My Travel Book - New York 2017 - They Were Smiling. I Was Crying.

Last time I was in New York goes back a very long time. March 2001 actually.

In March 2001, we had done hundreds of things in New York and spent most nights at the Metropolitan Opera which meant not doing what we had enjoyed doing before - having a cocktail at “The Greatest Bar on Earth” at Windows on the World.

I remember boarding the plane that would fly us back home and telling Popeye that I felt bad we had not had enough time to go up there. He answered: “Oh well, next time. We’ll be back next March anyway.”

And then the unthinkable happened… and we never made it back to New York until many, many years later. Not because of 9/11 but because my life took new turns that kept me away from the States for a long time.

We landed in New York on May 13. We were to spend a few days there since I wanted to get over jet lag before attending our son’s graduation in Boston. I had planned a few activities. Not a lot. One night at the Met. A few museums. And that was about it. I was very reluctant to go to the World Trade Center site. We made the decision on the spur of the moment. It was sunny and I probably imagined  it would be much easier to go back there on a sunny day. Don’t ask me why. Would a sunny day alleviate the pain I knew would be intense?

The sun was shining but I hadn’t realised that entering the site would be unbearable. The emptiness overwhelmed me. I literally doubled up with grief.  I was shedding bitter tears without even being conscious I was sobbing.

I went to Auschwitz II Birkenau a few years ago. The skies were overcast and slate gray. The extermination camp was empty save for us and our guide. There was not a sound to be heard. It was eerie. What do you expect to find at an extermination camp? We were in mourning of the untold numbers of victims who were murdered there. I remember shedding silent tears but I did not sob. And I came out of hell without one single picture. Wilfully.

The 9/11 Memorial was different. There were thousands of people there from all over the world (and from the US too) milling round the pools and queuing to enter the museum. Cars were rumbling past. For those of you who’ve been to New York, we know the city never rests.

However I was not there as a witness like in Auschwitz in order to testify in person about the Holocaust for fear of oblivion or even worse, denial.

I went to the 9/11 Memorial to remember. Remembering the inconceivable abomination that happened right before my very eyes in 2001, on the eleventh day of September. Remembering the towers the way they were and how much they were part of our lives and the skyline. And above all, remembering the people who lived through this ordeal and died there too on such a perfect sunny day.

There was a world before 9/11, a world that totally disappeared that day, not only for New Yorkers and Americans but for all mankind. People died on 9/11 and keep dying because of 9/11 all over the world. None of us escaped nor will escape somehow unharmed after all. I was grieving for this lost world, far from perfect but such a “wonderful world” after all.

So I wished I had been on my own that day, far from the maddening crowd… It was so hard to rub shoulders with people who looked happy, happy to be there in New York, on a visit they would talk about just as much as getting on top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. “I went to New York and went to the Memorial with my friends or family. What a great place… It was so interesting…”

I froze to the spot. There they were, delighted and smiling. I did not see any victory of the living over death. I saw “selfitis” at its worst… while I was still battling somber memories.

And there they were, taking selfies all over the place…  Couples, single men and women, families with children.  “I am in New York… What a beautiful day… Hello, my Facebook friends!” Like or Love would be the answer… Or more probably “Such a great couple/family. You look so adorable…” and the icing on the cake: “You look like you are having fun. Enjoy your trip.” All the while the water in the pools was endlessly flowing down. 

I took a deep breath, entered my own sanctuary bubble and managed to walk calmly around the pools. I felt awed by the everlasting waterfalls and the bottomless emptiness of the core. I read names, too many names and I touched lightly some of them. 

I spent a long time there. The waterfalls had a soothing effect on me. I stopped crying.

I finally noticed the pigeon which had been sitting in the pool all along. When it decided to make good use of all this water, I smiled. Life was going on. 


*Good Luck, and Good Night*