It’s pitch black outside, but I’m wide awake. The sound that has woken me is the fragile glass panels on our bedside lights shivering against each other. They used to do this in our house in Essex if a particularly heavy lorry went past.
But we’re deep in the Italian countryside, in the early hours of the morning, and it’s a physical impossibility for such a vehicle to drive down our lane.
The room seems to shift ever so slightly when I turn over in bed. I’ve only experienced this sensation once before (when sober, anyway) – on holiday in San Francisco.
As it dawns on me that we must be experiencing some kind of ‘mild earth tremor’, the lights calm down. The next thing I know it’s broad daylight.
Thinking that perhaps I was dreaming, I Google ‘Italy earthquake’ – and you know very well what I found. We live 170 kilometres from the epicentre of Sunday’s quake but still felt the reverberations.
We were well aware of Italy’s geographical history when we chose to move here. The plans for our house had to pass rigorous inspection by our local earthquake committee.
The lowest floor of the house is built into the hillside and a narrow corridor runs between the outer wall of the building and the hill itself, reinforced with concrete on both sides. The idea is that it will create a barrier should the surrounding land start to shift at any point.
Even knowing that our house is relatively safe should the worst happen, I’m still surprised at myself, that I fell back to sleep so easily.
Talking later to Italian friends, they too, take the threat of earthquakes in their stride. When you rationalise the situation, it’s easier to understand why. Crossing a busy London street is far more risky ….
(Some) relatives in the UK, on the other hand react very differently. ‘You didn’t tell me you have earthquakes there’, said one, due to visit later in the summer.
Fear, after all, often isn’t rational. I may be calm about earthquakes but put me in an aircraft seat and I turn into a squirming wreck. It’s no good telling me how much safer planes are than cars – I know it’s only my willpower keeping that thing in the air.
We love Italy, amongst other reasons, for its stunning landscape and the way its history is embedded in the tiniest villages. But landscape like this has been formed by cataclysmic events and when every town has a wealth of ancient buildings, the impact of such events is bound to be worse. All these things are intertwined.
At the end of the day we all make choices about the risks we are prepared to take, which we think are worthwhile. If the epicentre of the earthquake had been on our doorstep, I’m sure I would be feeling very different right now. But unless or until that day comes, I can be rational enough not to lose any sleep over it.
Pic courtesy of