Adventures in NYC: Day 3 The Memory of places

25. 10 9/11 Memorial, The Museum of the American Indian and Weird Tales of the West Village Walking Tour

SEVERE BLUE: 9/11 Memorial and Museum

“I am thinking, how many planes are going to fall out of the sky?”

(witness testimony)

Places which bear a memory of loss and suffering really take their toll on me. I consider myself an empath and that’s why I believe I can relay emotions in my writing. The price I have to pay is that places like this is that I hear the echo of all the pain and it makes me almost physically sick. The visit to the Schindler factory in Krakow, the Topography of Terror in Berlin or the Memorial of Slavery in Nantes left me in shambles and with serious doubt about the progress of humanity. I wish most people had just a sliver of this sensitivity because once you are touched by the sadness of others, you pay extra attention not to inflict pain.

I was 11 when the attack against the twin tower took place and although I understood the words and some of the implications, I think one cannot fully grasp the impact of these events when you are a child (in a country far away). Somehow it seems so recent, everything that happens after 2000 does. But when some of my middle school kids told me last year when we talked about NYC that they weren’t even born in 2001, that’s when it sunk in how fast time actually goes by.

The memorial is huge, like all the other museums, but I think the sense of smallness and being lost resonates with the atmosphere of the place. It is a very detailed exhibition with a plethora of stuff, again, impossible to tell you about everything and it is impossible to read everything, but one thing which really stayed with me was the blue wall memorial with a quote from Virgil: “No day shall erase you from the memory of time.”

The quote is surrounded by tiles, all a different colour of blue, to represent how the experience of each individual is different even though they have lived through the same trauma.

This is where I first came across the beautifully evocative term “severe clear” (which I have forgotten and then refound with the help of Elise, the Google sorceress, /thank you, dear!/) which denotes a very clear, cloudless sky, so bright it is almost unbearable without sunglasses. It’s a powerful oxymoron the positive meaning of clear is weighing against the violence of severe, just as it feels contradictory how such a horrible event can come to happen on a beautiful day like this.

Another thing that touched me was the bravery of all the first responders who often gave their lives to help others. I don’t use the word “hero” often or lightly but I think these men and women deserve it. There were a lot of heart wrenching moments, especially all the testimonials and the message of love and caring that flew out into the aether. There is a recording of the answering machine of a man who was in one of the hijacked planes and he received more than 40 messages, family calling him, friends, or all acquaintances who hadn’t been in touch for a long time but wanted to check on him.

The part I found particularly harrowing were the messages looking for lost family members and loved ones. Imagining that someone you loved went out to work in the morning just like every other day and then never came back breaks my heart. Just by thinking about it happening to my husband or my parents make me cry. It’s a reminder that we shouldn’t take anybody for granted and we should cherish the moments we spend together.

It was a great museum and I strongly advise you to go there and learn about the tragedy that shook a whole nation. I don’t know if I’d return there, surely not in the near future, maybe when we have kids and they are old enough to understand the implications… it is just too painful.

I liked the fact that in the end they finished with a part where you could see all the volunteering people do as the aftermath of event. They took the tragedy, their trauma, their pain and transformed it into a ray of hope. I think it’s a very uplifting message and I truly believe that this is the good way of going about traumas, using them to transform our lives for the better and however hard it is, not to give in to bitterness, rage and the thirst of revenge.

I had a little reflection about the appearance of 9/11 in films and books. I haven’t seen a lot, I vaguely remember that film with Robert Pattinson and one of the first books I have read in French “Bal de givre à New York” by Fabrice Colin where SPOILER AHEAD there is some fantasy stuff going on and in the end, shocker! turns out that the girl was in a comma after 9/11 related events. Really? I find it a bit cheap and disrespectful to use other people’s trauma for a plot twist. (Don’t even get me started on TFIOS…)

If you are interested in the representation of 9/11 in films, I can whole-heartedly recommend this episode of Loose Canon by Lindsay Ellis.

“I didn’t want the day to end terrible it was… it was still a day that I had spent with Sean.”

(Wife of a South tower victim)

We ate in a pizza place not very far from the memorial. I had calzone for the first time in my life, I had to try it because of Ben in Parks and Recreation <3 This was one of the least memorable meals of my time in NYC.

