September 11 (Venice) 2001By
I was working at my desk at home here that afternoon around 3:30, I suppose, when the phone rang.
It was my friend Cristina, who was living with her husband and twins not too far away. “Have you heard what’s happening?” she asked. Not having a television, my obvious answer was no. “Some plane has flown into the World Trade Center. It’s on TV now.”
I immediately ran over to her house, trying to think of what she had said and what it could possibly mean. Then we sat on the sofa and watched the second plane and everything after that live on TV. I was crying. The children, who were maybe only five or six years old, wandered in and out.
That evening, Mario d’Elia, one of Venice’s more eccentric lawyers and fringe political personalities, went to the Piazza San Marco and raised an improvised flagpole with an American flag in the center of the space of the three large permanent ones in front of the basilica of San Marco.
Shortly thereafter, an assortment of local and regional politicians gathered on a temporary platform to express their thoughts and emotions — primarily solidarity — in front of a growing crowd, even though many passing tourists couldn’t understand what was being said. The alacrity and sincerity of the moment was something I found very touching.
Afterward, Lino and I went to see Patricia Michaels, a Native American friend of ours from Taos Pueblo (New Mexico) who had been living in Venice for two years. Her daughter Margeaux was four years old, I suppose, and greeted us looking very solemn and unusually subdued. “Somebody dropped a bomb on our village,” she announced. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings.
September 1, 2002: The Regata Storica. As usual, boats were milling around the Bacino of San Marco before the corteo preceding the races. The most remarkable one was a caorlina rowed by six of the Venice firemen. (Historical note: In the days — centuries — before motorboats took over the world, the firemen always responded to a call aboard their caorlina, which had the pump set up in the center.) It’s the only time I’ve ever seen this boat.
September 11, 2006: To mark the fifth anniversary of the attack, a special mass was celebrated in the basilica of La Madonna della Salute (Our Lady of Health); a delegation of firemen was present, along with representatives of most of the armed forces — Army, Navy, Carabinieri, and so forth.
As we left the church, we saw a gondola in the Grand Canal just in front of us, specially decorated for the occasion, rowed by gondolier Vittorio Orio and a colleague and escorted by one of the fireboats. Orio is full of interesting initiatives, and he did the same thing (without fireboats) the following year, as well.
Lino often tells me how similar Venetians and Americans are. I take this as a compliment, but he states it as a fact.
Many Venetians were especially outraged and sympathetic. Except for one young woman at our rowing club, who when she was told the news (not by me) responded: “So?”
She’s not with us anymore; maybe she returned to her home planet in some other galaxy, where there is no air or water.