Images and Words
From the Trenches
Note: Click any image here for a clear, large version. All images will open into a new window. To continue, just close the new window. Smaller monitors may require some scrolling to view the whole image. 256 color systems may display posterized colors in skies and other places -- use thousands or millions of colors if possible. All full-sized images are larger than usual jpegs (>10", ca. 100 megs each), as no smaller size can do justice to this event, one which will loom as the lowest nadir of perfidious human evil. To quote FDR from 60 years ago, this truly is "a day which will live in infamy."
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With stinging incongruity, here are some words and images of an event so horrific there are no words nor images that can adequately describe it. Yet the human spirit requires that we make an attempt. And artists often transform external events, their own failings and observations into the creative media, cobbling together poems, essays, paintings, photographs, and perhaps the most primal one, music, to probe the innermost dreams and demons which haunt all of us. It's also a way to understand and share the congruencies with other kindred spirits. For me, as a composer, the musical notes will soon follow. More immediate is the Net and Web, which provides a chance to communicate with many of you, in these deeply felt words and photos taken the week after the assaults of September 11, 2001.
If you know other parts of my site, you already have an idea of how my mind works, and will not be surprised that I've begun yet another Living Page about the most appalling day in memory. Let me apologize at the outset that the focus here will be on New York City. Many others died in Washington, D.C. and in rural Pennsylvania within an hour of the attack on the World Trade Center. Since this was the site of the major casualties, but more, since it is also my home, I hope you will forgive me if I do not dwell on these other losses here, although I mourn for all of them, and the families and friends.
I wasn't at home when the four passenger jets were hijacked and turned into weapons of destruction of innocent civilians. The day before I'd finally gotten a chance to take a long-planned drive up through New England. On checking out of a motel the first morning the lobby television was carrying news about a plane crashing into 1 WTC. Say what?!! The center is not many blocks away from my loft, a taken-for-granted part of the neighborhood for nearly 30 years.The familiar twin towers balance the other skyscrapers to the north of here, the art deco Chrysler Building, and my favorite, the Empire State Building. I had watched the construction of the WTC, had been always astonished by the gorgeous view on top, and had dined in the Windows Of The World Restaurant in 1 WTC on special occasions. It felt like part of the collective psyche of this wonderful, spirited, exhausting, noisy, yin/yang of a city. It was a part of my HOME.
And now it is gone and so many of them are gone. I can't get past the guilt of not being here when NYC was under attack, this small island become target -- I feel as if I had deserted her during the time of her greatest need. The next few days were a matter of "going through the motions," having a few good meals, seeing a very few close friends, but mostly sitting glued to the TV's in modest motel rooms. We drove back as soon as the neighborhood was open again, cutting the planned trip short. I spent most of the past week wandering around in a trance.
Typical aftermath scenes, on wandering around NYC
Dey Street fence; Liberty Streeet cop wi Con Ed truck; mourner's shrine; down West Broadway
Union Square is filled with hushed people, lovely encomiums to lost loved ones, and the messages not to go to war knee-jerk style. Also our neighborhood fire station lost half(!) of its 24 firefighters, including the captain, lieutenant, and the area chief. Brave, unsung heroes. Many flowers and burning vigil candles in front of the station, just scant blocks away, like those filling the Square. Everyone is crying openly, quietly, a hush over the whole area.
When I return home after each walk I find myself ruminating about the recent news. You may be, too, as we saw, are most of the mourners in our area, but then, this is New York City. Elsewhere is not so thoughtfully quiet. There's violence of citizen against citizens who "look different." You can smell a retreat from civilization into a new "crusade," a "holy war." Our civil liberties may soon come under assault, via this "excuse", much as Falwell, Robertson and the other "religious leaders" (haters) have twisted this overwhelming pain to their own agendas. Suggest they start the cleanup at home first, as in: set a good example, deal with one's own misdeeds and weaknesses, instead of always pointing an accusing finger at someone ELSE...