THE RAVEN BRINGS THE LIGHT TO THE WORLD: The Museum of the American Indian

With the approach of Nanowrimo I was revisiting my old novel ideas, trying to see if any of them kindles the flame in my heart. I came up with the idea of “Life on Mars” in 2016, after Brexit, Trump and other world political invents that made me sad. It’s about the colonisation of Mars, drawing a parallel to the pilgrims and the colonisation of the “New World.” Except for the fact that Mars is inhabited, just as the American continent had been inhabited before the arrival of the white man and the new comers threaten the life and integrity of the original inhabitants. My protagonist is a woman, a Native American astronaut, who will have a special understanding with one of the Martians. I didn’t want to go into this novel without doing proper research (that’s why in the end I actually settled for another story) so I asked our resident New York City connoisseur, Elise, if she could recommend something. Of course, she could, because she is great. That’s how I learned about the Museum of the American Indian.

I had a little discussion about the name with the husband who wondered if the “Indian” part shouldn’t be changed, being an ignorant colonising false nomenclature, but I ventured that maybe since (I presume) the museum is at least partly ran by Native Americans, they might be OK with it. I really have no idea, so if you have any intel, I am always happy to learn.

I was very excited to go there because I have a very high opinion of any peoples who have a close and respectful relationship with nature. My parents try to get me into reading J.F.Cooper’s books because it was all the rage when they were young, and god sees my soul, I tried but I never really cared about the railways and the shenanigans of the colonisers, I only wanted to read about the life of indigenous people. That’s why my favourite book was The Land of Salt Rock by Sat-Okh aka Stanisław Supłatowicz (I read him up just to find that he originally wrote in Polish :O But it’s a whole different story, look him up)

The museum is free so you have no excuses not to go there. They have so many materials that they arrange it in different temporary exhibitions, on our first go we only had time to see “Transformer” the work of young artists with a Native American heritage. It was very intriguing, the story which stayed with me was of the raven who turns into a little boy and steals fire for humanity. I love ravens and I think it’s a great alternative to the Prometheus myth.

The biggest exhibition was entitled “An infinity of nations” and it shows different objects from indigenous groups from Inuits to Aztecs.

I bought myself two books dealing with Native American legends and mythology I can’t wait! One of them is centred around women, apparently there is the “Spider woman” who is sort of a mother figure and also the mistresses of stories (weaving – making up stories) and one on the figure of the Trickster. Can’t wait to read them!

 

Since we had a walking tour planned for the evening and the weather was chilly, we went to Century 21 where I bought a very warm woolen hat and a pretty ugly Christmas sweater. They came in handy because I was so cold before the tour that I put on everything I’d bought.

LABYRINTHS OF ANCIENT STREETS AND CYCLOPEAN MODERN TOWERS: Weird Tales of the West Village Walking Tour

My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyse, and annihilate me.

<H.P.Lovecraft: He>

We arrived to the meeting point well ahead of time, so we had dinner in a nice little Japanese place (Soho Sushi in Sullivan Street). Still haunted by the memory of the Dunkin Doughnut I chose a sushi-like dish where the rice was replaced by cucumber.

I’m not saying I wasn’t hungry a few hours later, but it was really good. Because it was freezing we got ourselves a coffee from the grocery shop on the corner which helped me stay awake and prevent my fingers from freezing off.

Arc de Triomphe knock-off at Washington Square Park

I’m not going to tell you everything I learnt on the tour, but I’d like to share one thought which stuck with me. As an introduction, Leanna, our guide told us about the rise of Gothic stories and spiritualism. Her point was that the 19th century was the time of immense industrial progress, change and scientific breakthrough, yet medicine lagged behind. People still died and no amount of science could do anything about it. Sometimes people didn’t actually die, but were in a state of deep coma and they came around 6 feet underground. This discrepancy between progress and mortality was the dark place from where Gothic literature emerged.

We followed in the footsteps of E.A.Poe, saw mass graves and haunted inns. Leanna was an easygoing and knowledgeable guide and a writer herself, who I planned to interview on weird New York and her books sometimes in the future, so look out for it!

We also saw the inner yard that inspired H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “He.” It is a story very much inspired by Lovecraft’s nocturnal wandering in the Village. The reserved Howard didn’t really like New York and found the high-rises and skyscrapers eerie and oppressive (which honestly, I can totally understand.) We actually came on this tour because of Lovecraft. I work as a translator and editor for The Black Aether, a Hungarian Lovecraftian magazine and I’m always on a look out for things to write about even when I’m on holiday.

After the tour we decided to pop into a bar to warm up a bit and to have a bathroom break before we embark on our long journey back home. I had my loving reunion with the restroom while G entertained the bartender, who looked a bit like a young Chris Hemsworth, with his card tricks. We headed home and we were getting on the subway when G realised that he didn’t have his bag. He had valuable stuff in it so I panicked a bit and we ran back to the bar (to be exact, I told him to run with his long legs while I scurried as quickly as I could) to snatch it just the moment before closer. Nothing was missing, so all is well that ends well.

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