black and white Rome photos

On Returning to Rome and 9/11


Today, I am going back to Rome. When I went 12-plus years ago, it was the most hectic, chaotic city I’d been to at that time. Although I loved it, I never did quite relax and enjoy it. Now, having been to much crazier places like Delhi, Cairo and Disney World, I expect it will be a different experience.

In addition to Rome being chaotic, there was another factor that contributed to my anxiety: I was visiting five days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

On 9/11, I watched in shock and horror from a hostel in Switzerland, as the twin towers burned.

I watched with four other Americans, all of us sick to our stomachs. A Swiss guy came over and started laughing at the TV. “Not all people at the Pentagon are good people,” he said with a evil laugh. I thought my traveling companion, Kyle, was going to strangle him. I was afraid that this was going to be the general consensus among Europeans, but that was not to be true.

On September the 12th, we went to bucolic Cinque Terra, where we spent four days far removed from the world. The terrorist attacks seemed more like a bad dream, not reality.

Then we went to Rome. We were thrust back into the world – a world of fear and uncertainty.

Immediately upon reaching the city, we walked out of the train station into the middle of a Palestinian rally. At the time, I understood little about the Middle East. I just knew there were angry Muslim people protesting in the street and a few days earlier, angry Muslim people had attacked the World Trade Center. (Now, having been to Palestine, I support their cause. Sorry, Israel.) It was a jolting, disconcerting welcome to Rome.

In Europe, there was a palpable sense of dread and anxiety. Everyone seemed to know that some sort of war was imminent, and there was concern over further terrorist strikes in the USA or Europe.

At piazzas in Rome and squares all around Europe, there were shrines to the dead, shows of support for the USA and the victims. Almost everyone we met, upon learning we were American, offered heartfelt condolences. Europe was with us, something our leaders squandered by going to war with Iraq.

20131126-172427.jpgOur last day in Rome, we checked into our third different hostel in three nights (long story). We left our backpacks in the care of the front desk agent, who upon checking us in and seeing that I was an American, proceeded to give me his unvarnished – and unsolicited – opinion of George Bush. “Bush is a bad man. He will start wars. He will attack Iraq!” he declared.

At the time, I was in full support of Bush, of my country. He had 90% approval ratings. Hell, I even liked Cheney at the time. Plus, the idea of attacking Iraq over the terrorist attacks seemed ludicrous.

These were fighting words, but I wasn’t going to get into an argument with the guy who I was entrusting to watch my belongings. Twelve years later, I realize his statements were eerily prophetic.

One of my favorite quotes is by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. (Before you start to think I am pretentious, let me be clear: it is the only quote I know by any Greek philosopher.)

He said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice. For it is not the same river, and he is not same man.”

Twelve years after that horrific terrorist attack, the world is most certainly a different river. Now a 35-year-old married man, I am certainly not the guy I was then.

Where were you on 9/11?

What do you remember thinking and experiencing in the week after?

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Currently living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. I travel, write, take photos, and stalk street cats. ~

11 thoughts on “On Returning to Rome and 9/11”

  1. Pingback: On Returning to Rome and 9/11 | solsuelipires

  2. Steve C says:

    Hi Jeff, It’s certainly a different river and we’re all different people. Living, learning and changing is not only healthy, it’s inevitable. We all hope it’s for the better. Also, my two visits to Rome (15 years apart) were very much different, in a good way.

    I also have a story about 9/11. I was on vacation with my family in Washington DC. We had just finished breakfast at Union Train Station when we walked out, started our car, turned on the radio then looked to our right, only to see the huge plume of black smoke shooting skyward from the Pentagon. We had planned to tour the Capitol Building, but after circling around looking for a parking space and listening to the radio, we abruptly decided to Get The Hell Outta There!! At that point, there was still one more hijacked airplane in the air headed toward DC. After all was said and done, we considered that those guys on that plane who fought off the hijackers were to become our personal heroes. There was no doubt in our minds that that second plane was meant for the Capitol Building, where we would have been.

    This short story ranks at the top of all my travel stories experienced over many years of world travel, even being stabbed in Guatemala.

