Stone and these hard tears part 1

 

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

Springsteen, Into the fire

I had been more than eager to return to New York ever since that first visit. The city holds a strange magnetic attraction for me and I was hungry to experience more of her charms. Somehow I never got there in either winter or fall; two times of the year that would have, I suspect, really brought out the beauty and drama of that great metropolis.

Determined not to miss out again, I chose a day when Jersey girl was working and took NJ Transit into Penn station. I arrived at about 10.30 am and surfaced on the exact spot on 7th Avenue that had afforded me my first sight of the city nearly two years earlier.

It was all as I remembered it, the electric bustle, the constantly moving crowd like some amorphous beast, the looming towers; all precisely as remembered. I’d brought my camera, only to discover as I was about to board my train that the goddam battery had completely died. So the first order of business was to find a camera store and purchase a new one.

I found a store uptown a bit on the Avenue of the Americas where the staff were pretty helpful and (ninety bucks lighter) was soon back on track. My plan was to walk to the site of the 9/11 monument taking in as much of downtown as possible. There were certain spots I wanted to hit, the first being the amazing Flatiron Building. The route I chose took me over to 5th. I took some more pics of my favourite building, the Empire State, and then headed south.

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The Flatiron Building did not disappoint. What an amazing feat of creative innovation. I loved everything about it.

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I followed 5th until it terminated at Washington Square Park, it was a very warm day and children were availing themselves of the fountain for a bit of fun and relief from the climbing heat. I captured the image below and, when I looked at it later, was reminded so much of 1950s street photography I’d seen that I decided to monochrome it. I’m extremely happy with the result.

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After biding for a short while in the park (reputedly a favourite hangout of David Bowie) I cut through the NYU campus and the backstreets of SOHO (South of Houston).

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It was there I snagged this little vignette of street life.

Vignette

Again, I was very pleased with the way it came out. I would have been snapping away like a madman, but for the fact that new camera batteries are sold half charged and I knew I only had a finite number of shots before my camera died again. After that, I would only have the crappy 4 mega-pixel camera in my phone.

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I’d now reached the extremely hipsterish Tribeca district (Triangle Below Canal Street) which is a pretty interesting little slice of the big apple. It was here I captured my next iconic NY image (from an amateur photographer’s perspective that is).

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I love New York very much; it’s a shutterbug’s wet dream. There’s just so much to point your lens at. I’d now walked about 6 km and the temperature had risen to 87º. I could feel I was a little dehydrated, but I was so close to the WTC that I decided to keep going and find something to drink at the site. That was probably a mistake.

By the time I arrived at the old US Post Office building, I was feeling pretty woozy. There were vans selling food and drinks on the side of the road and so I bought a bottle of water and just about downed it in one.

In retrospect, I probably should have realised when it barely made a dent that I was seriously dehydrated. Not recognising that fact is probably one of the signs that you are moving into the red. I got to the monument and began taking it all in.

I’d expected to be moved or even overwhelmed on an emotional level, but to be honest, the whole place felt a bit like a circus. There were a lot of people in ‘patriotic’ garb talking in loud voices and acting kind of like assholes.

To make matters worse, there were guides regaling people (some of whom were sobbing in tears) with the horror stories of individual victims. It was gruesome and ghoulish and seemed designed to keep the visitors’ outrage and disgust at the events of over a decade past very much front and center.

I tried to think about those unfortunate victims in the towers, the office workers, police officers, and brave firemen running up the stairs to their doom, but found myself instead thinking of the million or so in far-flung lands who have died since, due to some extremely vague perceived connection to events that occurred on the spot where I was now standing.

The design of the actual monument really didn’t help either. If you’ve never been you won’t know what I’m talking about, but the whole thing had an almost occult feel. Picture two deep pits that exactly match the footprints of the twin towers. The bottom of each pit is a pool of water fed by cascades that come down all four walls. This is all fine, but at the center of each pool is another square pit into which all the water is pouring. And those pits are black as pitch.

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It looks, not to put too fine a point on it, like two black voids sucking all the energy around them down into oblivion. It gave me the creeps and along with my dehydration, was making me want to throw up. I controlled the urge, but I knew I needed to get away from this place and quickly.

I started heading in what I guessed to be the direction of Broadway, figuring I could follow that street back to familiar territory. Along the way, I came upon a small oasis amid the concrete and heat; St Paul’s chapel. This is Manhattan’s oldest surviving church and dates back to when the colonies were still British.

On that terrible day in 2001, the grounds were inundated with dust and debris from the collapse of the towers, but the chapel itself was entirely undamaged and became a center for relief efforts. Now, the tiny grounds have been completely restored and a modest monument to the lost rescue workers – a bell, appropriately enough – has been set under the shade of the churchyard’s sheltering trees.

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I entered the cool of the grounds and sat on an old wooden bench where many of the rescue workers must have taken their repose in the weeks following the attacks. It was there that I began to feel the weight of those events. There, away from the swarming crowds, I felt the emotions of that enormous and world changing event. I feel it now – half a planet away – as I think back on it to write these words.

You gave your love to see in fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near but love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs into the fire

If I hadn’t stumbled upon that chapel and taken advantage of the cool shade and the silence, I may never have reached that moment of understanding, my epiphany. I am so grateful to have been given that.

The whole world has carried the scar of that day deep inside for so many years. It has been one of the most difficult events to make sense of and therefore to fully feel and process. As I sat there, I did feel, I felt grief and loss for people I’d never met. I felt their terror, confusion and, also, their incredible courage.

Ordinary people did extraordinary things that day. Ordinary New Yorkers and New Jerseyans ran up the stairs while others were running down. Brave souls went into the fire and never came out. I understand now what that sacrifice meant.

We collectively have done a lot of terrible things in the name of that day. In the months and years that followed, so many more were sacrificed on the altar of hate; too many.

But on that day, the sacrifice that was made was an act of love.

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love.

All images used in this post are mine.

©2016

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6 thoughts on “Stone and these hard tears part 1

  1. Love your blog! Your writing and even the look of your blog are great — so interesting and fun to read. And these photos make me want — nay, yearn — to get back to NYC!!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I agree! I’ve been on a little hiatus for a while but I’m easing back into blogging — probably more on a weekly basis. But I’ll be sure to check out what you’re doing!

        Liked by 1 person

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