Wednesday, October 11, 2006

What beautiful catastrophes I have seen

"A hundred times I have thought, New York is a catastrophe,
and fifty times: it is a beautiful catastrophe."

-Le Corbusier

The quote I picked today is from the NYC guidebook that Doug bought for planning our trip. I thought it was beyond appropriate. It is almost like Le Corbusier read my mind.

We left Friday night and luckily caught the last Ferry over to Orient Point. It was rather late when we arrived, and Ronnie and Linda had the fireplace going nicely. Because this was our first visit to their new house, we got the grand tour, settled in, drank g&t's by the fire, chatted, crashed. The queen sized aerobed was set up next to the fire, and by far it was the most comfy place ever to go to sleep.

super fatty breakfast chefThe next morning Linda made us "Super Fatty Breakfast" which consisted of meat, meat, meat, biscuits and sausage gravy, eggs, meat and some more meat. It is no wonder I gained 11 pounds in four days starting things off with a meal like that one! Jeesh!

Here we have Chef Linda whipping up the Super Fatty Breakfast. She outdid herself with deliciousness for sure.

We then went out to look at the Sunken Meadow Pavilion where they will have their wedding in September of 2007. It was a gorgeous day, beyond imagination, and I totally forgot my camera like some sort of dingbat. We enjoyed a nice walk on the boardwalk, made fun of some old lady's pants (seriously, I wish I had that camera, you needed to see these things. They were not a beautiful catastrophe). And then we went out for Mexican food, enjoying every minute of the sangria and the Yankees loss to the Tigers. It was hard not to stand up and laugh out loud in the restaurant as I watched Jeter and A-rod pouting, and the Tigers spraying champagne on the fans, the cops, the entire city of Detroit. Stupid Yankees, I'm glad you lost.

Sunday morning Doug got up at oh my god thirty and started getting ready. We hit the road at about 7:30 and arrived in the area of our hotel at about 8:30. We knew we couldn't check in until 3, so we just wanted to get down there, park, and then go have fun for a while. We scored a really sweet on-street spot right by Trinity Church on Broadway in lower Manhattan, one block away from our hotel, two blocks away from Ground Zero.

We wandered around the little cemetery beside the church and enjoyed the flowers and the tombstones, some dating back to the late 1600s, including heartbreaking graves of small children who didn't survive the first few months of life in this new city. There was one family who laid to rest eight of their children in that one spot. Not sure if they all died at once, or were one child lost after another at a very young age. It ripped at my heart.

100806 7 inside trinityThe church was open, and we went inside to look around. Services were scheduled to start in less than 10 minutes, and an usher invited us to stay if we wanted to. So we did.

It was a nice service, the organ in there is just unbelievable. The priest was excited because at the 11am service they were dedicating their new bells in the chapel. A gift of 12 brand new "change ringing bells," some of which were sitting out in the church yard, were being blessed and dedicated in order to be installed and ready by the end of October.

The sermon was all about philanthropy and commerce. Being seated in the middle of Wall Street, the church actually owns a lot of the land many of the buildings sit on. The pastor really painted a picture of a lot of New York history and the church's role in it, how farmland became sky scraper land, how money begets more money but must beget kindness, giving, support of the full community. And when done everyone benefits. He then talked about the church's relationship with South Africa, and its sister church, and how the 'Rabble rouser for peace' Desmond Tutu will be coming to visit when he is in the US on his book tour later this month. For more information on the change ringing bells, click here. It's really interesting. The photos of the bells in the foundry being constructed, the history of the art... and if you live in Manhattan you can train to be one of these people, the change bell ringers who send out the peals through the canyons of New York.

I think if I lived in Manhattan, this would be my church.

After the service we looked at some more historical information about Alexander Hamilton, and some photography of the area after 9/11. This church is the mother church to the small chapel that sits directly across from Ground Zero, St. Paul's. We walked up to Ground Zero and indeed my thoughts were filled with the voice of Ryan Miller from Guster singing "Empire State" softly and sadly as I looked at the site. We didn't spend much time there. I actually was very annoyed with a lot of the people who were visiting the site.

A lot of people just act like monkeys when it comes down to it. We seem to have lost any sense of reverence for the dead and for the events of 9/11. The hole in the ground is just like any other hole, or perhaps like the grand canyon. You have your photo taken in front of it, grinning like a maniac. You stand there, talking on your cell phone to someone on the other end and say "Nah, I'm not doing anything special. I'm down here at Ground Zero."

T100806 15 special placehe sign tells us that this is a special place. It should be a special place. People shouldn't be chittering like chimps. They should shut the hell up for a minute or two and think. Why is it so damn hard for Americans to be respectful of anything anymore. This is not an amusement park, people. It's a crime scene. A murder site. Shut your mouth for a minute and just ponder.

Perhaps it's too much for someone to do. Thinking about the dead, the loss, it can consume you. And perhaps that is why so few people were doing it.

Another thing bothered me greatly about the site. The multi-media messages hanging around the PATH station identified the dead as "Heroes of 9/11." Doug asked me "when did becoming a murder victim make you a hero?" It boggled my mind, that the concept of heroism, what a hero IS, is very warped these days. Showing up to work and sitting at your desk, and then being blown up doesn't make you a hero, it makes you a victim. A victim of circumstance, a victim of ideology that differs from yours to the point where someone wants you to not exist, to be vaporized. Similarly, the concept of what a victim is has deteriorated horribly here in the US for the past dozen or so years. You're fat, so you're a victim of McDonalds. You smoke and have lung cancer, so now you're a victim of Phillip Morris Corporation's greed. You're not a victim of your own stupidity and free will based choices. No. It is someone else' fault.

