Eleven Years after 9/11

I vividly remember being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Little Rock’s I-30 bridge that sunny September morning 11 years ago. I remember hearing on the radio that a small plane had hit one of the twin towers. I immediately called my then-husband, an amateur pilot, who was already on the job at his highway department office. I said to him, “What kind of idiot can’t miss a skyscraper that big?”

Of course we all soon learned what was really happening.

I, like you, watched the television and listened to radio news reports that Tuesday and in the days and weeks that followed. We watched in disbelief and horror as the towers burned and fell, at the gaping hole and smoke left at the Pentagon, and later as we saw the smoldering crater in that field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. When search-and-rescue turned to search-and-recovery, like you, I mourned with the families and friends coming to grips with such a senseless loss.

Like you, I gained even more respect and appreciation for first responders who run in when everyone else is running out. But maybe unlike you, I had never been to the Word Trade Center, the Pentagon or that field in Pennsylvania before the attack, so seeing those places in the news reports was a bit like watching a horror movie – not quite real.

It wasn’t until I visited the 9/11 memorial garden last year, shortly after it opened on the 10th anniversary of the attack, that it truly became real for me.

I had never stood at the bottom of the World Trade Center towers and taken in their impressive stature. I had never looked down over New York City from their observation floors. Visiting the footprints of those enormous and iconic structures that are now replaced with somber fountains, and experiencing the reverent park that surrounds them, personalized it for me.

I was standing where the towers stood. I was standing where the victims died. I was standing in the only place loved ones might be able to reconnect with the spirits of those they lost.

The memorial site is very quiet and peaceful, despite being in the middle of New York City. The white noise of water flowing through the enormous granite-lined pools accomplishes that – and I’m glad.

I invite you to read the post I wrote last year following the day  Kelley and I visited the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the 9/11 Memorial.  Visiting those three historic sites in the same day gave me a perspective on the freedoms we American’s enjoy, what our forefathers sought here, and what was viciously attacked eleven years ago.

Freedom: Embraced, Exercised and Attacked

Note: I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the dedicated soldiers who, shortly after 9/11/01 and yet today, are fighting the wars that the attacks spawned.  So many have been killed and so many have been injured, yet their love for our country endures. So many have been sent on tour after tour after tour, yet their love for our country endures. So many families have lost their beloved soldiers, yet their love for our country endures. My heart and support goes out to each and every one.

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Freedom: Embraced, Exercised and Attacked

The light of liberty and sunshine

We ended our trip by spending Monday visiting some of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

Freedom Embraced

First was the Statue of Liberty, or as we learned, the statue is actually named Liberty Enlightening the World. A gift from the people of France, the statue is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year. I encourage you to read about Lady Liberty’s history and symbolism here: http://www.nps.gov/stli/historyculture/index.htm

Kelley and I have learned the value of the audio tours often available at historic sites and museums. This was certainly the case here. It was a glorious morning on Liberty Island as we circled the statue’s base, listening to descriptions of the day the statue was dedicated in 1886, and about the decade of construction that preceded it.

Gustav Eiffel – yes, of the Eiffel Tower– designed the labyrinth of internal iron trusses that supports the statue’s copper skin, which is only the thickness of two pennies.

It was truly humbling and thrilling to stand at the base of this ENORMOUS work of art – the international symbol ofAmerica’s promise of freedom. Adding to that specialness was the clear blue cloudless sky above and the fact that there were very few others on the island with us.

We had reserved space on the very first boat of the morning and that put us in the park in time to see the way morning light illuminated the statue. I took many, many photos, as you might imagine, and didn’t have to elbow through crowds to do so.

The Statue of Liberty has been the symbol of hope and awaiting freedom for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have made our country what it is today. She and her torch were what welcomed those ships full of weary travelers to our shores, but passing through processing at Ellis Island is what gave them the key.

