This is one in a series of essays that will run throughout the week in which readers reflect on the events of 9/11 and how that day changed their lives.

Today's essay is written by Diane Lisi-Ianniello, 53, of Fairfield, who is director of marketing for a law firm.

I lived in Manhattan in 2001, but on the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, my good friend, Barbara, and I, left JFK Airport bound for Italy. I remember asking the Alitalia ticket agent: "Don't you need to see my passport?"

She replied "Oh, right, yes."

In retrospect, it's how our airports were so lax before that fateful day.

We landed in Milan on 9/11 and ferried to Venice. After checking into our hotel, we found the nearest ATM in St. Mark's Square. When the ATM rejected our debit cards, we looked at each other confused.

A southern gentleman with a drawl asked "Are y'all from New York?"

"Yes," I said as I held on tight to my purse.

"The banks are frozen on account of the terrorist attacks."


The blood rushed from our bodies as we raced back to the hotel. We frantically asked the desk clerk what was happening, and an American couple from Massachusetts filled us in. We went to our room and turned on CNN, where we watched in shock, horror and fear. We didn't leave our hotel room for two days and it took almost that long to get through to loved ones to make sure they were OK. We learned of people we knew whose children and spouses had vanished. Obviously, we couldn't enjoy ourselves and yet, we couldn't leave as all planes were grounded for days.

In the ensuing weeks, we tried to make the best of a bad situation. I never felt so much love for the U.S. and couldn't wait to come home. Although I am a first-generation Italian-American and speak Italian, I never felt more American and more proud, and so less Italian as I did then. We returned to the U.S. on September 26.

The next day as I walked to work, I asked one of the doormen I passed every day, "What is that horrible smell?"

He replied: "That's the smell of the towers burning."