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Home is best

I’m heading home. Back to the Shire, for me and the Kitty Crew.

I got a call from my realtor in Norcia saying that the city engineers have cleared my house as safe for occupation. Or at least, the middle floor flat is, which is the one I live in. I think the upstairs flat will have to be repaired. In any case, I’m going back to Norcia on or around February 15th. I’ve been in Germany, flat and cat sitting for a friend for a week but will be back to Italy tomorrow by train. After that, I think we are going to try to rent a car or a small SUV to get me, the little bits of stuff we brought down and the kitties back home as soon as possible.

But the news isn’t unmixed. Things are going to be very difficult in Norcia for quite a while and of course, there’s a boatload of work to be done.. There really isn’t much in the way of shops or businesses. All but one of the hotels are closed (and some of them look so badly damaged that I think they might end up having to be demolished.)

The gas is off in the house, and isn’t likely to be back on any time soon. This means the heat will be generated by the fireplace and by movable propane heaters, hot water bottles and an electric, plug-in oil radiator. The electric and water are on, but there won’t be any hot water until the gas is reconnected, and that could be months. The weather has been very harsh in Umbria this winter, and there have been blackouts caused by the heavy snowfalls, so I will be buying a very large stock of candles, and will be hitting the outdoor/camping shop to stock up on camp lights, small portable heaters and maybe a couple of tents in case I have to “camp” indoors. Just before the October quake, I got a large supply of firewood in, so there will be all-day fires. The chimney was smoking pretty badly when we tried it in December, so we’ll probably have to get a technico to come take a look at it.

I think I’m going to need a new fridge, though. When we got up there in December to clean and pack things, I discovered everything in the freezer was thawed, though the fridge light was on. So I think the quake damaged the compressor somehow. In short, life at my place is going to be something on the rustic side for a while.

As for the town, it is, just barely, functional. Our two supermarkets have reopened in smaller, emergency structures in the Zona Industriale, so food is there. Basic things like the pharmacy, hardware shop, garden centre, banks, and even two restaurants and a couple of coffee bars, are all functioning. So it’s possible to live there.

But the town itself, the main part inside the walls, is still mostly closed, everything in red above, the “zona rosa”. The two main gates, the Porta Romana (at the top) and the Porta Ascolana have just been reopened, which means they have cleared the rubble from the main street that runs directly through town. But the rest of the city remains off limits and of course, very dangerous, since the small tremors have not stopped, and as we saw on January 18th, even larger shakes are still a possibility, and the damaged buildings are now unstable. There are only a couple of businesses on the main street inside the walls that have reopened, so there will be little need to go into the town for anything.

The monks have moved permanently up to their mountain property, which means to get there is an hour’s walk up the side of the mountain, which I can’t manage every day. This means that I will not likely be able to go to their daily Mass – at 8 am – very often. They have been given a little container that has been converted for use as a chapel, but it’s tiny, seating at a squeeze no more than ten people. And the Divine Office is not being celebrated publicly at all. I expect this situation is going to expand by the spring and summer, since they will be further along in their own construction and can replace the container the big tent they’re using now as their own chapel.

The transport problem can be partially solved for now by hitching rides with others who go every day, or at least on Sundays, but in the long term, Fr. Spiritual Director has suggested I should get a place up on the hill closer to the monastery. (I didn’t want to write a testy note back reminding him that about 80% of the “housing stock” in the entire region has been destroyed…)

But things there are not all bad. The people who have remained – or who have gone to camp in hotels and with family near by and who commute to Norcia – have drawn very close, and there is a great spirit of mutual assistance. The town’s population has been reduced from 4500 to about 1500, so it’s a pretty tight-knit community now.

I have spent a lot of time thinking and praying about the future, and have considered many possibilities, but when the call came that my house was ready I knew that my mind had long since been made up. Go home as soon as possible, and start building a new life, focus more on prayer and painting than shouting at people on the internet. The internet shouting career has been fun in a way, but it has a shelf-life which I think we are getting close to the end of.

So the plan continues, though life will be very different. There’s reason to hope it will be different in a good way. Back home, back to the garden, the valley and the snow and the mists, the trees and birds and animals and the quiet mornings. Back to the never-ending search for the Door.