September 30, 2008

da Bomb

I was amazingly calm during the Logan bomb scare. That happened about 9 pm. I’d arrived at 5. We wound up with a 10:30 pm expected departure. That may turn out to be more airport time than I face at Heathrow
1. because we will be late boarding
2. because I have to change terminals -- from 4 to 1. If that is anything like CDG, it’s a banal nightmare all by itself.
3. because something new has been added. We have to claim our bags at Heathrow and go through customs before getting our boarding pass for Milan. It becomes two completely unrelated flight procedures in spite of being the same airline. Not a great prospect under normal circumstances, and thoroughly daunting given the weight and bulk of my bags. Oh well. Me and a thousand other folks.

September 29, 2008

Plastic people

The magazines, we were told, contained articles "not tasteful" in the wake of 9/11. No more steak knives in 1st class. Plastic for everyone.

But a determined terrorist doesn’t need a knife. He can kill with his bare hands, I told the cabin hostess who was explaining these procedures to me. My judo-expert husband could, I thought to myself.

"I don’t make the rules," she shrugged. She didn’t appear to be comfortable discussing the issue.

She was as disoriented as the portly policeman at Logan, who confided, "I’ve been on my feet for 16 hours. I haven’t been home in a week. How many clean shirts can I pull out of my locker? Sometimes I amuse myself during down-times going through security check with knives on my person. It’s easy. In my opinion, a stadium will be next."

September 28, 2008

Body and class

I asked the 1st class hostess who checked our seat assignments as we boarded if she by chance had any newspapers for a journalist in cattle class. "We’re not full up here; I can give you some. What would you like? But please be discreet."

However there were no BA magazines in any class, no Business Life to bring back home to study. No blankets. No choice of meal. One film instead of two. And so on.

We were body-searched before boarding. That reminded me of the precautions taken on the Egypt Air flight we had taken with J Walter Thompson in 1986. Nevertheless I saw that numbers of people had more than the permitted number of items of carry-on luggage. Why wasn’t anyone paying attention to that?

No blankets because most blankets, we were told, had been given to stranded travelers at Heathrow. Ater all, the entire US air system had ben shut down for two days (the first time in history). The US stock market had closed for four days, also the first time ever.

September 27, 2008

Flights of frenzy

I don’t remember Logan very well; the last time I was here was to pick up Max on his flight back from Beijing in September 1998. A few days later I flew out from here on a Swissair flight -- the same day, hour and airline as another Swissair (an MD 11) had exploded an hour outside of New York. A happy memory (Max) and an horrendous one.

The lines, the palpable anxiety, the confusion, lack of organization, hasty new "security" procedures. All perfect for future terrorist targets. More people, more confusion, more time herded together in one place.

I was assigned an aisle seat, to my surprise -- the plane was supposedly full. What should have been a 3.5 hour wait was almost 5 hours; the flight was 2 hours late arriving in Boston and then there was the bomb scare while we were waiting . . .

September 26, 2008

Flying out of Boston (after THAT day)

I am supposed to fly back to Italy tonight on the first date flights have been allowed since the attacks. We are in for a long night, just as the US is in for a long conflict. I’m at Logan Airport. I arrived dutifully three hours ahead of time, actually 3.5 hours ahead because traffic from Framingham to Logan was (unsurprisingly) light for almost rush-hour. The lines spilled out in all directions as I heaved and lugged my overheavy Samsonite plus my overloaded old red Ventura plus my brown carry-on from the express bus to the entrance. There I stopped, uncertain. My load was way too heavy to start off in the wrong line or the wrong end of the terminal. An Indian-looking woman stopped me. She was wearing a blue uniform (but it’s easy to have an official-looking uniform) and carrying a yellow card with a question mark on it.

"Where is BA?"

"The line starts against the wall over to the left, next to that long one for Aer Lingus."

"Do you have a luggage cart around? These bags are mighty heavy."

To my relief and gratitude, the woman nodded and disappeared for a moment or two, darting here and there as a policeman trying to flag down a motorist in heavy traffic, and returned from the melee pushing a luggage cart. I seized it gratefully, wondered if I should tip her, decided against it, and pushed my way to the end of my line.

