L’Aquila Remembered – Sofia’s Letter

Sofia's House

On April 6th, at 3:32 a.m, a year will have passed since an earthquake drove almost everyone from L’Aquila and over 40 of the surrounding towns & villages from their homes. Many have since returned to their homes – their buildings and neighbourhoods withstood the quake better than others.  [quote]Most of downtown L’Aquila is still off-limits, as is the historical core of most of the surrounding towns. Tens of thousands are still living in some form of temporary housing.

Sofia's neighboursSofia, aged 12, recently wrote this letter to a classmate that she lost forever that night.  She used to live in the downtown area of L’Aquila.  Luckily, although her house is severely damaged, (see photo above) it is still standing, unlike much of the neighbourhood around which is in far worse shape.

In a year or so she will be able to move home, to a safer building, but one that is surrounded by cranes and construction sites. In the meantime, she and her family are renting an apartment in Pescara, Abruzzo’s modern city on the Adriatic coast, 100 KM away from L’Aquila, and on the other side of the Apennines’ tallest mountain.

This letter was written for a class project and read aloud in class which was attended by a journalist from L’Aquila who lost his son and daughter to the earthquake. It was published in Il Centro, the Abruzzo region’s largest newspaper.  Sofia has very kindly given us her permission for us to re-use it, which she kindly translated with the help of her father, our friend Joshua Lawrence.

Dear Davide,

Almost a year has passed since that night. You know, I was really scared. Everything was trembling: our house, the beds, the furniture, my heart, everything. I made my way out of my house, hurting my feet as I walked over fragments of plaster from our walls and glass from the picture frames and lamps. A boom, a deafening roar filled the air, making it heavy, unbearable.

Every other sound seemed to reach my ears through cotton, distant, far away. Everything was falling: the buildings crumbled, people were jumping from their windows looking – in those crazed moments – for a way to escape from the invincible force that was selfishly dragging my city into the deepest of darkness.

I perceived these things so strangely, I knew what was happening but all the same a remote part of me refused to believe it was real. I jumped into our car with my sister. I didn’t know why, but I hoped that after I got in, it would all be over. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out as I had hoped.

The earth kept on shaking, sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker, but trembling always. The night seemed endless and when the day reappeared from behind the mountains I could hardly believe it. I had no idea what was going on beyond our car, but I was sure that it was something horrible.

After we picked up Grandma and drove to Navelli, the news arrived. That news, the news that would make me cry every day that followed and when the tears stopped wetting my cheeks I would still feel that same heavy emptiness, ever present deep in my soul. The phone rang for thirty unending seconds before my Mum answered. She stayed silent as she listened. It was something bad, because the expression on her face changed suddenly, from distraught to terrible suffering.  When she hung up, I listened to her. I didn’t want to believe what she was saying; I didn’t want to believe that voice that kept telling me that you were gone, that you had flown to Heaven, that you had left us forever. I didn’t want to believe it, I couldn’t.

As my Mum hugged me and we cried, I played back all the moments I passed with you. School, class trips, the oral tests in class, the handball games, the playground in Piazza Pasquale Paoli and the games in Piazza Duomo, the walks along the Corso , the afternoons at the ice skating pavilion. Now that I think back on it, the two of us were not all that similar: you were a little arrogant and  sometimes overbearing, I was so proud and independent, but the time we spent arguing seems to me now so terribly sweet, so strangely beautiful.

When you were here I never fully noticed you strengths: you were sweet and sensitive, even though it was rarely seen at just a first glance; you were also cheerful and carefree, you didn’t care what others thought of you, you were simple in spirit and sincere in your feelings. I have your smile printed in my mind, your laughter fills my ears when things are difficult for me and they help me make it through.

I’m sorry you’re not here, close to me. I’m sorry to have to give you the bad news. All of the places that hosted times we spent together are no longer there. It’s painful for me to say our Piazza Duomo is now occupied by large white tents, our Piazza Paoli is now full of holes and our porticos are fenced off, our school is broken. The historical centre was closed for a long time and when they opened up part of it the scene was chilling. They are slowly opening the center, piece by piece, but there was rubble everywhere.

A month ago the people of L’Aquila began to complain, and these complaints lead to the “Wheelbarrow Revolt” and slowly they are freeing the city of the rubble. It’s important to me to tell you all this because I know how much you cared about this city, and I’m sure that you would be happier knowing that it has not been abandoned or forgotten.

Before I sign off, I want to tell you that the times we spent together have helped make me a person who reflects more on things and tries to help others. In a certain sense I’ve grown more mature. Thank you, because with you I spent some beautiful moments, enjoyed some really fun days and played wonderful games, Thank you for being part of my life and thank you for staying on the heart, soul and mind of those of us who experienced life with you.  Thank you for your laughter which raises our spirits when the pain fills our souls. Thank you for everything. Please remember the people who loved you and who keep on loving you forever. Many hugs and kisses to your mamma and your little brother too.

With enormous affection,

Sofia Lawrence
March 21st, 2010

Ways to Help L’Aquila One Year On…

Here’s 4  simple ways that you can help the people of L’Aquila one year after the earthquake:


Culture LoversHelp support L’Aquila’s bid to be the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2019.  Not only is this a means to celebrate L’Aquila’s renaissance past and its new future, but this acts as a means to ensure that restoration work is completed in the city in a timely and appropriate fashion after such great loss.

Travel Lovers – Visit Abruzzo & her 4 provinces – a beautiful untouched region of Italy, and an active way to ensure that the local economy grows in the region to support the restoration that is needed for the people of L’Aquila to return to normality.

Food lovers – Buy the new cookbook ‘Breaking Bread in L’Aquila‘ – all net profits will be donated to the restoration fund and you can learn & share with friends some great recipes from the region.

Pet lovers – Donate to 99 Gatti, the charity feeding the pets left behind by owners unable to take them into the hotels & temporary accommodation.  Their website is in Italian but you will be able to see their work, and although you cannot make an online donation IBAN details are available on the right-hand side of their blog.

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Sam Dunham
Author: Sam Dunham

Sam is a very lucky midlife 'mamma' to A who is 12 and juggles her work as a self-employed freelance SEO food and travel copywriter and EFL teacher. She is the founder of the Life In Abruzzo Cultural Association, co-founder of Let's Blog Abruzzo. she is the founder of the 'English in the Woods' initiative, teaching English outdoors in a forest style school.

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