September 11 x 10


A courtyard on the island of Burano was renamed last year. Needs no translation.

It’s September 11 again.  Ten years have passed, which in a city this old is nothing.  Even so, I don’t understand how a mere decade could occupy so much space and bear so much weight.

Everyone here was stunned, heartwrung — everyone.  Five days after the towers fell, the last race of the season was held at Burano, and all the boats (27 of them) carried a black ribbon tied to their bow.  I remember that an immense thunderstorm bore down, and how those little strips of mourning thrashed in the tearing winds under a battered sky full of bruised clouds, black and purple and green. The races had to be suspended.  It was too perfect.  If I hadn’t been there, you’d have thought I made it up.

A ceremony was spontaneously organized, with speeches (short and sincere) by officials of every party. And more than one American came, as you can see.

There was a mass at the basilica of San Marco, with the chief of the New York Fire Department as a special guest.  The service was entirely in Italian, including the Gospel text:  Matthew 18: 21-25.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’  And Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven.'”

I sat there looking at his back and wondering if he understood it, and if so, what he could possibly be thinking.

A number of gondoliers came out to raise their oars in the traditional Venetian salute. It was mere coincidence (I think) that there was an Italian warship in the harbor.





At the mass they also read the Fireman’s Prayer (translated by me):

O Lord, who illumines the heavens and fills the abysses, make the flame of sacrifice burn in our hearts.

Strengthen the spirit of service which burns in us, make sure our eye, and secure our foothold, so that we may complete the rescue which we bring in Your name to our brothers in danger. 

When the siren screams in the streets of the city, hear the beating of our hearts which have been offered to renunciation. 

When, racing with eagles, we rise toward Thee, hold us up with Your wounded hand. 

When the irresistible fire breaks out, burn the evil which makes its nest in the homes of men, but not the life and the affections of Your children. 

Lord, we are the bearers of Your cross, and risk is our daily bread. 

A day without risk isn’t even lived, because for we believers death is life and light: in the terror of the collapse, in the roaring of the waters, in the inferno of the conflagrations. 

Our life is fire, our faith is in God. 

For Saint Barbara, martyr.  Amen.

At the regata at Burano last year, a visiting group of New York firemen on a caorlina participated in a small, friendly, and short race. Not bad, considering how little time they'd ever devoted to this activity.


There was clearly a link between the FDNY and Columbia University, but I didn't pursue the details.

















An article was published under the title “C”ntarea Americii” (“Ode To America”) in the Romanian newspaper Evenimentulzilei, that translates “The Daily Event” or “News of the Day” on September 11, 2006:

Why are Americans so united? They would not resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all the languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and religious beliefs. Still, the American tragedy turned three hundred million people into a hand put on the heart. 

Nobody rushed to accuse the White House, the army, and the secret s services that they are only a bunch of losers. Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed out onto the streets nearby to gape about. The Americans volunteered to donate blood and to give a helping hand. 

After the first moments of panic, they raised their flag over the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colors of the national flag. They placed flags on buildings and cars as if in every place and on every car a government official or the president was passing. 

I watched the live broadcast and rerun after rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who gave his life fighting with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that could have killed other hundreds or thousands of people. 

How on earth were they able to respond united as one human being? 

On every occasion, they started singing their traditional song: “God Bless America!” Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put in a collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit, which no money can buy. 

What on earth can unite the Americans in such a way? Their land? Their galloping history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace. 

I thought things over, but I reached only one conclusion… Only freedom can work such miracles. 

(signed) Cornel Nistorescu 

 “AND THE WAVE SINGS BECAUSE IT IS MOVING,” by Philip Larkin (September 14, 1946):

And the wave sings because it is moving;

Caught in its clear side, we also sing.


We are borne across graves, together, apart, together,

In the lifting wall imprisoned and protected….


Such are the sorrows that we search for meaning,

Such are the cries of the birds across the waters,

Such are the mists the sun attacks at morning,

Laments, tears, wreaths, rocks, all riden down

By the shout of the heart continually at work….


Death is a cloud alone in the sky with the sun.

Our hearts, turning like fish in the green wave,

Grow quiet in its shadow.  For in the word death

There is nothing to grasp; nothing to catch or claim;

Nothing to adapt the skill of the heart to, skill

In surviving….


And the waves sing because they are moving.

And the waves sing above a cemetery of waters.



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Categories : History


  1. Steven says:

    As a former NYer I know people who lost loved ones that day and are still suffering because of it. I also know a person who barely escaped herself, after ignoring the announcements in the 2nd tower that the safest course of action after the 1st tower was hit was to remain in the 2nd (she convinced an older colleague to leave with her when she fled, saving his life, but you can imagine the survivor guilt she has had to live with as the rest of her colleagues in the office were killed). Alas the unfettered criminality of the last decade, both in the US and abroad, as well as the politicized orgies of sentimentality orchestrated in the States, have done nothing to honor the memory of those who died, nor the loss of those who loved them.

    I think of how the Nazis occupying Italy used to set up ratios or retribution: sometimes for every 1 Nazi killed by Italian partisans 10 Italians would be rounded up and murdered. Other times the ratio was 50 Italians murdered for each Nazi killed. Sometimes 100 Italians for each Nazi. I sometimes wonder how many innocent Iraqi deaths we Americans will tolerate–or allow our politicians to justify–because of the events of 9/11/2001. According to the World Health Organization 70% of Iraqi children suffer from trauma-related symptoms.

    To seriously and honestly address the matter of those suffering and dying at present–including US soldiers themselves–seems to me the best way to honor those who died and suffered ten years ago. We need action now, as memorials only seem to perpetuate crimes.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I appreciate your sharing your personal memories. If we begin political discussions, however, there will be no end to them. All I will say is that in my view, it’s crimes — not memorials — that perpetuate crimes. Memorials, in an odd way, over time, seem to diminish the impact and meaning of the crimes, in whatever way the individual defines them. I do not defend or excuse anybody, but if we are to be, in your words, “serious and honest,” we also need to remember that Iraqis were dying in thousands before the Americans arrived, murdered by their own people/dictator/political extremists. Let me go on record as being against murder, war, mutilation, ethnic cleansing, torture, battering, rape, starvation, slavery, and any other destructive act visited by anybody on anybody. I hope we all agree on that.

  2. Yvonne says:

    May I just echo Steven’s comments. But, I am not optimistic that things will change during our lifetimes.
    Yvonne recently posted..Easter in Venice

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