|Carlos Ferreira and Gina Russo, Station site, 4 p.m., March 15, 2013.|
I met Brazilian journalist Carlos Ferreira at the Providence train station, where he had arrived on Amtrak Regional 172 from New York. We stopped at the newsroom of The Providence Journal, where he met editors Karen Bordeleau and Sue Areson, and reporters Tom Mooney and Tracy Breton. Like me, they have long been involved in coverage of the Station nightclub fire.
Carlos, from the newspaper Zero Hora, published in Porto Alegre, a city of almost 2 million, is among the many journalists who have been covering the January tragedy at Santa Maria nightclub club Kiss, where 242 died in a fire eerily like the Station. He was here in America to write stories about our people touched by our fire. He had reached out to me after I wrote an op-ed piece for his Brazilian newspaper group, where I had connected with editor Deni Zolin of Diário de Santa Maria.
I had arranged for him to meet Gina Russo at the West Warwick club site. She got there about the same time that we did on Friday afternoon. It was cold, but sunny.
Gina, one of the truly great people of Rhode Island -- we are so lucky to have her -- talked with Carlos about her experiences and the experiences of the families and friends of what she calls these “one hundred angels,” whose memory she has vowed to keep alive even as she continues to help survivors heal. She gave him an autographed copy of her book. At one point, I thought I saw a shadowy figure in the woods behind the crosses. Next look, the figure was gone. I exchanged a puzzled look with Gina. She seemed to suggest that the unexplained was not uncommon here, on this sacred ground.
And then the figure reappeared: a bespectacled middle-age man with a backpack and an old camera. When he stopped near the shrine to Derek Johnson, whose father, Bob, I have written about, I went over and asked if he was a friend of Derek. No, he said, but he had met “Mr. J.” during the tenth-anniversary week and become a friend of Derek’s dad.
His name was Don Haddock, from near Boulder, Colorado. Shoots only in black-and-white, only with real film, and only on his ancient Ricoh camera. Not a professional photographer, though passionate about his work, which is quite good, as I found visiting his website. He told me that when he is inspired by an event, he will sometimes hop on a plane and go shoot it -- the 2010 BP oil spill, for example. When he heard about the tenth anniversary of the Station fire, he decided to come. And when he got home after being here February 20, he didn’t have all the shots he wanted. So he got back on a plane, and here he was.
When I introduced myself, his eyes grew wide. Well, maybe not literally, but hearing my name took him back. A few years ago, he said, he had found a short video whose images and sound -- the sound of wind chimes on a cold winter day -- had moved him deeply. He had the video on his iPhone. Said he watched it frequently, both haunted and soothed by the music and scenes. Said it was one of the reasons he was so strongly compelled to fly in from Colorado, to pay personal witness to this place with 100 crosses.
It was a video I shot on the sixth anniversary of the fire. It has not been posted on The Journal web site for some time. I don’t even have a copy.
Don thanked me profusely for creating it. I didn’t know what to say. Four years, 2,000 miles, Brazilian visitor Carlos, survivor Gina, a Friday afternoon in March, a stranger who hopped on a plane -- could this be only coincidence? I have felt many powerful emotions in my many visits to the site: among them, sadness, anger, admiration for people like Gina. This was a different kind of power, something at once remarkable and strange.
So I introduced Don to Carlos and Gina. Four of us, from such different worlds, literally and figuratively, brought together for one moment.
And as we four stood there talking, cars began to pull in. One had two men who knew no one directly involved in the fire, but who had always wanted to visit, and this was the day they chose. Another car had two women I did not speak with; another, a man with a boy. And still another, with New Hampshire plates, was driven by Gil Talbot, a professional photographer. He was here to shoot the University of New Hampshire hockey team, which was playing in Providence that evening. He, too, knew no one from the fire, but had wanted to visit the site since reading John Barylick’s book, Killer Show.
So I introduced him to Gina -- and to Carlos and Don.
An hour or so had passed. The sun was weakening; it was time for new friends to part. I suppose it was like that many nights when music played and people talked and laughed and swapped stories at The Station... many nights, that is, until the last.
Gina and Gil left. Carlos wanted to see some more of West Warwick, as did Don, who had gotten to the site by bus, so I drove them around the town, past abandoned mills. Then we drove to Warwick, where I dropped Carlos at his hotel and Don at the airport.
I headed home, pondering the meaning of chance.