I had planned tonight to finally blog about something fun, but my parents just called to inform me that a really major earthquake hit Peru very close to Lima earlier this evening. For those not in the know, Ica is on the coast in the heart of wine country and not far from Nazca, where the lines are located. This quake measured somewhere between 7.5 and 7.9 on the Richter scale, which puts it in league with the last Big Quake to hit Peru in 1970, which is one of the worst ever to hit worldwide, having caused an avalanche that wiped out entire cities. Making that connection right now makes me so thrilled that this wasn't as big of a disaster as it clearly could have been. (Nontheless, this also disproves my theory that Larcomar, the posh mall built into said cliffs, would fall right into the ocean with the first major earthquake. I always said that that would bring new meaning to the phrase, "Shop 'Til Ya Drop." I slay me with my wit.)
For as dirty and horrible as it is -- indeed, there is a book from the 60s by Sebastian Salazar Bondy called Lima, la horrible -- I do still consider Lima as "the place where I come from," much more so than Long Island. Beyond my own academic work, I have very personal ties to the city and to the country. The odor of dust, smoke, smog and sea that greets me when I step off the plane at Jorge Chávez International Airport has long been the smell of home for me, something instantly familiar, if also bracing. In many ways, Lima is the worst part about Peru and the thing I hate the most -- and yet, it's home.
All that said, no matter how long I lived there, I never got over a (not necessarily irrational) fear of earthquakes, particularly the Big One which would (will? yikes) decimate Lima. I have never been in a really major earthquake, although living on the 15th floor of an apartment building made some major tremors seem pretty horrible. (One happened when I stayed home from school to get a paper done. My parents weren't home and I ran to the elevator shaft, where I prayed to God that if He would make it stop and brought my parents back safely, I would never stay home from class ever again just to get an extra day of work. I kept that promise, too.) Given Lima's location right on the fault line between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates (I think I have that right), the prospect of a Big Quake is an inevitability. Thankfully, this wasn't it. But -- and this is true -- I still occasionally randomly think of my family in a big quake and it hurts my heart in so many ways.
I will also confess this here and now: they say that what you fear most often brings about some great creativity -- and it is true that the long piece of fiction that has been sitting in my head for over a decade, waiting to come out (tenure, please... tenure...) is based around a seismic event.
In any case, my aunt called to say that everyone in the family was OK. In fact, one side of the family is now hunkered down in her house -- which is built like a giant concrete bunker -- just in case a stronger aftershock should come. My love goes out to them, and to everyone else in coastal Peru tonight.