I can’t believe it’s already been 10 years. Time does fly, although for those who have suffered a great loss on that crazy day, I guess these 10 years have passed much more slowly.
I think everybody has some memories of that day: it did as a matter of fact change our lives and our perception of the world. I remember I was in Pisa that day. I was about to leave for the States in fact: my flight was scheduled to leave on Sept. 13, and I was supposed to go work as a lecturer in Italian as a foreign language at the University of Chicago.
My head was full with all the things I had to do before leaving for quite a while. I had a crazy full morning: I went to the bank to collect the dollars I had ordered, I went to the Department of English Studies, where I worked, to take care of the last things I needed to take care of before leaving, I brought books back to various libraries and ran various other errands typical of those who are about to leave for a few months.
I had an appointment with a friend for lunch, but he called to say that he would be late because he was stuck at work. So I stopped at a bar by the Faculty of Law where he worked and decided to grab a bite while waiting for him. I remember the TV was on, and the images of the first plane crashing in one of the Towers were showing. Not for a second did I think that that was real: I thought that it was one of these disaster movies we are so used to seeing… And as a matter of fact I thought “who watches a movie like that in the morning?! Couldn’t they change the channel and let us see the news?”
Suddenly I realized that most people in the bar were looking at the TV screen with astonished faces and I thought there was something I was quite not understanding… then I heard people cursing, other sighing, and I noticed the red stripe with titles that usually appears at the bottom of the screen during the news. And I understood. It was not a disaster movie. It was a real disaster.
Everybody knows how the events unfolded. I paid quickly and ran to the Department. There were people crying, trying to call friends back home. My first reaction was to call the director of the center which was in charge of the exchange I was about to participate in so as to figure out if it was still happening or if I had to cancel my plans. I wondered if it was even wise to go at that point. What a petty concern that seems now! But when you are in the middle of such unbelievable events, you don’t fully grasp the enormity of the tragedy you are witnessing and how irrelevant your job offer is… Nobody had answers of course, because nobody had any clue what was going on.
I realized I had forgotten about my friend so I went back to look for him. He was still examining students and nobody had heard anything about the happenings. I entered the classroom and went straight to him to inform him of what was going on. He immediately told the other professors, the exam session was interrupted and we all gathered in one of the professors’ office to follow the news. It was unreal.
My parents called me quite worried about my plans… I called Marcel, my husband, whom I had only been dating for a few months back then, and all that follows is kind of blurred.
I went back to my home village that evening, waiting to figure out what would happen. My flight was canceled. The University of Chicago offered to postpone my course in case I didn’t feel comfortable being in the States at that time. My parents pressured me to cancel my trip.
It was in the few days that followed the events of 9/11 that I made up my mind. My cousin and her husband who were traveling to South America, got stranded in Guatemala for a week longer than they were supposed to. And when they finally managed to reach NY from where their flight to Rome was supposed to leave, they got stranded there for a few crazy days. The images they sent, their stories from there made me understand that even only few days after such tragic events Americans had already “rolled up their sleeves” and started their life after 9/11. In Italy we would still have been trying to figure things out…
At that time, I had another cousin who was really, really sick. She had always been full of life and always ready to try new things. I had visited her at the hospital a few days before and I remember she told me how great it was that I had decided to go to teach in Chicago for a few months because life is so short and one always needs to pack as many experiences as one can in the little time we are given.
I could not get those words out of my head and I also couldn’t overlook the pride and courage that Americans were showing the world. So I decided to leave on the first flight I could get on. And I did.
I think it was Sept. 17 or 18… I can’t remember. The flight was half empty. I was the only Italian on it, with the rest of the people being Americans going back home.
I landed in a beautiful, deserted Chicago. I remember my fascination with the skyline of the city after dark. It was the first, and only time actually, that I have been in the States. I was greeted with a sense of stupor and gratitude at the University and the days that followed were kind of hectic because I was late for the beginning of the term and I had so much to learn and understand, as I had been thrust into an entirely different academic world from what I was used to.
I spent three months in the city. Three, beautiful unforgettable months. I made lots of friends, I learnt a lot of things, I enjoyed the city in the fall and at Christmas time when it’s most different from what I was used to here in Italy, and most beautiful. And with no tourists around to be seen.
I witnessed the various decisions that were made, to invade Iraq, etc. But mostly I directly experienced the strength of a country that despite tragic events kept moving on.
I don’t have any deeply moving story to tell to honor America on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. This is how I lived that day and the months that followed. 10 years later, memories of that day and of that time are bittersweet. But it’s with great affection for all the American friends and guests we have had the pleasure of meeting over these 10 years that I decided to write this post.
It’s not special, but it’s our way to remember a day that changed the world forever and hopefully honour those who were deeply affected by it, both those who died and most importantly those who were left behind to cope with all 9/11 meant and still means.