September 23, 2008

That younger, thinner, better me

I look at the pictures of me from Fort Lee, thinner than I think of myself as being, and read my accomplishments: wife (with an absentee husband), mother of two (often the father figure as well), presiding over a large home with a live-in, a working professional at blue-chip companies, an officer of IABC, member of the Consumer Affairs Board of Fort Lee (I never did anything with that job!), in charge of publicity for the Unitarian Church (never did anything with that either), freelance writer, dedicated runner (3 miles most mornings, 10 or 15 miles per day on the weekends) and the list goes on.

What do I do now? I wait for writing assignments to dribble in. I walk my dog. I cook once a day. I walk my dog. I write email to friends. I walk my dog. I am doing NOTHING.

September 22, 2008

Half meanies

Max and I discussed a friend's job vulnerability when we were driving back from Boston. Joe offers an intellectual framework for technology strategy, a position that makes him vulnerable during an economic turndown, but he doesn’t seem worried. He was more concerned about a coming massive layoff decision at his company. Their financial consultants have been generating the least business for a while and were those earmarked for pink slips. But most of them are located in New York City. Can the company, in all conscience, lay THEM off within a week after 9/11? It isn’t humanitarian, and from a practical point of view, it sets a bad example to all employees in terms of morale.

Joe had toyed with poli sci at Duke. At some course in social behavior, he explained, he had badgered the teacher about why decisions were made. "This or that isn’t FAIR," he had said, and "that’s what I was mostly interested in."

I smiled to myself, thinking, "Slyness and unfairness the children hated above all," one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite childhood books, Half Magic. A similar theme, simplified for toddlers, was found in Sir Archibald and the Meanies.

Me too.

September 21, 2008


Another incongruously gorgeous day. Going through boxes of my parents' stuff, talking, checking the Net. Let’s do the malls in the area, my son suggested, to take a break. There are lots of them. At Barnes and Noble, I stocked up on Wegmans calendars, in honor of my wonderful Weim Homer.

Max and I went to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The place, usually full, Max said, was almost empty. "It’s been slow all week," said the Chinese waiter, meaning ever since September 11.

During the day I had had this strong urge to BAKE something. It’s life-affirming, I suppose, the need to bake, produce fragrant odors, make the kitchen and the apartment alive with good smells. So I made brownies. Had to buy the pan and the eggs and more butter, but the result was a sense of homeyness and warmth in my son’s otherwise spartan, sterile box of an apartment.

September 20, 2008

Thought collage

Angela and I went to the local Starbucks in the morning before I left to continue the drive to Boston. She had had a client meeting at 9 or so and was back by 10:30. I used the time for phone calls, the Internet and a shower. The day was warm and blinkingly beautiful. At first we sat outside and nursed our lattes, then moved inside when the heat become overpowering. Angela pointed out the signs on the door of the Starbucks offering counsel and support sessions to anyone.

The words that swirled around me as I drove north:
Fearless firemen.
The abominable media (no mind that I too am a journalist).
The wrong kind of war.
Not a case of good vs. evil but democracy vs. fanaticism.
Not a case of God prevailing because it depends on whose god you are talking about.
Bombing Afghanistan plays right into the hands of the fundamentalists, I fear. They are smart enough to have figured out our likely response, or don’t we realize that?
I fear a witchhunt against all brown-skinned people.
We have a president who is simplistic and linear in his thinking. That bodes ill for the future.

September 19, 2008

Bumpy ride

Bob volunteered to drive my truck from their driveway to the Kings Supermarket parking lot at 7 am next morning. He explained that otherwise I might not be able to get it out of their driveway at all. The driveway is small and narrow and I would be backing it out onto an equally narrow street surprisingly busy in the morning. I accepted his offer and was grateful. I don’t know how he keeps going: he didn’t get to bed before 2 am and he was up at 7 or so.

Max too later insisted on driving the truck. Must be a macho thing: guys see a short thing like me pop out of a massive vehicle like that and they have to prove their virility by driving it as well. I admitted to Bob and Max both that I had bumped the truck at least three times in getting it out of the Uhaul lot and maneuvering it at the gas station.

