Archive for September, 2013

It was about a year ago that I was in the Cinque Terre on the Italian Mediterranean coast with Karen, Johanna, and Keith. Today felt like a good morning to spend some time there in my mind, so my teacup and I reminisced over my travel journals:

…There are five towns here, all built into the mountainside along the Mediterranean shore. They’re connected only by hiking trails, by train, and by boat. In order from North to South, they go: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola (where we are staying), and Riomaggiore.

Yesterday we thought we’d go on a little hike, so we started by walking from Manarola to Riomaggiore, and caught the boat to Monterosso. We did a little trinket shopping, and I got a bracelet for my friend Anya.

DSC01050We then hiked from Monterosso to Vernazza, which began by going about 180 feet straight up on some wonky stone stairs placed in the side of the mountain. I’ve hiked with these friends before, but soon, Keith and Johanna [a doctor and a former physical therapist] began exchanging worried looks about our predicament. About halfway through the hike we ran out of water. We’d been under the impression that we could do this “walk” in less than half an hour, so we hadn’t brought proper supplies. Our water went fast, we had no fruit, and we’d skipped the lemonade man (running a stand in the mountainside halfway up. We should have taken the hint from the hikers coming from the other direction when they threw themselves on the mercy of the lemonade man.)

DSC00942Believe me, many times we looked over the edge of the trail to the splashing Mediterranean below us and calculated whether we could survive the jump. But, what goes up must come down, and so, about 2 hours later, after many smaller, exhaustive ups and downs in the scorching sunlight, we came down 180 feet on wonky stairs. By stairs, I mean chunks of rock cut into crude cube shapes, about a foot and a half high each, stacked on top of one another in zigzagging patterns, with the trees and soil of the mountainside encroaching on them.

Once off the trail, we hauled ourselves, sweating and thirsting, to the nearest pizza bar and proceeded to eat and drink all in sight. We first ordered a large bottle of water and the camerier agreed and tried to go get it, but we stopped Vernazzahim and ordered a giant beer to share at our table. The camerier agreed and tried to go, but we again stopped him and tacked on a bottle of white and a bottle of red wine. He didn’t quite believe us, but among the four of us, we drank it all. First we rehydrated, then we calmed ourselves after our adventure with the beer and wine. And there was pizza. Oh, the pizza! I finished an entire pizza myself. I’d like to say that was the first time I’d ordered and eaten an entire pizza myself, but alas no. Italy has taught me how to eat, with gusto…


I wrote a book called Upside Down Kingdom. The good people at Amazon have it.


Feeling September 11

Excerpt from Upside Down Kingdom:

“…We had the radio, and its constant updates. Even though they were reporting rogue plane sightings overhead that we couldn’t see, at least there were voices giving us information. They were an outside link beyond the confused and surreal streets of Washington.

No one was in a hurry. We didn’t see any accidents. We complained that D.C. didn’t have a better evacuation plan. The government workers all came in at staggered times, and left at staggered times, so the streets were always full but never at full capacity at once. This was full capacity. And we kept looking to the skies.

The radio announced Virginia schools were evacuating, for parents to pick up their children.

“No!” I protested. That was the last thing we needed, for all the traffic-jammed parents to suddenly need to be somewhere.

We weren’t really scared. Concerned, maybe. Concerned for our safety as a whole, the safety of our city, country. No one’s needs were put above our own, as evidenced when no one wrecked or ran red lights (except the Metro busses), and no one drove in a panic. There was a feeling of community, of togetherness in this awful day. We were suddenly all a family, all hoping, rather than trying, to get somewhere to safety…I slowly passed car after car heading in the opposite direction. We stared at the skies together, offered directions when asked, even asked how each other was, as we inched along the streets of D.C.

There were no religious ramblers shouting from street corners, no elephants running through the streets, no women screaming and fainting, no glass breaking, in fact no sirens at this point…There was no panic, no real noise. Nothing. Just a traffic jam and a lot of very calm drivers. And a feeling of clarity in a surreal world…”

I wrote those words on September 13, 2001 when I was living in Washington, D.C. My office was given the 12th off from work and I and everyone else spent an emotional day in disbelief. I told myself I’d always remember where I was and how I felt on the 11th, and that there was no need to relive it by writing it down. On the 13th, I realized that future generations would come who would have no idea the feelings on that day. By then, they could read timelines, news articles, history books, but no reporting of facts would tell them how it felt. On the 13th, I wrote.

The loved ones that I knew were flying that day had been diverted safely, and those I knew working in destroyed buildings were found safe. Still, the great loss was felt. Every one of us sharing this planet together, lost. The apple’d been bitten. The innocence was gone.

And it occurs to me, that in that mire we also gained. We gained the discovery that people are willing to jump in and help each other without a second thought. Men and women were risking their lives to get one another to safety because that’s what naturally occurred to them. Something latent inside us all woke up.DSC00496 Our instincts had shone forth. On that day, and the days that followed, we and our friends and neighbors became brave. Not fearless, mind you, brave.

We gained heroes. Heroes that were in uniform–and many without. And these heroes showed us how to live.

Tomorrow and every September 11 since, I mourn, I reflect, and I remember. And time after time, I find myself again looking to the skies, this time with hope.

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