Rising from the rubble: life in Sarnano after the earthquakes

Rising from the rubble: life in Sarnano after the earthquakes

British writer Tamsen Courtenay lives in Sarnarno and was one of the victims of the devastating earthquakes. Here’s her story…

By Tamsin Courtenay

Italians will argue over just about anything (mostly politics and football!), but all of them are united by one thing, and one thing only: food. Meats, cheeses, nuts, fruit – whatever is being cultivated, sold, prepared or cooked is treated with respect and reverence. Food matters at a visceral level, and each meal, whether it’s hurried or languorous, is a demonstration of affection. It isn’t about making complex, clever meals it is about showing that you care. Italians believe you have an obligation to the food because it is how you show love.

In Sarnano, where I live in Italy, food gets talked about in the cafés and bars second only to local gossip. A ten year old will tell you what sauce goes best with what pasta and only your grandmother cooks the best vincisgrassi in the entire region. Food – and pretty much anything associated with it – is part of culture, venerated in the same way as art, music and nature.

My town, like the hundreds of other little towns in this area, has more restaurants than you can shake a stick at. The earthquakes in 2016 annihilated several of them, turning places that were once full of laughter, merriment and, well, gluttony, into rubble.


Il Colle was one of them, run by a brother and sister duo. A few months after it was destroyed, Roberto was killed in a car accident, leaving Clara alone and devastated. She fought through it all and worked out a way to keep giving us the best carbonara on the planet by setting up a pop-up version of Il Colle in a hotel on the main piazza. We all try to eat there as often as we can.

Le Clarisse was owned by a young married couple, Viki and Antonio, who have two children. At the heart of the medieval Old Town, it was an especially beautiful place, all exposed brick, vaulted ceilings and no menu – you got a choice of whatever they thought you ought to eat! Refusing to accept defeat, they decided to open up in an ugly building in a campsite on the edge of town. Many people are in the campsite as lost their homes in the earthquakes so having Le Clarisse there is a comfort. They continue to eat here because only the food matters. And the food is good.

Italians have a strong spirit. It’s one of the reasons I chose to live with them. I just hope that holiday makers keep coming to support them and that as many people as possible keep buying what they produce. It would be an act of love.

To hear more about how the earthquakes impacted Italy listen to our July podcast:


Photography: Tamsin Courtenay

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