Monday, October 26, 2009

The Eagle is Slowly Rising

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.

It has been more than six months since the devastating and deadly earthquake shattered the peace and destroyed the homes of tens of thousands in Abruzzo.  After the much-hyped G8 summit in L'Aquila in July, the region and its struggles in the aftermath seem to have disappeared from the news. 

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. 

The news about reconstruction is scarse but not dismal.  It takes time to rebuild, especially when damage was so extensive, but things are moving forward little by little.  Churches are being stabilized, artworks have been taken for restoration and repairs, debris has been cleared, and - brick by brick - a city is trying to reform itself.  L'Aquila, which means "eagle," is rebuilding its nest.  While it's not ready to fly again, it is healing its wings.

Related Past Articles:

How To Help - Where and How to Contribute

Rome Trembled - Our Experience of the Tremor

Watch a video of the wonderful song, Domani, by Artisti Uniti per l'Abruzzo


janie said...

Thanks Valerie for the update. I've been wondering too what is going on.

Valerie said...

Hi Janie - I wrote to my Italian "brother" to see if he has gone back as a volunteer and am awaiting a response. It's strange there have been no follow-ups in the media (or none that I've seen).

Irene of An American in Padua said...

You've done quite well to stay informed from USA. We in Italy on national news get little more. We just know that not everyone is semi-permanently settled in some other than tents and a lot of the money came from specific regional donations and not a certified Italian effort but which Berlusconi has cheerfully taken credit for anyway (Trentino case reference here).

Valerie said...

Hi Irene - It's too bad there aren't more status reports, but I was impressed by the outpouring of regional and charitable donations. Of course Berlusconi would grab the limelight; he could have racked up a lot more points if he had donated heftily from his personal coffers, IMO.