Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2013

9/11

Today is September 11th, just saying that date alone is enough to identify what day people think of and remember. Students in my class today were born in 2001, the year it happened, and had no idea what I was referring to. I know this happens in every generation about previous historical events that happened, but I must say it’s still strange when it happens. This also happened when I said “Columbine” to one of my previous classes and again, they had never heard of it. It’s so isolating isn’t, it when you have such a vivid memory of such a tide turning event, and people can’t share in that with you?

I wrote this post because I wanted to feature the writing of my colleague Luigi. Last night as I was lesson planning, he sent out an email with two things attached: a photo of where he worked in New York, and an account of what it was like for him to experience 9/11 in New York with a wife and two children. I started reading his account, and I couldn’t stop. I know there’s so much controversy around 9/11 and that many feel like it’s been talked to death (and both are fair points), but it really hit me hard that someone I knew was present for such an awful moment in time. I sometimes forget that real people were involved in that day, people just trying to get home to their families to let them know they were alright.

Here is Luigi’s account:

September 11, 2001 

I arrived in the office just before 9am.  Between the planes, as it turned out.

I rode the elevator with a colleague, a ‘co-worker’ as they are called here. ‘The World Trade Centre is on fire’ he told me. I feel guilty now but he is Russian and his English is patchy so I didn’t trust his report. I had come directly from the subway into our building without stepping on to the street. I had no idea of the commotion that was unravelling outside.

When we reached our floor the panic was more evident.

‘A plane has hit the World Trade Centre’ someone said.

I went with the Russian guy and another co-worker, an Indian, to an office at the south-west corner of our floor, 18 storeys above the street.

Through a gap in the buildings across Broadway between us and the World Trade Centre we could just see the south-facing side of the south tower. The first plane had hit the north tower but that was blocked from view. We were craning our necks to see the smoke when, after ten seconds, no more, the second plane flashed across the scrap of sky and disappeared into the building.  There was a flash but we were insulated from the noise. Nor did we see the up-town explosion until the evening news.

In a second – a micro-second – it was gone. 

I can’t remember what was said. A woman outside the corner office screamed and hugged someone, and I think we all ducked expecting the windows to implode. But it was surreal, like TV, really like TV, and I remember thinking that the plane looked small as it was swallowed by the giant building against the backdrop of the bluest sky.

As we evacuated the building some people shouted ‘You don’t need to leave,’ but they hadn’t seen what we’d seen. We stood in the plaza and had almost the same view but now from street-level. The south tower looked intact though violated. There was a hole and it was smoking, and there were some flames, but it looked controllable.

‘It was a small plane, I’m sure,’ I remember saying, unwittingly proving that perspective fools us.

All the talk was of terrorism. 

No one knew the tower could fall, but we knew it was stupid to spectate. Cell-phones were useless, the networks were wrecked or overloaded, and there were queues at all the payphones, so I went with an English friend and an American to a bar behind our building with telephones and televisions so we could watch CNN while we rang home. Perhaps we were foolish. Perhaps if we had seen more (more than a plane flying into a building?) we would not have gone to the bar but we were desperate to call our wives. There were queues at those phones, too, and the connections were unreliable, so we had a drink.  They had beer, I had Diet Coke (I was playing squash later) and we stood watching the giant screen while we waited.  People were calm.  At least, sort of calm. I am sure some people were drinking brandy. 

If I remember correctly the news of the Pentagon strike had just been announced when the first tower fell. The noise was incredible; I thought it was a bomb. The street outside the bar was dark in a second. Now people were screaming and running inside and out, and I saw faces pressed against the window. I am going to die, I thought. I really did. Fireballs and smoke inhalation, something like that, in a bar in New York City, drinking Diet Coke. That would be my epitaph. While New York burned he drank Diet Coke.

The pub filled with smoke and what I now know was ash. One of the barmen had the presence of mind to shut the doors and lay damp towels against the gaps. People grabbed napkins and handkerchiefs and covered their mouths. I went with another barman through the kitchen at the back of the pub. ‘Is there a door back there?’ I asked, knowing they must get deliveries from the smaller street behind. The kitchen was hot from cooking. There were corridors leading to the delivery door. As we got closer the smoke was more intense. ‘This is crazy,’ the barman said, and he was right. I was more convinced than ever that my moment had come. It was a rolling metal door and we pulled it up so that the gap was no more than a foot. The smoke poured in and there was ash like snow on the road. Really, like a light dusting of snow or a heavy frost. And we could hardly breathe. We pulled the door shut again and went back into the bar. People were panicking.  There was an emergency exit but it only opened into another building so they were waiting, screaming, unsure what to do. When the smoke cleared slightly we could see people on the street again. My friends and I agreed (two to one) that we should leave. We grabbed napkins and wore them like bandanas. I picked up my squash bag and we went back through the kitchen.