Ellis Island is a complex of buildings on its own island reached by a short ferry ride from the lady herself. Kelley and I were surprised to see how many buildings actually comprise the site. When we learned more about the immigration process in the late 1880s through the 1950s, it became apparent why so many buildings were needed.

Third class steam ship passengers from other countries, who wished to live in the United States, were “processed” at Ellis Island to determine whether they would be granted legal entry. Most passed through in a matter of hours, but some were detained for further medical, intellectual or mental testing. Those who were truly ill were kept in the hospital there until they recovered or were sent back home, and their accompanying family members lived on the island in dorms until the hospitalized relative’s fate was determined.

We saw the court room where immigrants threatened with being returned to their homeland pled their cases. We also saw the room where those who were allowed through met up with their loved ones already in America.

I imagine the sight of the Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island continued to give immigrants hope as they boarded a ferry bound for New York’s shore, and that those who passed by her once again as they were sent out to sea, rejected by America’s freedom, loathed her sight.

Freedom Exercised

Back on the mainland, we made our way to the city’s financial district. We had tickets to visit the newly-opened 9/11 memorial there. It wasn’t planned – but was a nice coincidence – that we passed right by the “Occupy Wall Street” protesters who are still occupying Wall Street from their camp at Liberty Square.

The space is tightly-packed with tents and peaceful protesters playing music and holding up signs. A few protesters engage the MANY passersby clogging the sidewalk with the “rubberneck” factor, though officers periodically asked people to keep the sidewalk traffic flowing. There is definitely a police presence, but no palpable tension between them and the campers.

What comes of the Occupy movement remains to be seen, but America’s freedoms allow the protesters to assemble. I had the feeling that we walked past the birthplace of a movement that will have historical significance and impact.

Freedom Attacked

Just a couple blocks away from the Occupy camp is the entrance to the newly opened 9/11 Memorial site. Tickets are free but reservations are required.

Before being allowed to walk the long path toward the memorial, which winds around the construction site of new World Trade Center buildings, visitors go through airport-like security. No one minds; it’s an understatement to say visitors comprehend why that level of security is needed at this particular location. The horrific events at this tragic site gave rise to the increased security and screenings Americans have become accustomed to over the past 10 years.

The memorial site is a peaceful, orderly and respectful place filled with trees now dressed in fall’s colors. The two square pools, which are on the actual footprints of the north and south towers, are discovered as visitors proceed through the paths and trees.

You’ve likely read about the square black granite fountains/pools and the seemingly bottomless square drains in the center of each footprint. The design combines an embodiment of endless falling blackness with elegance and beauty – an amazing accomplishment. The pools are mesmerizing.

The sound of the water when standing right at the pools drowns out the city’s noise, even the din of construction right outside the memorial’s borders. The water sound is important; it lays a blanket of reverence over this plot of hallowed ground.

The names of those lost in the towers, the planes that struck the towers, at the Pentagon and on Flight 93 are deeply embossed into the black metal frame-like railing surrounding each pool. Also there are the names of first-responders who were lost. I hadn’t gotten choked up until Kelley pointed out to me the first and last name of a woman, followed immediately by the words, “and her unborn child.”

That did it.

As we were leaving the memorial park, tears were still streaming down my face. I thought about the people who will visit this site and how they’ll think about what their loved ones endured that morning – a morning with a clear blue sky, just like the day on which we visited. I thought about those bottomless pools and deeply-grooved names – and how I hope they provide some peace.

It wasn’t until later that afternoon, as I reflected on the places we had visited, that I realized the connection between them. Each are embodiments of the freedom offered by these United States. And each illustrates how freedom’s adoption – and disdain – has shaped our country, and is shaping it still.

Music, MoMA and Marathon

Empty wine bottles fill the frames of City Winery’s staircase wall

Saturday morning’s plan was to visit the Museum of Modern Art, a 15-minute walk from our home base. Of course we have no car here, and wouldn’t drive in this crazy city traffic if we did! Walking, subway and taxis for us – and for 99.9% of New Yorkers.

