I was strolling through the rotonda of the National Gallery of Art when a gloriously gilded painting caught my eye. The beautiful triptych was obviously Italian from the Medieval period. I went to take a closer look and discovered why the altarpiece struck me as familiar; it had been housed in the Castello Spagnolo in L'Aquila, and was brought to the US as a gesture of gratitude for American aid and for safe-keeping during the fortress's reconstruction.
I have wondered often how many people are still in tents, how many Abruzzesi have left the region to find work and housing elsewhere. Whatever happened with Berlusconi's boisterous declaration that some of the displaced could live in his several vacation homes? Did he actually open the doors to them, or was it just more newsbyte fluff? I have been trying to find out what progress has been made, but it is has proved a difficult task.
Many of the aid organizations are (understandably) busy with other recent tragedies and haven't updated their websites. The Protezione Civile site has a news section, mostly to inform the area citizens about new services or office hours. The latest newletter proudly hailed the opening of a new sportello per il pubblico, a type of public affairs office that will "provide information and a place for citizens to ask questions about the rules and procedures for repairs and reconstruction, temporary housing, or financial assistance. They will give information about schools and transportation, tax breaks and work projects." Sounds great, but it goes on to say that "the clerks won't be able to solve many of the problems" but that they can take requests and call people with answers. (Word to the wise: when a bureaucrat says they will call you back, don't count on it.)
The initial plan was to build apartments and assemble pre-fabbricated buildings so that everyone could be housed before winter, but as the first snowfall arrived on October 19, there were still almost 1,800 people living in tents. Some have nowhere else to go; others refuse to leave, fearing that if they go to another area they will miss out on the apartments when they do become available. Most want to remain in their birthplace, close to their families and jobs.
The National Italian American Foundation has made sizable contributions, and continues its fund-raising efforts. Their newest initiative is help L'Aquila college students continue their studies. To that end, they have inistituted an "Adopt a Student" program. NIAF has been offered some tuition scholarships from several American universities, including my alma mater, the University of New Mexico, but money is needed for housing costs, transportation, books, and fees.
Caritas has the most informative updates on their projects, with a breakdown showing that they have spent 1.3 million Euro for their "first response" of tents, medical aid, food, necessities, and initial reconstructions. They have other projects underway that total 18 million euro. Caritas sent out 2,400 volunteers from April through August, 2009, and they continue to coordinate a continual presence of volunteer workers.