My heart and mind have been focused on the past few days on my hometown of Boston following the bomb explosions that have killed three people — an adorable 8-year-old boy named Martin Richard, a 29-year-old woman named Krystle Campbell with a beautiful smile, and a 23-year-old Chinese student fron Shengyang named Lu Lingzi who was studying in Boston. The attacks have left maimed and mutilated dozens of others. How could anyone commit such an act of terror?
Growing up I went with my family to cheer for the Boston Marathoners every year. The Boston Marathon, the oldest in America, is held on a holiday called Patriot’s Day when we re-enact the first battles of the revolutionary war at Lexington and Concord. There is no school so there are many kids lining the 26 mile route. My family always went along what is known as “heartbreak hill” not far from where we lived. My brother, sister and I developed a technique of picking out a runner coming up the hill and reading something off their t-shirt and cheering directly for that one person. For example, if someone had a t-shirt saying “Joe” on it, we would yell “Go Joe, you can do it! Come on, you’re almost there!” and Joe would inevitably get a boost from the unexpected fans and would speed on up the hill, often smiling and waving at us. I also cheered extra loud for the women runners because for years at school I ran track and cross-country and I was sure I would run the Boston Marathon one day. I never did. (Interestingly, years later I took my future husband to cheer at the New York Marathon. He adopted my vigorous cheering style and everytime he saw someone with an Italian t-shirt he immediately started yelling at them in Italian “DAI, DAI, CE LA FAI!!” Which translated means “Come on, Come on, you can do it.” But it sounded like he was yelling “DIE, DIE” and while the Italian runners were pleased to have a co-national giving them some support in their language, the Americans, including me, found it disconcerting.)
Yesterday morning I left at 8am to travel to the tiny hill-top town of Castel Gandolfo overlooking Lake Albano. It was the 86th birthday of the former Pope, Benedict XVI. There have been lots of rumors of his rapid decline in health since he left the Vatican on February 28th. The last we saw of him was a video provided by Vatican TV from inside Castel Gandolfo when Pope Francis went to visit him on March 23rd. In that video Benedict walked slowly and hesitantly with a cane and looked weak and weary.
As I drove to Castel Gandolfo with cameraman Pietro De Cristofaro, I began to get calls from Italian radios and televisions, eager to have someone from Boston to explain the marathon and give an opinion on the events. I did several interviews.
In Castel Gandolfo the small town was awash in sunshine, the lake below was a sparkling turquoise. The residents went about their business, tourists sat in the lovely piazza outside the Castle gazing up wondering what Benedict might be doing. The Castle windows on the two lower floors were shuttered closed and the top floor curtains were drawn. The large wooden entrance door was opened a few times for cars to go in or out, but there was no sign of the Pope.
I interviewed the Mayor of Castel Gandolfo Milvia Monachesi who told me that the town has sent in a letter of birthday greetings but they were not expecting to see him. She said they were very worried about his health but have heard from those who work inside that he is just tired and is regaining strength. They say he plays the piano and takes walks.
A priest from Kerala, India, Antony Vayalil and his sister, a nun, were walking across the piazza. Father Antony stopped and told me, “He is a great man, he’s retired and he’s praying for the church and the world, that is the great thing that he is doing for us.”
Inside a souvenir shop, I met Anna Maria Vicci Torrigiani, an artist who once painted a Madonna and gave it in person to Benedict XVI as a gift. She said she had started her day wishing him birthday message on Facebook. I am not so sure the former Pope is a big user of Facebook but her fondness for Benedict was so sincere, I didn’t want to tell her that. Instead she told me, “I think the Holy Father is doing well inside Castel Gandolfo, he is a man who is fairly old, I think he is enjoying a much-deserved rest.”
After a while it was clear we were not going to have video of someone delivering a cake to the Castle, and the former Pope was not going to invite me in for an interview.
Meanwhile, the calls continued about Boston. I must have given four more interviews for Italian radios and TV on the Boston Marathon bombs. Pietro and I finally sat down at an outdoor bar and I pulled out my Mac lap-top to begin editing. I then got another call for an interview. When I got through with it, Pietro looked at me and said, “I think I’ve got it down now. The next interview I will do…. Let’s see, Washington is the seat of political power, New York is the seat of financial power, but Boston is the center of higher education. It is a city filled with universities with a young population. Why would terrorists attack a city like Boston? The marathon is run on Patriot’s Day a local holiday where children don’t go to school and many of them line the 26 mile route of the marathon. Bostonians are a bit like the British, they are very stiff-upper-lip and will certainly not waste anytime feeling sorry for themselves but will mourn the dead, help the wounded and find those responsible.”
“Ok, ok, Pietro, I understand. No more interviews, back to Benedict.”
As we edited our little story on Benedict’s birthday, we enjoyed the peace, quiet and fresh air of Castel Gandolfo but inside I was feeling sad about Boston.
This morning I got a note from one of my blog reader buddies, Rebecca Butler of http://italyphotog.wordpress.com She was at the marathon and I appreciated her words so much, that I want to share them with all of you.
“I am sure you have been thinking about Boston all day. I hope your family and friends are safe tonight. I was at the marathon today but I am ok. Leaving the city was surreal. I am so devastated by the bombings today. It was one of those beautiful spring days, sunny, not too hot or cold, the energy in the crowd was so positive and effulgent, the runners were so strong and inspired so much admiration. I had small children with me. It is a nightmare – a nightmare happening all over the world – all of these bombings are tragic but it is affecting me particularly deeply tonight. I feel so much for the loved ones dealing with loss tonight and those who are terribly hurt.”
Thank you Rebecca.
Trisha is a TV journalist working for AP TV News in Rome. She is married to an Italian and is a Mamma of three.