Sevilla news stand, Wednesday, 12 September
Our trip changed, along with the civilized world, on Tuesday, 11 September. We had just arrived in Sevilla dusty and tired after a difficult bus ride from Portugal. In his room, Chad clicked on the TV, and immediately called our room to tell us to turn ours on. Two planes had just hit the World Trade Center.
Since then, we've gotten emails from many friends, sharing thoughts and sentiments of course, no doubt much like yours, and wondering, "What is it like to be so far from home at a time like this? What do the Europeans think about this?"
Well, what can I tell you? At first, none of us believed what we heard and saw; we couldn't imagine any of it -- deliberately flying a passenger airplane into a crowded building; doing so four times in a matter of minutes; the twin towers collapsing... The horror.
Like most of you, we've been numb ever since.
We're in Andalucía in southern Spain, a sun-burnt land of large emptinesses with a necrotic fringe of overdevelopment along the rim of the Mediterranean. Considering this land's history of Moorish domination, its geography of islamic nations just out of sight across a narrow sea, and its economy dominated by arab oil money, this is not a place for hatred and racial prejudice. Yet increasingly that seems like a natural American response to this unthinkable, incomprehensible attack. We briefly found ourselves proud of a President we could barely tolerate a week ago, before he seized on the "new war" rhetoric. His characterization of the perpetrator as "a faithless coward" still seems amazingly appropriate and memorable.
News here comes via British and Spanish newspapers and the nearly ever-present London-based CNN World Service, which has for 24 hours a day since Tuesday afternoon broadcast mostly CNN's US domestic feed. Hourly break-aways are dedicated to coverage of international reactions -- more than you may be seeing. British and German governments are the most sympathetic, but frankly this sympathy cannot be found among the vacationers here on Spain's Costa del Sol, who go on with their mindless sunbathing and retail therapy. Activities which, I am bound to add, we would be participating in if the world had not shifted so palpably beneath our feet this week.
We're all still in shock. We spend a lot of time in our rooms watching CNN and hoping that the haze that obscures our enjoyment of where we are and what we might be doing will soon dissipate. Coming home is not an option, of course, but with two weeks to go before their scheduled flight home Chad and Sienna are worried about their anticipated return. Rochelle and I are desperately trying to reconnect with the joys of traveling and rediscovering new things, but so far that's proving to be a hard march.
Our friends here tell us that while the twin towers and Pentagon seem far away, everyone shares the awareness that this attack could have taken place anywhere, Madrid, Paris, London. We hear commentators saying that "we Americans have lost our sense of safety" but I can assure you that this sense of loss is shared by the whole civilized world. Our friends emphasize that most islamic people they know are peace-loving, and share with us and our friends the hope that the US government will be reasonable and selective in its reprisals. Our European friends do not want to think much about the fact that any war will be fought closer to them than to the US, but they cannot be unaware that the huge US base at nearby Rota will be a major venue for any US incursions in the middle east.
It makes us all uneasy -- Spaniards, european visitors, other american travelers, and we ourselves -- to know that there are cells of anti-American fanatics at large in Europe. Walking down dark streets at night, we don't feel as safe as we did just a week ago. No one does. And we all know that fear breeds irrational behavior. Under the best circumstances traveling is hard, tiring work. Right now, it isn't even remotely fun, even as we bond and keep each others' spirits up as well as we can. We miss Caspar, Chico, and Olympia.
I apologize for being so scattered, and for abandoning the website. I have lost enthusiasm for the mechanics and emotions of writing. I am very aware that my writings would be darker, and would violate my own agreements with myself to observe, record, but not judge. I hope I find the heart to resume, and life (and travel) will continue at least for the foreseeable future.
Paella with our Spanish friends Graciela and Maribel
Meanwhile, although we have deliberately slowed down our trip, and have abandoned plans to get to Italy before Chad and Sienna leave, we are having as much fun as we can. This morning we spent the morning on the beach at Nerja, then enjoyed almuerzo (big lunch) with our Spanish friends, who came down from Marbella to be with us. Early tomorrow morning we catch the bus to Granada for a couple of days with the Alhambra.
18 September 2001, Granada
Clinton Mirador: "Down with the Towers!"
As the horrible images recede into the past, the real concern here in Spain and right across Europe now is the fallout from anticipated US vengeance. In Granada there is a lovely spot atop the Albaizin, a Moorish neighborhood across the valley from the Alhambra -- that's the Alhambra's fort, the Alcazaba, on the skyline at left -- where tourists traditionally go to watch the sun set. Bill Clinton enjoyed it as a student, and brought his family back here early in his presidency.
Another time; another president. The halting but unmistakably bellicose babblings of the new president (elected by the Florida Supreme Court) have brought out the equally belligerent anti-Americans, and when we arrived to look, we were greeted by this sentiment, freshly painted in white on the wall of the mirador: "No hay duda los 'mejores atardeceres' son de los americanos. ĦAbajo con los torres! Otro bonito atardecer..." In case your Spanish isn't quite up to that, here it is in English: "There is no doubt that the best sunsets are those of the Americans. Down with the Towers! Another pretty sunset..." When we happened by the spot a couple of hours later on our way to lunch, the wall had been freshly scrubbed. What does this prove? That there are butt-heads on both sides of every issue, but the prevailing sense is of global loss of safety and a wish not to offend. Sadly, the presidential rhetoric has made Europeans more afraid of the US's appetite for revenge than that terrorists will attack the Prado or Barcelona's own twin towers.
In response to this page, one good friend wrote, "I think you should come home. If you do, then in a very small way those who attacked our Civilization will have achieved one of their goals, but my concern is for your safety and peace of mind, so the hell with the rest of it." Another good friend wrote "what a good time NOT to be in the US." We get a global view of the events, and are completely embedded in a culture that considers events like this to be pretty much in a day's work. Well, maybe this one's a little more egregious than the burning of San Sebastian or the demolition of Dresden, but for many older Europeans there's a guilty little sense of "about time those smug Americans got whacked on their home turf."
It's nearly unanimous (86% of Spaniards) here that a diplomatic and measured response striking directly at those who caused the misery is appropriate ...just as a slightly smaller majority (76% of Spaniards) don't expect a mature response from the US. That's what makes us sad. Of course the loss is almost unbearable, but what a magnificent opportunity for a bravely peaceful response. We are encouraged to see American public opinion swinging in this direction. Possibly the nearly global participation of the world's governments in a campaign against terrorism will temper Dubyuh's response. But if it goes the way one Caspar friend predicts, and Dubyuh goes for the General MacArthur Prize instead of the Nobel Peace Prize, it looks like we'll be home sooner than planned.
updated 20 September 2001 : 13:58 Caspar (Pacific) time
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