Sunday was September 11, 2005. It's been very easy for us to live in our lovely garden of eden here in Perugia and not really know day to day what is happening at home in the U.S. We try to keep current with the important breaking news of the day on the Internet, like the death of William Rehnquist and the Pope, the Hurricane and the ongoing war in Iraq. We don't have satellite TV so all our news programs are in Italian. We understand only a certain amount of what is being said and we occasionally pick up an English language paper like USA Today or the Herald Tribune from London. Wanting to improve our language skills we read the Italian paper sometimes but mostly I have to admit we are oblivious of the day to day frustrations of being democrats in a country currently dominated by an ultra-conservative group of republicans whose politics we find completely disturbing and alien to many of the values we hold dear. I am certain that Bob's blood pressure has been at an all time low since coming to Italy. We have found many kindred spirits in the Americans we have met here and there have been very lively discussions on the state of affairs at home.
All that being said, we learned of a Peace March being held on Sunday, September 11 and discussed the feasibility of our joining the 18 mile walk from Perugia to Assisi for a peaceful demonstration and wanted to add our voice to those seeking peace and justice in the world and an end to poverty and hunger. All goals we very much agree with. Those of you who know us well know that we have had "feet issues" and the idea of us walking that far did was not a good idea for us but wanting to take part in some way, we decided to take the train to Assisi to meet the marchers there.
Leaving Perugia from the main train station we could see the long line of people heading out, carrying and draped in flags of peace - "Pace" in Italian (those of you who came to our Farewell Party may remember the "PACE" flag with the rainbow colors we hung from the ramada at Deck Park in Phoenix), many wearing white shirts and carrying signs. It was an impressive sight as we rode past. Arriving in Assisi early we boarded a bus for the Basilica of St. Francis, beautiful and gleaming white against the overcast sky and began walking towards it, passing people already in the town and headed in the same direction. People of all ages and nationalities, from all over Italy and different parts of the world, carrying signs and wrapped in flags quietly voicing their opposition to the war and the inequalities of poverty in a world where there is still, in spite of that, more wealth than we can even comprehend. We passed a couple of Italian men about our age, one of them carrying the peace flag with another tied on like a cape that said "Democratici ai Sinistra" (democrats of the left) and we asked where he bought it. (Dove hai comprato?) to which he responded that he had bought it in Empoli, where he was from and we moved on. Moments later he caught up to us, removed it and offered it to Bob as a gift. We were so amazed and thrilled, we thanked him emphatically and were so impressed by this generosity of spirit and expression of friendship he so freely offered.
Continuing on our way, we approached the Basilica where a group of young men had hung an enormous peace flag from the wall where steps lead up to a view of Assisi and people were adding their names and signing this piece of cloth. Eagerly, we added our names to the banner. I wrote, "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." Bob wrote "What have you added to the world today?" and it was an emotional moment for us.
We walked around the center of Assisi for a while and then headed up to the Rocca Maggiore, the massive remains of the fortress on the hill where the rally would take place. I planted myself on the grass to sketch the scene and Bob wandered around taking photos of the steady stream of people arriving, including representatives of each town and region from all over Italy carrying their city's flag up the hill. The band playing music was I think from Palestine although I am not certain, the music had a haunting Middle Eastern, yet modern sound and people were listening and dancing and talking in groups.
I think also that one photo is worth a thousand words as the saying goes and that Bob's capture the flavor of the day better than all my words so I will let them speak for me.
Later in the afternoon, before any of the speeches began, the sky grew even darker and rain began to fall complete with enormous claps of lightning and thunder. Being on this high point in the city with such a storm did not seem a safe place to be so many of us headed down, umbrellas now unfolding as flags had been earlier, hurrying down out of the rain and to the waiting buses and trains and home again. By the time we reached the train station the deluge had slowed to a drizzle and, soaked, inspite of the umbrellas, we fell into our seats on the train and I slept as we made our way back to Perugia, the train car filled with other tired, wet souls bound for Perugia and beyond, the day having come to a premature end for us.
We saw on the news later (and learned from Sergio, our landlord, that he had seen Bob on TV!) that many people stayed, standing with umbrellas on that rain soaked hill, listening to the speeches that surely followed and seeing the day on to its natural conclusion.
Our day ended with a pizza at one of our favorite restaurants here, close to our apartment and a discussion about the day's events. We watched a program on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how that catastrophe was unfolding, shocked to have learned earlier that our nation was being offered money from countries like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh - much to their credit, and our embarrassment. We were astonished at how little prepared our country was for a large-scale disaster after four years of focus by our "Homeland Security" team. And we wondered how the future of our country will play itself out in the days ahead as we continue to be distant but very much connected to our United States and can only try to hope for the best in these very uncertain times.
Peace to all of you,
Rosemary & Bob