March 2024. The Moment The Earth Stood Still.

The Moment The Earth Stood Still.

Not a few people in the northern hemisphere decide that, having reached a suitable age, they should give up their particular “rat race” and search out climates new. One needs to give this some serious thought. Given the UK’s capricious, moody and temperamental weather, “New”, to many, means somewhere with lots of sun! However, the nation is no longer the home of intrepid souls pursuing the ultimate ‘baking tray’, leaving that to the young Mayfair mob and Lawrence of Arabia. After much debate and heated arguments, what crumb of intellect remains in our old bones, suggests that Tuscany, full of sun, but windy hills “cuts the biscuit!” Or, if you like, possibly, “a place where you can have your cake and eat it!”

However, take care. I am not referring to “holiday homes” but “permanent homes”. That is more than a mere subtle difference. It is true, one has a considerable amount of choice. Italy seeming to especially touch the cords of English souls who seem to desire something more than just lazing around in the sun next to the swimming pool. However, a leaky roof in the summer doesn’t leak! It’s very different if you’re knee deep in a permanence that has to cope with a chunk of the winter as well. Then, puddles in the bedroom would be more than just an inconvenience!

Though one can discover accommodating properties nearly everywhere below the Apennines, Tuscany, which is the very soul of modern western aspirations, has a great deal going for it, besides handy airports. Well, perhaps not for those ex-patriots with their feet well and truly under the table, who think they have done with hospitality until the next tranche of relations hit the tarmac running.

In Tuscany you have never done enough, never learnt enough, never seen enough. Tomorrow, even when you park yourself in a comfortable chair and close your eyes for a moment, you are not alone. An unknown Tuscany is still with you, resting just beneath your feet!

The summer of 2016 had been my sort of summer - an occasional drifting cloud in a vibrant blue heaven; the sun intense, but kept at bay beneath the heavily leafed pergola, a gentle breeze, and a nice light lunch along with the regulation glass of a local wine, before settling myself in front of the computer to knock out another page of a recalcitrant chapter. A tap on the thermometer out of habit, not reason, revealed all was well with the world.  On the face of it, the day seemed to suggest a productive outcome. My wife, at that moment, was engaged in some gelsomina pruning, busy on a ladder controlling an abundance of overactive shoots. No one to disturb me.

I rattled out a thousand words. Read it through once, twice, changed a word or two and saved it. Looking at the clock revealed time was in as much of a hurry as I was.A good reason to close the shutters against the afternoon sun beginning to stream through the window, and like Cesare, the neighbour’s cat, curled up, fast asleep, in a half full box of magazines next to the desk.



A tickle behind his ear brought forth a contented purr, so I eased the chair back another notch and closed my eyes to consider the next few thousand words.

THUMP! I felt a violent jolt in its sharp echo!

My eyes shot open with a start. It was a discordant noise that in the depth and brevity of its resonance seemed to bury itself deep in your soul, and was then no more. I glanced out of the window where everything seemed to be normal. The wall was still standing, gate firmly shut, Cyprus trees still pointed to the heavens. Had I imagined it? A sound that made no sound, buried somewhere at the back of your mind, jumping to the front, then back again. At that very point I became aware of a silence. The same sort of silence that had become frozen round my soul.

One never really considers silence - how can you describe something that doesn’t actually materially exist. Thinking back to that day, I only remember an unnatural heaviness in the air, a quietness of strange intensity, an existence that didn’t really seem to be there, which in its unfamiliarity is only another way of depicting an enigma. It was then that I noticed the magazine box on the floor next to my desk was quite empty, having only a minute before being full of ‘feline slumber’! Looking out of the window revealed absolutely nothing. Everything was still standing, the next-door house remained in place, the sun was still shining.

But there was still that oppressive silence, and the suspicious absence of Cesare!

Looking further around the room I noticed a tail protruding from under the bookcase, and just as suddenly, the clamour of agitated voices outside on the road, something in the little hamlet I’d never heard before.  I recognised a neighbour. And then another.  At the same time the lady of the house, hastily abandoning her pruning, appeared, having rapidly shot down off her ladder, running up the steps to find out what I made of it all. Having never experienced an earthquake (terremoto) before, we inquisitively joined the concerned neighbours outside.

But Cesare, despite our cajoling, still refused to come out from under the bookcase!

So, what about this heart stopping thump that had managed to put the fear of God in my soul, and probably everyone else’s?

2016 was a very bad year for earthquakes in Tuscany, hitting a seriously dangerous magnitude of 6.5 near Norcia in next door Perugia, and 4.8 in Tuscany generally. Earthquakes under 4.5 are said to make you jump - actually frighten the hell out of you - but do little structural damage. This is relative of course. A cherished glass lamp in the hallway, held too tightly against the wall, now has a superficial crack in the back, luckily out of sight. I later noticed, one or two roof tiles on some houses, were somewhat eschew.

Don’t let any of this put you off. Italy does have violent and destructive earthquakes but they are generally confined to the south. Naples has in the past been very badly shaken, but is still standing and is as wonderful and as fascinating as ever. But why earthquakes in such a peaceful country, you might ask?

For those of an inquisitive bent, Italy was formed by the convergence of the Eurasian and African plates which form the earth’s crust deep down beneath our feet. Previously, almost at the beginning of time, there was nothing but sea and volcanic agitation between them. The self-same plates, however, not content to push Italy out of the water into the sunshine, still decide, every now and again, to have a “dust-up”. The violent movement finds stress faults in the earth’s surface, and with the convergence of these plates, form seismic waves of energy called an earthquake.

Italy has, as they say, a geological fault, and each and every one of us, including the cats, just have to learn to live with their occasional cantankerous outbursts!

That’s settled then.  On with the new chapter - Cesare now on my lap!