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Absorbing 9/11: The Public And The Memorial Plaza

June 02, 2014

By Nicole Gelinas

Almost lost in the responses to the now-open underground 9/11 museum is the fact that the outdoor memorial above the museum is finally a public park.

Yes, it's been open for 2½ years, but only to people with tickets.

Spending some time now at the site — or, rather, the park — shows how 9/11 is still an ever-changing experience.

I'm one of those who will never go to the museum. But I've gone to the memorial.

Up 'til a few weeks ago, the memorial park was a place to plan to go to: Pick a day, get a ticket, stand in line, go through the metal detector and then the physical barrier.

Like others there, on my first solitary visit two or so years ago, I walked around the marble walls that surround the two dark fountains of water where the towers were to find the names of my then-colleagues who died as well as the names of the others whose family members I've met over the years.

I felt appropriately sad and reflective for a while, and left.

But now it doesn't have to be a planned trip. You can happen upon the site by accident, without being “ready” to think about 9/11 — as I more or less did over Memorial Day weekend.

After biking down the Hudson — a trip that, over the years, let me watch the new One World Trade Center slowly go up, so slowly that it's still startling to see there now — and crossing the West Side Highway, you're just in it.

Follow the crowd and you're under the canopy of trees and watching people sit on the stone benches.

You can hear the water — and feel its cooling effect — gushing down the fountains before you can see the raised black marble around the pools.

On a beautiful holiday-weekend Sunday, it was, well, uneasily and quietly festive.

Tourists were in groups, looking around and pointing. People were walking bikes through. Others sat on the benches to consult their phones for what to do next on their New York agenda.

Last Friday afternoon, too, on a walk-through after a downtown lunch, I saw the tourists gathered around the pools.

So many people surrounded the marble that someone walking through the trees or sitting on a bench wouldn't have seen the pools at all, just the folks crowding around them.

It's strange to watch the people watching the pools — like watching people looking up at the Twin Towers (burning or otherwise), only in the wrong direction.

Two little kids chased each other between the pools where the towers were.

But they weren't all tourists.

A woman sat on a bench alone eating a snack out of a paper bag and sipping a coffee. Another woman alone sat and talked on her phone.

Two very young women walked together quietly, carrying two long paper ruboffs of someone's name. Another woman told her companion, “We can leave as soon as I find someone I know.”

Just off site, a tour guide loudly gathered her group, while people hawking glossy 9/11 guides explained in not-very-good English to visitors speaking a different version of not-very-good-English what was going on in his lurid photos.

Does the site “work?”

Well, it's there.

And whether the architecture itself is good or bad matters little. Lots of people thought the old towers and their plaza were bad architecture, but it all worked well enough.

Will downtown workers come out and eat lunch there, as they did in the old World Trade Center plaza?

Will downtown's many children make it a weekend playground, as they've done with the World Financial Center and were doing before 9/11 with the old World Trade Center?

Probably — for there are only so many places for people to go.

And downtown workers long ago learned to deal with the constant jarring tourist talk about 9/11, just walking back and forth to the train.

Will people behave appropriately — and will people react appropriately to others' inappropriate behavior?

Part of the challenge is what it has been for nearly 13 years: What is appropriate changes as time marches on and the city changes.

New York has more international tourists and immigrants than it did 13 years ago ago — and it has lots of adult New Yorkers who were just kids when the towers fell.

A 15-year-old Saudi will react differently to the site than will a 75-year-old retired Irish-American firefighter. What strikes one visitor as a refreshing breeze off the water will feel like a hijacker's ghost to another. Nobody promised this would get easy.

That's life in a dense, imperfect space in a dense, imperfect city — and where someone's faraway (or not so faraway) history to visit is someone else's real life, either to be remembered or lived.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/06/01/absorbing-911-the-public-and-the-memorial-plaza/

 

 
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