September 18, 2008

Cookie comfort

And the miracle was arriving and finding all of the above. Angela and Bob were out front to greet me (staggered by the size of the truck), the home still warm and comfortable, though a bit seedier than I’d last seen it, the tv going and the conversation likewise . . . and Angela had remembered about those cookies from – what? Five or six years ago? – and had a plate of them waiting for me.

We went out for Southern Indian vegetarian food and it was lovely. A wonderful evening in spite of the pallor cast over everything. Bob and I stayed up after Angela had gone to bed. I could tell that the tragedy had affected him more deeply than he realized. We were all distraught emotionally and intellectually, but he had a deep visceral response that was only half-hidden.

September 17, 2008

Heavy toll

At the tollbooth on the New Jersey Turnpike when I came to pay, the large black woman in the booth said, "Don’t worry honey. No charge today." I started to cry, and so did she.

Near the end of the drive, when my jetlag, stress fatigue, tension about the truck and anguish about the OST were beginning to weigh heavily, I prodded myself with the thought of seeing my friends Angela and Bob, feeling safe in their comfortable colonial home, suggesting that we stop by her bakery for those buttery, chocolatey teardrop cookies, watching tv with them, HUGGING them.

September 16, 2008

After the fall

My niece was rather cold when she let me into her apartment to pick up my belongings. Given the OST (Overall Scheme of Things), I was inclined to put my arm around her, hug her, offer her the bed, the bedroom set, as a thank-you for her kindness to Dad. But she was so distant, telling me that she didn’t have much time to waste because she hadn’t had lunch yet (so what? I didn’t have lunch at all that day, nor the day before, nor the day after, nor the day after that), that I kept my peace.

A 4/5 hour drive to my friend Angela’s in New Jersey. What seemed the simplest route was the longest. Around exit 16 you can see the NY skyline very well, a view I have seen many many times. On this magnificent sunny afternoon at 5 pm, the smoke from the lower end of Manhattan was billowing north like a locomotive at full throttle. The source of the smoke was black and reddish and blurred. My eyes squinted at the south side of the island, telling me there was something wrong with the landscape. Something was out of whack. Missing. Those two ugly towers had become part of my mental imprint of this area and their absence was disquieting.

September 15, 2008

The day "it" happened

When it happened, I was scheduled to take my 93-year-old father to the dentist. The dentist is a family friend, born in Israel. So, we wondered, where was Israeli intelligence when we needed it? The US sure doesn’t have any. The dental office then closed. I took Dad back to the group house and prepared to call to find someone to help me move on Wednesday. My sister had suggested someone the day before and I had been so grateful. She proved her mettle, yes? Still, to be on the safe side, I had passed the word to the ladies in Dad’s group home. And one of them had come through with someone who was a dispatcher for United Van Lines. NOT United Airlines. I had called them and gotten the name of someone in Annapolis, and had a tentative commitment there. When my sister’s contact didn’t call back to reconfirm – so what else is new with someone my sister knows? – I finalized with United. Phew, that was done. Inconsequential in the Overall Scheme of Things, but done.

From the cosmic to the trivial: negotiations with my sister about one particular piece of furniture. I knew there would be a fight about that. She horse-traded ferociously and I, weakened by my sense of the OST, might have caved in completely, but why? I had thought out beforehand what kind of swapping I might be willing to do. A Martian might think that she got the best of it but I wound up with what I wanted: the Chinese cabinet. She got the marble-top side cabinet/telephone table that was already in my possession. I had been tempted to take it with me when packing, but valor got the better of me. As my sister herself grudgingly admits, I am an honorable person.

September 13, 2008

Keep on truckin'

This trip would have been stressful even had it been free of international terrorism. I knew I’d have to move my parents' stuff out of my niece's place onto a truck, drive that truck to Framingham, unload everything, sort through everything, ship some back to Busto, leave some for Max, and authorize him to sell the rest. Many stress points there. And I’d have been more upset had I known what kind of a truck I’d wind up driving. It wasn’t the small vehicle I’d expected (and Max had ordered). It was significantly larger, a moderate-sized truck, not an oversized van. For me, it was HUGE. Yes, it had automatic, but it was almost as large as the camper we’d rented in Florida. I was terrified when I saw it. But that terror was nothing like “real” terror.

