Friday, June 15, 2012

The Best of TImes, The Worst of Times

One of my sisters was here recently for a visit and high on her list of places to go was the 9/11 Memorial.  To be honest, I did not want to go.  It is hard to see this site as a tourist destination.  The original act of senseless violence and the subsequent wrong turns and bad ideas that it spawned leave me feeling less than thrilled about making it part of any itinerary.  But Sis wanted to go, so we ran the gauntlet, which is what happens to those who feel the need to visit the memorial before it is totally open to the street.  It will be someday when all the construction is completed but, for now, one must get a free visitor pass at a location several blocks away from the entrance.  This not-so-brief walk also allows the construction workers taking lunch to have a front row seat to view all the tourists heading to the site (it was ALL tourists - why do they want to see this?).  If you enjoy being inspected by many construction workers while they eat sandwiches, then I recommend this visit to you.

After the visual inspection by iron workers and other tradesmen, you go through a security check that makes an airport security check-in experience seem like a joyful welcome from your favourite grandmother.  So, if you enjoy being manhandled by people in light blue shirts who have been trained by some rogue nation's secret police, then I highly recommend this visit to you.

After some vigorous inspection and humiliation, then you walk through an endless roped off area - back and forth like some kind of surrealist movie sequence.  In fact, it was so bizarre and yet compelling that I was seriously regretting not bringing my video camera.  I was regretting it until I was accosted after taking this one photo in an attempt to capture the way people were moving through the space.  Apparently, no photographs were allowed here, although it is not at all clear why since photographs are okay at the actual site.  If you have ever wished to be a participant in a Kafka-esque bit of highly guarded choreography, then I recommend this visit to you.

It is much more interesting with the movement but I can not fathom what would befall
anyone who dared try to record it.
Battered in spirit if not in physical self, we persevered and entered the actual memorial site.  Amazingly, it is quite moving and cuts straight through whatever bitterness you feel by the time you enter the gates.  The other visitors were remarkably subdued and respectful.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is a very powerful experience.

I think it is a testament to the design that anyone was able to feel anything other than a sense of despair at what has happened to public access and our collective sense of paranoia since 9/11.  Indeed the disparity between the experience of getting into the memorial and the memorial itself is perhaps the perfect illustration of the state of the country today.  The very best and the very worst, side-by-side and completely interconnected.


Patti Blaine said...

Powerful stuff, Robyn. I share your cynicism and your reverence.

Taos Sunflower said...

Robyn: This reminded me of a time when, on business in Honolulu, I was taken by my hosts to the Pearl Harbor memorial, only to find it over run with Japanese tourists with cameras. Your description of your visit to the memorial is very upsetting to me. I'm not a New Yorker, but as a member of this nation so gravely affected by 9/11, I share your feelings about making such tragedies into tourist attractions. I'm glad to hear the pool actually somewhat compensated for the experience of getting to it.

Robyn said...

Yes, Martie, it is very hard to witness the trivialization of the site/event as it overrun with tourists. That said, once at the actual memorial, everyone was very respectful and quiet and it was very moving. I ended up feeling quite glad to have seen it and even to have experienced the horror of trying to get to it in that way.

I think the way the center pool doesn't allow you to see the bottom was like falling into nothingness and, for me, it recreated a little bit of the feeling of that day. That it actually did that is quite remarkable!