©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.
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.
—Linda Watanabe McFerrin
*Get Lost Books in San Francisco has since closed its doors.
For this and other stories about experiences traveling in the days surrounding 9/11, go to Tales Told From The Road.