[LESS INFO] 18 VIEWS | ADDED 14:45:00 07/23/12
MiR 055 – Reflecting Absence
Welcome to the Mark in Russia podcast network, episode number 55, and I’m Mark.
You can see and listen to all of my podcasts at http://www.markinrussia.com
Sorry I haven’t made a new podcast in the past six weeks, but it is summer and I spent the past month in the States. By the way, the title of today’s podcast, Reflecting Absence, does not refer to my absence over the past six weeks, but rather a little bit about my trip to the 911 Memorial in NYC in late June. The actual name of the 911 Memorial is “Reflecting Absence” and accurately reflects the mood of the memorial.
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of feelings when I got to the memorial. Even to this day when I see a video of the World Trade Center attacks, I get choked up while at the same time becoming filled with hatred towards all who hate me and wish to see me dead because of my religion and country. I was going to see the memorial with my family and really didn’t want to get teary eyed over things I saw and remembered.
The last time I was near this spot was on September 9th, 2001, two days before they were destroyed. On that day I remember wishing I had my camera with me to take some photos, but then also knowing that I could do this the next time I was there. Little did I know how much the world would change 2 days from then.
This was one of the events in which most everybody remembers where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the attack. The total devastation and lack of survivors, combined with the live coverage, helped to engrave this event into the collective human conscience. Well, feelings and memories of these attacks are perhaps best saved for a future podcast.
We’ve all seen the videos, so now let’s turn our face and mind to the present.
The name of the memorial park is “Reflecting Absence”, which I thought at first also spoke of the 2 large pools being reflecting pools, which in fact they are not. The two large pools are standing in the exact positions that the North and South towers used to stand; in their footprints so to speak.
Off to one end of the park is the 911 memorial museum, which is scheduled to open in 2013, although even now it is possible to look through the windows and see some of the inside of the museum. When you peer through the windows of the yet to be completed museum, you are able to see the “Tridents” which served as part of the former towers’ facades, along with other twisted pieces of steel. It is my understanding that there will be interactive exhibits inside, including a picture and story about every one of the 911 victims. But for now, just seeing the tridents from the original façade rising from below at the entrance to the museum is quite powerful.
It should be mentioned that although admission to the memorial is free, you need to reserve a date and time online at 911memorial.org in order to receive your tickets, which you merely print out. When you arrive at the site you will wait along with a lot of other people snaking through a maze prior to going through the same type of TSA security that is normally reserved for airports. You will be asked to show your ticket no less than 3 times during this process, so if you plan to go there, make sure that you get a ticket online first. I just discovered this by accident about two-weeks before I went and I’m happy that I did.
Once you are on the memorial grounds, you are free to move about as you wish and there is nobody trying to get you to move along or hurry up.
I was first struck by the number of people there, I mean, this was not a weekend or a holiday when I visited, it was a Monday, mid-afternoon, yet as I was drawn to the site through some sort of need of perhaps closure, and by closure I guess I mean to have something else to contrast in my mind with the terrible videos captured on that fateful day, perhaps I was not alone in this quest.
As I was snaking along through the lines and barricades making my way toward the memorial, I suddenly thought that my daughters, who were with me along with my wife, knew nothing about the attacks, nor the site where we were about to visit. They were born several years after the attacks. So, I found it important to explain to them what we were about to see. Rather than pass on from father to daughters the hatred and extreme contempt that I now hold for the Christian/American hating part of the Islamic world, I instead told them what a group of “bad men” who hated America did that day back in 2001. To try to pound my opinion into their young heads would make me no better than the animals who were behind and who also supported the goals of this attack. As they grow older I’m sure that we’ll have conversations in which I’ll express my opinions, but when they are old enough to truly understand.
Planning and designing this park and memorial presented a real challenge. It was necessary to try to take into account the needs and desires of various groups of people. There were the families of the victims, the residents of the city and also all of the others who lived this experience vicariously through witnessing it unfold on TV worldwide.
As I came onto the grounds I was immediately struck by the quiet dignity of this place. Although there were thousands of people already on the site, the amount of human chatter was much less than to be expected. This was particularly evident in the first places that people saw as they arrived. Just my opinion, but I think that this is one of the rare times that most humans forsake verbal communication and instead sink deep into their own thoughts. By this I don’t mean that it was like some quiet church service, just that you could feel the respect and reverence present. I’ve experienced the same at Arlington National Cemetery.
