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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Reflections on 911

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Paul Paolicelli

I was in Palermo, Sicily. I had an interview arranged for the next day with Nene Troncale, the nephew of the American film director Frank Capra and the last of the Capra family in Italy who lived in nearby Bisaquino. I was researching for what became my book, “Under the Southern Sun,” and had spent the morning at an internet cafe where I was catching up on correspondence. A musician friend from Rome called my cell and asked if I could get to a television set. “They’ve bombed the Trade Towers and the Pentagon,” he said. It sounded to me as if he’d taken some sort of mind-altering drug and was sharing an nightmarish hallucination. “Who bombed whom?” I asked. “Just get to a TV,” he said.


I stumbled into a small grocery story (alimentari) that had a tiny television set on a high shelf opposite the cashier counter. I asked the clerk if he could turn up the volume. “Amerigano?” he asked, and I nodded. With the volume increased a small crowd formed around me and mummered to one another that I was an American. A collective gasp went up when the video ran of the towers tumbling.  They began to treat me as if I were the bereaved at a funeral. “Di dove in America?” one asked. I told them that I’d been born in Pittsburgh and no sooner got that word out than the announcer on the TV said something about a plane crash near my hometown. Strangers patted me on the arm to show sympathy. They treated me like the distant cousin I actually could have been. I got on my cell phone and called my sister to see what she was hearing in Pittsburgh, she didn’t know much more than me but did tell me that the crash was in a remote area near Seven Springs and apparently didn’t hurt anyone on the ground. All of my newfound family was listening in on my phone call and were relieved that my family was safe.  I left the store to return to my hotel to a chorus of condolences in Italian.


Once back in my room I turned on CNN international which was being broadcast in English but overdubbed into Italian and found the mish-mash and overlapping of language to be quite disturbing. The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, came on and they carried the speech without the annoying translation and cacophony. I was deeply impressed by his firm commitment, (“we stand at the side of the United States”) and his assurance that Italy, as a NATO ally, considered this an attack on all of us and would do everything possible to help find and prosecute those responsible.


Later that evening I went to dinner in a local piazza with a friend. Our meal was interrupted several times by complete strangers who’d heard our conversation in American English and wanted to express their concern, disbelief and sympathy. We didn’t mind the interruptions. Of course, in Italy, you’d have to look far and deep to find a family that didn’t have an American connection, so in a sense, this was happening to their family, somewhat extended, as well. It was reassuring to see how many friends our country had. But never in my life did I feel more American or far from home.



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Paul Paolicelli, Contributing Writer
Paul Paolicelli is a featured writer for Cape Fear Voices. He writes the regular column, "Folks I've met along the way"

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