|A tranquil fishing village in Pulutan Region on Sulawesi, Indonesia|
It was March 30, 2005, and just after midnight in Manado, Indonesia. Believe me, I wasn’t expecting my sleep being interrupted with the 11th floor hotel walls swaying due to an earthquake under the Malakan Sea near the island of Sulawesi (Celebes). Wondering what to do, I got out of bed, and supported myself by the touching a wall, as a bathroom door swung.
A hotel receptionist told me later, as I went to breakfast, that it was nothing to worry about, it was an aftershock (5.7 magnitude) of a major earthquake in a region that is prone to such moments of horror, an event that occurred two nights earlier near the island of Nias, in Northern Sumatra, which took 1,346 lives. It measured 8.7 on the Richter scale and was third most powerful earthquake since 1965 in Indonesia.
Come August 23, 2011, and we are on vacation in Europe. Several text messages from Washington, DC, broke a seeming “tranquility” of our vacation with information that an earthquake shook the capital of the United States with a moment of trauma, at 1:51 PM and with a magnitude of 5.8.
One text message, however, offered no consolation. I came to check your condo, and there is nothing to worry about, we were told. Natalie [see her first photo below], who was looking after our flowers and all the other wellbeing of our dwelling, explained that the earthquake redecorated my study. It moved a few dozen books off their shelves, and a few artifacts were floored, with some damage. When you come home, you will determine if it was significant, we were reassured.
Not knowing exactly what happened, we wondered if the in-coming earthquake’s partner, Hurricane Irene, would complete the onslaught on the condo, and we knew that at least Maia, The Cat, was in good hands of a cat-loving friend, with food and other supplies placed in her carrier should a quick escape was needed.
On September 8 all was revealed, as we were back in our dwelling. And what did we see? For starters, it offered a lesson in symbolism. What we saw was not meant to mean anything else, except an earthquake’s aftermath. Yet …
Europe (by Norman Davies) was flat on its belly, with Buddha’s head resting on the carpet next to it. An Indian elephant (actually, a carving) was hiding under a footstool, with an Indian horse resting on a bunch of displaced, selected books resting on my favorite armchair.
A rather bewildering sight was offered by two wooden 5.5-inch chess pawns, separated from each other. One was resting on the carpet; the other, after a fall from the top of the bookshelf, must have been catapulted to the lower section of the bookcase.
Obviously, the earthquake was considerate for my two boxed chess sets which were still on top of a bookshelf, as if in a balancing act – “to fall, or not to fall?” They made Grazyna imagine that the sight might have been improved if the kings and queens, and the ordinary pawns entertained a bit of egalitarianism after jointly hitting the floor.
Nothing doing. Several volumes of the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, were moved an inch or two toward a potential downfall, all next to a slightly displaced gypsum bust of an Albanian communist dictator, Enver Hoxha, smuggled out of Albania in early 1991.
A tour de force accent of my study was a sight to encounter. There it was – a mélange of art and craft objects performing a “Landscape After Battle” scene with several skinny Ivory Coast colonials partly fallen, but the Embrujando prophet-like mini sculpture by a Mexican artist Sergio Bustamante, and a Hopi Indian artist Quotskuyva’s kachina doll “Corn Maiden” standing tall, proud and seemingly victorious.
Several of my Polish-language books were given a breathing space, moved a couple of inches toward a shelves’ edge, with a miniature painting of a Jewish Quarter of Kazimierz in Cracow, handing for its life by a convenient squeeze of two books.
Two images struck my imagination. It was poignant to see the Bustamante prophet’s image of a “time is at hand” expression, and President Clinton (My Life) with his wife, Hilary (Living History), still smiling from their book spines, not quite off the shelf, as if saying: As a people, we live on the edge, but we are not defeated.
Eight point seven, or five point eight notwithstanding, we are standing tall, and facing the future with hope.