Posted by: 4initalia | September 11, 2009

Modena Remembers 9/11

As I shrank from the sting of yet another icy shower, I heard voices. Not the ones in my head, telling me to call my landlord to complain about the lack of hot water, but deep Italian ones, from outside. I peered over the balcony and saw that a crowd had gathered in the piazza in front of our apartment building.

The piazza is ringed by a chaotic traffic circle, but in the center of the circle is a grassy area with an odd bit of sculpture: two chunks of metal enclosed in circular bands of steel. I passed it many times and assumed it was a modern war monument, until I read the plaque: It’s a memorial to 9/11.

My family is spending a year in Modena, Italy. This ancient city holds many surprises; it was Pavarotti’s birthplace, and Il Maestro is buried here. But Modena also holds a piece of New York: two sections of steel girders from the World Trade Center, enclosed in open steel spheres, stand on twin concrete towers.

The memorial was the first thing we saw when we got off the bus from the airport. I’ve never seen anything like that in Denver, and here, in the small town of Modena, they not only put up a memorial, but on the eighth anniversary of 9/11, they held a service, in remembrance.

The crowd was gathered around the monument. I threw on shorts and a shirt, tried to smooth my wet hair, and slipped to the back of the crowd. My husband had our camera. Should I go back for the camcorder? No. Don’t miss this just to record it.

The piazza bristled with uniforms: there were generals, policemen, and dignitaries in fabulous Italian suits. But there were also people from the town, casually dressed in jeans and sandals. More than fifty Italians attended the ceremony. They all came to stand with America and remember its tragedy. I felt my wild hair curl and unfurl in the light breeze.

The memorial was flanked by flags: tall stately banners representing the City of Modena, the Lion’s Club, and Leo, the Italian Lion’s Club. The rusted girders were softened by rich cloth in jewel tones; the flags held proudly aloft by caring people half a world and eight years from the day the Towers fell. There were two huge laurel wreaths, regal with gold ornaments and gilded velvet ribbons. Off to the right, a fire engine waited.

Several dignitaries spoke, of the fallen, of our unity, and of a global need for peace. I heard the words Stati Uniti and was deeply honored: this town has suffered Nazis, Fascists, and even the bubonic plague, and yet these people have chosen to share America’s sorrow. And America doesn’t even know they are here.

At the close of the speeches, the fire engine siren wailed briefly, like the wild grief of a bagpipe. Standing at attention next to the truck were the vigili del fuoco, firefighters. They are the Italian brothers of the heroes of 9/11, and these are the people who walk into hell for us.

I always wondered who built the monument, and I met the man who spent three years ensuring that Modena would remember. His name is Paolo, and he looks like a New York skyscraper: he’s tall and and steely in a gray suit with steady gray eyes. He’s from Modena but had moved to New York and was there when the towers fell. Paolo walked to Ground Zero, stared at the jagged shards of the building that stood long after the rest had gone to earth. His eyes lowered with the memory, Paolo said the city smelled like smoke and burning plastic for three months. It took nine months to comb through the rubble; the wreckage went to Staten Island. Pieces of the buildings, even firetrucks, were buried in a mound.

When the City was about to seal over the pile, Paolo asked whether he could take some pieces of the World Trade Center to Italy. Working with the Lion’s Club, the Leo Club, and the City of Modena, Paolo and his friends raised money for the project. It took three years, until 2004, to bring the girders here, build the statue, and dedicate the monument. Paola thought these were the only pieces of the WTC to leave the United States, but pieces of the building were used in memorials in six countries, including Germany, France and an American base in Afghanistan.

Paolo now lives in New York, and missed the dedication in 2004, but he arranged to be here for the eighth anniversary. Looking at the monument, Paolo said it was hard not to cry, because he remembers.

Paolo has applied for US citizenship, and will be an American citizen within a year.

Welcome to America, Paolo, and thank you. Thank you, Lion’s Club. Grazie, Leo Club, Grazie Modena.

We will remember you, too.


  1. Hello Andrea,

    I just found your reply to: “Modena, Italy, for an Opera Buff” on Sept 7th and thus your blog. My husband and I are moving to Italy from the USA soon and recently found out our most likely city (office location) will be in Modena. We have only just started looking at info for this city and we expect to be going in mid October. I was just wondering if you have any points of advice for us. We’ve studied a fair amount on other cities we thought we’d be going to (Rome, Milan, then Treviso and Padua), but it seems that Modena is the most probable location now. Of course, my first concern is a good place to lay our heads and buying a car…that sort of thing. I look forward to any recommendations, websites, etc. that you can offer.

    BTW – I truly loved the 9/11 blog and your others were very good and humorous as well. Thank you for those.

    I look forward to hear from you soon and please feel free to write me directly to my email address.


  2. […] Did you know that Modena holds a memorial to 9/11, and in 2009, she held a ceremony to dedicate the memorial? See […]

  3. Wonderful tribute, Andrea! Both to these Italians and to Americans and New Yorkans!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: