Buckets of Rain in the Green Heart of Italy

It started raining hard on Sunday.  By Monday morning, pockets of Northern and Central Italy had been devastated by floods.  Photos of what this 200-year storm did to Venice filled the Internet, but the big news in our part of the country was what it did to the area around Orvieto.

Orvieto has something of a split personality.  The glamorous and famous part sits on a plateau atop a huge tufa rock.  There is the iconic duomo, charming cobblestone streets, lots of boutiques and pottery shops, wonderful restaurants, and many happy tourists.  That part of Orvieto was unscathed.  But the part of town at the base of the rock, called “Orvieto Scalo,” the engine that keeps the region going, was flooded.

The train station is the long, taller, light-colored building in the center of this picture.  And behind it?  The parking lot that we and many of our guests know well.  Those black dots are the tops of the submerged cars of railway passengers who took advantage of the train station’s free parking, only to discover its hidden cost.

Teams of workers, civil authorities, flood victims and good-hearted volunteers are cleaning up the mess, and life is already getting back to normal.  But it was quite a couple of days.

Mom and I were at Rocca di Benano during the first full day of torrential rain, and it didn’t surprise me to learn that we lived through a record-shattering storm — 11 inches in 39 hours.  For the data geeks among you, I’m told that equates to 74 gallons per 3.86 square miles (which, I have to admit, means absolutely nothing to me).

I had to keep reminding myself that our house has been here for 1,000 years and has withstood worse.  I was right, of course, although we did lose a handful of 10-year old olive trees and part of relatively new stone stairs that run (ahem, ran) alongside the olive grove.  We were very lucky — all our problems are fixable.  I was also glad that I had harvested our young olive trees (olive trees can live to be hundreds of years old) on a glorious, sunny day just a few days before the storm hit.

And now, the last drops of oil that our dearly departed trees will ever produce are bottled and standing like brave little soldiers in the pantry.  Okay, perhaps it’s a little hasty to call them “dearly departed” given that Gino, a kindly neighbor who lovingly prunes our grove, says the displaced trees might do just as well where nature has relocated them, at the bottom of our hillside.

I wish I could report that I was brave, too.  In fact, the second day day of very hard rain worked a number on my nerves.  Instead of staying put in this solid old house, I let my imagination get the better of me.  Late Monday afternoon, I surprised my poor mother with the news that we were leaving.  I didn’t use the word “evacuate,” but that’s what I was doing.  My sudden exodus worried our dear friend, manager and caretaker Alex, who knew that we would have been much safer at home, given the roads and bridges that already were out.  I had to take a circuitous route to Rome in order to avoid both the flooded A1 (Italy’s main north/south highway) and the possibility of driving anywhere near the congested parts of the Eternal City.  I eventually made it over to the coastal highway and then to Rome’s main airport, where I parked the car, took Mom to a bar and immediately introduced her to caffe’ corretto (espresso with a shot — in this case, we chose Sambuca over the more traditional grappa).  Jangled nerves settled, we took a cab to Rome’s center, where dear friends took us and my wild imaginings in for the night.