Let's talk about the earthquake.
Some straight talk. This should come as no surprise, but the news media is all about drama. And even an earthquake that decimated, and I mean flattened, the town known for its churches and storied pasta sauce seems not to be enough. I've read news stories that the quake destroyed Montepulciano (look at a map, it's far out of the danger zone, people who live in that part of Tuscany report nothing but mild swaying) and that the epicenter was near Perugia and the entire country was hit. Clearly, no one is bothering to fact-check. Here is the fact. This story needs no embellishment. Upwards of 200 people are dead, and rescue workers have 100 hours left to hope to find more survivors. Several towns that you might never had heard of but nonetheless have been homes to generations of Italian families buying olive oil and wondering when to go to the sea, and worrying about their children—these towns are leveled, and will likely never recover.
That is plenty dramatic. Now let's get to work and help.
1) If you are planning to be in Italy soon, don't cancel your trip because of fear-mongering newscasters that perpetuate the rumor that the entire country was wracked. Instead, continue with your plans, and when you are in the Bel Paese, order plenty of Amatriciana. Many restaurants are donating a portion of the proceeds of this fabulous pasta to the victims of the earthquake. Also, there will be many collections sites for canned goods, primarily in grocery store parking lots. So if you are driving by one, don't just cluck and sigh about how sad it is. Park, go into the store, buy some canned goods, and drop them off. Yes, you may be a little late to check into your charming agriturismo nestled among grapevines, but nobody will mind, and you will feel 1000% better.
3) Host a virtual sagra. This weekend would've been the 50th anniversary of Amatrice's annual celebration of their fabulous pasta sauce. Why not invite people to come for a heady plate of pasta and a glass of Italian wine... they can donate what they would've spent on a evening out, and you can send those proceeds to a disaster relief agency. Some friends and I did this a few months ago to aid in the refugee crisis–we each made a vat of soup and invited everyone we knew to share soup and community. We donated over $2000 to the arm of the International Rescue Committee's relief efforts in the middle east, as well as a roomful of goods for our local refugee population. But the bigger boon was the meal itself. It was ebullient, with people connected by a shared love of people and a refusal to partake in the negative rhetoric surrounding this victims of war. Need a recipe for Amatriciana? I got you.
4) Share this information. Humanize it-- when people just read a news story it feels distant, when a friend talks about it, it feels real and important to pay attention to. And remember this, this devastation feels personal because we love Italy. But disasters happen all over the world, and just because we have a harder time identifying with people in more remote corners of the world, doesn't make the people impacted by those events any less human. It's a stuck place I myself get. This is easy to relate to, so I want to help, but it reminds me that we are all connected. Not just to places and people we resonate with, but to souls all over the world. Can we make a pact to remember that the next time there is an earthquake in Indonesia or a bombing in Nigeria?
Santa Lucia, the Serialized Novel
Over the past six months, I posted a chapter from my work-in-progress serialized novel, Santa Lucia (working, not final, title) three times a week here, on my website. The story revolved around the people of Santa Lucia, a fictionalized town on the border between Umbria and Le Marche. With short, punchy chapters, I conceptualized this book like the literary love-child of espresso and a telenovela. The last chapter was posted in July, and the story was taken down mid-August. If you started the book and have come back to finish it, I'm hopeful that it will be published by December. If you are curious about the book, I've kept the first chapter below. Please subscribe to "Contorni", here on my homepage, to find out about how to get an advanced peek at the book by becoming a beta-reader, as well as find out when the book will be available for purchase. Subscribers also receive information on promotions, travel-tips, recipes, and Il Bel Centro updates.
Chapter One: Morning in Santa Lucia
It was the light that visitors to Santa Lucia first noticed. Honeyed and golden in the morning when it pooled in corners and created a glow that seemed to emanate from the alabaster stones quarried thousands of years ago from the heart of the Apennine mountains. That light swelled and turned throughout the day, until it was oddly blue in the late afternoon. Not the expectable pastel blue, but almost navy. As if the ink of night were dipped onto a paintbrush and then touched to the watery air of Santa Lucia, spreading a sheen of luminescent cobalt throughout the town.
