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Quake killed my friends in their paradise;S.Times;28.08.16

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Aug 30th, 2016
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  1. Quake killed my friends in their paradise - 12 hours after news of the earthquake I got the call My friends' house fell down around them
  2. Sunday Times, The (London, England) - August 28, 2016
  4. Author/Byline: PETER CONRADI
  5. Edition: 02
  6. Section: News
  7. Page: 1,6,7
  9. IT WAS the perfect house party in the most perfect of places. On an August day five years ago, we sat under the hot Italian sun and ate and drank until we could eat and drink no more.
  11. Will Henniker-Gotley, one of my closest friends from university, was celebrating his 50th birthday in his own little corner of paradise.
  13. There must have been four dozen or so of us in all. Flicking through the pictures on Facebook last week brought the memories flooding back.
  15. Fiona, another university friend who had introduced Will to Maria, his future wife, 25 years ago, had flown over from California. There were others from Cambridge, where Will had begun his career at Cambridge University Press in the 1980s, and others from London, where the couple had lived for the past two decades.
  17. Some travelled out for the weekend; others made a week of it. Lunch turned into dinner, interrupted by a dip in the pool. That night there were fireworks. If Will had his way there were always fireworks.
  19. It was not just a birthday. It was about a new chapter in Will and Maria's lives. They wanted to show us Villa Olivia, which they had just spent much time, money and effort in restoring.
  21. Their dream home is no more. In the early hours of Wednesday morning it was reduced to rubble, along with several other old houses in the tiny hamlet of Sommati.
  23. The Henniker-Gotleys, asleep on the first floor, were among 291 people killed by the earthquake that struck this mountainous region of central Italy. Their son's best friend Marcos Burnett, 14, who was staying in the house with his family, was also killed.
  25. The Italian government declared yesterday a day of national mourning and Matteo Renzi, the prime minister, joined President Sergio Mattarella for a state funeral for 35 of the dead, held in a sweltering community gym in the town of Ascoli Piceno.
  27. "Don't be afraid to cry out your suffering," Giovanni D'Ercole, the local bishop, told mourners. "Only together can we rebuild our houses and our churches. Together, above all, we will be able to restore life to our communities."
  29. SOMMATI lies 1 1/2 miles or so from Amatrice, the town hardest hit by the tremor. Before Wednesday it was an unassuming little place that was home to 100 people.
  31. "We've got a Nando's here," quipped Will before I visited for the first time. It turned out he meant the local restaurant which was owned by Nando Bonanni, a businessman.
  33. "Nando's" became a central part of Will and Maria's lives, a place for Sunday lunch or to celebrate special occasions such as his 50th. Like many of the newer buildings it survived almost intact, although who will eat there now?
  35. I know Bonanni survived because I turned on the television on Friday evening to see him standing beside a BBC reporter next to the ruins of Villa Olivia. It looked nothing like I remembered it.
  37. Despite the spectacular mountain scenery, the villages of northern Lazio are not places where many Britons settle. You could walk around for days and never hear an English voice. Chiantishire it ain't.
  39. There are fewer Italians living there than there were. There is not much work, so many of the young leave for Rome, which lies more than two hours away down winding roads, returning only at weekends and in the summer.
  41. Will and Maria had sought out Sommati for a reason: it was a few miles away in Torrita, an even smaller hamlet, that Maria's father, Sante Taliani, had been born in 1934.
  43. When Sante came of age he went to Rome to train as chef. After a few years he got itchy feet. With a letter of recommendation in his pocket, he headed for London and the Savoy Hotel, where he rose to become sous chef, second in command in the kitchen.
  45. One evening at the Cafe de Paris in London he met his future wife, Olive, who was working for a travel company. He always called her Olivia.
  47. Sante was a brilliant chef: one of the photographs from Will's 50th shows him stirring a pot of sausage and lentils on which we gorged ourselves.
  49. A succession of other West End restaurants followed where he met Marianne Faithfull and fellow musicians Cleo Laine and her husband, John Dankworth.
  51. Like all chefs, Sante wanted to run his own restaurant but to afford that he needed to leave London. In the mid-1970s he moved his family to Basingstoke, Hampshire.
