It’s some jolt to be returning from the fifth driest country in the world, Jordan which is yearning for water, to an Italy which is literally being submerged by rain, rain and more rain. Yet little news of the present grievous state of this country appears to reach other European TV channels (or am I wrong?). ALL areas are now affected by the “maltempo” (bad weather).
One of the worst affected parts is Chiavari next to Lavagna where I stayed while on a teacher exchange in 1995.
But, to repeat, all areas of Italy are affected and I was concerned about further landslides on my road back to Longoio on Monday.
2014 has seen almost unrelenting rain throughout all parts of Italy throughout the year. The vendemmia has been a disaster, thousands of families have had to leave their homes, there have been a considerable number of deaths, and communications by road and rail have been severely affected.
Where is that “beaker full of the warm South” so beloved of Keats, and the dream of so many visitors to and ex-pats of this beautiful country?
There are, in my opinion, three reasons of this state of affairs in Italy.
First, unquestionably, global warming. Temperatures here have been above average for most seasons and even now, well into November, autumn (or fall, if you like) colours are just peeping through and most trees still have their leaves on. I compared photographs taken of my area five years ago at this very time with those of today and the difference is very clear.
Second, Italy is a geologically very young and fragile country with none of those ancient (and stable) rocks one gets in the UK. There are certainly no Cambrian strata here – most of the country is made up from the relatively recent folding mountains era and plains are largely alluvial and not eroded. The country is still very much on the move and to top it all, most of it (except Sardinia) is highly seismic.
Third, and most immediately telling, is the lack of money with consequent lack of investment (especially in geologists) in providing for an adequate natural drainage system in Italy’s 80% hilly scenario. From a largely agricultural economy in the immediate post-war period to a largely industrial one by the eighties, with huge areas submerged under concrete, millions left the formerly beautifully manicured countryside which now, in vast tracts, is reverting to an almost primeval wilderness. Again, old photos of my area show terraced barley and wheat fields where today the voracious acacia tree is taking over everything which is not cultivated.
What to do? No place is now safe to live in in Italy. In the last forty years alone over four thousand people have died in flash floods or “bombe d’acqua” (water bombs) as they are known here. More rain fell in Piacenza in two years yesterday than in the entire previous year turning whole streets into rivers of mud. Sondrio is virtually cut off by landslides, Milan’s traffic underpasses have been turned into canals, and the level of the Po, Italy’s longest river, is giving everyone sleepless nights. And when all this is added to this year’s previous disasters at Parma, Genoa, the Puglia, Sardinia (the list is seemingly endless) anyone who thinks that coming to live, whether permanently or semi-permanently, in Italy means a life of peace and stability needs radically to think again.
Damage to our property? Keep fingers crossed. The only significant damage is seeping dampness into the walls which now require re-plastering, and moss on some of my library books which have had to be moved from their shelves. Our orto (allotment) this year has been a disaster, especially for tomatoes (as it has been for everyone else).
This is a warning to outsiders: Italy is in a mess!
We knew it has always been in a mess politically since it was unified in 1861. We know that has been in a mess economically since the crisis hit in 2008 (the economy is now classified not just as being “in recession” but being ”in stagnation”). We know that, with a vengeance unheard of before, it is in a mess geologically and ecologically.
What makes a true lover of Italy then? Not the connoisseur admiration of its inestimable number of world heritage sites (over half of the world’s such sites are here in Italy). Not the appreciation of its exquisite cuisine. Not the simpaticismo of its natives (although there is increasing evidence of their “nervosismo” (translated as “irritation and not “nervousness”)). What makes a true lover of Italy today is the ability to put up with the unceasing vacillations of the political weather, the desperate weather of its economic position but, most of all, the unpredictable and often frightening natural weather which has never hit us so hard as this year.
I can only hope that this phenomenon is a passing phase, although, somehow, I doubt it. Storms are getting worst throughout the world, especially in the USA. I think that Italy will have to do a lot to re-adapt its life-style to what could well be an increasingly different and challenging climate pattern. When I’m no longer able to have my morning cappuccino and pezzo dolce in a piazza with some sunshine in it then I might begin to waver (but only slightly – I shall always be a lover of Italy).
La Dolce Vita then? Not quite…La Dolce Vita Amara is more like it, perhaps.
PS Some pictures below I scanned from yesterday’s newspapers: