From Boston to Benedict

Beautiful Boston. Credit: www.dcoss.org

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.)

The turquoise water of Lake Albano in a freeze frame of video shot by Pietro De Cristofaro for AP Television. April 16, 2013.

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.

The Piazza in front of Castel Gandolfo in a freeze frame of video shot by Pietro De Cristofaro for AP Television, April 16, 2013

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.”

A man paints a lamp post in the central piazza at Castel Gandolfo with Vatican flag in background. Freeze frame of video shot by Pietro De Cristofaro for AP Television. April 16, 2013.

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.

22 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Penny Kirk
    2013/04/17

    It’s Wednesday and the horror is beginning to sink in. Your former neighbor, Sheila Golden Devine was running the marathon as she often does. She was 100 yards behind the blast when it went off. Her husband and two little girls were in the VIP stands just opposite the blast. It took an hour for them to find each other. I’m sure it was an eternity. I’ve learned of a teacher at a school in Weston where I’m on the board…he and his wife each lost a leg. It’s so strange to be typing these words…it was such a glorious day until that moment. I had gone to the Cape to take my sister out for lunch and stopped on the way home with the dogs at a conservation area in Mashpee where there is a lovely pond. The water and sun enveloped me…and then I got in the car and turned on the radio…..

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Oh Penny, your comment practically brings tears to my eyes. I had no idea Sheila was running the marathon. Thank God she is ok. I can’t believe her husband and daughters were so near the blast and they couldn’t get in touch. That reminds me of September 11th when my sister Gwen couldn’t get in touch with her husband (who worked in the World Trade Center but who was fortunately late for work and just coming out of the subway station when the first plane hit) for hours. My sister was at home with her newborn baby and for hours she sat waiting for his call. We were all calling her frantically and she kept telling us to leave the phone line open. He finally walked uptown and someone let him into their apartment to call her. I can just imagine Sheila’s anguish. If you talk to her, tell her hello from me and that I am sorry she had to experience such anguish.

      I also feel terrible for the teacher and his wife in Weston. How could anyone have known that by going to watch the Boston Marathon they would ended up maimed for life. It is so tragic.

      Reply
  2. Avatar
    Alan
    2013/04/17

    . . saddened by this as with any violence – will never get my head around the disproportionality of the media re: relative value of Western lives/atrocities against and those of the rest of humanity

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Hi Alan — I responded – perhaps too harshly – above to the Jolly Joker’s comments above on the media. I tend to get pretty defensive when people criticize the media. But you are both right that deaths in the west get much more attention in then innocent civilian deaths in many other places. We all need to support those in the media who try to get us coverage of wars and other killing of innocent people.

      Reply
  3. Avatar
    Adri
    2013/04/17

    It is wonderful to see you back, although I am sorry it is on so tragic an occasion. It is hard to comprehend the level of cruelty and depth of depravity of this terrorist act. If the goal of terrorism is to frighten a populace, to put them off balance, the fiends have succeeded, if only briefly. If the goal is to stop people, to freeze them and make them never move forward, the terrorist has failed. People will pull together. Boston will mourn and heal. The terrorists will feel the full weight of American justice.

    I have never been to the Boston Marathon, but my sports hero Joan Benoit Samuelson surely has. I remember watching her so many times. I wonder what Joan would have to say? My heart goes out to the victims and to all who witnessed this horror, as well as to their and their friends and families. The memory will linger on long after the wounds have healed.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Hi Adri — great to hear from you. Oh, I too am a fan of Joan Benoit and saw her pass many years. She was there this year running the marathon, and this is what she said in an email to USA Today:

      “I can’t believe how many spectators spurred me on along the entire course yesterday, and how in the end, they were the ones who suffered the most. Yesterday tragedy trumped triumph, but the human spirit and the strength of runners and our sport will prevail and right the wrong in good time.

      “As history has long told, Boston will stand tall.”

      Gotta love Joan Benoit, she is an inspiration to us all!

