If L’Aquila Were Ground Zero

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If L’Aquila Were Ground Zerolaquila-afetr-the-quake

Berlusconi seems to have made L’Aquila into his very own Ground Zero. There’s something Bush-esque about his behavior. Catch the bull by the horn and show everybody who’s boss. In the days after 9/11, Bush climbed a mountain of debris at Ground Zero, bull-horn in hand, promising reconstruction in New York and destruction upon those who had perpetrated the attacks. Needless to say, his efforts were misdirected. Instead of going after al-Qaeda, he brought death and chaos upon millions of innocent Iraqis, and scores of so-called enemy combatants around the world. He brought us torture, black jails, renditions, and summary eliminations, but, boy, was he effective at Ground Zero. Here’s where the place was 4 months after the attack.

This , instead, is an aerial panorama of the same area on 9/17/2009, six days the attack. Here’s another one of Ground Zero at the beginning of February 2002, and another. As you can see clicking on the various links, there is no more debris, and reconstruction is in full swing. Compare these to the images of  L’Aquila you can get from the web and the tube here; here; and here, and you may be tempted to conclude that, in L’Aquila, things aren’t really moving, that the protest of the Last Ladies may have some truth to it. At least, this is how it appears to me, an Italian living in California.

I kept searching for signs that the fate of the victims of the quake of L’Aquila would be different from the fate of the victims of another of Italy’s last big earthquakes–the 1980 quake in Naples–who after the disaster lived for almost a decade in temporary housing. Having lived through that myself–the Neapolitan quake I mean–I must tell you that signs of a different, better outcome really aren’t there.

It is also striking that the Obama administration is backing a project conceived and implemented by the National Italian American Foundation (NIAF), but none developed by the Italian government. NIAF has obtained a free year of expenses-paid study and travel for 100 students of the Università dell’Aquila to come study in California. I think it’s a brilliant idea, conceived by Italians living in Silicon Valley, specifically by executives of the Silicon Valley Italian-American Executive Council (SVIEC). It’s supported by Janet Napolitano, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Defense, who is of Italian origin. Is this American geocentrism, or is the Italian government really coming up with no viable proposals?

Berlusconi believes that journalists, in particular those belonging to this publishing group, are out to ruin Italy’s international image. He has said so on many occasions. Chit-chatting with Vespa, he called some of them “farabutti.” I suppose he says that because he’s having a good G8, which should confirm the competence of his government. And we must render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: Barring any unforeseen, last-minute surprises, the photo op aspect of this G8 has been a total success for Berlusconi. He may be scoring the best public image victory of his political career.

Not only has Berlusconi been on his best behavior, but Obama’s star-power has been shining bright, chasing away the shadows surrounding the meeting and the sadness weighing on the hearts of the earthquake survivors, many of whom are living in a tent city nearby the quake’s center. Obama’s easy-going manners, his genuine caring about every person he meets, and his forward-looking thinking have charmed not only Italians, but also the various heads of state convened in L’Aquila, and the entire world—with the possible exception of some Americans who are wondering when they’re going to see the promised recovery, and whether Obama will walk the streets of spontaneous tent cities being built across the U.S. by foreclosed-upon homeowners.

In the case of L’Aquila, though, not even Obama’s magic can erase the mounds of debris dotting the streets, the scarcity of equipment present for rebuilding, the contorted structures tilting on the edge of an imminent crash. It is saddening to see how much things aren’t moving in L’Aquila. The streets are still full of debris. Foreign notables and their spouses had to make their way through a torturous, narrow, yellow-taped, haphazard path cutting right through buildings still intent on spilling their interiors into the streets.

I seem to remember Berlusconi promising that, by this summer, the Aquilani displaced by the quake would have been back in their houses. Looking at the images, I submit that Berlusconi may be delusional, or to sing it with the late Aurelio Fierro. Berlusconi must love Fierro–”Illusione dolce chimera sei tu che fai sognare in un mondo di rose tutta la vita;” “Illusion, sweet chimera, you are the one that makes us dream all our life into a world made of roses .”ground_zero1

Mr. President, please remove the petals from your eyes, and smell the coffee. What ruins Italy’s image abroad isn’t the media. It’s the kind of images that the world has been viewing from Italy, images of a leader intent on building harems for a young couterie of lovers, while the citizens of one of Italy’s most prized medieval jewels go to sleep every night in flimsy tents.

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