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A Tragic Day for the World

Work was ticking along very nicely. I enjoyed this part of the year. The trouble-makers, those who had never managed to fit in in Naples, and who had become bitter and twisted over their time here, making life difficult for everybody else, had gone home and had been replaced by a fresh bunch of enthusiastic teachers, some newly-qualified, others with several years of experience. They were a nice crowd this year, most of them in their 30s with one or two in their early 20s, and divided pretty much evenly between Brits and Americans. One of the Americans was an ex-US Army man, straight out of “Boys’ Own Adventures” with square jawbone and glistening white teeth. Whenever I addressed him directly, he would respond with a prompt “Yessir!” No doubt he would come in handy for the military courses we were covering out at the NATO base. At the other end of the disciplinary scale was a long-haired Californian of Hispanic origin. He spoke like Dylan from the “Magic Roundabout” and I often had difficulty in understanding what he was saying.
It was induction week. All teachers had to do an induction course, no matter how long they had been in the profession. I paired up the experienced teachers with the novices for grammar awareness sessions and vocabulary elicitation exercises. I loved induction week, and this one seemed to be going particularly well. It was only late Tuesday morning, Day 2, but already a sense of camaraderie and team spirit had started to develop among the new recruits – no mean feat if you considered their varied backgrounds. To mix Americans and Brits was to attempt to mix oil and water. In their respective pairs, they were telling each other about their previous teaching experiences around the world.
“Man, I remember once I was teaching these cats down in Monterey …” Gilbert, the Californian was telling his partner, Liz, a pretty blond English girl from Bristol, who was on her first teaching post. I was confused.
“Cats?” I interrupted. “Gilbert, we’re supposed to be talking about our experiences teaching English, not …”
“Well, that’s what I was teaching them, man.”
“You were teaching cats English?” Images of Barbara Woodhouse swam into my head. I had never heard of anyone attempting to provide linguistic instruction for cats before. Dogs, yes. “Walkies”; “Sit”; “Heel”; “Good Boy” etc. But cats? Definitely not. I hovered, hoping to learn of how “English for Felines” might work in practice. But Gilbert had soon lost me.
“And it was like, far out, man, ‘cause these cats had no bread and it was, like, the suits that were providing these courses and it had taken, like, months, y’know, to persuade them to come up with the dough and it was just so groovy just to get the chance to really help someone in need, an’ …”
Liz was nodding her head. Clearly she had no trouble following his discourse, so I left them to it and went back to the front of the classroom to prepare handouts for the next activity. It dawned on me that I had ordered a coffee over an hour ago from the bar downstairs, and it still hadn’t made an appearance.
“Where’s my bloody coffee?” I said irritably to no one in particular. There was stifled sniggering. “Where’s my bloody coffee?” had already, it transpired, become my catchphrase. I strode towards the door, intending to get one of the girls to phone down to the bar and hurry them up. But, as I was about to grab the handle, Lino, the marketing manager, burst in, looking as if he had seen a ghost.
“We need that TV,” he said, pointing to the set in the corner of the room.
“What’s the matter, Lino? You look worked up about something.”
“You’d better come out for a moment,” Lino said, sighing deeply. “There’s something you and these people need to know.”

