Sunday, September 11, 2011
"New York was his town. And it always would be..."
A favourite quote from one of my favourite movies, Manhattan. I had wanted to visit New York for a long time and finally in 2001 I made it happen.
I was newly single, taking a break from my study, and eager to head on an adventure. It seems so long ago, yet I remember it like yesterday.
It was a city I had grown to know through popular culture, television, song and film. An Affair to Remember, Ghostbusters, Midnight Cowboy, The Way We Were, King Kong, Moonstruck, Do the Right Thing, The Fisher King, When Harry Met Sally, Green Card, On the Town, Breakfast at Tiffany's. I remember loving Top Cat and That girl as a kid. And Seinfeld and Sex and the City as an adult. But mostly I knew New York from Woody Allen movies, I lurve his films, and Manhattan was a love letter to a city I just had to visit.
I still remember the sheer joy (and utter exhaustion after that long, long flight) of leaving JFK International Airport on that first balmy evening, being driven into the city with that famous Manhattan skyline lit up as I had only seen in the movies, the Chrysler Building shining like a beacon, welcoming me and I was overcome, weeping silently.
I was staying on West 50th Street, just down from Radio City Music Hall, the area blew my mind. It was late and I tried to sleep, but the buzz of the city soon soothed me. I operated on that buzz and sheer exhilaration for the next week - just me and the city, no tours, just a long list of things to do and see. I had spent time ensuring I knew where to go and what to see, and this let me wander around this wonderful city, rarely needing to consult a map. I had never felt at home anywhere like I did there. It was like I had come home.
Within days I was being asked directions by tourists, who assumed I actually lived there. Oh, how I wished! I explored all parts of the city, Central Park, Upper West and East sides, Broadway, Times Square at night, Riverside Park, Midtown, Greenwich Village, Financial districts and on and on. I spent more time in museums and galleries than I had in my entire life and my love of deco architecture was met at every turn, lobbies, buildings, diners...I felt like Cary Grant would pop out and take me out for a dance. I even ventured to Washington Heights, Harlem and used the subway.
I visited the Statue of Liberty, toured 30 Rock, and had my camera die on the top of the Empire State Building - being three of the more beautiful tall structures on the island. But of course, there was another tall structure, two in fact, The World Trade Centre. Not too much of a fan of heights, I was unsure I needed to visit them, but their entrance fee was part of a envelope of tickets I had purchased and it would be a waste of money not to use it! I was not keen on their architecture, too post modern, too steely, too sleek against the other warmer styles in the city.
I'll be honest - they scared me.
Yet, I lined up for some time and took the elevators to the 107th floor. My diary does say it was a long wait but worth it, this I remember. The view was spectacular, although some of it difficult with some areas thick with smog. I was not comfortable, and I remember thinking how on earth do the people that work in this building do it every day, especially so high. I supposed to myself that they got used to it.
I was home barely a fortnight when they came crashing to the ground.
That night is forever etched in my memory.
I was still on Annual Leave, and sitting at my dining table, placing photographs of my trip in my album, Channel 10 news on in the distance...background noise really.
I heard Sandra Sully mention New York, looked up and adjusted the volume, she was talking about a plane hitting the WTC. Now, a jaded New Yorker, I thought to myself, probably a helicopter or small plane made a wrong turn, awful, but you know - in a city like that with air traffic I had seen, it was bound to happen. The phone rang, it was my sister Amanda, we talked and watched, I told her my thoughts, and then paused with complete horror as we watched the second plane hit, my stomach turned and I knew this was going to be a long night.
I stayed on the phone with my sister a bit more, watching than talking, 'shit' seemed to be the word de jour. I finally hung up and not long after the phone rang again. My parents, holidaying in Qld, rang to see I was ok. I was nonchalant, "Yeah, I am home remember", I could hear the worry in their voices, they were like thank god you were home, a month earlier and it could have been you.
Shock, weird as it seemed, sunk in, I felt like I had been damaged, what had happened to my city.
I spoke to friends, my sister again and we realised we had not heard from our other sister, I rang Karen and woke her, she had no idea what had happened, being asleep for ages, she was dazed, confused, and a little cranky at me for waking her. I just sat, with photos all round me, watching the television as the horror unraveled into the early hours of the morning. When I finally fell asleep I dreamt of snipers in the tree outside my window, it was an uneasy sleep.
I was meant to be heading to Sydney on a shopping trip with a friend the next day...that day. Surely we wouldn't go, I should have known better, this friend was a shopaholic, and nothing was stopping that. I was weary, upset, and unnerved travelling to Sydney, we got to that part of the trip where you start to see the high rises, the bridge and often a plane heading in or out of Kingsford Smith, the sight of a plane made me shudder. My friend, target at hand, was in stealth shopping mode, I was pure rattled. We shopped, but I was not taking anything in, I just wanted to sit down. We ended up at The Rocks forecourt for lunch, a plane flew over, the entire area of lunching Sydneysiders ducked and gasped - it truly was surreal.
I was pleased to return to the safety of my home and an answering machine full of messages, some from people unsure if I was even home from my trip, others just wanting to say hello and ask how I felt. It was a strange thing, I had not been there during the event, was not hurt, nor did I know anyone who was even connected, yet I felt injured by proxy, wounded by my memories. It's funny how knowledge of a place, so firmly and newly cemented in ones mind can alter your perception.
I took me weeks, months to sleep better, was never a great sleeper anyway. I talked about my trip, my experience, my city. I could visualise inside that building, the concourse shopping centre underneath, I had gotten lost, I came in one entrance, wandered about for a bit, and ended up snaking down a level or so and came out somewhere altogether different, I remember feeling short of breathe and feeling lost. More levels underneath were trains, imagine being under there on that day, I am hoping due to the time and shops not being open there would not have been as many people as the day I was there, however I knew there were many food outlets, and people would have been grabbing a coffee on their way into work....even today thinking about that, my heart almost stops. If you have seen the Nicolas Cage film, World Trade Center, there are scenes that show this area early on in the film.
I read all the stories, the near misses, the destiny, the death, destruction and horror of it all. There are no words to describe any of that pain. I believe there are still so many unanswered questions and I am not going to get political here, suffice to say I marched against sending troops to war. I support their personal efforts and realise they are doing their job, however I do not believe retaliation ever fixes any situation. Revenge is short lived, the pain returns.
I have no idea how Americans and those in New York must have been feeling, but going on how I felt, it must have been awful.
In that dazed week that followed, it was David Letterman (of all people! I do adore Dave, but this made me love him to pieces!!!) who pretty much summed it up.
Click below if you are interested...
The following night he had Jewel on singing Hands, one of my favourite songs, not one of her best performances in hindsight, but the night it played I was in tears. It was a shaken performance at a terrible time. The fragility of it all, coming through via her voice.
Today I still feel sad that this happened - I have no other words except I am glad I visited the city prior to these events, albeit incredibly close to them.
And as always I hope to return to New York one day soon...