Of course, there really weren’t all that many visitors to Santa Lucia, and the ancestors of the townspeople had stopped remarking on the oddly swirling light generations ago. Nowadays, their voices matched the cadence of that light without their noticing the intertwining of their days with the swelling and swooping of the glimmering and gloaming. In the morning, as they passed each other on their way to their jobs as town gardener, teacher, baker, and shopkeeper their voices rose, hail and hearty. “Buongiorno!” The lilt on that second o. They stopped and knotted together in the street, gesturing at the billboard in the town comune announcing another possible strike, before separating with a staccato, “Ciao! Ciao! Cia-o!” That sounded for all the world like a clutch of chickens clucking with cheer at the approach of a food pail.
Most often those street greetings happened in front of Bar Birbo. A moment of passing that propelled the townspeople to angle into the Bar, into the orbit of Chiara, who added her glowing welcome to the burbling morning energy. As the painter and the butcher drifted into the Bar to continue their conversation about the weather for the upcoming hunt of cinghiale, wild boar, they’d be greeted by Chiara, who had already moved to prepare their coffee. These newcomers used their hips to create space at the bar between the chattering patrons, and they’d continue their conversation while shaking their sugar packets in anticipation of the espresso Chiara would hand them with a smile and an “eccola,” here it is. They’d acknowledge the arrival of the dark and nutty coffee in the thick white cups with a nod before resuming their conversation. In mere moments, they moved from new arrival to scenery, as the next pair or trio of townspeople met in the street and nodded into Bar Birbo.
It was like this every morning. Every morning save Mondays, when the bar was closed. The bar had been closed on Mondays since Chiara’s great-grandfather, under pressure to turn the economic tide that was threatening to sink his family into ruin, converted the downstairs of their ancient palazzo into a bar. The first bar in Santa Lucia, the first bar in the region, the townspeople often crowed. And yet, even though the bar’s closed day hadn’t changed in over 70 years, the people of Santa Lucia would still stop and gape, confused, as they propelled a friend by the arm towards the waxed wooden front of Bar Birbo, only to find the door shut tight. Their eyes would drift upward to the open window of the residence above the bar, where Chiara would undoubtedly be making her famous ricotta cake for herself and whatever niece or nephew had come for a visit. Grumbling, the disappointed espresso-seeker shuffled to the tabaccheria. Where the coffee lacked the sweet roundness of Bar Birbo’s, and the owner, Cesare scowled at the once-weekly swelling in his coffee clientele. Mondays lacked a certain wholeness for the citizens of Santa Lucia, but one could pick up a giornale, newspaper, and the marca da bollo stamp for whatever piece of bureaucracy the patron had been putting off.
And so every day but one, townspeople strolled out of Bar Birbo with their minds sharpened by Chiara’s coffee, and their souls knit with their neighbors’. They often paused on the low step leading from Bar Birbo to the cobblestone street—taking in as if with fresh eyes the way the sunset-hued stucco buildings added a murmur of color to the predominately stone walls, the way the red gerarium-filled flowerpots added splashes of lucidity, the way the their noses twitched and raised of their own accord at the over-arching scent of almonds floating from the bakery, and the way the children with backpacks as unweldly as turtle shells raced to school, their laughter weaving through the sound of the churchbells.
Such were mornings in Santa Lucia. Just as they had been for generations.
Il Bel Centro: The Book
Leaping into an unknown is never easy, but it's made all the more extraordinary when that leaping involves three children, two cats, a lack of ability to communicate, and a town unchanged by time.
More than you ever wanted to know about any writer, ever.
Il Bel Centro: The Blog
Selected Posts from the Blog, primarily for readers who turned the last page of Il Bel Centro and wondered, "What happened when you got home? Did the cats make it okay? Were you happy to be home? Did you have any reverse culture shock?"