Following the advice of a few New York City friends and family, I decided to walk from my 34th Street location and into the core of Lower East Manhattan during a recent trip to the Big Apple.
Arriving, I felt mildly unnerved, though there was no destruction in plain sight. Despite appearances, one has to look to find the ruins. The atmosphere was perhaps antithetical to what a big-budget movie set is like: no apparent order, bystanders staggering from place to place irregularly, dirtied parks with overflowing trash baskets, an army of water-worksmen hammering under your feet – an aura of incompletion, like the kind of medieval quarter you only find in the big European cities. The subway into City Hall felt like a journey into a period trapped in time. If this was some kind of big-budget studio set, it was for a period movie.
Only there seemed to be no stars (maybe they were all watching the Yankees). Rather it was Chantal Akerman’s big-budget set, or Richard Linklater’s. At once, I felt everyone on Broadway and Wall Street were living the same consciousness: the tourists, the businessmen, the hobos, and the ghosts. Not only that, but the pace of life had slowed down to 72 frames per second. You couldn’t walk past a corner without taking a second look at what you just walked past. When one approached the destruction, the impulse was to look upwards.
And naturally, all you would see was the blue sky: not a cloud in sight, though the air made you lightheaded. Like the smoke that still emerges from the World Trade Center’s gaping bottom, the buildings on Broadway were permanently marked with the fumes of its withered neighbor. The smoke had thinned into the alleyways and clefts, but now the air was contaminated. I had to sit down, but as soon as I did, I realized I was being trampled on. There was no way to enter this Stalker-like zone without mechanically moving forward. Once I reached the end point – apparent because of its plain view of the pulverized towers, now bent and arched to resemble a 16th century church window – I found a path that lead me right back where I started.
Later that evening I went with a critic friend to see a terrible film, Domestic Disturbance, before walking through Times Square and settling into dinner at an Afghan restaurant. We talked about movies (what else?); it took a while for me to notice we were practically the only customers to be seated in the entire place, throughout all of dinner. The menu card had a brief history of Afghanistan, which felt redundant. In a way, relating my personal experience of this disaster is redundant, but it is my way of understanding the gravity of what’s happening. So, it turns out that if all of this story is a platform for a movie, then there is a moral end. But since it’s a big story, it can remain ambiguous.