      Reply
  4. Avatar
    Pauline
    2013/04/17

    Trisha! I’ve been waiting for a post from you. I read the news on Boston and kept you and your family in my prayers. I’m glad to know everyone is okay on your end.

    I’ve also heard/read about the rumor on the declining health of Pope Benedict XVI, it seems to be spreading everywhere like wild fire these days. I think the Pope just needs to regain his strength and rest for a bit – he’s worked tirelessly over the past 8 years or so! I hope at least he had a cake of some sort to celebrate his birthday though! I mean, it’s not really a birthday celebration without a cake!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Thanks Pauline, you are so kind and supportive. And thank you for keeping me and my family in your prayers. I appreciate that.

      I also hope Pope Benedict XVI got a birthday cake. We went to Castel Gandolfo hoping that we would be able to catch someone going in with a cake, or some group singing Happy Birthday to him outside the Castle. After we left, I was hoping that the Vatican might release a picture of him getting a cake in private, but nothing. I guess he is really sticking to his word about living “hidden from the world.” Tomorrow is also an important date for him, it is the anniversary of the day he was elected Pope. I wonder if there will be any acknowledgement of that.

      Reply
  5. Avatar
    Carina
    2013/04/17

    Boston was insanely sad. But I chuckled about your husband’s cheer. I’ve never run a marathon in Italy, but I’ve encountered Italians on other courses and to those I’ve passed (I’m never fast enough to say something to those passing me), I’ve usually said something about “forza Italia,” or “andiamo,” or “meno di un’ora adesso”. But next time, I’m going with dai, dai!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Isn’t that funny about my husband yelling “dai, dai”. I was shocked, and people around us were really looking at him in a strange way. I still remember it now, we were in Central Park and it was near the finish line. But the Italian runners were thrilled to hear it.

      Reply
  6. Avatar
    Nancy Rockwell
    2013/04/17

    A wonderfully woven column, the images of Castel Gondolfo intertwined with Boston in you, and the peace of that place in contrast to the shock and terror here.
    Perhaps you know that the experts are saying they do not think this was a terrorist attack, that Al Qaeda does not go after ‘soft’ targets, but prominent buildings and political events. Also, the bombs they know were very homemade, pressure cookers like our grandmothers used, filled with BBs, nails stripped of their heads, and explosive powder, and the timers were cooking timers. So they are looking for some nut, or a right-wing, neo-Nazi cell. They think the target was really the finish line, and since so many runners are internationals, it may have been a protest against multi-culturalism, on Patriot’s Day, part of the anti-immigrant movement. Or it may just be a nut, wanting a lot of attention.
    The general reaction now seems to be to pledge that next year’s Marathon will be bigger than ever, and we will not be intimidated.
    But for the injured and maimed, this is a tragedy that will never end. And most of all for the family that lost a son, and their daughter lost a leg, and the Mom got shrapnel in her brain and has had serious surgery, and they thought she might die but now think she will live, but . . . . no one yet is saying anything about her recovery. Meanwhile they are planning a funeral for the boy. And the father and uninjured son spend their days travelling between two hospitals, as the Mom is at MGH and the boy at Children’s.
    I hope the Pope is praying for them. The family is Catholic.
    It makes sense to me that the Pope is exhausted but OK. When anyone leaves a 24/7 job, there is a period of utter exhaustion that lasts for several months. And the Papacy is surely that. Also, I think the Pope’s hear was broken by the scandals and Vatileaks, and that was a big part of his decision to retire. The heartbreak and pain of all that will be long in healing. And it must make his sad that his phone does not ring, that the throng that could not get enough of him is no longer interested because his power is gone. I’m glad he has the piano and the sea. But it must be hard, this self-imposed exile.
    Meanwhile, NPR had an interesting segment about the nuns being eager to carve out a place for themselves in Pope Francis’ new dedication to working with the poor. They have asked for a conference meeting with him. When and if this occurs, I hope you are able to get some interviews with the nuns, they would have an interesting perspective, though they will be guarded in what they say.
    It is encouraging that he has appointed the group of non-Vatican cardinals to help him bring about reforms, and O’Malley is one of them. He shares the Pope’s values for the simple life. I wish he had added Dolan of NYC to the group, as he is so charismatic and communicative.
    I was recently in NYC staying with friends, who are a Protestant and Jewish couple, and they are convinced Dolan is gay, and if the church became more open to this, he would be more liberal, they think. Well, this is pure gossip, not worthy of your careful reporting, but it may be true. These are interesting times for church-watching!

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Thanks for your comment Nancy. We are starting to hear things here about the attacker possibly being some extreme right-winger who is against the Obama administration’s efforts to have tighter gun control in the US. Since apparently the marathon was tied to the Newtown Massacres — 26 miles for 26 victims – this theory is floating around. That would be quite a shocker. Let’s wait and see.

      I have so much material on the new Pope, his attitudes on women, his new team to sort the curia (which I agree is good to have O’Malley on) his humility etc. but I am taking a bit of a break on the blog from the Vatican now. As far as Dolan is concerned, I would find it very hard to believe he is gay. But you never know. But I do know he is charismatic, charming and a natural politician.

      I totally agree with all your comments about Pope Benedict XVI. Every man I know who has retired seems to have gone into a funk, the more important their job, the bigger the funk. I’ve read somewhere that it is a terrible problem for commercial airline pilots. They spend their lives carrying precious cargos of people around the globe, they have a huge responsibility and when they stop, they feel sad and useless. From what I have heard, women have this problem less, they tend to throw themselves into other activities. And, as you say, can you imagine what it must be like to have thousands of people cheering for you once or twice a week in St. Peter’s Square and then suddenly nothing. I guess one might feel tired.

      Reply
  7. Avatar
    Gwen Thomas
    2013/04/17

    Your memories of Heartbreak Hill are the same as mine. Every year, hollering for folks to cheer them up that looooong hill in Newton. Funny about Gustavo and the “Dai, Dai.”

    Tom’s brother in law ran the Boston Marathon this year and his wife (Tom’s sister) and their two kids were there waiting for him. Fortunately for them he finished early and they had already left the finish line area. Dad said folks are using colored chalk to write on sidewalks “We are Bostonians. We are tough and resiliant.” Sounds moving.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      I do believe that Bostonians are tough and resilient. Boston will get over this and move on and there will be another marathon next year. I do grieve for the family of the dead and those who have been wounded.

      Reply
  8. Avatar
    Ciao Chow Linda
    2013/04/17

    Pietro’s sense of humor really made me smile. Your reader’s letter mentions the nightmares happening all over the world. While we are rightfully upset about what happened in Boston, we in the U.S. do not have to live with them on a daily basis the way some in the middle east and other parts of the world do. How can we stay safe and still enjoy the freedom to move about as we wish? A lot of people are saying that this won’t stop them from running other marathons, from congregating in public places, but at the same time, ever since 9/11, it makes me nervous every time I’m in a tunnel under the Hudson River heading to NY, or someplace with a large gathering of people. How tragic this would be to happen to anyone, but the death of a small innocent child really got to me. How many innocent children around the world have lost their lives to violence like this — and why? why?

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      I agree – why? why? why? And as one reader pointed out in a comment above, we all need to be aware of innocent people being killed around the globe, whether that is Boston or Aleppo, Syria. It is hard for journalists to cover all the wars and the violence, but at least new forms of media — twitter, facebook, blogs – help people in war zones get out their own videos and stories of what is happening.

      Reply
  9. Avatar
    jolly joker
    2013/04/18

    Yes we are all sad what happened in Boston, particularly for little boy.
    This story is all over in American media, every single channel (freaking FOX news is the front runner) are showing over and over every day.
    In the meantime just a week ago NATO planes bombed in Afghanistan and twelve people perished, the explosive device dropped on a residential home killed eleven children and one adult woman. (https://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/04/07-0)
    11 little kids, this news didn’t show in American media or I missed if it showed up.
    I can’t even imagine if 11 kids will die with bombing in this country.
    I don’t mean that what happened in Boston is OK but I wish American media will show what happened in Afghanistan as well. But we all know that that will not happen.