This is nothing, I reminded myself. This is inconsequential. Of course I can drive this. It is automatic, after all. I asked the obnoxious Uhaul agent if perchance there might be something, ahem, smaller? There was not.

September 12, 2008


In the aftermath, over the last two days of numbing nonstop television coverage, only a few comments rang clear. One was: "Our security procedures (at airports) have never been based on the supposition that the perpetrators were willing to be blown up with the plane. They have been based on the concept of bombs, not on planes as bombs."

A second: “If we overreact by threatening anyone with brown skin or Middle Eastern-sounding names or of Muslim religion, we are playing into terrorists’ hands by becoming like them." Unfortunately this comment was made late at night. I was up after midnight watching tv with a friend of mine and her husband. "Why don’t they play this over and over again during prime time, the way they are playing that (pathetically staged) ‘celebration’ of the assault by Palestinians?" I asked them. They agreed.

September 11, 2008

THAT day

Forget the words. There are no words. When people grope for them, commentators and politicians and ministers, they come up short. The facts are stark and simple: I flew in to DC on Monday. I drove to Dad’s house on Tuesday morning at about 9 am to pick him up for a dental appointment. He met me all agitated: did you see what happened? Did you hear what happened? A plane flew into the World Trade Center!

What, I thought. Bad move by a pilot, I thought. He led me to the television, where an incomprehensible sight was being transmitted. By then, a little after 9 am, TWO planes had crashed into the WTC, one into each tower. There were flames and smoke and falling debris. People were screaming. Fire engines were roaring. I had just seen a few minutes of that awful movie, Mars Attacks!, on television Sunday evening, the day before I left. The WTC had been attacked in that movie too.

As had been the Pentagon. Incredulous, because a few minutes later the report flashed on that the Pentagon had also been attacked. A plane had flown into it as well. And – shortly after – reports of a fourth plane that had crashed somewhere near Pittsburgh. This last crash, I thought at first, might have nothing to do with the other three; the panic mentality sometimes creates linkages with completely unrelated occurrences.

But I was wrong. It did have to do with the others. Four planes, each aimed at a different US target: the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, the White House. Three of them made it. The fourth failed only because the passengers, alerted by a furtive cell phone call from one of them, learned what was about to happen (though not the target) and rushed the hijackers. Or maybe they were shot down by one of our fighters. Everyone died and everyone would have died no matter what so it is almost irrelevant what made that plane crash. Actually I’d like to think that our F-14s finally got their act together and stopped what would have been another bloodbath. The last plane crashed in an unpopulated area about 40 miles from Pittsburgh. No ground casualties.

September 8, 2008


My husband and the woman chatted a bit about old friends and contacts, including the remarkable Rosetta, Nonna’s age but moving and talking 10 years younger at least. The woman introduced her daughter who was at the defile with high school friends. The daughter's name is Rachelle, but I don’t remember the mom’s name. I groped for a business card but, as usual, wasn’t carrying one in my marsupio.

"Never mind," she said. "I know where you live." When we had told her our address, she averred that she had been a good friend of the wife of the former tenant. So she knows not only the address, but the apartment (and all its problems -- leaky windows, noise, dust) very well.

September 7, 2008

Once-dashing encounter

While we were talking, Nando had come up next to me. I figured he was surprised that I knew someone here and was engaged in more-than-casual conversation. "Vi conoscete?" He asked me.

"Well, yes. I mean, we know each other’s dogs."

Nando was staring at the woman. She was staring at him. I wondered if perhaps they hadn’t met at some point while Nando was walking Homer. "La conosco?" He asked her. She said, "I was wondering the same thing."

But of course. (I don’t recall which of the two of them figured it out first). The woman’s father worked for the railroad with my father-in-law. Once that connection was established, the woman quickly filled in missing links. She is one of three daughters, the oldest, but still nine years younger than Nando. Plus, she remembered him as young and dashing, with thick black hair. Shaven bald as he is now, it’s not easy to reconcile the two images.

I whipped out the picture I keep of him from Lido di Estensi 31 years ago. "Ah si, this is the way I remember your husband."

September 6, 2008


But bloat is common to big dogs. It involves twisting or torsion of the stomach with a subsequent blockage of the esophagus at one end and the intestine at the other. It happens quickly and can be fatal. I’d been warned about it in connection with Weims so I wasn’t surprised. But still.