Civilization is a fragile jewel imbedded in the shapeless mud. It's much, much easier to slide or even crash into chaos, to destroy, than to build and painstakingly create. It's less demanding. An idiot or savage can bring it about, unskilled labor. The Laws of Thermodynamics define the concept of decay and ultimate chaos, and give it its name: Entropy. I've often joked: "Entropy gonna get us all." And too soon, too soon. It's the probable death of the Universe, all organized molecules and energy dissipating slowly and constantly, until a uniform random grayness without form, content or life remains. But I leave that depressing angst to Alvy Singer in Woody Allen's "Annie Hall." Our more immediate entropic decays are enough to worry about, enough to fill our plates.
You probably know I try to be a realist and don't have much patience with fantasy, dogma, or unprovable narratives and legends. It seems to me, when unchecked, ideologies like fundamentalism can lead us off into dangerous waters of that kind. Whenever any of us claims to have exact knowledge, with no test in reality, expect to see our worst face forward. Whenever we allow peer and culturally taught bigotry and xenophobia to drive us, it will blind us to compassion and reason. It's such a small step from absolute certainty to fascism. Soon we begin to hate absolutely, begin hating people we don't even know, have never met. It's always easier to hate from a distance. Getting to know the target risks discovering some redeeming qualities, as we're all basically human.
I'll get back to this later. First let's look at some of the images that have forced me to contemplate topics like this more deeply than I ever have before. It's unusual that a serious composer and amateur physicist confronts daily and political issues so openly, to show you and dwell on events which are seared into my being, and will haunt me for the remainder of my years. I didn't have any VIP credentials to get into the heart of the wreckage. But I got close enough to see enough to last me a lifetime.
P.S. Deep thanks to the many of you who have written with empathy and concern about me and others in Manhattan. I'm perfectly fine physically, if not otherwise. Fortunately, no one I know was killed or hurt in the attacks. But as you will read here, there are deep emotional scars that, for many of us, shall never heal.
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2- Union Square
While walking back at 11 PM from returning the rental car, I found myself walking beside the familiar Union Square Park -- now transformed. The TV news showed that the Armory over on Lexington Avenue had many posters of the missing surrounding it. Police barricades had been set up to control the outpouring of crowds which checked in there each day, in vain hopes that the missing loved ones and friends might reappear. Somehow the broadcasts hadn't mentioned the larger throngs that filled Union Square to overflowing, the biggest such public get together in the city. I halted and entered to be with them.
After the catharsis of crying along with the thousand or so who had come to the park that night, I walked home. At the elevator I ran into Norma, my building neighbor, who told me she'd been up in Union Square every night since it happened. And she also told me that our own fire station in the neighborhood had lost half of its firefighters. I was speechless, trying to take this all in. The next day I got up early and brought my camera up to the park and then over to the station. Here's what I saw.
Union Square Crowd Gathers
There's a famous, impressive statue of George Washington on horseback near this southern end of the park. It now had flags and signs and chalk messages adorning it and the pedestal. People of all ages and colors were gathering together. The crowd by day was large. By night, after dinner, it was even larger. One more eager than thoughtful person had also painted the horse's flanks, both sides, with the universal Peace Symbol.
Decorated George Washington
If I had to describe the mood of all of us each day in this chosen place of grief and remembrance, it would be: otherworldly. The crowd was respectful and subdued. Many listened to the music made by our own day's traveling minstrels: guitars, drums, saxophones and flutes, Krishna's with instruments from India, East European street musicians. And more. But most of us were quiet, or speaking politely with friends and even total strangers nearby.
In front of the statue was one of the larger temporary shrines (another nearby was even twice as large). These impromptu collections were at once homely and sincere, the pain was palpable -- you could reach out and touch it, or just stand and feel it blow over your face and your body. It reminded of some of the better parts of the late 60's and early 70's. It was at once disorganized, yet united, deep and passionate. Alas, it was all too real.
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