Monday, March 19, 2012

A Tale of Two Spots

I went to see the 9/11 Memorial with a friend over the weekend. Admission is free, but you have to reserve tickets in advance and show up at the appointed time. Our time was ten-thirty on Sunday, March 18th.

My friend had driven down from Massachusetts and was willing to give up her parking spot to take the car to the financial district. “How likely are we to find a parking spot down there?” she asked. I honestly had no idea. My friends think I know my way around, and although I used to live in the financial district, I have not tried to park there since the day I moved here from Vermont in my Plymouth Fury II.

It didn’t begin well. The Google map I had printed out did not reflect any of the street closings surrounding the construction of the new World Trade Center or the changing traffic patterns of the Bloomberg administration, a circumstance that was complicated by my deep skepticism and resistance to authority, so that if a sign saying “Chambers St. Detour—Broadway, Brooklyn Bridge” had an arrow pointing left, I said "Turn right." After many thwarted byways, we followed the detour and eventually found an amazing parking spot on Cortlandt Street, right in front of Century 21. Too bad we weren't shopping for underwear.

We passed Zuccotti Park, which was conspicuously empty and being power-washed, and walked to the southeast rim of the construction site. It hadn’t occurred to me until just that morning that security would necessarily be tight at the site, and sure enough: it was just like an airport, only you didn’t have to take your shoes off—the maze and the trays and the conveyor belts, X rays, and metal detectors, ending in a chaotic bottleneck. Once we were out on the open field, there was still a tendency of the people to move straight ahead in a column.

As you approach the memorial, you see a big square pit of a waterfall in the “footprint” of one of the towers: water combs down four walls into a pool and then pours into a center well, which is black and apparently without bottom. It is an image of heartbreak. The names of the dead are carved in the stone around the edges, and you can put your hand under the slab into the water. It was a gray morning, so the elements—the sky, the stone, the water—were gray and black and silver. An identical fountain (but with other names) occupies the footprint of the other tower. There is also a building containing old beams from the Twin Towers. It is designed to look shattered.

Neither my friend nor I had lost anyone on 9/11. I’m not even sure why I wanted to go down there. It was impossible not to be moved by the falling water and the sense of loss and the thousands of names engraved in stone. After slowly walking the rims of both fountains and running our hands over the names, we found our way out.

I was completely turned around. “Is that where I said the Hudson was?” I asked. Back in the car, I thought we were headed north when we were going east, following that damned detour again, along Chambers Street and over the Brooklyn Bridge to Atlantic Avenue and Washington Avenue, which runs alongside the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, and where we scored a generous parking spot amid daffodils and winter honeysuckle, and saw an apricot tree in bloom on our way to the magnolias—saucer magnolias, star magnolias, hybrids, white-white, creamy-white, pale pink, vivid pink, yellowish, with that wonderful thick flesh and that faint perfume you don’t catch until you’re at the end of a very deep breath.

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