Monday, January 3, 2011

One Person's Nothing is Another Person's Everything

The music used is "For Blue Skies" by Strays don't Sleep (No Copyright Infringement intended)

The floor boards creak below me. Shattered glass gets caught in the etchings carved out on the bottom of my shoes. Debris turns my black hat white. The window shades knock at the sides of the house. The sun beam reflects off the broken materials that have now become the carpet to the floor. History surrounds me—and could fall down all around me, but it doesn’t matter. This is someone’s home…this is someone’s everything.

Storytelling. Storytelling is my favorite past-time and present-time activity. When I enter on to a train or a bus, or into a coffee shop or a restaurant, I sit and I watch people. I analyze their gestures—from where they place their hands to what certain twitches they have. I give them a name, a family, and some sort of back story as to why they are sitting on that train or on that bus or in that coffee shop or in that restaurant with me. This time the people and the lives that I encountered are much more deserving than those I briefly watch in the public. This time the people and the lives that I encountered, in this town full of beauty, have their own stories—ones of hope, strength, and dignity…Ones of sadness and sorrow…ones of devastation.

These stories that I found were not told to me by those that live in the town of L’Aquila, because those that live in L’Aquila are no longer living in their own homes—they are living in hotels while their homes have either been condemned or gated off for construction. These stories were told by the people’s belongings, their empty streets, and their falling down homes. These stories were told by the remnants of the beautiful village that once stood out as a tourist destination, a hub for visitors, a world of exploration. These stories were told by everything that exists in L’Aquila.

Walking through a condemned home, I ducked beneath ceiling parts that were coming down, and I avoided sharp objects that could seriously wound me. I found a box of photos, and I searched through it. The people who lived here were a family, two kids, I guessed, and a husband who had served in the Italian military. Within the home, every drawer, closet door, and cupboard was open, as if someone had come through trying to rummage what he or she could from this abandoned home. Clothes lined the bed of the bedroom and toys could be found scattered along the apartment. This family was happy here…until April 6, 2009, when an earthquake thieved them of a roof above their head and food on their tables. Now the family’s memories are here—their clothes—their photos—their lives. Everything is here.

I hear a car pull up outside the home, and I walk outside. An older man is closing the gate which had been opened when I had arrived. “Aperto, per favore” (Open, please) I say, almost with a desperate sound in my voice. Shocked at a person down below, the man opens the gate. His wife comes running out of the car. “Attentiva!” (Stay attentive) She tells me, and then goes on in Italian to tell me that it’s dangerous and that the house could go kaboom, that it’s not safe. I apologize a million times over, and she doesn’t get angry. “No, don’t be sorry, just be careful.”

Sadness enters her eyes as if she has just experienced her own kaboom all over again.

I explain to her that people don’t understand the devastation, and that people need to know—that the government is doing nothing and that people can help. She nods, agreeing, still a sadness in her eyes. “Right,” she nods again, before warning me to be careful one more time…before she and her husband drive away from what was once their home and what still is home to all of their things.

A lot of people want to tell you that there is nothing in L’Aquila. Websites will say to be forewarned before heading there that there isn’t much to see…that the earthquake took down everything…that there is nothing. Some people who live in Italy will question why you would bother…and even those who aren’t Italian will question you too. But that’s not true. There is a lot of something in L’Aquila. For some people—there is everything.

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