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Bella Mirabella Tough Times in Greenwich Village I made my way to New York University in Lower Manhattan from my home in the Bronx. Although we had met before, this would be the first day of real teaching, and I wondered if I was adequately prepared. I had taught both these classes before—an interdisciplinary introduction to the Renaissance, "Pride and Power," and a first-year writing seminar, "Your Place in American History"—but I was also co-chair and, with all my obligations , felt I needed the long subway ride for last-minute work. A crystal clear late summer morning, the sky was so blue it reminded me of an Oscar Wilde phrase in which he writes that the intensity of the sky made him feel that he was under the dome of an upside-down blue porcelain cup. When I got on the subway—ifs a 50-minute ride south from the Bronx—I read over my notes. How, I wondered, in an hour and fifteen minute class, would I give an opening lecture on the Renaissance that would make it seem thrilling 600 years later? I also hoped my first-year students would enjoy the immigrant narratives I had assigned. Ensconced in my favorite subway seat right next to the conductor, I was so buried in my notes, that at first I did not really process what he was saying . It was a very crowded car and he opened the door and began to speak to anyone who would listen. It was September 11, 2001, and he was saying that a plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. "Oh, how awful," I thought as I continued to think about mercantilism, usury, and art patrons in fifteenth-century Florence. He mentioned the word "terrorism ," and I was annoyed—"They always mention terrorism, always trying to frighten us." I returned to the Renaissance. Then, he was out of the door again; another plane had hit the second tower. Now I focused all my attention on this doom-saying subway conductor, as if a plane had crashed into my own consciousness. I realized that my husband, Lennard Davis, was at that very moment flying from La Guardia to Chicago where he teaches at the University of Illinois. When I finally reached my stop in the Village and climbed the stairs to Sheridan Square, I saw the towers. I had never realized that they were the first thing I saw each time I made that ascent. One was already down, but, with all the smoke, I thought it was engulfed in flame. The other was gleaming, silvery in the sun, with violent, brilliant orange-red flames shooting out of its side, all framed by that porcelain blue sky. Then I turned to look at Seventh Avenue. In all my years living in New York City, I had never seen the city at such a deadly standstill. The streets were completely silent , except for the occasional scream of a siren, an ambulance or police car rushing down town. Everyone stood still and silent, looking south toward the horrific sight. As I rushed to NYU, I felt that by some terrifying turn of events, I had found myself in a bad Hollywood movie. If only this were 228 the minnesota review a dream, I thought. If only I could awaken, and this would all go way. On Sixth Avenue, I asked a young man, frozen in his posture of gazing, what had happened. He told me, slightly misinformed, but unfortunately accurate enough, that the towers had been hitby terrorists, so had the Pentagon, and so had the White House. This was no Hollywood movie. I passed through Washington Square into the Gallatin School on Broadway, and I learned that my colleague's son was in the first tower; he did not make it out. I tried to call my family; the phones only worked sporadically . I encountered some of my first-year students on their way to class, fear and confusion in their eyes. Maybe I wouldbe able to say something to them and make it all go away—"Ohjust a terrible accident, butwe will have class anyway...


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pp. 227-231
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