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Stateside with Rosalea: There Goes The Sun

Stateside with Rosalea
There Goes The Sun

In the summer of 1999 I visited New York. It was the last week of the summer vacation and the second week of a heatwave. Two words: hot, crowded. Coming as I did from a small antipodean city in the middle of winter, NY took some adjusting to. The friend I was visiting - a mid-Westerner in her element in the big city - was always rushing everywhere. Everyone was rushing. Everywhere was crowded. I stayed with her for the first few days of my visit, in a dark hot apartment in Forest Hill, and I'd go on several trains to work with her, then spend the day following up the leads in my Fodor's 'Up Close' guide. After work we'd meet at her office near the Lincoln Center and go somewhere for a meal.

One thing I'd bought before leaving NZ was a package of tickets giving admission to several attractions, including the World Trade Center Observation Deck. Arriving at the WTC early in the morning like the guide book said, I discovered that everybody's guide book said the same and stood in a queue that snaked back and forth against itself like intestines. After half an hour of unavoidable eavesdropping on the conversations of families from all parts of the globe I didn't seem to be getting much closer to the elevator, so I left.

Wandering around the financial district I patted the Charging Bull statue, checked out the tiny and fascinating Museum of American Financial History, and ate the best hot dog in NY down in Battery Park. While watching the long queues for cruises to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty maintain their length even while shedding their heads at twenty-minute intervals, I wrote a letter to a friend back home, enclosing the autumn leaf that had drifted down on the paper as I wrote. I posted the letter at the Bowling Green Post Office in the old Cunard Line headquarters, which is not so much a building as a garish inside-out baroque wedding cake.

Meeting my friend after work we had dinner in Greenwich Village and took a stroll through Chinatown, but I couldn't summon up any enthusiasm to go to the hottest film in town - 'Blair Witch Project' - so she went home to wait for the evening's call from her husband and daughter, who were visiting relatives in Ohio, and I drifted back to the towers. The queue was now really short and we shot up past the Observation Deck, which is enclosed on the 107th floor, to the rooftop observatory - the world's highest outdoor observation platform - just as dusk fell. If I had planned my visit to the minute I could not have arrived at a better time.

I don't have any snapshots I can share with you except the imperfectly remembered ones in my mind. There was haze over New Jersey, made all the more obvious by the low angle of the sun. Several people gave me their camera so I could imprint their image on film showing they were really there with the commercial and cultural engine of the world in miniature behind them. At the handing over of dusk to night, the blue lights on the communication tower briefly gave us all an eerie glow. I watched as the lights of the Great White Way became more and more defined against the dark buildings like a glowing filament in the lightbulb of the world's imagination.

Our elevator load was the last group of visitors for the day and went down to an almost empty plaza. Restless for more city - street-level city - I took a bus halfway to the other end of the island to Harlem, where I strolled around streets busy with families out for walks and shops still open late into the night. I got back to the suburbs so late that my host was furious with me. Next day I moved to a hotel on 47th Street, not far from Times Square. I didn't want to lose a minute more of Manhattan Island time.

I'm writing this because I just read a short story called 'The Old Economy Husband', by Lesley Dormen. In it, the husband, a financial advisor, works on the 60th floor of an office block near the Empire State Building. In the evening he calls his wife, just as dusk hands over to night. "Ready?" he asks. His wife, standing by their Greenwich Village apartment window, is ready. He flicks his office lights on and off, and a blank, impersonal facade becomes an intensely personal communication tower. She is happy. The story touched me more than anything I've seen or read about NY since I first saw that fearsomely graceful dip of the second aircraft's wings on September 11.

So. Although joking and irony have found their way back to the light here now, one thing you don't see jokes about are those two towers. I'd like to make a picture of Lady Liberty saying: "About time! They've been blocking my view of the Chrysler Building for nearly 30 years." but I sense the sentiment - not to mention the geography - is all wrong. Somehow it is impossible to disentangle the buildings from their occupants.

Two days before T-Day, hordes of ants came out from behind the shower head in my bathroom, swarming down the shower wall in a thick mass of hundreds of ants running this way and that, the way ants do. Against my better nature, I grabbed a weapon of mass destruction - some cleaning spray - and wiped them out. One or two ants eventually came back and then some more, and I ponder these survivors now, like Robert Bruce and his spider, hoping that I'll understand some deeply important lesson from all this. Something about karma perhaps. Or something about coincidence. Perhaps they're a special breed of early warning ant and can be used to predict other calamities like earthquakes.

Perhaps it's just a cold, wet West Coast day, and the man who was the spitting image of my first love died and was yesterday memoralised morning, noon and night. I hope those memorials were because George Harrison really did have a huge following here in the States, and that it was not just the relief of being able to talk about a single death by natural causes.
Lea Barker
Saturday, December 1, 2001

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