Friday, September 10, 2010

September 11, 2001

Tomorrow is September 11 – 9 years after THE September 11. In a few days I leave on a three- week trip that will end in Sicily, which is where I was on 9/11/01. So I’ve been thinking about our experience that day.

I visited Sicily for the first time 40 years ago. On a beach near Taormina I met an Italian family. Three sisters, Anna, Giusi and Maria Teresa. Giusi was married to Antonio, a Sicilian Baron, Barone Vagliasindi. They had a one-year-old son, Michelangelo. Anna, Giusi and Antonio all worked for the European Union in Brussels. They were on vacation, staying at Antonio’s country villa, Carranco, on the slopes of Mt. Etna.

We became friends. I’ve lost track, but over the years I’ve visited Carranco about 25 times. Unfortunately, Antonio died a few years later, so Michelangelo became the Barone at a very young age. He is a pilot for Air France now. In his spare time he has modernized Carranco and replanted the vineyards that surround the villa.

But back to 9/11. Sandra and I were having lunch with Anna at Lorenzo’s in Taormina. Lorenzo is a long-time friend of Anna’s family. He had a restaurant he named after himself for many years and we had a tradition of eating there at least once when I was in Sicilia. Then he left but the restaurant remained, run now by Giovanni.

About half way through our meal we noticed that people were huddled around a radio and the volume was louder than usual. There was no TV in the restaurant. It was a little after 2, which would make it about 9 a.m. in New York. The information coming through was sketchy and confused, but it didn’t take long to figure out that something very bad had happened. We spent much of the rest of the day trying to piece together the facts. We had a radio at Carranco, but no TV. In the evening Michelangelo called from Paris and provided more details.

How fast the world changes. If it had been today, even in Carranco isolated in the middle of the Sicilian countryside, we would have had the Internet, cell phones, TV, and more to keep us informed. But not then. We still weren’t sure exactly what had happened when we went to the airport the next day, because we were scheduled to fly home. We were told we could get to London, but no further. So off we went, not knowing how long we’d be in London.

That was a Wednesday. Fortunately, friends in London were in town and put us up until the planes started flying again and we could get back to the U.S., which was the following Monday. In London we saw our first pictures of what had happened on 9/11. Like everyone, we were shocked and dismayed. We felt like we’d missed out on something very important, a shared experience, and were eager to return to San Francisco as soon as possible.

I’ll always remember taxiing up to the gate at SFO to complete our trip home. Out the window we could see groups of people holding “Welcome Home” signs and American flags. I’m not a flag waver, but this expression of friendship and solidarity moved me to tears. It does again as I write these words.


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