Draquila – and Italy Won’t Stop Shaking …
When it comes to movie recommendations, I’m going to make it a point from now on to take mine from Italy’s current Minister of Culture, Sandro “Mr. Magoo” Bondi and its Minister of Tourism, Michela “That’s No Fascist Salute; I’m Just Adjusting my Dress” Brambilla.
In recent days, the two of them have been spewing venom over Sabina Guzzanti’s new documentary, Draquila: L’Italia che Trema, like a couple of spitting cobras on a hot rock. Which was all the reason I needed to drop everything and run to see it. Bondi, for his part, refused to attend this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Draquila was screened as a “Special Event,” because, he said, the documentary was “propaganda” that “offended the entire Italian people.” Brambilla, meanwhile, appearing on a TV talk show, announced that she might just ask the Italian Attorney general to take legal action against Guzzanti for “the damage that images like these may cause to our country. I’m offended and outraged as an Italian citizen even before being offended as Minister,” she went on. “It’s time to stop casting Italy in a negative light.”
Anyone who’d been following the events of the last year might well have concluded that, if anything was in danger of offending the entire Italian people or spoiling the country’s image, it was Berlusconi, his ruling party of devoted delinquents and currently-under-investigation commissars, and the succession of scandals and outrages that have followed, one upon the other, like bitter little beads in some Mephistophelian rosary. If you thought that, though, Bondi and Brambilla want you to know you’re wrong. And I bet it isn’t the first time they’ve had to tell you so.
Draquila’s title is a play on “Dracula” and “L’Aquila,” the former “art city” in the Abruzzo that was devastated by last year’s April 6th earthquake. (There’s more background on the earthquake situation in “Not One Euro for the Earthquake in Abruzzo” and “Popolo della Libertà: Annihilating Freedom of the Press, One Journalist at a Time.”)
It’s a catchy title, but one that, like all good jokes, wields the weight of truth behind it. Dracula, as you’ll recall, isn’t dead but undead; though he “rises,” he’s still a walking corpse. Just like L’Aquila, Guzzanti suggests.
How to tell this long story in a few words? On April 6, 2009, an earthquake struck Italy’s Abruzzo. Particularly hard hit was L’Aquila, the capital of the Region of the Abruzzo as well as of the province of the same name. Tens of thousands of people ended up in more than a hundred tent cities or “tendopoli” scattered around the area. Other tens of thousands were housed in hotels on the coast, some 75 kilometers (46 miles) away (where they were told to “think of it as a vacation”). Berlusconi, whose poll numbers had been seriously lagging after a series of sex scandals and other international figure di merda, leapt into the fray, promising to build brand new houses for everyone, and to do so in record time.
But there was no money, the government insisted, to repair L’Aquila (which remains, even today, a ghost town where virtually no repair work of any kind has been done—other than that done by citizens themselves, who had to fight their way past police lines in order to get inside the city with wheelbarrows and brooms).
Berlusconi enlisted one of his tried-and-true henchmen, Guido Bertolaso, to handle the “Earthquake Emergency.” As head of the Italian civil defense, later appointed a “Special Commissioner,” Bertolaso had extraordinary powers to suspend existing laws and regulations, bypass the normal bidding process for construction and service contracts, etc.
Time passed. A lot of time. Life in the tendopoli wasn’t easy—people were far from work, schools, family. Many of them were still reeling from having lost loved ones, if not all their worldly possessions, in the quake. Bertolaso, authorized by his “extraordinary powers,” imposed a sort of martial law on the camps, which were guarded by police and soldiers:
TV crews and reporters could not get inside to talk to anybody; residents of the tent cities sometimes also found they weren’t free to come and go as they pleased. Dissent was effectively stifled (there’s an affecting scene in the film in which tendopoli residents try to hang a bedsheet with a spray-painted protest slogan over one of the compound’s fences; police and the kapos of the Civil Defense repeatedly pull it down).
At the end of September 2009, the first houses—400 of them—were handed over to earthquake survivors. The rest would be ready “before Christmas,” the government promised (some 67,000 people were left homeless by the quake). In all, some nineteen “New Towns” have been or will be built, many of them on land formerly in cultivation and most of them far from stores, schools, or infrastructure of any kind. The total cost of the project is estimated to be €725 million ($942.5 million at today’s exchange rate), of which just under half comes from a fund provided by the European Union; they are the most expensive homes of their kind ever built in Italy (with an overall cost of more than €2,000 per square meter).
