The Visit

by

04/12/2002

9 S William St, New York, NY, 10004

Neighborhood: Financial District

Over the years, Kathy and I have spent weekends in Manhattan, taking advantage of lower hotel room rates and exploring the neighborhoods. One of the places we liked was the Marriott at the World Financial Center. It isn’t there anymore. And we thought it was time to visit … we wanted to see the Columns of Memorial light for ourselves.

It was appropriately gray and dreary weather for the start of our visit. We made reservations at the Wall Street Inn … a small, 42-room seven-story hotel tucked into a corner of South William Street. It is very much a business person’s hotel during the week with two telephones and computer ports in the room … quiet, neat, well appointed but far from spacious.

We arrived around six pm, put the car away for the weekend, unpacked, had a quick sandwich, put on our rain gear and walking shoes and headed up toward the World Trade Center area.

Many things were no longer ordinary. The police presence was heavy; the streets lit by bright lights or almost pitch dark. Construction noise with telecom and electrical workers and their trucks, generators and tools emitted an endless stream of screeches and growls. Streets closed and blocked by large trucks with police or soldiers sitting in the cabs; concrete barriers scattered around like litter; streets heaved, buckled, repaired; wooden conduits carrying cables, fiber optics. The usual Babel of languages in New York. Restaurants and bars with signs: “Owned by Firemen”.

We got to the fringe of the Twin Tower site and at 8pm saw the columns of light rise in the drizzle and smog of the evening. The cool blue lights extending up into the haze, soft, transparent, not permanent columns. It is far less an impressive sight from up close. The people just milling around, reading tributes, taking photos of the visible wreckage, of the workers, the military, the police presence … explaining to others and for the most part behaving in a quiet and orderly fashion.

Slowly we walked back, mulling over the change and the damage and the disruption. Close to our hotel, we saw a City Harvest truck parked at a curb, handing out food to homeless people who quietly materialized out of shadows, took an offered plastic bag full of remnant food and disappeared again. The garbage trucks that deliver in Manhattan provided about the only normalcy of the evening.

Saturday … April 13, 2002

The day was cloudy but bright. After a well-appointed Continental breakfast in the hotel, we walked up to the South Street Seaport to pick up tickets for the viewing platform at the World Trade Center site. Scheduled to open at 11, we arrived at 10 to find about a thousand, quiet, orderly people already lined up. The tickets were already being distributed and twenty minutes later we had ours and a platform time of 11:15. Getting there meant a seven-block walk across Fulton Street. It was like a stroll through a European bazaar … with an endless array of tables selling caps, photos, signs snow globes and T-shirts… all forms of trinkets depicting 9.11. The vendors were from every corner of the earth, the selection repeated over and over again.

The crowd moved along to the platform … every inch engraved with some form of graffiti, photos, flowers, messages, rosary beads, toys, poems, caps, flags … an endless tide of painful flotsam. Soldiers and police personnel guarded the platform and visitors were allowed to spend fifteen minutes looking out on basically a construction site. The damage could be seen in the facades of surrounding buildings, and on the trees at the church. The trees were decorated with terrorism tinsel: Shreds and shards of metal, strips of material (reminders of the force and fury of the attack) on the naked branches, soon to be taken over by leaves.

It was sad … quiet … for many tearful … a few minutes looking at construction trailers and dump trucks and tops of cranes in a (destruction) construction site … and gradually the crowd dissolved and spread out as we walked slowly back downtown to Battery Park. On the way, we passed a young white man—a college student–and his Mom. He walked up to a burly, decorated black police officer and politely asked if he could have his picture taken. “Where you from?” the officer asked, as he wrapped his arm around the young man’s shoulder. “Little Rock, Arkansas”. “Bill’s hometown,” said the smiling cop as he posed with the young man.

At Battery Park another reminder of the tragedy. The bright, shiny orb of the sculpture is in place at the Park. Only now it is twisted, broken, cracked and embedded with metal. And lying on a patch of grass in the park, not in the sleek, open space that grounded the Twin Towers. Again, surrounded by flowers and mementos and folks like us, reflecting and taking photos.

But here the crowd changes. There are far fewer native New Yorkers and many more tourists from around the country and the world. And the vendors and their wares change as well. Dozens and dozens of Africans with identical attaché cases selling either watches or sunglasses. And young men with pythons looking for tourists to have their pictures taken.

We make our way to the line for Statue of Liberty/ Ellis Island ferry tickets and after an hour’s wait and a pass through metal detectors (strange that everything had to come out of our pockets and off our clothes — even our belts) we are on a boat crammed with tourists out to these two islands. The New York accents are gone, replaced by other forms of English and a host of foreign languages.

Going to Ellis Island is something we like to do. There is much to see there and it is quiet, peaceful and has a really nice cafeteria and wonderful outside eating area where you can sit and look at the whole harbor from the Veranzano Bridge to the full skyline. It is like eating on the deck of a ship. And so we go there, eat, rest, reflect and walk about. It is the first time we have seen the skyline without the massive towers. The sky looks much emptier, our lives much changed.

We take pictures for other folks and just hang out. Back to the ferry and to Battery Park at days end. We eat supper around the corner from the Inn, at Fraunces Tavern, one of the oldest buildings on Manhattan, where George Washington in 1783 formally bade farewell to his troops. Ironically, the last time I had eaten there was almost thirty years ago. And the next day, the Tavern had almost been destroyed by a terrorist attack … a group of militant Puerto Ricans had blown up the building next door and in the process severely damaged Fraunces Tavern. Perhaps it’s just the magnitude of the disruptions that have changed.

Sunday, April 14, 2002

In contrast to yesterday, a beautiful, clear sunny day. After breakfast, we walk back to Battery Park and this time turn north and walk along the waterfront, a wonderful promenade that extends several miles up the Hudson, past the World Trade Center site. Again, it is something we especially like to do. People tend to forget that New York City is a great seaport … here you can feel and smell and see the sea.

The promenade is lovely … gardens, sculpture, blooming trees, runners, riders, dog walkers, strollers … the folks that live in the high and low risers — all with high rents and price tags — that have been built on this filled in land over the past thirty years. The boat basin, still empty at this time of year. We stroll up to the site of the Crystal Garden at the World Trade Center. It is sheathed in scaffolding and you can hear the reconstruction noises, as work continues round the clock to replace the shattered glass ceiling and to reopen it in the fall.

Up a couple of more blocks and we come to the source of the tower of lights. They are being disassembled, since the display is now over … at least for a while. We walk around the western perimeter of the World Trade Center and again see the scars of adjoining buildings, are amazed at the magnitude of the area affected; surprised how pretty some of the surrounding buildings are. Again, we could peek into the site and not see much. Again, clusters of memorials. We walk by an empty storefront, its windows papered up and the door ajar. Inside, there was an altar set for Mass for the construction workers. It was a good place to slip into and pray.

Then the walk back. At the corner of the street and the river, as we turned south, there was yet another memorial … one where work had stopped on 9/11. It is the memorial to the Irish famine immigrants of 1848 and 1849. It will replicate the stonewalls and the stone and sod homes that the Irish fled. (It will look exactly like what we saw on Achill Island in the west of Ireland). Work has begun and there are some walls and building sides in place … but it is a pile of rubble still … befitting the surrounding from just two streets away. We plan to come back to visit it when it is completed.

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