9/11 Remembered: Solidarity in San Francisco, Safe Passage to Venice

9/11 Remembered: Solidarity in San Francisco, Safe Passage to Venice

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(On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Tales Told From The Road ran stories from its readers and other sources about their experiences traveling in the days surrounding 9/11. Over the coming days we will re-run many of those stories to commemorate a day in the history of the United States and the world that will long be remembered.)

“9/11 Remembered: Solidarity in San Francisco, Safe Passage to Venice” By Linda Watanabe McFerrin

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, my writing group was scheduled to give a reading from an anthology of travel tales at Get Lost Books*** in San Francisco.  Here is the message that I sent to the group about that night’s scheduled meeting:

“In the wake of this a.m.’s terrible news, we will meet tonight, as planned, at Get Lost Books in San Francisco —not to promote the anthology, but for the more important feature of our association—as an act of solidarity and courage. We are all stunned, but we want to respond to terrorism with action.

“We will gather and discuss, with anyone who chooses to join us this evening, the blessings and dangers of travel, our personal freedom and anything else in this world worth defending. We don’t think we should allow acts of terrorism to shut us down. They should drive us to rally our strength and conviction.

“We will gather in sorrow, in reverence, respect and in prayer for the travelers who lost their lives today. We will try to create a forum for the pain and outrage, for the mourning and for the concern. We are all horribly shaken by this, but we can’t shrink from the catastrophe.

“Please join us, if you can.”

In light, Linda ”

The attack on the World Trade Center stopped us in our tracks … but we decided to show up for the event and invited the many who joined us to share their grief and horror and determination not to let terrorism throw us into isolation and fear and curtail our liberty. It was a profoundly comforting gathering, one that underscored the importance of community.

A little over a week later, several of us, keeping to our prior plans, flew to Italy for the same reasons we’d decided to meet at Get Lost Books. We were uncertain about our decision, but we discovered that the sense of community that heartens and strengthens knows no borders.

It was mid-September, 2001—only nine days after the inferno—and we were in Venice. Refusing to let terror hijack our lives, we’d flown to Italy. We sat, shaken and deeply stirred, in Venice’s Piazza San Marco, steps away from the tidal lap of the Adriatic, from Harry’s Bar—six American women marooned on a tear-threatened strand, not at all certain about our decisions. Should we have stayed home? We thought of Hemingway. We ordered Bellinis. Our waiter asked where we were from. “The United States,” we whispered.

All around us the piazza’s bandstands glittered like bejeweled half-shells cupping orchestras, jazz bands, string quartets—violins, woodwinds, brass— the music, plaintive, slipping into the moonlit night.

Our cocktails arrived and we raised our glasses. Then, unbelievably, the band changed its tune. Suddenly in our little corner of the enormous piazza—the center square of Venice, “La Serenissima”—“New York, New York” sailed out over the tables.

There was no longer a dry eye among us, but we were smiling too. And there were tears and smiles all around us. Completely vulnerable, profoundly touched, we had delivered ourselves into the hands of strangers … and these strangers had comforted us and taken us home.

Poet, novelist, and travel writer Linda Watanabe McFerrin lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She frequently teaches at seminars for writers and is on the faculty of the annual Book Passage Travel and Food Writing & Photography Conference.  She founded and heads Left Coast Writers which supports new and established writers in the production and promotion of their work in a stimulating atmosphere of creativity and community.  Her novel Dead Love is set in the world of zombies.  Dick Jordan was a student in one her travel writing classes in 1999.  Both were in Venice a week and a half after 9/11 and, like ships passing in the night, their paths may have crossed while simultaneously transiting one that city’s famous canals. In 2016, Dick Jordan wrote this story about Venice.

(This story was originally published on September 14, 2011 with the permission of the author, Linda Watanabe McFerrin, who reserved all rights to its use or publication elsewhere.)

*** Editor’s note:  Unfortunately, the Get Lost Books travel bookstore closed at the end of 2010.


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