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/18

      Wow– you hit a nerve!

      Killing of innocent people is wrong wherever it is on the entire planet. I have friends who have risked their lives to go to Afghanistan (Pier Paolo Cito, AP Rome Photographer, Chris Slaney, AP Senior Producer), Syria (AP producer Andrea Rosa) and other war zones to cover the wars there and show where innocent people are being killed, but it is not always easy. I lost two colleagues who were killed in Sierra Leone (AP Television’s Miguel Gil Moreno de Mora and Myles Tierney) and in Kosovo (Kerem Lawton), and I can assure you that they were not getting paid a big salary to go get the story, they were doing it out of passion. So, I don’t think it is fair to criticize journalists as a category. You can also check out this website http://www.cpj.org/ of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists which will tell you how many journalists get killed every year and how many are in prison.

      I also think some big American news organizations are doing excellent reporting on US policies that are wrongly killing innocent people. See the New York Times Sunday Magazine article last week by Mark Mazzetti:

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/magazine/raymond-davis-pakistan.html?ref=magazine&_r=0

      The Boston Marathon was an event in a big American city with lots of media coverage of the athletic event, so it is not surprising that when there were two bomb explosions and innocent civilians killed the media attention multiplied.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        jolly joker
        2013/04/19

        Hitting nerve is my specialty!
        I am sad what happened in Boston and Afghanistan, however I am sick and tired how the western media is approaching two bombing differently.
        Martin Richard’s name is all over the news, we all know how he died in Boston, most of the people learned his name already.
        But no one knows about those 11 kids names, most of people in the west don’t even know about how those 11 kids died in Afghanistan. Please tell me as you are a journalist, do you think about this double standard or what?
        In the meantime you can be harsh on me for this, I am OK with that, are you?

        Reply
        • Trisha Thomas
          Trisha Thomas
          2013/04/19

          I am ok with you being harsh. You are making a valid point, but I think it is also easy to be an armchair analyst. How easy to sit in your comfortable home in Cambridge and criticize Fox News. Fox is an easy target. I can do that too. Why bother watching. Why don’t you fly over to Pakistan, hike into the Tribal areas and report on the drone strikes that are killing innocent children. But if that is too hard, at least support the journalists who are doing that. You should also support the journalists on the ground in some of these areas who risk their lives every day to get out bits and pieces of news on twitter, and in their blogs.

          Reply
  10. Avatar
    Elspeth Slayter
    2013/04/19

    Trisha – he seems to me to be talking not at all about the journalists on the ground – rather on the choices about what gets main coverage. yes, this is a huge story – but so is the story he references – or at least it should be! I have to say it feels like a pretty low blow to accuse us of being in our comfortable Cambridge armchairs. You grew up in some of those comfortable armchairs in Cambridge – and were taught to be a critical thinker by your parents. We are not journalists but we do our best to think critically about the media given to us. He has travelled widely to learn about areas in the workd where we may get biased info in the press (Kashmir, Sri Lanka). Every day, he and I look at a range of popular media and are heartbroken about both situations. I believe what he says is true – we don’t know enough about those kids who died from the drone strikes. Americans don’t get this news. Nothing he says, as I read it, criticizes on the ground journalists! I am sorry if my husband can be an agent provocateur at times – but his heart is in the right place. He loves & respects you & your work – but has the right to be critical as we all do – of what info is and is not given to us in the popular media. Please reconsider your tone. Love, Elspeth

    Reply
    • Trisha Thomas
      Trisha Thomas
      2013/04/19

      I am happy that your husband feels he can say what he thinks on my blog. He is a smart man and I love debate so I am happy to engage.

      Reply

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