Growing up in England, I never thought about earthquakes. The closest I came to an earthquake was the simulator at the Natural History Museum in London – you walk into a replica of a Japanese supermarket, the floor shakes and the shelves collapse. Earthquakes seemed as unreal as the animatronic dinosaurs in the neighbouring rooms. They happened in other times, in other places.
When I grew up, I moved to Rome.
I woke up in the middle of the night feeling seasick . My bed was swinging backwards and forwards, and everything seemed to be shaking. My windows were open, and in my confused, half-asleep state, I reasoned that the cause must be some kind of wind. A strange, supernatural wind. Perhaps it was an omen. What if Valeriano had had an accident? What if he’d fallen off his motorino and the “wind” was a spiritual message?
The shaking stopped, and I went back to sleep. The next morning, I discovered that while I had been speculating about supernatural winds, my flatmate Tom had immediately realised that we were experiencing an earthquake, and started planning possible escape routes.
I spent the rest of the week reading the news, and getting tearful over the stories of the people who had died in towns like Amatrice and Pescara del Tronto. The fireman’s letter to the child he had been unable to save was one of the most heartbreaking things I’d ever read.
I donated some money to the Red Cross, and prayed that it would never happen again.
Wednesday 26 October
I was in the middle of teaching an English lesson when I started feeling dizzy. I thought it was all in my head until I heard my students talking amongst themselves – “terremoto”. Another earthquake? I wasn’t sure how to react, and was too confused to panic. The shaking was less violent this time, and stopped quickly. Should we leave the building anyway? My students shrugged. “It’s nothing, it happens all the time.” The lesson continued.
Downstairs, a colleague’s class was less laidback – the students immediately rushed out of the school.
Just under two hours later, there was another scossa (tremor), but I didn’t feel it, perhaps because I was in a car at the time, being driven home.
Sunday 30 October
I was woken up by the bed shaking. I immediately got out of bed, and saw that my friend from London (who was sleeping on the sofa bed in my room) had woken up too. The whole room seemed to be shaking from side to side, and there was the most horrible noise – as if the entire building was creaking, shifting.
As I live on the fourth floor, evacuating the building wasn’t really an option. I crawled under the desk and told my friend to do the same. We crouched there for a few seconds until we were sure the shaking had stopped. Then, still feeling shaky, we got back in bed, and tried to make the most of the rest of our Sunday lie-in.
On a conscious level, I’m not afraid of earthquakes. At least, I’m not afraid for Rome. Although we felt the effects and there was some minor damage – cracks in churches, walls and roads – nothing collapsed, and no one was injured. It’s the communities in smaller towns in Lazio, Umbria and Le Marche that I worry about. I can’t imagine what it must be like, living under constant stress and not knowing if you’ll ever be able to return to your home.
Nonetheless, the earthquake has had an unexpected physical and psychological toll. I’ve been sleeping badly, imagining that the bed was shaking, and experiencing occasional moments of dizziness. I’m not the only one.
There’s something quite unsettling about sleeping in a broken bed (broken for reasons unrelated to the earthquake), in a country that seems to be constantly shaking. I’m looking forward to the arrival of my new bed, and the terra settling down, so I can finally get a good night’s sleep…