I was in New York on September 10, 2001 to meet travel editors. I wrote a lot. I travelled a lot. So, I thought, why don’t I do both at the same time?
A friend got me an interview with the managing editor of Condé Nast Traveler, which was like talking with God. He casually said: “A place is not an idea.” His point was travel writing shouldn’t be an endless “we went here and then we went there, and this place was lovely and that wasn’t.” It has to be about something else, which is also true of most other writing. Twenty years later, his words prove even more true. “How I spent my summer vacation” can be told on Instagram and Facebook. “Why I spent my summer vacation” is worth reading about.
He left me with a test and invited me to email him if I got the answer. “Tell me a new way to write about islands. Our ‘Islands Issue’ is coming up and I need new ideas.” All the way back to my friend’s apartment where I was bunking in for the next two days near Central Park, I thought of that — and came up empty. When I went for my early morning run the next day in the Park on that gloriously perfect Tuesday, I could think of no new way to write about islands. I cut my run short because I had interviews with other editors, and had to shower and dress and head downtown. I turned on my friend’s TV when I got in and saw that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. By the time I got out of the shower, two planes had hit the towers.
It’s amazing how you behave in a crisis, and how you remember that as well, even though I was nowhere near the inferno. I first thought: “I’d better postpone those two interviews till later in the day” and called and called for a couple of hours, reaching no one. As I saw the unfolding horror and the towers collapse, I thought: “I’d better stock up on food!” I could be here for days. So I went outside to Columbus Avenue, walked into a deli and bought pasta and sauce, milk and coffee.
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