The tsunami that struck Asia and Africa on St. Stephen’s Day wreaked a considerable amount of havoc, but no one knows, even approximately, how many people actually died. In the first few weeks, it looked as if the grisly total would add up to about 150,000 victims, but, as politicians in Indonesia began to see the advantages, the figures have crept up to perhaps 175,000.
Nonetheless, even 150,000 dead in a single day is a horrifying number. People all over the developed world took the news hard, as they stayed glued to CNN, watching for ever more graphic bits of footage, listening for even sadder tales of children snatched from their mothers’ arms. “What’s it up to now, Charlie?” I can almost hear their wives calling out from the kitchen.
When the tsunami struck, I was in Siena without a television set, and, though I had skimmed the front page of the Corriere, I did not grasp the dimensions of the catastrophe until I reached Naples on December 30. In Italy, the New Year’s Eve celebrations were supposed to be more muted this year, out of respect for the victims, but the explosions going off in Naples were enough to flatten the tires of parked cars and start trash fires all over the city. If that is Naples’ idea of muted, I do not want to be there when they have a really good time.
Some holiday parties in Europe and the United States...