September 11, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Unforgettable Day

I first set foot on Italian soil in Parma, a small town on the train route between Milan and Bologna. We arrived at six o'clock in the morning, having taken a restless overnight train from Paris. The city had barely awoken, and by the time we walked the ten blocks to our hotel and dropped off our bags, the nearby café had only just opened. But after our long night, their limited selection pleased our palates more than any five-course meal could have. Michelle got the freshest possible macedonia fruit salad, the ingredients having been sliced and diced just moments before. And I got my first taste of Italian espresso, a sensation that ruined me for regular coffee ever since.

The days that followed were magical. I had dreamed of visiting Europe for 20 years, and there I was, exploring the labyrinthine, cobblestone streets of a 2,000-year-old city. A pedestrian tunnel underneath the Po River revealed the ruins of an ancient Roman bridge. The 11th century Duomo gave me the first of many breathtaking looks at Italian cathedrals. And the food! Home of Italian prosciutto and the famous Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (of which our Parmesan cheese is a sad imitation), Parma is perhaps best known for its cuisine.

After several days of interacting with the locals, I gained a rudimentary facility with the language, thanks to my fluency in Spanish. After dropping Michelle off at the historical archives one morning, I resolved to put together the makings of a picnic to enjoy in the central piazza. After my daily exploration of the city, I visited in turn a cheese shop, a meat market, an enoteca (wine bar), a bakery and a general store. In each place, I spoke entirely in Italian, asking the proprietor for recommendations and making my purchases. I walked back to the hotel, laden with groceries and full of pride at my newfound language skills. I couldn't wait to brag to Michelle.

When I entered the hotel lobby, I instantly knew something was amiss. The normally jovial hotel owner huddled around the television set with several family members. He looked up when I entered, giving me a grim look and telling me Michelle had already arrived. I turned to walk up the stairs, but not before catching a glimpse of burning buildings on TV.

Concerned, I rushed upstairs. When I opened our hotel room door, all thoughts of a picnic left my mind. Michelle sat on the bed in tears, fixated on the terrible events playing out on CNN. Airplanes had slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. As we watched in horror, the buildings came crumbling down. We knew thousands had lost their lives.

We stayed up late into the night, unable to turn off the television. Like all Americans, we wanted—we needed—to know why this had happened. We ate the bread and cheese I had brought, sitting there on the bed, unwilling to leave the room to go have dinner. In the days that followed, I continued my sightseeing while Michelle finished her research. But we both moved around in a haze of melancholy. We had a month of exciting travels throughout Italy before us, but deep down our hearts were turned toward home. Our country had been sorely wounded, and we yearned to partake in the healing patriotism that blossomed in the wake of the terrorist attacks.

From Parma, we moved on to Florence and beyond, experiencing the trip of a lifetime. We explored the Tuscan countryside, walked in the footsteps of long-dead Romans in Pompeii and drank limoncello in Capri. But always, our thoughts returned back home, to the countless Americans directly impacted by the tragedy of 9/11. And now, two years later, my thoughts return again to those who lost more than a picnic, so much more, that terrible September day.


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year (almost), I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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September Columns:

9/29: Open Season
9/28: Runaway Train
9/27: The Seven
9/25: Dreamscape
9/24: Survivor: Sacramento
9/23: What Am I Doing at Work?
9/21: San Diego Chokers
9/20: Farewell, Galileo
9/17: Anything Can Happen
9/16: Midnight Writing
9/15: Decline and Fall
9/14: Loyalty By Default
9/13: Debt Snowball
9/12: My Cup Runneth Over
9/11: Unforgettable Day
9/10: Fall Approaches
9/9: Total Recall
9/8: Legal Illegals
9/7: 116 More Days
Previous months in The Archive

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