 

It’s ironic to me how easy it is to get into the “walk to where we need to go” mindset here as opposed to how it is in Little Rock, especially since we live downtown there too. Of course here in New York, you can find anything you need within a few minutes’ walk. In downtown Little Rock, more things are available now than in recent years but still a long way to go. But I digress… 

Music

Backing up a bit… We enjoyed a delightful dinner and concert Thursday evening at City Winery (http://citywinery.com), a working winery, restaurant and intimate concert venue in SoHo. Singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin was the headliner but the opening act was Charlie Mars, a very talented singer-songwriter who was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, but grew up in Mississippi. The handsome southern boy charmed the city folk and put on a great performance.

Not many 40/50 year old women could pull off this look but Shawn did!

Shawn Colvin’s voice sounded amazing and she really engaged the audience with stories of her songwriting and concert tour with Sting.

It was magic being in the audience as the whole crowd sung along to her biggest-ever hit, “Sunny Came Home” (listen to song on YouTube: http://youtu.be/qfKKBDFCiIA).  Periodic rumblings from the subway trains passing below were the only thing that brought me out of the transfixed state that only a perfect concert experience can evoke.

 MoMA

Saturday morning, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) was abuzz. We happily joined in, picked up the free audio guides and headed upstairs to the deKooning exhibit (http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/dekooning). I guess I shouldn’t admit it, but I had no prior knowledge of his work, but really enjoyed the exhibit. There are hundreds of the influential Dutch painter’s works on display and working our way through them took longer than we had allotted and expected.

We then sought out the museum’s collection of impressionist paintings by Degas, Monet, VanGogh and many others. The enormous panels from Monet’s “Water Lillies” took my breath away. It’s surreal to see in person works of art that you’ve known about your whole life but only seen in the pages of books or on postcards and posters. I highly recommend it!

Hangin' with VanGogh

VanGogh’s “Starry Night” is at the MoMA and it is Kelley’s all-time favorite painting. We found it, paid our respects along with hundreds of other museum-goers and I snapped a picture of Kelley beside it. Amazingly, given the painting’s popularity, there were no ribbons or railings in front of it, though there was an assigned guard who admonished Kelley to be sure and not get close enough to brush against the frame while he posed for the shot. There is never any flash photography allowed in museums, so my picture isn’t the best (see below).

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to see much of the “Talk to Me” exhibit there which is so “down my alley.” The exhibit examines the modern and developing communication and connection we humans have with machines and technology. I hope to snag a book online that details the exhibit.

The New York City Marathon

This is my second-ever trip to New York; coincidentally, both times have been during the weekend of the marathon. Kelley has been here dozens of times. He says the chatter of streets always has a mixture of non-English languages – plus the NYC dialect, which is nearly a language in and of itself – but it is even more so when the marathon is on. Indeed we have seen many T-shirts, bags and hats bearing various country names, particularly a lot from France.

Marathoners - and we - cruise the finish line area in Central Park the day before the race

Our home base is along Central Park South which, as you might expect, is at the southern end of Central Park. The last mile of the marathon runs right by our building so there has been an elaborate maze of barricades, fencing, signage and spectator bleachers along the street and in the park.

The past two mornings we’ve enjoyed long walks among all the logistical preparations. Hundreds of the race participants were milling around the finish line area yesterday morning (see pic), I suppose scoping out their ultimate destination for today’s race. My friend, Stacey Jones, ran the marathon today, her first. Congratulations, Stacey! (The NY Times has a great blog about the marathon: http://marathon.blogs.nytimes.com – worth visiting for the pics alone.)

