Wednesday, September 12, 2007

In Search of Peace: The Night of 9/11/2007 (a photographic exploration)

I am sitting in the White Horse Tavern somewhere deep in Lower Manhattan sipping a three dollar glass of Yuengling and waiting for an order of rubbery chicken fingers to arrive. This is the kind of place in which you never say hello or goodbye to the bartender. "Thank you" is out of the question. Ten bucks for a whole meal - tip included.

The pictures of firefighters on the wall and union stickers everywhere suggest a haven for the blue collared man but instead there's a few scattered suits too lonely in their big jobs and big homes to sit in front of the TV on a night like this one. A teddy bear is pinned to a wall. A man alone scans the drunks hoping to make eye contact with a fellow to talk to. On the bear's shirt, it says, "Somebody in New York Loves You" but it's hard to believe in a bar named after a scotch.

The rubber chicken meal arrives, overcooked and crusty with ash. If I ask for a different batch it will come out exactly the same but with a token of revenge riding in the mustard while the scheming cook glances around the corner waiting for me to dip my chicken finger into the mustard. This day is a solemn one but it isn't sacred. Giuliani told the citizens of New York to get back to work on 9/12 and that was exactly what we did. Plates of revenge and all. People went back to work.

It's six years today and life moves on but according to a poll recently released, most of us still think of 9/11 and often. Here in the heart of the Financial District, there isn't a reminder of imploding buildings, planes, tears or death anywhere even though Ground Zero is a 1/4 of a mile away. Both TVs are tuned to baseball games. Mets losing on one and Giambi running the bases after a Yankee home run on the other. A woman is yelling to a co-worker about unfair treatment at her job while the poor muck stares blankly at the wall and drinking the conversation into the toilet.

My camera's memory card is full with photos from tonight. Pictures from 9/11 have left indelible scars in our minds. It's difficult to believe that six years have all ready passed. I can still recall every minute of that day; pieced together like a photo album. Recently, I watched a documentary about a picture of a man who jumped out of the North tower. A couple of journalists tried to construct this man's life from that photograph. Although the results proved inconclusive, the search for the identity of the man was as arduous and poignant as the search for the Titanic. The search itself was an exploration of every one who lost their life that day. Pictures are important and I wanted to come to Lower Manhattan and photograph the night six years later.

My first stop, of course, was the invisible shadow that used to be the Twin Towers. It's sits like a magnetic imprint in the universe. The impact zone of Ground Zero tears through Manhattan like a black hole tears through the fabric of the universe. The gravitational pull of the tragedy pulls you closer toward the footprints of the Twin Towers. And the joy, like light to a black hole is sucked into the sink of the fallen towers. The gravity comes in a hierarchy of degrees of emotion. One can feel the solemnity and reverence of the site so much that multitudes of people are silent as they approach the basin.

There was a post-apocalyptic peace that at times was unsettling. I walked down these Dutch paved streets and snapped photos from many locations in the Financial District, which show the tribute lights behind Manhattan landmarks. This area has been a major financial center for at least three centuries. Crowning the modern capitalist democracy is the pride of Wall Street - The New York Stock Exchange. I had a difficult time taking photos of this without a political slant. My goal was to achieve a look of peace and not a foreboding picture illustrating private feelings. Regardless, it can be viewed as hopeful. One can only imagine.

George Washington went to mass at the original Trinity Church. This one was built in the mid 1800's to replace the flawed design of the second incarnation. There is a famous photo of a flaming tower behind the church from 9/11. It didn't come out in this photo but there were white birds that were attracted to the blue lights. They flew higher and higher in circular motions. I couldn't help but think of the debris that fell out of the buildings. How much they looked the same.

In October of 2001, people were allowed to walk south past Canal Street again. On some Saturday that year, I ventured toward the World Trade Center and saw this parking garage (pictured on left) with cars still left in their lots covered in soot and debris. I always assumed that the owners never came back to claim their cars. Tonight, the roof was used to place the tens of little lights that create the illusion of two ghostly towers which paint two smaller moons in the sky.

There are only two days every year in which the name of the date represents a moment of rememberance in American history: The Fourth of July and 9/11. Down the street from Ground zero is Fraunces Tavern where The Sons of Liberty held secret meetings prior to the outbreak of Revolutionary War. It is also the same place where Washington famously bid farewell to his commanders before becoming president. The first capital of the United States of America was on 26 Broadway. George Washington's presidency was inaugurated at Federal Hall, which is on the same block as the New York Stock Exchange. A half mile south is where immigrants came through after being processed at Ellis Island. New York once boasted one of the best harbors in the world and that was right down the street. Somewhere intertwined is the history of the Twin Towers and the Revolutionary War. The histories are linked. The disaster is linked. They are actually one and the same.

The world has been affected by the history of New York. Everything from art to revolution has inspired movements around the world. This is the only place in America where a mayor can run for president and have a good chance to win (I hope he doesn't though) and that's because this city has that much influence in all areas of society. To govern it is to govern a capital of the world as New York is often referred as.

When the towers collapsed, it collapsed like a star and like a collapsing star it sucks in all the light. The echo of that act has resounded all over the world. It has plagued world affairs for six years. What I wanted tonight was to find a semblence of peace somewhere in the center of the world's affairs. At the pit of this tragedy, are restaurants with people smiling and laughing. More people are moving into this neighborhood than ever. The soot has been cleaned up and there are sites of construction everywhere. Kids are being born. People are dying. It is life as usual with people coping.

The Yankees won the game 9-2. The Mets lost. The woman eventually closed her yapping mouth and her co-worker relieved himself in the bathroom. I close my journal to take the W train back home. I give the bartender money for my drink. He nods and takes my money. No "thank you". No "goodbye".


Zito said...

Seriously impressed with this posting, man. Too much to type. Will elaborate on my thoughts in person.

Damned good job, my friend.

Carlos Detres said...

Dude, I all ready told you that I'd help you move. Haha! Thanks, brotha.

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