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Ghost Town

In Italy, March to Athens on 24 February 2012 at 22:56

March to Athens

Day 109-XXXV, from Buccino to Romagnano al Monte, 7 km.

Romagnano al Monte, February 24

Dear people,

In Buccino we had our ups and downs, as usual. The ups were the hospitality of the locals and the assembly we held with a hundred school kids at eight o’ clock in the morning.

The downs were the wine and the social problems.

Yesterday evening a local wine producer brought us ten litres of home made wine. After that, it was party time. Until very early in the morning a small group of people gathered around the fire, making noise and drinking. One of us at a certain point was fed up with it. He took the five litre bottle and threw what was left of the red wine into the fire.

When I heard about it the next morning I got angry like I never had before on the march. I wanted the perpetrator brought to justice. I wanted to see him hang. Because there is no excuse – with the possible exception of a small ritual offering to the gods – to throw wine into the fire, especially when it’s local wine offered by the producer.

On the other hand it’s not right that a few people drink the common stack of wine and keep people awake. But that’s personal responsibility. You can’t blame the wine, ever.

Buccino

senza titolo

We move on, slowly, to the next village on the road. Romagnano al Monte. When I get there, I’m told that there are three Romagnanos. There’s the old village, there’s the new village, and there’s the provisional village in between.

The old village was heavily damaged by the earthquake of 1980. People were evacuated and housed in prefab containers, the old town was abandoned and rebuilt three kilometres up the road. The containers are still there. For decades the locals have been living in them. Now they are rented as holiday homes.

The prefab homes, from the central square of new Romagnano

The new village is nothing special. Large parallel roads, modern houses and lots of space for cars. But when I hear about a ghost town three kilometres away, I get excited. I drop my bags and I walk.

During the March on Brussels we encountered lots of phantom villages in the south of France. But none of those were completely abandoned.

This one is.

They say that there are certain things you have to experience in life, at least once. And as for me, walking through a real ghost town is one of them.

I arrive just before dusk. The quiet provincial road winds around the slope, and suddenly I see it, the remainders of the village, the stone bones of an extinguished society. I’m completely happy when I start the descent.

The moloch

At the entrance to the village there is an anonymous apartment complex like you find them anywhere in Italian outskirts. It must have been brand new when the earthquake struck, symbol of modernity that didn’t survive into adulthood. Now it’s empty, like all the other homes down in the village. A concrete moloch standing guard on the roadside.

The path into the village is almost completely overgrown by bushes. All the houses around are open, all of them are damaged, many roofs have collapsed, many walls as well. Inside the houses it’s a mess. They are full of debris. No-one ever bothered to clean them out.

Romagnano vecchio. Photos from morning after.

I descend to the beginning of the corso, the central road of the village. Adding to the surreal craziness of this place, there is a new town hall here, recently built, ready to be used, but closed and empty.

I walk on through the main street. I take a look inside the old houses. In some of them you can still see pieces of brown/orange 1970s wall paper. But that was just a fashion. What really strikes is the way of life through the centuries, right up until yesterday.

The houses are extremely small. They generally consist of a tiny room with a sink and a wood oven and sometimes a bathroom angle. This is where people lived. Families of up to ten people. Upstairs there was a single sleeping place for all.

Some of the houses have three rooms. It must have been the homes of the rich. Then there’s the school, in the middle of the corso. Three little classrooms and an office. Next to it, there’s the heart of the local economy. Il frantoio. The old olive press with its two giant stone wheels is still standing amidst the rubble.

At the end of the corso there’s the village square with the church and the mayor’s house. The church is only accessible through a hole in the wall. Inside it looks as if it were yesterday that the earthquake struck. Decorations came crumbling down. The stairs to the pulpit are no more. The roof is on the floor. All of it makes for an atmosphere that is out of this world.

When I leave the church, the sun has gone down. But there’s still enough light to venture through the alleys near the side of the ravine. Not all of them are accessible. Sometimes you have to climb over mountains of old stones, sometimes you have to find your way passed thirty year old trees. A number of houses have been split in the middle by the quake, and parts of them have tumbled down into the canyon.

It’s growing dark now. Carefully I walk back to the central artery of the village. I sit down on the doorstep of one of the houses, and I feel great. I’m in a ghost town, and I can’t see a thing. Only when I look up, between the silhouets of the ruins I can see the stars. The first moon is about to set. Everything and everyone who cannot stand the light of day comes out at this hour. I keep quiet, I just sit, and I listen to the sounds…

Old Romagnano

New Romagnano

  1. Thank you Oscar for this piece of writing (one of the best!) and the beautiful pictures! Keep going and get angry more often! Best wishes from Athens.

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