At noon today (Sunday) we had a family brunch here at the apartment with Kelley’s NYC nieces and nephews, and with his Parisian sister who is in the U.S. for a few weeks. This is her place we’re happily staying in. We’ve just returned from a matinee on Broadway where we saw the FABULOUS “Relatively Speaking” (http://relativelyspeakingbroadway.com/about/synopsis) – a play that recently opened to rave reviews. Tonight we’re going to dinner at a fine restaurant of meat-lovers’ acclaim, Quality Meats (http://qualitymeatsnyc.com).

Another big day in the Big Apple! It is also our one-year wedding anniversary, the main reason for our trip. Happy anniversary and a big thank-you to the man, who, as previously blogged, has revolutionized my life.

Monday holds in store a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, then the 9/11 Memorial and an evening at New York Taste (http://nymag.com/taste). Wheeeee!

A delightful morning walk along Central Park West yielded this shot

The marathon has a great ad design team

Couldn’t ask for anything more …

Trying on shades at the Warby Parker headquarters was fun!

Our first full day in the Big Apple began with – of all things – my appointment at the budget-friendly yet boutique-quality spectacles shop, Warby Parker.

If you’re not familiar with the company, I encourage you to visit their website http://www.warbyparker.com. They are the Tom’s Shoes of eyeglasses, giving away a pair to someone in need for every pair they sell. What’s unexpected is the price – only $95 – which includes the frames AND lenses.

Their business is through mail order but they do have showrooms in a few cities. New York is their home base, so the SoHo loft showroom is also their corporate headquarters. In my sights today, pun intended, was to buy a pair of non-prescription Warby Parker sunglasses. I found the perfect pair, placed my order, and my new shades will be mailed to me in a few days.

Steam vapor from some subterranean generator provided a surreal backdrop for these Union Square visitors. 

Our agenda was loose from that point on and we had many hours until our 8:00 pm date to see singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin at the fantastic City Winery (a performance and vino venue). Our own research and friends’ recommendations had given us a list of places to go and see, so we leisurely worked our way through the list.

The fall weather in the city was GLORIOUS; not a cloud shared the sky with Mr. Sunshine. We walked and subwayed ourselves to spots which pictures do as much or more justice as words, so I’ll post them, then bid you goodnight after sharing my thought of thanksgiving:

If we’re lucky, we humans get a few perfect days sprinkled among the thousands we’ll live. Today was one of mine. I was moved to tears twice tonight listening to the pure voice and heart-sung lyrics of Shawn Colvin. I am so grateful for Kelley, and for the gift of his love and friendship, which has revolutionized my life and heart. At one point today, totally unbidden, he leaned over to me and said, “There’s no one on this planet that I’d rather spend time with than you.”

Perfect. Day.

It was a thrill to see these sunlit and wind-blown flags that surround the Rockefeller Center plaza.

This wall-sized statement was the focal point of the largest and most busy Starbucks I've ever visited.

At Union Square, vendors by the dozen sell their produce and products. These sunlit radishes were picture perfect.

Chelsea Bagel is a New York institution. We bagged a few to go.

I read about "The Meadow" in Rachael Ray's magazine and knew I had to visit the NYC shop. They specialize in gourmet salts and chocolate. Here, containers of salt are displayed on a wall of shallow shelves.

To blog or not to blog…

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now. Actually, Kelley and I authored a short-term travel blog in the spring of 2010, but it had a hard beginning and a hard stop. A neat little capsule.

(See: Getting an Eiffel of Paris)

We’re leaving tomorrow for New York City – yea! I considered doing another travel blog, covering just our six days in the Big Apple. I even came up with a title: “The Apple of My Eyes.”(Corny? Yes. Catchy? I think so.)

Instead I’ve decided to bite the bullet and create a blog for the long term (as long of a term as blog can have). I wanted a blog in which I could share excerpts from NYC, but continue the sharing once we were back on Arkansas soil.

The general theme will be “city life” – mostly downtown Little Rock city life because that’s where we live – with the occasional diversion of what another city has to offer. We’ll see how it goes. Thanks for reading!