Friday, September 21, 2001
From a distance: Vacationer views an American tragedy Nantucket, September 11, 2001
It was the second week of our summer vacation on the eastern end of Nantucket where we have rented a cottage in late August and early September for the past thirty-three years. This is the time of year we look forward to when we have time to relax, read books we have been wanting to read all year long, go to bed early, get up early with the rising sun, watch birds, and go for a swim. Once again we had been successful in finding a good crop of ripe beach plums to pick, and just that morning had finished cooking up our third batch of beach plum jelly for the year ahead.
Friends of ours were coming over to the island on the 11:30 a.m. ferry so we were busy cleaning up the kitchen before leaving to meet them at the boat landing in town. That's when the phone rang, around 9:15, with a call from our good friend Liz, a year-round resident, living just down the road in the center of Quidnet. "Planes have just struck the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan," she said. "If you want to see what is happening, come down."
We thanked Liz for the call but decided to stay put in the cottage and get the news from the radio in the living room, broadcast on NPR. (It has only been in the past five or six years that there has been a radio in the cottage.) We sat there dumbfounded and unbelieving. It was like reading a chapter out of an adventure book. This couldn't possibly be what was happening only 200 miles away in New York City.
By 10:30, when it was announced that airports had been closed throughout the country, we realized that the skies had turned silent and there were no planes overhead. Only the swoosh of blue jays flying from hedge to hedge in the yard and the call of a Carolina wren from a nearby thicket were to be heard. Finally it was time to head into town.
As Rob and Mary made their way down the gangplank we exchanged halfhearted smiles. Yes, we were glad to see our friends, but did they know about the hijacked plane attacks in New York and Washington? The answer was yes. From Hyannis to Nantucket, as they crossed the Sound, they had been following the actions taking place, minute by minute, crowded into the TV room along with the other stunned passengers aboard the Steamship Authority's boat, the Eagle.
Once on land, we loaded everyone into our car and set off to show them parts of the island that they had never seen. First there was a quick stop at the Nantucket Bake Shop for bread, and then on to Siasconset, the seventeenth and eighteenth century whaling village in the southeast corner of the island. We kept the radio on in the car as we went, never losing touch with the steady stream of up-to-the-minute news of the terrorist attack. I have to admit it was a half- hearted tour of the eastern end of Nantucket as our thoughts were drawn elsewhere.
Back at the cottage we took sandwiches out on the porch for lunch, but kept the radio on full volume. It was reported that casualties from the attack might reach as high as 8,000. After lunch we huddled around the radio for more news. Mary said it reminded her of the times during the Second World War when families and neighbors gathered around the radio to listen to the news.
Later in the afternoon, as we walked down the totally deserted beach, we could hear radios and TV sets off in the distance from cottages on the other side of the dunes. Yes, it couldn't have been a more beautiful day for a walk on the beach, but what had happened at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon and on an open field in Pennsylvania that morning was something we weren't able to forget.
As we stopped to rest, looking out at the Atlantic Ocean and southward down the beach towards Sankaty Head Lighthouse, I realized how glad I was to have friends there with whom I could talk and share my feelings about the terrible things that were happening. Rob grew up in Brooklyn and knew well the area in lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center was located. "How could this have happened?" we asked each other, over and over again.
The next morning, my husband was up early to check the fall bird migration on the western side of the island. I had thought that since there were no flights there would be no newspapers on Nantucket, but on his way back to the cottage he found they had been delivered by boat and picked up copies of the Boston Globe and The New York Times.
Rob and Mary would be leaving on the early evening ferry and there were still things we wanted to do during the day, once the papers had been read. We planned to check for wild grapes on the dirt road from Quidnet to the Siasconset Road, and then in the early afternoon low tide dig for clams in Nantucket harbor off Monomoy Road.
By late afternoon there were just enough clams to make clam fritters for an early evening meal before heading into town. We knew we wouldn't forget these two days together, as we each recalled the details of the days when we first heard of the J.F.K. assassination and, much earlier, the Pearl Harbor attack. We had needed each other in this time of national tragedy. It hadn't been the sort of visit we had expected, but we were glad we had shared this time.
As the ferry boat headed out of the harbor, we returned to the car with just time enough to drive back to Quidnet to watch the evening news with Liz, to finally see for ourselves the destruction wrought on our country by a group of militant terrorists who hated our way of life.
Travel experiences were very different
To the Editor:
I was away last week so I did not read Mrs. Brako's dismaying article until this week. I am sorry that her expectations, attitude and travel selection made her trip disappointing. My experiences in the Strasbourg area were just the opposite.
Neither my husband nor I speak German or French, but we did not find that a problem when we took the overnight train from Vienna to Strasbourg. We spent a day exploring Strasbourg and had a very delicious lunch at a small but crowded storefront restaurant.
Then, on the advice of the French luggage attendant at the railroad station who said a cab would be too costly, we took a bus to our hotel in Obernai. No one spoke English on the bus or at the hotel, but everyone was extremely friendly, and tried hard to make us understand so they could help us. We managed very nicely and plan to repeat this trip in the future.
The food in Obernai was the best I have eaten anywhere including Paris. I realize that Obernai and Strasburg are both French, although German was the second language of most of the people we met. But my experiences in Germany have been just as good. The people were very friendly, although more spoke English than in Alsace, and the food was very good although not as good as it was in Obernai.
When traveling outside the states, your attitude has a lot to do with your experience. I find the people of Paris among the friendliest, despite stories to the contrary. I have never been anywhere, including Budapest, East Berlin and rural Northern Italy, where the people have not been very patient with my limited language skills and very willing to help me find my way, locate a good restaurant or even order a meal to suit my tastes.
I am sorry Mrs. Brako did not have the opportunity to get to know the people of Germany and Alsace and to wander off the controlled path of her tour. She missed a chance at a wonderful experience.
© +YEAR+ The Carlisle Mosquito