I have finally found myself in the atmosphere that makes all other banal and trying atmospheres worth it; in the presence of a not only power-wielding but also controversial politico in the frenetic mix of the press. It was awesome.
That day, I woke up to the ninth 9/11 of my life. It didn’t wash over me in quite the same way as it does in the U.S. The nostalgia was there, but without the commemorative visuals to refresh my memories of the day of the attacks.
I got a call from the other intern about passport information, ashamed to say I was still awash in sleep at 12:00 when she called, so I hadn’t put it together that this may have been for press credentials.
After gulping coffee from my gerry-rigged coffee pot (i.e coffee grounds on a paper towel over a tea pot) I read in my Facebook inbox a message from Chiara detailing my upcoming assignment with all the excitement of a proud mommy. It was touching.
At 5:30, I was to go to a 9/11 commemorative presentation, including a speech from none other than fiery House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Apparently she was in town for some G8 business, which happened to coincide with 9/11.
I dressed a little spiffier then normal, not really knowing the particulars of the event, and tried to wash down my anxiety with overly sweetened coffee. Of course trying to soothe anxiety with coffee is like trying to soothe a cut with salt.
Hours later, I arrived at work, ready to be commanded. I made sure that my ultra nifty Zoom digital voice recorder was loaded and ready. Chiara had warned me of the abysmal sound quality of the office tape recorder.
This may seem like an obvious piece of advise, but I don’t think it’s ever too early to invest in your own multi-media equipment, and in this case, the immaculate recording of my zoom served me extremely well.
So at 4:55 I hopped into a taxi, expensed to the AP of course, and made my way through traffic to Piazza di Porta Capena.
I had received instructions to call the office immediately after Pelosi had spoken to relay her comments. I felt so legit!
So we arrive, and in typical Italian fashion, nothing seems to be under tight control, including the press.
I’m promptly ushered to the cattle-pin, I mean press area, roped off in red velvet flanking the chairs for the official guests.
I saw young journalists chatting each other up as if this were a field trip, I saw young and old reporters regarding the happenings with a slightly contemptuous air of superiority, the ever-beloved photographers, almost entirely male, who always look as if they could be summoned to the jungle at a moment’s notice.
In the middle of it all, was I, the newest cub in the wolf pack. Doing my darndest to leave no informational stone unturned, I conversed with security officials on security details. I spoke with the prefecture on who constituted the distinguished guests.
In that very European way, the press waxed disinterest; a note pad in one hand, a cigarette in the other.
I was ridiculously over-dressed compared to the shabby chic uniform of everyone else, but such is the life of a bottom-feeder.
Of course that laissez fare veneer was to evaporate completely in mere moments.
David Thorne, newly instated US Ambassador to Italy arrived in a sleek black sedan with his wife.
Once his sent was in the air, we wolves abandoned all posture and launched ourselves in his direction, with ears flattened and teeth bared.
We all grappled over each other, minimally trying to respect our red-velvet confines.
The photographers, to the disgruntled guffaws of the rest of us, disregarded the ropes completely and knelt fiercely beneath him to change up their angles.
We all assaulted him with questions, even though we were told this was not an event that included questions and answers. I through a question of my own in the air just to keep up with my cohorts.
Also following the lead of fellow reporters, I dug out my camera and started taking my own snap shots of the event, David Thorne included.
As if that weren’t rush enough, when Pelosi arrived in the same type of car, the photographers went buck-wild.
I was content to stay near the rear of the pack, using my digital zoom to document her presence. Physically, she seems much smaller in person.
The pics I later took of the now permanent monument came in handy when I was describing it to the editor.
The presentation started and everyone settled in with their recorders, cameras and notepads.
The entire ordeal revolved around the unveiling of two ancient Roman columns in the square to represent what? You guessed it. The Twin Towers.
Planted betwixt the columns was a small marble stone with a plaque on top inscribed with George Santayana’s immortal words; “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Though I had only been asked to record Pelosi’s comments, I went ahead and called the office to tell them the context of the event, a move that seemed appreciated at the time. Yay for judgment calls.
I had carefully placed my fancy recorder almost between my feet not far from the speakers. I also took down what I thought were going to be winning quotes on my notepad.
It was pretty typical 9/11 rhetoric, though to hear such expressions of solidarity from Italian officials was pretty neat.
When all was presented and concluded, the entire populace of the event rushed Pelosi. Many wanted to shake her hand, security wanted to protect her, and then we, the press, wanted to interrogate her.
It was such a thrill to be sandwiched in between everyone, all united in disregard for personal space or common courtesy. I saw two photographers clash expensive cameras on accident, but both chuckled it off without missing a beat in the action.
All to no avail, she ignored our questions with a beaming smile and averted glances. No stranger to shirking off reporters it would seem.
I found a quiet place, perched myself on a low wall, and played back the quotes I noted on my pad to get them exactly right. In the taxi back to work, I dictated my quotes to the editor, and felt very valued.
I can happily report that not a single criticism was made, which I can only take as the highest adulation.
The big take away from this is how exhilarating and wonderful it felt to be at a news scene of note.
I do, I do, I like the news! I like it here or there or anywhere! I like it at a desk or on a scene, on the phone or on a screen. With all to gain and none to lose, I do, I do, I like the news!