Anne Ream: Talismans in Milan


We checked in a day early. The Hotel Diana Majestic is just as its name suggests ... gorgeous, art deco, amazing. We'd been hiking for two weeks and in Cinqueterre for three hot, crowded, very-bad-hotel-room days, and we wanted to go home. Our reservations were for Sept. 12, but the desk clerk graciously found us a room, not the bottom rate one we'd reserved but a most magnificent suite on the top floor, overlooking the rooftops of Milan.

Maybe the desk told us that staff rooms were also on that floor, I forget, but when we got close to the door of our room I smelled lots of smoke, like a 1960s dorm hall, and then saw, across the hall, two guys, smoking, watching TV, jumping on the beds, yelling and hugging. We went into our room. I put a towel by the door to keep out the smoke.

Typical Americans, we soon turned on the TV.

Stunned, terrified for our loved ones, appalled, horrified ... what on earth words can describe our feelings? At least we weren't terrified, as were so many of my colleagues and neighbors, that we were next on the list ... but yes, undone. Particularly undone as our son frequently traveled to New York, and our daughter lived there.

It seemed like hours before we reached our son, who said he was safe in California. Our daughter, though she'd run miles uptown to get away from "it," was safe. Phone lines didn't let me talk to her, to really hear her well voice, for a few days. My heart ached for her, knowing she'd probably lost friends and was certainly terrified. She became my baby again, at 27, and I ached to help her.

We were stuck for days in Milan. We saw sights and ate good food, but the planes, the towers, the smoke, the people jumping -- they were always there. And I couldn't stop worrying about my "baby."

The Diana Majestic touts itself as being a part of the four fashion quadrants of Milan, and indeed it was, and on Sept. 12 I went exploring. A Furla store was an easy mile walk away, and I knew my daughter loved Furla purses. The first day I bought two purses, the second day one, the third day three, the fourth day two. On the fifth day I bought a Furla suitcase to carry them home. Enough Furla purses to allay her fears.

I think she still has a few of those 10-year-old purses. I still have the memory of doing the only thing I could do for her, from afar, and how the purses became talismans ... if I had enough of them, I could ease some of her pain.

I still have the memory of that room across the hall. I'm astounded at how I, a self-regarded sophisticate of almost 60, didn't put it all together for many months.

Oh for those innocent times, when it never occurred to me that the planes were not isolated things, that there were many who took joy in seeing the mighty America under attack. I'm very ashamed to say that it never dawned on me that those two men, dark like my friends and friends of my kids, were jumping on the bed and hugging and shouting and being jubilant about our national tragedy.

Naïve, too, to think that Furla was the answer. No purse, no thing, no anything can undo the pain and bring back our innocence.

Anne Ream

Forest Avenue

Palo Alto

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