of those who haven’t had their lives destroyed by the quakes, as my town Cervia did not suffer from any material damages whatsoever.


Though, I immediately joined the club of those who can’t help being frustrated. Once my psyche has been violated by those quakes, doubts haven’t stopped insinuating my mind. What if the next one tears down my house? What if the earth keeps on shaking for weeks and all the tourists flee our beaches thus screwing our entire economy? Am I too superficial if I just try not to think about it? Am I irresponsible if I try to have fun? Or am I just overreacting? Is there really nothing I can do to help myself anyways?


The fear for the earthquake must have been a sort of atavistic Achilles heel for me, as I have always been very sensitive about the topic since way before 20th May 2012 when the first major quake of my life came knocking at my door.


This time more than ever, running away from my fear is just impossible. The earthquake is all over the place, talked about on news papers, shared on the social media, drawn onto the faces of the people who ran way from their collapsing houses and sought shelter in the close seaside town where I live. My family’s hotel is hosting 27 earthquake refugees, though some of them prefer sleeping inside their parked cars in our open-air parking lots anyways.


“Did you feel the quake last night?” is the latest ice-breaking sentence after which everyone becomes a self-taught geologist pontificating on earth faults, magnitudes, sussultatory vs undulatory quake, anti-seismic architecture and so forth.


I never bought home-made pseudo-scientific palliatives. “We live on the seaside, the sandy ground reduces the effect of a quake”; “The epicenter is in Modena, it’s far from here” (as if 130 km were “far” for plate tectonics!); “The quakes are moving west-ward, we are going to be OK” (on 6th June, nature rebelled against this trivial non sense and gave us a 4.5 magnitude quake with epicenter in the sea right in front of my town).


Another very common refrain has been “Italians show their best side in harsh situations”. Sure, It is a pleasant lullaby to be heard especially because it often epitomizes stories of people who do not give up, families who want to rebuild their houses and workers who strive to start again their routine at the workplace.


Yet, unfortunately it seems to me more like a popular placebo aimed to keep people’s heads and faith high. It’s not as if I’m trying to blame anyone for lying to ourselves or doing cheap-ass propaganda, I am just not one of those who really believes this situation can get the best out of people. I may sound cynical, but it seems to me that what it is usually called “the best” should better be addressed as an instinctive self-defense effort.


Probably, the truth of the matter is that I wish it were true- that Italians are really great in fighting tragedies back- but the thought that I might soon have to prove it myself scares the hell out of me.


No one is able to tell when it will be over, there is nothing left to be done but waiting. For me, this equals feeling unbearably powerless.


As anxiety grows, my level of mental attention is dramatically dropping. Even writing this short post cost me a lot of effort and way too much time. The rational part of me persuaded the absent-minded one it was worth it. For the first time since you blog you’ll write an article for yourself and not for the readers, I heard in my mind.


Writing down my thoughts is the best way I came up with to exorcise my uncertainty. Writing a post takes a more thorough introspection than a simple oral conversation.

So far away from my usual style of writing, I was uneasy, nearly embarrassed, at beginning so many sentences with the word “I”. Initially, I had opted for more impersonal idiomatic expressions but soon I realized I was just telling my story “in disguise” because I was too afraid of letting anyone know how insecure I am.


That would have been an other little win of the earthquake over me. No, not this time.

Last modified on Thursday, 14 June 2012 19:02
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Enrico Cellini

Enrico Cellini is a graduate from the University of Bologna, with a focus on International Relations.

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