April 6, 2009 Yes, the earth moved. I woke up for the usual reason about 3:30, but instead of heading right back to bed I decided to check my email. While waiting for the program to load, the windows in the front started banging. I’m thinking the wind had suddenly picked up but then the room started shaking. Realizing that wind couldn’t very well be moving 1-meter thick walls, I deduced that it was an earthquake and headed for a door. [Old joke: Some Americans were in a 4-star hotel dining room in Switzerland when an earthquake hit. A Californian moved quickly and announced “I’m from California and we stand in doorways during earthquakes.” Another guest yelled out “I’m from Texas. Please tell me where the hell I’m supposed to stand?”] The shaking stopped after about 10 seconds and I went back to bed. About an hour later I was awakened by an aftershock. When I got up this morning I discovered on the news that it had been a major quake–6.3 on the Richter scale–with casualties in L’Aquila, about 85 miles from here. Those of you who were on the Abruzzo trip may remember our stopping there on our way from Rome to Sulmona.
I lived for fourteen years in the San Francisco Bay Area and thus experienced a few earthquakes, all of them minor. All were different. Some were noisy, others were simply a gentle swaying sensation. All were unsettling. I mean, if you can’t trust the earth to stay under your feet, what can you trust?
After moving to San Antonio, I remember watching the 1989 San Francisco vs Oakland World Series on TV when the Loma Prieta/Oakland earthquake hit just before the start of the third game. The out-of-town pre-game announcers were doing their best to describe the live shots that were fed in from the Goodyear Blimp, while I was futilely screaming at the TV, “you idiots, that’s not a parking lot, that was a freeway!!!!” Al Michaels finally came on–he had lived in the Bay Area where he announced the SF Giants games–and he was able to identify the damaged areas. Ironically, the fact that the World Series was between two Bay Area teams saved hundreds of lives. At the time of the quake, the freeway section where the top deck pancaked the lower deck ordinarily would have been bumper to bumper. As it was, there was relatively little traffic.
After I moved to Sarnano, I came to the realization that I had unwittingly moved back into earthquake country. The 1997 earthquake that damaged the famed basilica in Assisi also did some damage here in Sarnano. There was a crack in the ceiling of my bedroom that may have been caused by that quake. But I figured that if this palazzo that was built at some point before 1610 showed such little damage after 400 years, it just might see me through my relatively brief stay. The patched-over crack has not reappeared.
I look out to my familiar view of the majestic Sibillini Mountains and am reminded that they were formed in part by the African sub-continent pushing north under Europe, and various other plates pushing in from east and west of the Italian peninsula. Occasionally things get stuck, pressure builds up and something snaps. And the earth moves. (back)