  53. By now they had three children: Maria was followed by Giulia and Pietro. Like many Italians who set off for a new life abroad, Sante kept up his links with his homeland. Every August the children would be sent to a colonia, a summer camp for Italians from all over the world, in Cesanatico on the Adriatic coast.
  55. "We used to love it and hate it at the same time," said Giulia. "And then our grandmother would pick us up and take Maria and me to Torrita. We loved going up there, we could just run free around the village." The summer idyll ended when their grandmother died.
  57. After school Maria trained as an accountant and worked for a series of organisations that read like a roll call of the British establishment: Conservative Central Office, the Institute of Directors, the Lawn Tennis Association and the Prince's Trust charity.
  59. Will, the son of an architect who spent part of his career working in Zambia, attended Rendcomb College, a public school in Gloucestershire, and Brasenose College, Oxford — which was where he and I met. He studied engineering and used to joke that the only thing he learnt was how to make a metal corkscrew (handy for those long summer lunches in Sommati). That and rowing. The oars that occupied pride of place on the wall of his house back in London said it all.
  61. It was after Sante was diagnosed with terminal cancer that the family went house-hunting in Lazio. It was for him as much as for them. Olive had died several years earlier and he did not have much longer to live. It was time to go home.
  63. Will and Maria went halves with Giulia. The house they chose was three storeys high with a generous garden at the back. It had been one of the grandest houses in Sommati but was derelict after being left empty for decades. They called it Villa Olivia in honour of Sante's wife.
  65. "The locals thought we were eccentrics and wondered why on earth we bought it," said Giulia. "But once they realised we had the connection to the area through my father they got to know us."
  67. The first winter, the extended family celebrated Christmas in the house even though it was damp and had only one working bathroom and no central heating. "We had an old wood burner which Dad cooked Christmas lunch on," Giulia said.
  69. Aided by a local architect, they set out to transform Villa Olivia. When they had finished, friends and family from Britain flocked out to stay with them, summer after summer. "They were phenomenally generous and loved to have people in the house with them," said Will's younger brother, John.
  71. Maria, showing a talent for cooking inherited from her father, ruled in the kitchen. Will did as most middle-aged men are wont to do if they can get away with it: he took charge of the lawn and fussed over the quality of the water in the swimming pool. He even cut down the occasional tree.
  73. Maria, by then finance manager of The Prince's Foundation for Children & the Arts, set up by Prince Charles, worked part time. Will's last job as head of Timestrip, a small technology company that he managed to turn round, allowed him to work from home. "It doesn't matter which home it is," he retorted when I ribbed him over having too comfortable a lifestyle.
  75. Their children, Francesca, 15, and Jack, 14, would spend all their school holidays there, picking up more and more Italian as they played with the local children.
  77. Will and Maria hoped eventually to live in Sommati full time, despite the winter cold. Maria talked of buying another rundown house in the village, renovating it and using it to run residential cooking courses. Will would have been happy just to potter around.
  79. The villagers quickly warmed to gli inglesi. Maria was as talkative in Italian as she was in English. Will sat in contented silence at the table lapping it all up. One local woman was heard wondering if, with his air of assured calm, he was an actor or perhaps a lord.
  81. Sante's cancer took a sudden turn for the worse when he was holidaying with the family at the beginning of 2012. He was taken to the hospital in Amatrice, where he died a few weeks later.
  83. "Everyone was so lovely," said Giulia. "They all came popping in, the electrician, the neighbours, the plumber, the builder. They were all so supportive."
  85. Sante was buried in the Italian manner in the family crypt in Torrita. The children brought over their mother's ashes and placed them beside him.
  87. AS foreign editor of The Sunday Times my working life is defined by terrible events. The past few months have been especially grim: a terrorist attack in Nice, a teenage gunman killing nine in Munich, the Bataclan and Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, a Russian plane downed in Egypt, two lost Malaysian airliners. The list goes on.
  89. As the names of the victims of such tragedies emerge, my colleagues and I piece together a collection of photographs of people in the wrong place at the wrong time who never imagined their casually taken selfies would come to illustrate their obituaries.
