It was a week in Rome that I shall never forget.
A time of unspeakable horror, and unexpected kindness.
The strangest thing about staying on top of what happened in New York is that I have little access to American television. I am living with an Italian woman who speaks no English. And, the English newspapers here have one-day-old news. So, I had to learn the latest in another language. I would watch t.v. with my landlady while she translated what the Italian anchors were saying. I read the Italian newspapers, but, of course, very slowly. I had to make sense of the unbelievable, in words difficult for me to understand.
I had just returned home from school when I saw video of the smoking World Trade Towers on television. I called my best friend in New York to find out what was happening, in inglese. After that, I rushed to find Jay, the one American friend I have in Rome. He and I spent the rest of the day at his hotel watching CNN. Many many hours later, we went to an internet cafe, filled with Americans who, like us, were in a daze. We logged onto MSNBC.com and watched streaming video of live coverage from America.
UN ATTIMO FA (“A Moment Ago”)
For an indicible unspeakable act, I have been struck by the eloquent simplicity of stories and condolences.
A CHILDHOOD FRIEND
She told me that I am in Rome rather than New York, because God knew that it would be unbearable for me to see what has happened to the city that I love. She described to me how she shielded her very young grandchildren from the news by turning off the t.v. Then, took them for a stroll and sang “The Ants go Marching.” She reflected upon the dichotomy of such innocence amid such tragedy.
While standing outside the Colosseo subway entrance, a man in a Gladiator costume came up to me, discovered I was American, and tendered his sympathies. He then revealed that he had lost a dear friend himself, a young woman, who worked in the Towers.
A FRIEND IN MANHATTAN
As soon as he learned that two planes had hit the Towers, he went to pick up his son at a school just blocks from the World Trade Center. Within moments of arriving, the towers began to collapse. He described the scene of panicked people running, “like a scene out of Godzilla.”
THE ROMAN NEWSPAPER SALESMAN
The day after the attack, I bought newspapers at a newsstand near the Piazza Navona, asking for the International Herald Tribune and La Repubblica. The next day, the man remembered and handed me the same two papers, while gently giving me his condolences, in Italian.
A BEST FRIEND
This said it all: “I will NEVER forget this day. It is our Pearl Harbor.”
AN ITALIAN TEACHER
Just moments after the towers collapsed, I rushed to school to find my American friend. I burst into his private lesson, crying “Something terrible has happened. Not to me. But, to us. To our city.” The teacher told me that she will never forget my words.
Total strangers, as well as people I have just met, all have expressed their sympathies to me. To my city. And, to our country.
There have been so many moments of true sympathy shown to me as an American. Two days after the attack, when I was buying my papers, an Italian man asked me “are you American?” I nodded my head yes. He said, “I am so sorry.” It was a simple moment of heartfelt condolence.
Perhaps I best expressed my experience in Rome with this letter to a friend:
The Italians have been so incredible. They look at us with sympathy. When I was watching the story unfold, my dear padrona a casa, Gina, was just wonderful. Though she has known me a mere week and a half, she held me in her arms while I sobbed. She is a simple woman, I think not greatly educated, but she sat with me watching television and translated for me (IN Italian, of course) in simpler words that I could understand because following the coverage on Italian t.v. was very difficult. This morning, I awoke early to pick up newspapers, both Italian and English. I began to weep as I read the headlines. When I went into class this morning, I told the teacher that I could not possibly just resume studying what we were studying the day before. That if we could take a moment to talk, in Italian, about our feelings, it would be very meaningful for me. So, I sat there, struggling with words I had never hoped to learn in this language, to express how I feel. Of course, heartbreak and grief are universal and the words came to me, but the entire class just sat there in silence while I wept, and spoke of my experience. The teacher turned the lesson around, still in Italian (other languages are forbidden in the classroom), and brought in copies of the Italian papers. Asked each one of us to take an article and read it, then explain to the other students what we learned.
Just a frame of time, the day immediately after the attack, for this American in Rome. I learned another phrase in Italian this week. Sono in lutto. I am in mourning.