In the air Wednesday, June 13th 2012
In Emilia, a fertile region of northern Italy, time stood still for long seconds. Again and again. Clock towers, medieval turrets and ancestral homes where locals gathered in times of celebration or danger are now just a pile of rubble.
In Emilia, a fertile region of northern Italy, time stood still for long seconds © Roberto Serra / Getty Images
The earthquake that shook a region whose seismic activity was, until now, considered negligible took everyone by surprise. The media were quick to relay this dramatic event around the world. These images testify to the scale of the tragedy, but I doubt they convey the full extent of the profound suffering which these past days I have witnessed with my own eyes.
In a country such as Italy, all too often mocked by other nations for its laxity and cavalier attitude, I have been struck by the dignified resolve with which Emilia's inhabitants are braving this situation; a determination that inspires them to act effectively and without delay to restore the normal course of life in this scarred land. This determination is in their blood, as is their unique disposition to industriousness, now and always.
From agriculture to industry, hard work has never been considered a cross to bear until retirement finally comes, but rather a necessary activity, a means of building and embellishing, to be undertaken with care, but also joy. Indeed, the inhabitants of Emilia are also known for their innate and irresistible capacity to enjoy each day life's pleasures, great and small.
So, a rustic sobriety and an entrepreneurial mindset which have spread throughout the region. It's no coincidence that Emilia is the land of Parmigiano Reggiano, the most famous cheese in the world; that balsamic vinegar was invented there; that this is where the legendary Parma ham is produced and aged; that Lambrusco and Vignola cherries originate here. Yet beyond our admiration for this world-class produce, we should remember that Emilia has hundreds of years of art and culture, even if it is better known as the birthplace of three legends: Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini. Emilia is indeed the "Motor Valley" of Italy.
Not just a land of farmers, workers and entrepreneurs then, but a thriving home for culture too where a dense industrial fabric of research and innovation thrives. Emilia boasts more than three thousand business clusters ranging from mechanics to biotechnology whose activity was brought to a halt by the earthquake. Despite the population's swift and efficient response, the material and moral damage is beyond measure.
The reason I mention the tragedy that struck this Italian region, whose small size belies its grandeur, in a magazine devoted to time measurement is because its inhabitants' mindset reminds me of the fortitude of others who, a long, long time ago, left Geneva to settle in the surrounding valleys (today's Watch Valley), between isolated mountains and forests. At the price of huge sacrifice, with steely determination and a natural attachment to hard work, they created Swiss watchmaking.
Protected as it is by the Alps, Switzerland will probably never be directly affected by the tragedy of an earthquake. Yet I would like it be through a show of solidarity with Emilia and its population who, quietly but resolutely, are setting the hands of time in motion again, and resuming the thread of their lives. ■