May 20th, 2012. In the early morning hours, the small Italian town of Finale Emilia became the epicenter of a 6.0 magnitude earthquake—shaking the heart and soul of the beautiful historic town center.
Only one year before, we visited that unique city on the northern edge of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. The town’s name literally means the end of Emilia. What a rich history of interesting and curious things, such as the Panaro river, which was relocated many years ago from the center of town to create space for a traditional main street. In 2011 there was still talk of rebuilding the canal one day. Finale Emilia boasted an impressive Duomo (cathedral) in the heart of the city; a wonderful 14th century clock tower; and an ancient castle, Castello delle Rocche (over 1000 years old). In addition to these landmarks, there is also one of our favorite destinations—the restaurant/hotel La Fefa, located in the old Jewish ghetto. In 2011, we were fortunate enough to stay in the hotel for a few days, enjoying their down-home hospitality.
We returned to Finale in the fall of 2013, to see the damage that the earthquake had caused. As we drove into town, we were saddened by the devastation. Even after 18 months, there were no obvious signs of rebuilding—just enough structural support had been added to keep what was left from falling down. The grand church, seriously damaged, was stabilized by exterior wood supports. Covered with a temporary roof, gaping holes still leave the church open to the elements. The doors had long since been locked behind the scaffolding. Handmade quilts and blankets from the townspeople hung lifeless on the iron structure. They express the locals’ love and solidarity. Because of the worst economic downturn in decades, money is still not available to rebuild the lovely Finale Emilia.
The beautiful medieval clock tower in the piazza was completely gone. The clock face became the symbol of the destruction. Photos showed the face split right down the middle. The clock became the visible plea for donations in many shops throughout all of Italy. Finally, the remaining rubble was hauled away, and in its place stood a simple symbolic reminder of the 700 year old centerpiece. The ancient castle remained silent, with its own crutches in place to hold the tallest remaining sections in position. Overall, the city was a mere shadow of its former self, with streets quiet and lifeless—as if in mourning. The small amount of money raised for rebuilding went to the schools first (a beautiful statement of values), leaving little for the rest of the town. But, in the middle of that sad state of disrepair, there was one glimmer of light and hope for the future: Osteria La Fefa!
The exterior walkway to the restaurant is still a bit like an abandoned construction zone, and the hotel remains closed. But once we passed through the front door, the charm and elegance of the place danced as if nothing had changed. The owner/creator Giovanna Guidetti and her son Edoardo, along with the help of many others, lovingly pieced everything back together. And the food? It was exquisite, just like before. But you will just have to go there and find out for yourself. One thing is for certain, La Fefa will not disappoint.
After lunch, we felt differently than when we first arrived. The hospitality and conversation revived our spirits. We had a sense of awe, realizing the persistence and determination that exists beneath the rubble. In a way, this is nothing new. Italians have experienced centuries of devastation, and takeovers by ruthless rulers. They understand the art of patience and what can be accomplished by fierce determination over time. Maybe not today or even tomorrow, but eventually they will rebuild—they will endure as before. Similar to the great flooding of the Arno River in 1966 in Florence, a city that appeared nearly destroyed, eventually rose again like the phoenix from the ashes. The grandeur of Finale Emilia will one day return, making it hard to imagine the stories and pictures of devastation and despair.
This story is dedicated to Giovanna and Edoardo and all those like them who will stay the course through to brighter days. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of you, and your beautiful historic town. We will continue to make our annual pilgrimage to La Fefa until all of the beautiful monuments are rebuilt, and the streets are bursting with vibrant energy once again. Long live Finale Emilia!
Note: We also wrote the following song called “Earth Quake” that speaks metaphorically about both the physical and emotional aspects of tragedies.