  91. Waking to news of the Italian earthquake on Wednesday, I anticipated another few days of the same. As disasters go this did not seem at first to be an especially large one: nothing like as serious as the quake in nearby L'Aquila in 2009 that had killed 308 people. But earthquakes are deceptive like that.
  93. Before I left for work from my home, in the next street from Will's in south London, I called his mobile to make sure he was fine. It went straight to voicemail. I told myself that the mobile network in the earthquake zone must be down.
  95. During the day, while sorting out the logistics of our coverage, I thought about him and Maria. I called again a few times but there was still no answer. I sent an email instead: subject line, "Are you OK?" It was just after 7pm that I received the call I had dreaded from a mutual friend, Graham, with whom Will and I, together with a shifting group of friends, used to go every year on what, despite our advancing years, we still called the "boys' ski trip".
  97. "I'm sorry to tell you, but Will and Maria died in the earthquake," Graham said bluntly. It took a few seconds to sink in.
  99. The hours that followed passed in a flurry of phone calls as the news spread round their many, many friends. Giulia, who had returned from Sommati only last weekend, was already on her way back to Italy. John went with her. Their priority was Francesca and Jack, who had made it unscathed out of the house when the quake struck at 3.36am. Their Italian neighbours were taking care of them.
  101. When Giulia reached Sommati in the pitch-dark late that evening she found the children in a camp for survivors set up by the army in a nearby village. Given the constant threat of aftershocks, there was no building in which it was safe to shelter.
  103. From the front Villa Olivia looked strangely unscathed. The Volvo in which they had driven out from London at the start of the summer stood in the drive. Laundry still hung on a revolving rack in the yard. Behind the impressive facade, however, the remainder of the house had crumbled to a heap of masonry. Will and Maria had had no chance when the house they loved so much fell on them.
  105. Neighbours told how they tried in vain to dig the couple out from under the rubble, but had to wait until specialised rescue teams managed to reach Sommati a few hours later.
  107. The next day came the grim task of identifying the bodies, which were laid out in a tent on the outskirts of the village. John joined the queue of the grieving.
  109. Will and Maria were not the only people to die in the house. The day before the quake another family, the Burnetts, had arrived at Villa Olivia, the last of this year's succession of guests to enjoy the Henniker-Gotleys' hospitality.
  111. Marcos Burnett, 14, was Jack's best friend from school. He had visited the house for a week early in the summer before going back with his family last week. He had been excitedly making plans and looking forward to this weekend's annual sagra in Amatrice, a festival of food and drink where tourists come to sample the local speciality: spaghetti all'amatriciana, pasta with cured pork cheek, sheep's milk cheese and a touch of chilli.
  113. Marcos's father, Simon, and mother, Anne-Louise, were taken to different hospitals with serious but not life-threatening injuries. His sister Adriana, 12, was unhurt. But Marcos himself did not make it.
  115. "We heard cries for help in English from underneath," Bruno Formicola, a neighbour, said. "I took the mother out. Her nose and face was injured while the father had clearly broken his leg ... They were asking for their son, but we said we didn't know, he was buried deep underneath."
  117. Both families have paid tribute to the "tireless work of the Italian rescue workers and hospital staff" and expressed gratitude for the love and support they received from local people.
  119. This weekend the grieving survivors of Villa Olivia flew back to London. Giulia will take care of Francesca and Jack, helped by family and friends. They could not be in better hands. In two weeks the children are due to go back to school. Their lives will return to a normality of sorts, but with a massive hole at the centre of it.
  121. Maria, meticulous to the last, had stipulated in her will that she wanted her ashes to join her parents' remains in the family crypt. Will, with whom she celebrated her 20th wedding anniversary this year by taking a trip on the Orient Express to Venice, will join her.
  123. @peter_conradi
  129. Caption: WOLFGANG ACHTNER/CAMILLA LISTER/TREVOR HOWES/COURTESY THE GOTLEY FAMILY Will and Maria Henniker-Gotley, left, and Marcos Burnett, right, their son's best friend, died at Villa Olivia, top, when the quake struck, leaving the house in ruins, centre. Top left, Maria's father, Sante, who was born a few miles away
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