The street behind was deserted. We walked eastwards to the river and then north to Brooklyn Bridge. I live in Brooklyn beside the bridge so my friend came with me while our colleague went uptown.

We were only a short way across the bridge when the second tower fell. We looked back. It was incredible, the noise, the power, a city disappearing. The cloud of dust and smoke followed as we turned again towards Brooklyn.  The Blitz must have been like this.

My mind was full of nonsense . . . going home to the UK, real estate prices, arcane poetry. People were approaching the bridge from every angle, some running, some screaming, some bleeding. The circular slip-road from the FDR Drive was filled with humans instead of cars. ‘This is like hell,’ I said to my friend. ‘In Dante, people walking round. So many, I never knew death had undone so many.’ He humoured me. Unconnected nonsense. 

My wife tells me she has never felt emotion quite like when she heard my key turn in the lock. I still had not called her but she had watched it all on TV and from the car park of our apartment block, and she had left messages on my voicemail at work. I hugged her and our boys, our native New Yorkers (what will they ever know of this?) then I opened a can of Diet Pepsi to wash the dust from my throat. I was covered in ash.

Diet Pepsi. 

We passed the rest of the day watching TV. My friend left about five. My wife and I pushed the children in the stroller up to Brooklyn Heights promenade to see things with our own eyes. The smell and the smoke was too severe for young children so my wife turned back while I went to get Arabic takeaway food.

I didn’t play squash.

The next day I was called into another office of the company but they sent me home at lunchtime and told me to take the rest of the week off. I took my family away from the city to Long Island for six days. The Wall Street office has now reopened but I have been permanently relocated in midtown. Yesterday I went to pick up my things. My desktop calendar was open on 10 September. Time suspended. Almost two weeks. I stood again at the window on the south-west corner and looked out. The sky was so empty. Is so empty.  Where the World Trade Centre stood, now there is only light. Light, space and smoke. I walked to Broadway and stood as close as you can get to ‘Ground Zero’. The towers may be broken but the wreckage is massive. The  skeletal steelwork stands over a giant pile of rubble. It is shocking. Not just shocking, but truly sickening. And everywhere there are soldiers, police, firemen, security personnel and construction workers.  The only traffic on Broadway is trucks, fire engines and police cars.  And television crews. TV.  Everywhere TV. This drama has been lived on television all over the world, or so I am told, but I’m sick of it. Sick of watching, sick of not being able to turn it off, sick of the film of when the second plane hit.  And we all swap stories, over and over. The Russian went closer than me. His wife works nearby and he was almost flattened on the way to her office. The Indian went for a proper look and was knocked to his feet by the blast when the first tower fell. When he opened his eyes he was in darkness under the smoke and ash and a pile of fibreglass insulation. Next to him there was a gigantic slab of concrete that had exploded into the sky and dropped to the floor. He’d lost his spectacles but found his way from the scene by joining hands with other people. It took days for his throat to clear of dust.

Two weeks have passed now.  So many phone calls and emails. People worried or wanting first-hand accounts. We feel as if an enormous pair of arms has been put around us. People ask if I was scared. Well, I was, very.  And I still am. We live so close to the financial centre and to Brooklyn Bridge (a likely target?) that I feel we’re in the middle of it. I get on the subway and every time it slows I feel my pulse quicken. And I frequent too many busy places. But there’s nothing I can do. When I leave for work I say goodbye to my wife and children and shut the door when all I really want to do is stay inside and hug them. 

And to live somewhere safe.

The Twin Towers had cast a giant shadow when they were standing but there’s a bigger one now they’re gone. People on the street stop and look over their shoulder to the space, to the light as if it’s a trick, a dream, and the towers will reappear. Something permanent has gone.

The families of the lost are the same.

There is nothing else to say. 

Luigi Di Castri

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Unlike many other eastern Canadians, I had been to Saskatchewan twice before I actually moved there. Both times were unique and wonderful, and I fell in love with the province, actually said out loud to the people I was with “I’d absolutely move here”, not knowing how true that statement would eventually be. My two visits to Saskatchewan included Bruno (a tiny little town where I stayed in a Nun’s convent) and Saskatoon, the province’s most bustling city, (where I stayed at The University of Saskatchewan’s campus).

