Witnessing 9/11

09/07/2011 12:31 pm ET | Updated Nov 07, 2011

We will experience commemorations throughout this week, as remember 9/11 and its victims of that awful day. I wanted to give my impression as a U.S. citizen and resident but a witness to 9/11 from a foreign land.

I left the country on September 8, 2011 for a trip to Barcelona Spain to continue my study of the Spanish language in a Spanish language school. I arrived on September 9, Sunday. My biggest problem at that time was I didn't like the housing arrangements I had been given and was bargaining with the school to get new living quarters for 2 weeks. I finally was successful and secured a lovely hostel with a balcony view of Barcelona.

I remember telling my friend before I left that I was going to really like this school because Tuesday, September 11, was a holiday -- Catalan Day -- National day of Catalonia (Barcelona is in perpetual flux as to whether it is a part of Spain or its own nation of Catalonia). "Yahoo," I told her, "a holiday on the second day of school -- this is pretty nice."

Having situated the housing, I enjoyed the first day of school Monday, September 10. I even met an American actor who had been sent there by Hollywood to perfect his Spanish so he could be in the Spanish version of Charmed.

Then it was Tuesday, that lovely school holiday, and so I set off to explore Barcelona. With my living situation all sorted out, I could now visit the architecture of Gaudi, La Segrada Familia (Gaudi's magnificent cathedral which has never been completed), the Picasso museum, the site of the Barcelona Olympics and lovely Spanish food.

And I was off, comfortable shoes in toe, first to one of the most famous places in Barcelona, Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is a row of city blocks where all sorts of things happen, birds, people on stilts, mimes, and restaurants and bars. Las Ramblas it was then. Happily I trotted along in awe of the sites and sounds of this beautiful and old country of Spain.

"A Sangria it is," I say to myself. I can drink a couple and still get up for school the next day, and who can not have sangria in Spain? I'm enjoying lovely Sangria (ok, so I nearly fell off the bench when I put my seat into what I thought was brick but was really a tree, which caused quite a commotion), when some guys start to chat and they asked me where I'm from.

"Washington, D.C.," I say with pride. "Washington they say?" "It's being bombed." Ha ha ha I think, funny guys -- radical anti-Americans. "No, really, they say it's being attacked right now. New York and Washington." "They think there could be thousands of people dead -- you need to go find a television."

It was at this point I knew they were not just some joksters. This happened to be after the first plane hit the twin towers so I actually saw the second plane hit. This was completely Kafkaesque as I'm sure you can imagine. In Barcelona in fact -- people thought it was a War of the Worlds, type television show and it took several days for people to realize this was an actuality.

So in the end the planes didn't fly for several weeks and I stayed in Barcelona. I was one of the lucky ones, my movie star friend and I bonded during that time. He and I started off complaining that George Bush was President and who could have voted for him. But even he thought Bush did a good job on his speech after the attack. Obviously, I will always remember this time along with millions of Americans. I will always remember too, that friends called from around the world, including Spain to assure I was safe -- even though I wasn't in the U.S. And I remember that when I returned, I returned to a sad but more together America.

We have since lost that feeling, but for a brief shining moment, in spite of the pain we were one country. The world was on our side and we band together as a nation accepting and loving and caring for one another. Out of the ashes came cohesion. This was the impression I first got when I returned to the U.S. two weeks after the attack.

I'm sorry it did not last as a rainbow at the end of this tragic tale. I am also sorry that we turned our Americanism into fear and hatred of a foreign peoples because of the act of radical zealots. During this commemoration, perhaps we can restore the cohesion that quickly flashed like a star through the galaxy.