Every morning my husband and I unlatch the century-old, aquamarine shutters that colorfully protect our seaside apartment. Our rooms are a very small part of a stone villa that has been welcoming weekend visitors taking to the sea for generations. The Tuscan light streams through the leaded glass all day until it is time to reverse the ritual and close out the frigid night air. One evening last week, as I was closing the bedroom shutters, the pounding waves were barely audible, and the air was still… almost too still.
We awoke just after midnight to a symphony of branches snapping and wind whipping. We checked the weather on-line and it was not showing anything out of the ordinary, except we knew something was brewing.
As the night unfolded, we heard muffled sounds of terra-cotta smashing against concrete, the long slow crack of trees uprooting and still, no waves. The shutters on this timeless home protected and shielded us from harm. As we woke from our fractured sleep, we were afraid to open them and see the damage. To our surprise, aside from planters, awnings, and branches, the property where we live looked fairly unharmed. Still not finding anything on-line about the storm, we got the kids ready for school and headed out.
In the mile between our home and school, the damage was unlike any I had seen from a windstorm. The police officer that told us there would be no school said the winds gusted up to 160 KPH (99 MPH). In the wreckage, it was apparent that no one saw this coming. The sea, where storm watching usually occurs in these parts, was still tranquil. Over 1,000 trees fell in the small town of Forte Dei Marmi, which is about 100 large, iconic, pine trees per square mile. The wind came off the mountains and carried cafe tables and street signs, bus stops, and market stalls as far as it could manage.
Thankfully, although there were injuries, most people came out physically unscathed. I remember in the USA how when horrible storms hit, there was a dramatic change of pace. So many people, including myself, would talk about how the storms would bring communities together, remind us of what is important, and slow us down. I recall this massive shift back to what mattered most during these storms and in their aftermath: family, food, shelter, and community.
The strangest thing happened to us in the days after this storm in Italy. Still finding very little on-line, we walked out into the community. It was as it has always been. People focused on what matters most: family, food, shelter, and community. Sure there were a few more hands flying as people described their experience of the storm but no massive shift was discernible. Even with cracking trees blocking main streets, workers took breaks to get their morning coffee. We witnessed many Nonnas (grandmothers) walking their bikes around fallen gates to get their morning produce. Children were playing in the piazza using debris for an obstacle course. The landscape of this region was altered dramatically yet cafes opened under damaged awnings and tables were set with white cloths billowing in the lingering wind.
The lack of impact this storm had on the rhythm of the day forever changed us. It was evidence of how aligned the Italians are with what matters most to them and how they spend their time every day. Every morning the shutters open, and every night they close. It is that simple. The rituals take time but in the long run they even out our stride so massive shifts are not necessary and we don’t miss a step, rain, or shine.