Tuesday, August 08, 2006

In the City

(Hello, Gerry)

In October 2001 I visited NYC for the first time. The timing was deliberate, the circumstances were not. The fires were still burning and the smell in lower Manhattan was like nothing I've ever smelt before. To say it was disturbing is an understatement. Amongst my wanderings I, like everybody else, made (and I guess this is the right word) a pilgrimage to Ground Zero. I recall signing my name and the word 'peace' on a banner that was strung along some iron railings.

Nearly five years later I went back to NYC on my way out to Mexico. I had to stop somewhere and I thought why not NYC. Having a few hours to kill before I could check in to my hotel (the rather dingy Hotel 17 - don't stay there, despite what their propaganda tells you) I wandered down to Ground Zero again. I guess I went for a few reasons, curious to see how it had changed, and curious to see how I'd respond to it. Now it is a large hole, surrounded by hurricane fencing. There is a timeline of the events and then a plague listing all the names of the 'heroes' that died that day. I couldn't help but think that in most other countries I've been to, that the words 'innocent victims' would be on the plague, and that 'heroes' seemed an odd choice of word. I've now doubt that there were acts of unbridled heroism that day, but everyone a hero. And I guess I got to wondering what the hijackers would think if they could see just how much the world has changed as a consequence of their actions.

A bit further on is the following sign:
And the cynic in me instantly thought, this was the World TRADE centre, right? Wouldn't it be more approriate to... But actually, I agree with the sentiments of the sign, and it was useful to stand and contemplate the events of that day and the consequences without dodging hawkers.

A couple of days later, after walking across the Brooklyn Bridge (there are some things in life doing more than once and walking across from Brooklyn to Manhattan is most certainly one of them) I found myself on Broadway looking at some iron railings and realised I was standing at the same place as I'd stood five years ago. Behind the iron railings is St. Pauls church, the oldest church in Manhattan (and in fact the oldest public building in Manhattan). It too had a timeline of events and what I came to appreciate was that is was literally across the road from the WTC. It remained untouched, despite two 420m high towers and a 170m tower falling down beside it. The trees between it and the towers were not so lucky. In the nine months following September 11 the church became a haven for, at first, emergency workers, and then afterwards, relief workers. There is a sense that the church is a shrine, but it also feels like a sanctuary. It a very moving place to visit, and the sense of a community serving its wider community is profound. Humanity serving humanity.

In a fit of clueless and inappropriate juxtaposition I went from St. Pauls to the Trump Tower. Humanity screwing over humanity.

A mother and son crossing to Manhattan

It might cost $20 to get into but MoMA is worth it. More Picasso's, Cezannes, Warhols, Matisse', Pollocks and van Gogh's than you can shake a paintbrush at. It makes me wonder if after he got well known if Pablo woke up some mornings and thought, 'I can't be bothered today, slapped a couple of triangles and a red splodge of paint and thought, yeah, that'll do'.

The advantage of MoMA over other galleries I've been to, such as the Louvre, is that there is not the crush. The comedy that is the march to see the Mona Lisa and the subseequent scrum to take its picture does not present itself in MoMA. Instead, I got to stand in front of van Gogh's Starry Night all by myself. I stood there for some time, not because I was moved by it, but simply because I could.

On Saturday night, Sasa and Maria took me round Greenwich village. They took me places I wouldn't have found on my own, including the non-capitalist bookshop and Chumley's Beer House, a place that was serving during prohibition and as a result has multiple exits and no signage.

Every now and again, the are power cuts in Auckland and people bemoan the fall of NZ into third world status. It happens in the first world too. For the whole time I was in NYC, and the days either side, large parts of Queens had no power.

A few days later, in Mexico, Andreas got me drunk again.

But remember that the city is a funny place
Something like a circus or a sewer
And just remember different people have peculiar tastes
and the glory of love, might see you through
-Lou Reed


Anonymous said...

(Hello Richard)

I thought modern medicine had virtually eradicated plague.

I'm sure I read it on a plaque somewhere.


Rhys Lewis said...

But it hasn't eradicated plaque. It's on your teeth, it's in your arteries, it's everywhere man.

The 'hero' thing is mostly about inflation. You can probably be a vice-president of sales at your local 7-11 if you are the only person doing the night shift. Besides which, no-one can make you a victim. You choose to be a victim. Didn't you learn anything in therapy?

My anti-spam word verification was kowfm