The people who died on 9/11 aren't heroes unless they were rushing into the building to try and save the lives of the folks inside. All the people who weren't firemen, or cops, were victims. That said, I'm sure there are stories from inside the towers of individuals doing heroic acts at the moment to try and help others around them. But we'll never know them, and they take those stories to the ends of eternity with them. I would say that indeed heroic acts were done, by victims.

100806 19 st paulsHaving just looked at a series of photographs of what Trinity Church's yard and St. Paul's yard looked like once the dust settled after the towers fell, it was very moving to walk around and look at the late summer flowers, the impatiens, the black eyed susans, the deep green grass...

The only smoke rising around the yard this beautiful morning was from the sausage vendor, who had fired up his hibachi.

Tourists from all over the world wandered the yard, and were far more respectful and reflective here than they were over at Ground Zero, which was directly behind us as I sat on a bench to take this photo. Church services for 11am were underway inside the building, and we'd already attended one Episcopal service that day so I thought sitting in on a second would be a tad much. Instead, we wandered the yard and read inscriptions on things and admired the fact that not a single one of the panes of glass in this building, built in 1766, were broken. A huge sycamore tree saved the building from being destroyed -- and the stump of the tree sits close to the building now, as a memorial to everything that was destroyed and the sacrifices made by others.

St. Paul's was pretty cool.

100806 33 fraunces tavernAfter St. Paul's we walked South, going down past Trinity again, and down between the Canyons of Southern Manhattan to look at all the colonial era buildings that sit in the midst of the skyscrapers. I never knew any of these still existed in the city -- I took a million and a half pictures, you should go visit my Flickr set for NYC. Really. It's worth it.

The contrast of the colonial brick buildings with the glass and steel skyscrapers is really amazing down through here. My favorite was Fraunces Tavern, and the India House, and the Seton Memorial building down by Battery Park. There is a little street called Stone Street that has restaurants all down it, and the cobblestones and three or four story house like buildings lead right up to a monstrous sky scraper. It's pretty amazing.

After soaking in all that architectural texture and contrast, we walked up South Street Seaport up Water Street. I'd never been and had always wanted to go. Yes I know it's just a glorified mall anymore, or like Fanieul Hall in Boston. A tourist trap. But once upon a time it was the Bowery, the skids, the waterfront immortalized in the rough and tumble movies of the 1950s. The ghost of Marlon Brando and Jimmy Cagney would be horrified that now you can eat at Pizzaria Uno, buy a Yankees Jersey (ha! they lost!) and have the finish line for a breast cancer walk where there used to be hoodlums and knife fights and organized crime.

The ships in the pier slips were really cool, and I wanted to see the view of the bridges north of where we were, especially the Brooklyn Bridge. There was indeed an Avon sponsored breast cancer walk taking place and finishing up on that spot, so there were a million pink shirts, pink hats, and screeching cheerleader women making me nuts with their noise.

Doug noted that all the T-shirts they were wearing were emblazoned with the name of the walk. It is the Avon Walk For Breast Cancer.

Read that again.

It doesn't say walk for a cure, walk for awareness. It is a walk for breast cancer. So they're walking FOR - in support of and to help - breast cancer.

From a grammar standpoint, that is all kinds of wrong kids. All kinds. Walking FOR breast cancer. Have these pink shirted women lost their minds!

I'm not a big fan of organized "walks" for anything. I'd rather someone say "Hey Chris, give me 20 dollars and I won't clog up the streets for three days walking for stuff." I know the sentiment behind the walk is philanthropic and supportive, but I'd much rather people stay out of the road and just ask for money. I'd pay to sponsor someone to NOT walk in something. Or pay to sponsor them to do something like plant flowers.

And I'd definately not pay anyone to walk in a charity walk that is grammatically incorrect. Sorry. It should be the Avon Walk AGAINST Breast Cancer, or the Avon Walk for a Cure for Breast Cancer. Someone should have thought that one through.

After making fun of T-shirts with my husband and laughing about misused prepositions for a while, we walked under the Brooklyn Bridge and then headed up to Chinatown.

Doug wanted to do dim sum in a secret, cozy little place on the corner of Elizabeth and Canal street, but he had left his book at the hotel and we couldn't find the restaurant he wanted. Instead, we wandered around to Mulberry, just south of Canal, and got into a cute little Vietnamese spot where the food was unbelievably great and the beer icy cold. We bought Jess some porcelain chop sticks at a gift store and talked about buying a huge waterfall fountain lamp thing for Linda and Ronnie. It was wicked cool, and you could put dry ice in the bottom and it would raise smoke all around. And then there was a cool statue of porcelain people doing the nasty. I thought that would be a nice gift for my sister and her husband too. But then we realized we'd have to carry them around with us and that put the kibosh on that plan. Oh well. Linda and Ronnie, we were thinkin' bout'cha, honest. Next time I'm in the city, I'm so getting that lamp for you.

I think I'm going to stop here and post this and write the rest later. Timeline wise, right here it is about 2pm on Sunday in case you're wondering where we're leaving off. Next up -- the Subway and the Morgan Library! Wooo!

Stay tuned kids. Stay tuned.

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