As you enter, before you stand one of the two pools which occupy the former footprints of the twin towers. Just a parenthetical note; although we see the twin towers being destroyed in all of the videos, there were actually several other buildings either destroyed, or that had to be torn down due to the extreme damage.
As you can see, the pools are quite large, giving us a good perspective on how large the buildings actually were and are not just pools, but rather, large depressions in the ground made of either black marble or granite, with rather tall waterfalls on each of the four sides. The water which is falling into the “pools”, then falls into a smaller square opening, in which the bottom can’t be seen, in the center of each pool, after which it is pumped back to the top to fall over the sides again. The pools themselves do not have deep water in them and this allows you to see the beautiful construction of even the bottom of the pool.
Around the perimeter of each pool there is a slanted shelf of sorts and engraved or carved (I wasn’t sure if the material was metal or stone) are the names of all of the 911 victims, including those who died at the Pentagon along with those in the 4th plane which crashed into a Pennsylvania field. Also included are the names of the victims who died in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. The names just go on and on around each of the pools and there are guides and also smartphone apps which can be used to find out the exact location of a specific name. In several situations I saw people glued to one spot and name, tracing the name with their fingers. Perhaps they were family or friends of the deceased? I don’t know and certainly would not ask or bother the person.
Although emotionally charged, the surroundings were great and not made in such a way to invoke tears, this was done with a very quiet dignity. This is not a place where you would see wailing and fainting. Part of the American spirit actually is to honor our fallen and then move on as we are sure those who died would want us to. If you have never been to an American funeral or wake, it is much different than in many other places of the world and the memorial reflects this. We move on………………………………… but we don’t forget.
The feeling I got from this memorial is similar to the feelings I got from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. This was a very controversial memorial when it was first made, but is now accepted by all and an emotional place to visit. Perhaps all of the black granite along with all of the engraved/carved names drew this parallel for me, but I think that it is more the dignified way of honoring the fallen that did it for me.
At this point I would like to show some excerpts from an interview with the designer who won the competition. His name is Michael Arad and he was one out of 5201 people who entered the competition from more than 60 countries. I compiled this video using several interviews, all from the site: http://www.911memorial.org which is a fantastic site dedicated to this memorial. The edited interview lasts about 5 minutes, but I feel that it is worth the time in order to learn how this design was arrived at. So, without further ado, here’s the interview.
For me, it was rather interesting to hear that many of the emotions that I experienced were in fact encouraged by the design of the memorial. All of the podcast that preceded the interview was done without my ever even having heard the interview before that.
One of the many things which helps to make this memorial comfortable for those who visit are the many, many trees which have been planted there for both shade, coolness and beauty. However, there is also one very special tree planted there called the “Survivors Tree”. The Survivor’s Tree, which is a pear tree, was discovered under the rubble of the trade center by workers. At that time it was 8 feet tall, badly burned and had only one living branch. The tree was shipped to a tree nursery in the Bronx. The tree was replanted in the Bronx in November 2011, although it was not expected to live. Today the tree is back at the site of the World Trade Centers in the 911 Memorial. The tree is now healthy and has grown to a height of 30 feet.
In the museum there will also be something called the “Survivor’s Staircase” This staircase will be reassembled in the Museum. These granite steps were originally located adjacent to the 110 story towers and were one of the very few items left intact after the collapse of the towers. These stairs allowed 100s of people to safely evacuate from a 9 story building right next to the towers. I really don’t know that much about these, but I thought that I would mention them.
Around the memorial site it is a hub of construction activity. The new tower, which was originally called “Freedom Tower” has almost been built to its full height. The height of the occupied offices is to be the same as the original North Tower. The official name of this 104 story tower is One World Trade Center whose roof height is already 1368 feet (417 meters) and although it is already the tallest building in New York City, when complete, its spire will reach a symbolic height of 1776 feet, symbolic because the year of America’s independence was 1776, (541 meters). This will make it the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the 3rd tallest building in the world.
There are several other buildings in various stages of construction at this site and although I really don’t know anything about the others, I’ll still show them to you.
Well, I’m sure that there are other interesting things about this site that I haven’t mentioned, but I do want to say that if you are going to be in New York City, have the foresight to make reservations online and visit the 911 Memorial. It will be a good use of your time and you won’t regret seeing it. For me, it has given me another bookend to use when I think of the World Trade Center. Whereas before the thoughts were all negative and sad, now I also have the memories of the new World Trade Center site to help bookend the memories.
Thanks for listening until the end of this podcast. I won’t wait another 6 weeks to make a new episode and actually hope to post another new one in about a week, until that time, Good Bye!