All of a Sudden
It was one of those extremely hot days at the end of September; Katina’s hens rested peacefully in the thin shadow of some scanty vine leaves, the cock for once seemed to meditate about the beauties of monastic life, Georgia’s ducks had given up arguing for quite some time, and a burning white sun was painfully slow approaching a silver grey sea of lead.
One of those days when the precious house wine from the coop in Kalamata had to be diluted with shabby sparkling water and lots of ice cubes, when you were hoping for some breeze as a companion of darkness, 40 something Celsius is a lot after 8 p.m.
I didn’t expect anything worse than a slightly sleepless night, an interruption in the local water supply and a sudden attack from Sophokli’s goats on the the greenery in our garden, the last green oasis on the outskirts of Proastion.
The children were still small, one, two and five years old, my friend Bernd had just arrived from Germany, sitting in the yard, happily smiling and sweating in paradise, Gabriele, the young mother of all mothers, was feeding the toddlers in the dark of the kitchen.
And I was cooking, preparing some simple petropsari in the pan, you know, sufficient olive oil, of course, a touch of salt and flour, and wondering why I was using any gas for this purpose.
A hot, hot late summer day in late summer, as we have them from time to time, once or twice a year, if at all; when nature seems to stop breathing, nobody and nothing wants to move, not even utter a tiny sound; it’s just too hot, the atmosphere too heavy, all living beings seem to be frozen in this heat.
Later, yes, and still now, I think I have a good reason to start worrying, when I notice one of these strange days maturing.
There it came! Pan in hand, turning the crispy little fish, I suddenly heard this unbelievable sound behind my back. I’d never heard anything like this before, and that meant I did not have the slightest idea what I was hearing…
Okay, some distance away there were the Taygetos mountains, I knew, but what did they have to do with this noise? Up there, and at the same time frighteningly close, must have been a gigantic lorry, a 10.000 ton lorry or bigger, unloading rocks. Or Taygetos was coming down, rolling towards the sea, burying my little village…. the sound was in the air and more astonishing, it was also in the ground, deep in the rock, rolling, a thousand tanks under earth approaching us at high speed!
And then the house started shaking; no, no, not gentle, aggressive, hard, it was knocked…
“Earthquake,” I shouted, “all out!”
Yes, that was it. I closed the gas bottle, we rushed out but by then it was already over.
How long did it take? A second, five, ten? Half a second? No, it could not be measured by time, time was absent while the earthquake was present.
A little later we had dinner; the fish was nice, the salad too warm, but the noble wine crisp and helpful. That was it. They call it earthquake.
The next day, a Sunday, we went for our late morning coffee in Aghios Nikolaos and there the news hit us: Kalamata was gone!
You won’t recognize it, it’s destroyed.
You can’t even go there.
People were sitting in groups around the tv sets and radios, all in a state of shock.
On Tuesday I had to go to Kalamata; I was doing Susan & Alban’s house, I had to order material, to pay workers, and I had to see with my own eyes the unbelievable things people were telling us.
It was worse. It was like Beirut after the war. Many roads were blocked by debris… through others, like the Lakoniki, only one car could pass at a time. Worst hit was the old town, just rubble; all the fine neoclassical houses, the just renovated Dimarchio – ruins. No electricity, no water. And the people very calm, all in a state of shock. Jewelry shops without walls and windows, but the jewels still in place, not orderly, still. The same for all the shops, there was no looting, the town was very, very silent. Paralyzed.
1st count – about 80% of houses were at that point not suitable for people to stay over night in.
The weeks and month to come were very difficult, very hard: tents on all the squares and later the containers came. And the bulldozers and engineers from all over the country to check each and every house.
What we had experienced in Proastion was nothing compared with the real thing. The first visible real damage was to be seen in Kampos, and from there on it was a war zone. And strange things were told: moving cars being thrown a meter or two into the air – and when they landed all 4 tyres exploded.
Dimitri was sitting on his veranda, 4th floor, polykatichia, and suddenly the whole construction from concrete was moving up and down, again, a meter or two,like on a ship, he said, and the sea was going high!
A year or two later planning laws in our area changed; too late for many of those destroyed buildings, yes, also new ones, several floors high, collapsed that Saturday evening at 8.25 p.m.
In German we have a saying: After the child has fallen into the well they place a grating.
Anyway, we do have new planning laws now. They tell us exactly how deep excavations have to be, what kind of concrete must be used, how much steel has to be in the columns and beams….. because of earthquakes. It’s not for fun or a just another silly law, just another corner to cut to save a couple of thousand euros. It’s essential; the quake may come any time again, any moment, without warning. The ducks might still quarrel, the cock chase his hens, it may be rainy and cold, we never know.
One has to experience a big one, not on TV or in the papers- one has to live it, maybe while bringing up children at the same time. Then you will understand:
The Sword of Damocles is not just a ancient myth. In Greece, concerning earthquakes, it is a reality.
And for once, even in anarchic Greece, you’d better obey the law when building a house…..
This is a copy of an article written from Stephan for Inside The Mani magazine.