As of April 2010, 13,408 people were living in Berlusconi’s CASE (Complessi Antisismici Sostenibili ed Ecocompatibili—or Sustainable, Earthquake-Proof, Environmentally Friendly Structures) and 4,295 in “MAPs” (semi-temporary wooden homes donated by the Red Cross and the City of Trento). The rest continue to be scattered among coastal hotels and police or military barracks (7,332) or are living in campers or with relatives (15,000). (These figures are taken from Marco Travaglio’s “Popolazione beneficiata?” If you read Italian, it’s definitely worth it; a .pdf is here.)
Many former residents are angry—and not just about the long wait. Some argue that their homes aren’t badly damaged, and they could return to them; some would even pay for needed repairs out of their own pockets. They can’t, though, because the government refuses to give them permits for repairs or new construction. For others, who couldn’t afford on their own to make their homes safe for habitation, even if they were allowed to do so, Berlusconi continues to insist that there’s no public money for rebuilding or repairing L’Aquila. Meanwhile, contractors, builders, and investors are making a tidy profit on the CASE—and will continue to do so on the shopping centers, roads, post offices, etc., that will eventually have to follow.
Winter in the Abruzzo can be harsh—and, in any case, Berlusconi’s Christmas 2009 deadline was looming. Apparently concerned about the damage that might result if media images began to circulate of Abruzzesi shivering through Christmas dinner in tent cities, Bertolaso and Berlusconi had the remaining tendopoli residents evicted and moved, some of them against their will, to the coastal hotels. The tent cities were demolished: After all, Berlusconi had promised they would be gone by the end of 2009, and gone they were. Whether the people in them wanted to go or not.
A few people snuck back into their homes in or near L’Aquila and refused to leave. In Guzzanti’s film, one woman talks to police through a closed door when they come to take her away. “My job is nearby,” she says, “and I don’t have a driver’s license. I can’t go live 75 kilometers away in a hotel.”
That’s the story that Draquila tells, and that’s where things stand. A fraction of the Aquilani and Abruzzesi left homeless by the quake have moved into permanent new homes. Berlusconi insists that his government has presided over an unprecedented humanitarian effort, accomplished in record time, and that no other government on earth would have done it. If you want to know what the victims have to say about all that, I’m not sure how you’d find out. The media aren’t covering the story anymore.
Or maybe they’ll start again, thanks to Draquila.
In the U.S., Bush’s lame, negligent, heartless response to the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina was one of the final images of his tainted, shameful presidency. Berlusconi shows no signs of being tainted. And if you understand why, someone ought to give you an honorary PhD in political economics.
Meanwhile, one of the things I realized as I watched Draquila is this: Italy is full of heroes. Watching the daily onslaught of demoralizing, stomach-turning news can make you forget that, but they really do exist.
They include Milena Gabanelli, a journalist and the host of Report, which is one of a tiny handful of serious, investigative news programs left on Italian TV; every week she and her crew do their level best to shake Italians out of their stupor on everything from health care to the lack of urban planning to the impressive number of government officials who officially hold two positions (and, thus, collect two salaries). Beppe Grillo, a Michael Mooresque figure whose muckraking tends more toward political satire than hard-hitting journalism, but who keeps making people laugh when their instinct might solely be to despair. Marco Travaglio, whom I mentioned earlier, a journalist who takes constant, vicious hits from the government and the right and just keeps on doing his job. The reporters of L’Espresso. The writers at Spinoza. And of course, Sabina Guzzanti.
I’m going to try harder to remember her, and the courage of Draquila, the next time I’m tempted to say no one in Italy cares about the political nightmare this country is living through. The fact is that the opposition does exist in Italy. Let’s not kid ourselves: there’s no political opposition whatsoever. But there is a cultural, artistic, moral, human opposition, and it includes millions and millions of people who care deeply, who feel the pain Italy is in, and who are more heartsick than I could ever be.
It’s their country that’s being trashed, after all.
And in case Sabina is reading this: Consider this a standing offer. I’ll translate the subtitles for your film into English for free. Any time, any place. Ti ringrazio e ti abbraccio forte.
Posted on 10 May 2010, in Cinephilia...and Cinephobia, Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order), We've Gone Mad! Mad I Tell You! and tagged Abruzzo, Earthquake, Italy, L'Aquila, Michela Vittoria Brambilla, Milena Gabanelli, Sandro Bondi, Silvio Berlusconi. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.