"It’s not possible that he was poisoned? That he picked up something on the ground? Homer is so fast that I worry about that possibility all the time."

She shrugged. "Anyway, we now have another dog. A Labrador, a female. She is four months old, and just lovely."

September 5, 2008

Stomach turning

The woman saddened as quickly as I had brightened. "E morto. Homer was the last dog to see him alive and well. He took ill the very next morning and died within two days."

It was my turn to be sad. "But he was young. What -- nine months or so?"

"Yes, and maybe that was part of the problem. They are such a big breed of dog and grow so fast. Maybe his digestive system hadn’t matured in keeping with the rest of him. The vet told me it was torsion of the stomach." Her look told me that she didn’t necessarily believe the vet.

September 4, 2008

Newfound dogs

A few days ago, Nando decided to walk with me and Homer after dinner. I had noticed that the event in Piazza Santa Maria that evening was a beauty contest or defile, or something that might amuse him. There were lots of people milling around as the event organizers finalized preparations for a walkway, tables with flowers (for the judges and special guests), speaker system, etc. As we were slowly crusing from one end of the piazza to the other, a dark-haired woman stopped me. "How’s Homer?"

Not the first time people have greeted him when I haven’t had a clue who THEY were. It happened twice today as well. But this woman was up close; she could see the puzzled look in my eyes. "We met this summer. You were coming out of the gelateria with Homer and I was there with a large . . ."

I remembered instantly. "La terranova (Newfoundland dog)." I will never forget how startled he looked. Just like a human, with his doggie eyebrows straight up as his eyes widened. I smiled again at the recollection. "Come va?"

September 3, 2008

Salvaging the "socks"

My sister could have bestirred herself to save some of my dad's sentimental favorites, but she was after bigger game: credenza, piano, lamps and tables and pictures. I was so overwhelmed by the horror of the house, the state to which it was reduced the summer of 1998, that I forgot about the dolls and the Bookworm. I had to focus on salvaging the Lenox, which I did. And one marble egg, and six rainbow-colored liqueur glasses.

But I feel bad. Where did Bookworm go? It vanished in spite of my careful efforts to keep it safe. Just like Nando’s prints that went astray. He is rightfully upset about those. It’s like socks in the washing machine. Where does one sock in a pair disappear to? It’s axiomatic that one will, but where does it GO?

September 2, 2008

Moving morass

People are always losing things in moves. They break, get misplaced, left behind, stolen. It’s part of the price of Having Stuff. I realized, looking at the list of contents in my storage unit that something I value is not mentioned. That is the framed print called "Bookworm". I had rescued it from the surprise attic as a child and it hung in my bedroom on Perry Drive during my teen years. Don’t remember if I had it or not as a young married -- isn’t that dreadful? But I am pretty sure it hung in the house in Fort Lee, along with that portrait of some woman who looked like my Aunt Bess. And I do recall deciding not to bring it with me to Europe but to leave it with Mom and Dad in Columbia, MD. And I recall wrapping it, or maybe unwrapping it, at some point in their garage.

But it is not on the list of items I’d stored. Grandma’s portrait is, but not that. Nor the costly prints Nando had brought back from Europe. Those I DO remember packing in a carton and storing in Columbia. Is it that all of them went the way of my doll collection (Poor Pitiful Pearl! Why didn’t I think to save her?), my horse collection, Dad’s prized theater scrapbook and half-century collection of homemade Christmas cards?

September 1, 2008

Italian SOP

I’m not in shape and I don’t feel good about myself, but a US visit always has me running around so much that I don’t think about it much and wind up losing weight in spite of myself. Only this time I will probably fly British Airways, less familiar to me than the usual route via Paris. ERRGH.

This is one of those why-I-love-Italy-in-spite-of-itself weeks. The regular mail isn’t being delivered so no newspaper. This has been going on for almost two weeks. The Mac modem has broken so no email. The Apple dealer ordered it Tuesday but it still hasn’t arrived. Until yesterday the car was in the shop, and Midas’ machine to align tires is broken so I couldn’t bring the car in for that. The travel agency I picked to print out my ticket couldn't handle it in one shot so I have to return to pick it up tomorrow -- on my third trip.