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May Day has come and gone. Much thinking, reflection and planning had gone in anticipation of this day. Mainly with the resolve to be in Rome for it to reacquaint with the long standing tradition of taking to the streets to express the victories and the struggles of the working class; and also to respond and pay homage, in an appropriate manner, to the first anniversary of the end of the worldly journey of our friend Savanna.

The circumstances in Italy at present and the more contemplative nuance that May Day has assumed for me, prescribed a change of plans more fitting to my disposition for the day. So, I decided to pass up the prospect of being among the 300 thousand people in Piazza San Giovanni and join instead a much smaller, but more reflective multitude in L’Aquila, where last month the earth shook to leave a path of devastation of significant magnitude.

In a show of solidarity, the gathering took place in the small sobborgo of Coppito, a mountain-side, quaint hamlet with narrow cobblestone streets named after ancient guilds, now completely evacuated as a result of the seismic activities except for  one solitary old man and his dog, who saw no reason to leave. Every bit of public open space has been turned into camps to provide refuge to the homeless.

The rows of blue tents, food, clothes and hygiene items distribution points were more reminiscent of some of the refugee camps I have visited and Savanna worked in other parts of the world, than a sight I was expecting to encounter in the Bel Paese, perhaps, a reminder of the impermanence of everything.

In Coppito many stories from the locals and those who came for the day were shared in an atmosphere of sobriety and shared empathy. L’Aquila was a different scene. 300 people lost their lives, a few more of those who are in critical conditions are not making it through, or perhaps they don’t want to. Almost half of the city has been destroyed and the whole of the historical centre with its millennia of heritage has been reduced to a pile of rubble.

The city was cordoned off by the authorities, but like many times before where access was denied, I made it through. I’ve always attributed this capacity to gain access to inaccessible places to the good fortune of having so many “guardian angels” looking out for me when I push my luck a little too far. I had no doubt this time who was walking along side me when I went through the main check point unobstructed, almost as if I was invisible.

Walking the empty streets it was like seeing a moment frozen in time. Among the rubble and debris were people’s simple possessions; toothbrushes, books, documents, photographs, , toys and even a baking dish still half full of the now decomposing evening meal. The merciless tremor took them all by surprise.

At a moment of despair, when the throat, the chest and eyes were negotiating with the temporary fading of hope, I glanced at the graffiti on the wall of one of the camps, it read “il cielo non e’ mai stato cosi’ azzurro”, which translates as the sky has never been so blue. A welcome and much needed reminder of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

And so it was on this May Day. A day of splendour, a day to connect with others, in presence or in spirit, a day to gain nourishment and courage from our absent friends, a day to renew the ideals of commitment to solidarity, compassion and concern. Also a day to deliberate on the importance of every single moment we thread on this earth. Importantly, a day to pledge that every day can be a May Day.

How was your May Day?

Foto: L’Aquila, ’09