    BTW: I forgive you for being a Bush supporter back then. Sounds like you’ve moved on in the “right” direction. 🙂

    • Steve – wow, that is a great 9/11 story. That must have been intense and terrifying, and yes those guys on the plane in Penn. were heroes. Who knows how many lives they saved?

      Stabbed in Guatemala? We need to hear this story unless it isn’t appropriate. I have spent about 6 months in Guatemala in total, and although I love it, it is very dangerous.

      Politically, I’ve moved to the correct place for sure.

      Thanks for sharing Steve.

      • Steve C says:

        Jeff, yer one of the few bloggers who reply to most all the different points I make when I comment. Most bloggers just read through the whole thing and just reply to the last thing said. You are a good conversationalist. It’s appreciated.

        Ah, Guatemala. Even though it’s the country that holds my current record for bad luck, (I’ve traveled through over 60 countries in my 40 years of traveling the globe) it’s still on my short list of favorites and I still hope to return one day.

        My story is a typical example of why you shouldn’t arrive in a new place after dark and stay in a place where there are no other people around. On our one year, round trip adventure from California to Costa Rica, traveling in a pickup with a camper on the back, we drove from the Rio Dulce on the Caribbean, to Guatemala City, specifically, the UN park, just outside Guat City. Our guide book (an old one) indicated there were RV hookups inside this park. We arrived after dark and couldn’t find the RV campsite facility, so decided to just find a place off the road to park and stay for the night, then find it the next day. Big mistake! My wife started dinner and I was entering mileage and notes into my travel log, which required me to go out the back door, walk around and enter the cab of the truck to view the odometer. I no sooner stepped out the back door when a couple guys jumped me and immediately stabbed me in the rib cage just under my armpit. Ouch! I yelled and my wife screamed enough to scare them away. After jumping back into the camper, the assessment was that I better get to a doctor right away as the blood was flowing freely. The scariest part of the whole ordeal was that we had to assume the guys had left and wouldn’t be around to get us again as we left the camper to run around to the cab of the truck to make our getaway.

        Long story short, I drove while my wife knelt beside me, applying pressure to the wound to prevent further bleeding. We made it to the hospital next to Lago Amatitlan, even though we made a major wrong turn just outside the park, missing the turn-off back to Guatemala City. As it turned out, the young doctor said we couldn’t have picked a better place to get treatment as they treat stab wounds quite frequently! The down side was that we drove one of the most dangerous roads, after dark, on the way down to his hospital. It was known for robbers placing rocks in the roadway to stop unsuspecting drivers to separate them from their valuables.

        After an X-ray, a night in the hospital and ten days of penicillin shots, I was good to go. Luckily, the knife penetration hit a rib and didn’t go deep, compromising a lung. When it happened, all I could think about was “I’ve got a sucking chest wound, and I’m going to die in Guatemala”. (left-over thoughts of my year in Vietnam, 20 years previous). But I digress……..

        I provide this “Story” for my fellow travelers to learn by. Try not to arrive after dark in a new place and always be around people. Travel can be safe if you don’t do stupid things! Think!

      • Steve – that is an intense story about Guatemala.

        I studied Spanish in Antigua for 3 months in 2003 and again for 2 months in 2009. I love the place, but it is very sketchy. I think the people, overall, are wonderful people, but the crime element is out of control.

        Luckily, I never had any trouble in Guatemala, but I met dozens of people who were robbed there. I did witness a shooting as a guy shot at a tourist from close range, but somehow he missed.

        That is great advice not to arrive at night, especially in Central America and Africa, as the crime is pretty bad there (despite what I tell my mother before I go to these places.)

        I’m glad you were okay and thanks for the kind words. I love getting comments on the blog and you have some very interesting insight.

  3. My WP Reader has totally changed (and messed up) how I look at and comment on other’s blogs and it is now not just difficult but close to impossible. Not sure what the problem is but if you don’t see me around for a while until this hopefully gets fixed, that’s the reason. Sorry.

  4. Pingback: Returning to Rome: Part II | Planet Bell

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