That sounded ominous. I stepped outside and closed the door.
“There’s been a terrorist attack on New York,” said Lino. “Terrorists hijacked jumbo jets and flew them into the Twin Towers.”
“The Twin Towers? The World Trade Centre?”
“Yes. They’re gone.”
“Gone? What? The Towers?”
“Yes. They collapsed.”
I felt my legs buckle underneath me as I struggled to grasp the enormity of what I was hearing.
“With all the people inside?”
“Well, the ones who didn’t manage to get out in time, yes.”
“Are there many dead?” I asked and immediately realised what a stupid question that was. Lino didn’t answer.
“I’m going to take the TV into the staffroom and set it up. While I do that, break the news to the teachers. Do it gently. Remember, some of them are from New York itself. Then, bring them into the staffroom. We’ve cancelled all lessons for the rest of the day.”
I went back into the room and faced total silence. As Lino wheeled out the television, I sat down, took off my glasses and rubbed my eyes with my hands, not knowing where to begin. Lino closed the door gently and left me to it.
“I’m afraid something terrible has happened,” I said, looking up at the anxious faces in front of me. I saw them all bristle in preparation for what I was about to say.
“And you’d better prepare yourselves for a shock, especially the Americans among you.”
I told them what Lino had just told me. Two of the English girls started to cry as the blood drained from the face of everybody else in unison.
“I think that we should all make our way to the staffroom where Lino has set up the TV, so that we can find out a little bit more about what exactly is going on. Any of you who need to make calls back to the US may, of course, use the school phones.”
Wordlessly, they followed me into the staffroom where, under the circumstances, the smoking ban had been lifted. Even some of the non-smokers were puffing away.
Gilbert, watching the pictures of the planes smashing into the towers, was beside himself, jumping up and down on the spot, nothing left of the laid-back Californian.
“This is all the fault of that goddamn son-of-a-bitch Bush. That dude’s gonna fuckin’ love this, man. It gives him the excuse he needs to kick ass. This is World War fuckin’ Three, man.”
Clifford, the military man, was more composed. Cigarette burning in his hand, he raised his index finger towards the screen and said, slowly and emphatically:
“Those guys are toast.”
Exclamations and intakes of breath came from all over the room as images of the towers’ collapse were broadcast.

“Oh, dear Lord!”
“My God!”
“Holy shit!”
The girls started crying again. None of us could tear ourselves away from the TV. Most of the afternoon passed in silence. Nothing any of us had ever done, nothing that we wanted to do in the future had any meaning now. This was, indeed, as Gilbert had said, the start of World War Three. A holy war that would surely lead to the destruction of everything we held dear. The world, as we heard from a succession of talking heads on the TV, from students who had abandoned lessons halfway through to join us in the staffroom, from our bosses, from just about anyone we came into contact with, would never be the same again. “What’s the point?” I thought sadly. “Just what is the point of carrying on?”
I think that most of us believed there would be an attack a day from then on. When this proved not to be the case, there was, at first, something approaching relief, and then raging anger and a thirst for revenge. Apart from Gilbert, everyone expressed the sentiment that Bush should pull out all the stops and show these people what for.
“He should nuke the Middle East,” opined Neapolitans on the Sorrento train in the evenings. “We should round up all the Muslims, put them on a ship and sail them out of Italy!” was another common viewpoint, normally followed by: “And then we should sink it!”

“We are all Americans now,” some said piously. Practically everyone I spoke to wanted retaliation, the bloodthirstier the better. And yet, when it finally came, everyone changed their minds. No longer were we “all Americans”. Now, it was the Americans who had overreacted. They were throwing their weight around, as usual. In a matter of no time at all, it was not uncommon to hear, on trains and on buses, that they had brought September 11th on themselves in the first place. It seemed that the whole of Italy had done a U-turn and the reason was clear. The Americans wanted help – not just the usual rhetoric and pretty words. They wanted troops, military back-up, contributions to the war effort. “Solidarity” is a word you often hear in Italy. It’s an easy word to say. Italians like to express solidarity with downtrodden workers, oppressed peoples, victims of earthquakes and other natural disasters. It doesn’t cost anything and it makes them feel and look good. But to send young Italian men to die, and to help pay for a war that threatened to escalate rapidly? Well, if that’s what solidarity meant in this case, then no, thanks. Better to make out that you hadn’t approved of the war in the first place. Better to preach forbearance, forgiveness, the need for “dialogue”, and other such noble sentiments.
We were, of course, wrong. The attack on the Twin Towers was not the start of World War Three. But it was the start of a difficult period for the world and for Italy. Biting recession followed, and the optimism that had marked the passage into the new millennium evaporated. What an innocent age it must have been when Bill Clinton’s showing everybody what fun could be had with a cigar was enough to trigger an international scandal. If only problems like that were the worst we had to contend with today.


6 pensieri riguardo “A Tragic Day for the World

  1. That was a day to remember for sure. I was actually on a plane when it happened and took off on another plane after the 1st tower had been hit, only finding out the full extent after I landed. Then, of course, I had to find a way home that did not involve a plane. Happy Friday the 13th Giacomo. Allan

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