When I found out I was moving to Saskatchewan I had two week’s notice, and that I was moving to Regina. The only thing I knew about Regina at the time was that one of my closest childhood friends had taken her RCMP training there. So I decided to ask the only other dear friend I had in Saskatchewan what things he could tell me about Regina. Let’s just say, it wasn’t much. So I boarded a plane to Regina, not knowing anything about it except that it was flat, the RCMP headquarters was there and that the city had an IMAX.

Immediately upon landing you can feel how ‘western’ Regina is, I know that might sound like a weird thing to say, but it feels immensely different than the eastern part of Canada where I’m from, but I must say that I felt quite smitten with the place. Although the first apartment I stayed at was admittedly the worst place I have ever lived, I loved walking through the post-work day abandoned streets of downtown Regina, it was eerily quiet, with large buildings looming over you, and the sun peeking around these buildings like it would never set. At the time it seemed I heard every train passing through the city (which are many), with the whistle sound coincidentally sounding like “wheeeaaat, wheeeaaat!”,  a sound I later become so accustomed to, it felt like I never noticed it anymore.

I remember so clearly seeing the actual prairies for the first time while living there, I remember being unable to keep up my part of the conversation because of how much awe I felt for the beauty I was seeing. I think there are many reasons why I felt at home even while being in the middle of the country, but the one I finally figured out was that the endless distance of fields stretching on forever seemed to mirror the ocean I so dearly loved growing up near to. It felt peaceful and calm leaving the city and seeing nothing for as far as I could see. I’m going to be honest, the rest of Canada does tend to be kind of snobby about the prairies, that they’re flat, boring and that you just want to rush right through them to get to either Ontario or British Columbia, and before living there I would agreed with them, but now it seems to be a fundamental under-appreciation for a place that is so undisputedly beautiful. Driving through the prairies gives you a stark explanation of how how tough the settlers had to be that formed those towns and cities, people that didn’t see water or trees, but understood that they had to make it work and did. It gives you an idea of what the world looked like so long ago, when you’re driving along what used to be the ocean floor.  Sun sets, sun risings, thunderstorms, tornadoes, the Northern Lights and even beautiful sunny days were all capable of stopping me in my tracks. I later understood why some prairie folk tend to get claustrophobic when visiting the mountains, even though I personally never felt that way, they love the open skies, and being from Nova Scotia, I wholeheartedly understand that. Early on in my time in Saskatchewan,I remember listening to this CD where this man had written the whole thing about his love for Saskatchewan , and now that I’m gone, (while I do think a whole CD was excessive), I now understand how someone could feel that profoundly about a place and I include myself as one of them.

How can I summarize the almost two years I lived in Regina…it seems impossible. I had the fortunate experience of working several  jobs that ranged from working at places including two wonderful summer camps, working at the immaculate legislature building in provincial politics (a childhood dream) , a non-profit organization (that appealed to my bleeding heart) and teaching, all of which deeply lent themselves to where I am now. I met so many incredible people through those jobs and experiences that while I will always miss loved ones from other parts of my life and the world, I felt the distance was bearable because of the new home that people helped me form. I tend to be cheesy in even the best of times, but I truly feel that I left Saskatchewan a better person than when I entered it. The people there, strangers or friends were always so ready and willing to help, or explain, or just be a smiling face in one of Canada’s easily most unknown cities.

Honestly, I think that’s Saskatchewan’s appeal, you arrive with no expectations and leave more than pleasantly surprised at how such an unknown place can hold such an abundance of extraordinary people and experiences. Thank you Saskatchewan (or more specifically Regina), for embracing me with both arms, I’m a very lucky gal.

2012-10-20-17-23-52.jpg

2012-09-22 15.04.56 2012-09-16 15.39.16 2012-10-25 16.04.04 2013-01-27 18.47.30 2013-02-07 21.27.04 2013-02-17 18.52.33 2013-04-14 14.51.48 2013-05-03 18.44.18 2013-06-19 19.03.55 2013-08-10 16.38.14 2013-08-03 15.12.37 2013-07-30 19.42.07 2013-08-03 15.12.23 2013-07-27 13.48.50 2013-06-21 18.25.362013-07-23 20.54.51 2013-06-09 11.33.30 2013-05-06 21.03.35 2013-07-01 22.14.13

Read Full Post »