The sky was falling and streaked with blood

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Martin Moodie

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Photo courtesy of John Gallagher

I search for you on the other side
Where the river runs clean and wide
Up to my heart, the waters rise
Up to my heart, the waters rise

I sink beneath the river cool and clear
Drifting down, I disappear
I see you on the other side
I search for the peace in your eyes

But they’re as empty as paradise
They’re as empty as paradise

– Bruce Springsteen, Paradise

Like many of us, I recall the moment as if it was yesterday. I was on stage at the ASUTIL (South American Duty Free Association) Conference in Rio de Janeiro, moderating proceedings and beginning my introduction to a session on inflight retail. I was in my last four months as Managing Director at Duty-Free News International (DFNI), which had the contract to organise the annual event. It was 11 September, 2001.

As I spoke at the podium, I looked down to see Seagram Global Duty Free boss Dan Daly approaching the stage and beckoning that he needed to speak to me. I could not understand what it could be that necessitated such urgency mid-proceedings. “Martin, two planes have crashed into the World Trade Center. Looks like a terrorist attack but they don’t know,” he whispered. I can’t remember what else Dan said but we agreed I needed to immediately announce what had happened.

That was pretty much the end of the conference. How could you talk about travel shopping when terrorism and tragedy on this catastrophic scale were unfolding?

Dan was one of several New Yorkers in the audience. Everyone was anxious, fearful, distraught. His colleague Mike Ford was desperately trying to get news of a family member who worked in one of the towers. Travel Markets Insider owner Lois Pasternak recalls on the Facebook TR Meeting Point platform, “Paul [her husband, who sadly passed in June 2009] had called to tell me to turn on CNN. I was watching it when the second plane hit. Afterward I walked into the meeting room in shock and asked [IAADFS Executive Director, now President & CEO] Michael Payne: ‘Are we at war?’

“Javier Simon [now Estée Lauder Travel Retail Asia Pacific President] had a cell phone that worked and he gave it to me to call my daughter in New York. She often had meetings at the World Trade Center. We did end up staying in Rio for days. It is still heart-breaking.

“If any good came out of this it was the incredible bonding that happened among us all, especially the Americans. The whole Seagram team, Dan Daley, Mike Ford, Mimi Mentasti and Patrick Nilson. Steve Corrigan [then with William Grant & Sons] was desperately trying to get back to New York.

“Other memories. Colm [McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman & CEO of Dubai Duty Free] had presented the day before and his wife Breeda had gone shopping that morning and was escorted back to the hotel by a police contingent (they thought she was American). I remember Faisal Hammoud [Monalisa International CEO] crying as the news unrolled.

“We had the US flight crews in our hotel. I remember being in an elevator with one of the flight attendants when she got word that someone she knew was on the plane that crashed on the field. That was particularly awful. Overall, the world was in shock and people we were with were very kind.”

Image courtesy of Paradies Lagardère President and CEO Gregg Paradies

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs,
Into the fire

– Bruce Springsteen, Into the Fire

Many at that event are still part of the travel retail community, albeit some in new roles. Dan Cappell, then with Nestlé International Travel Retail, now with Ontario International Airport; John Rimmer and Dermot Davitt, then my colleagues at DFNI, now with TFWA and The Moodie Davitt Report, respectively; Patrick Nilson, then Seagram, now Haleybrooke International; Colm and Breeda McLoughlin, then and still now the leadership faces of Dubai Duty Free; ASUTIL Secretary General José Luis Donagaray (his first conference in the role); all our South American friends of course.

“20 years ago today we were all in Rio having a sombre dinner,” Dan Cappell texted on WhatsApp today. “Colm and Breeda and a few others. Tempus figit (time flies).”

From New York, Steve Corrigan, now as then one of my closest buddies: “Martin – we were together in Brazil 20 years ago today. I miss you, MM…”

From Colm: “I remember today 20 years ago… a quiet dinner in the hotel. Dan Cappell, John Rimmer, Patrick Nilson and many others.”

Yes, we all remember. The day’s events are seared into my consciousness as indelibly as those of 22 November 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I was just seven years old. It was the only occasion I ever saw my father cry.

Others who have contacted me today were not in Rio but recall precisely where they were. US travel retail veteran Armand Ventura messaged me to say, “I was walking to work and saw the smoke going across lower Manhattan. It never phased me until my wife called me. I thought it was an accident until I saw New Yorkers gathered on street corners trying to grasp what was going on.”

Beverly Johansson, whose husband Lars (‘Mr Inniskillin’) so suddenly and tragically passed in Cannes in October 2009, recalled on TR Meeting Point: “Lars was in the UAE at the time when I realised America was under attack. For over 24 hours I couldn’t get hold of him. I didn’t know they were holding all Americans at Dubai Airport in a separate room, not informing them of what was going on. They didn’t know if Americans were being targeted.

“He didn’t show up for his meetings in Germany. I sent out word to the industry that I couldn’t find Lars and in typical travel retail people fashion, the search for Lars was on. Everyone got involved. Torben Anderson [then V&S Absolut Global Duty Free Regional Director, later ‘Mr Danzka’ and now in semi-retirement running his own consultancy TVAdvice] was especially calling half the world for me.

“Lars said they put him on a flight to Germany and he had yet to be told what happened. He landed in Hamburg and saw everyone gathered around the television. And then he saw the photos in the newspaper. He couldn’t read German so it took a while to find out the details. He then called me. Sigh.”

We remember Lars as we remember Paul. And, of course, as we remember all those who lost their lives that terrible day, a day that reshaped our business community, our world, and our perception of the things that matter most to mankind. Bruce Springsteen’s masterpiece album (with the E Street Band) The Rising, his response to 9/11, from which I quote several excerpts in this Blog, centered on the core themes of loss, hope, faith and the gaining of redemption and strength from each. Today we mourn and honour again that terrible loss, and pray that the other qualities will ultimately prevail.

Now there’s tears on the pillow
Darlin’, where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city’s in ruins
My city’s in ruins

– Bruce Springsteen, My City in Ruins

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