Saturday, September 11, 2021

9/11 and a Big Book


As I begin this post, I'm thinking about the fact that one of the most horrific days in all our lives was exactly 20 years ago. It certainly changed many things about our world -- our methods of air travel, the powers of surveillance granted to our governments, our own feelings of personal and national vulnerability and uncertainty. I was living in New York City on 9/11, and I've blogged about it several times, mainly here, here and here.

I spent ten years in New York, from July 2000 to October 2010. I think of those 14 months before Sept. 11 as a sort of halcyon period of sunny days and carefree existence, which I'm sure isn't entirely accurate, but such is the fog of memory. I remember walking in Greenwich Village and seeing the twin towers rising up beyond the southern end of Sixth Avenue, a vision that never ceased to thrill me. I was 34, and I felt young. The world held promise.

After Sept. 11, everything got almost immediately scary. Adding to the immeasurable trauma of that day, we had another major plane crash (unrelated to terrorism, as it turned out) a few months later in Queens. We had powdered anthrax come in the mail to my office building, and as a result, the company began sterilizing all the mail -- for the next few years it came to us warped and stained from high-temperature treatment that destroyed photographic slides and computer discs. There was a lot of fear, a dark psychological weight. It was a very, very bizarre time.


It was strange working in journalism then. Our days were consumed by 9/11 and terrorism-related news, while of course the world went on and there were plenty of other issues that demanded attention too. I worked at the New York Times Company as an editor for its smaller community papers, and though I wasn't involved in the Times's own coverage of 9/11, it was going on all around me and it was all any of us talked about. I remember being terrified that I would be asked to go to Ground Zero and report. I didn't want any part of it, and fortunately that assignment never came my way.

Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with this. I honestly didn't mean to write much about Sept. 11 today. I thought these photos might be a good antidote to stories of destruction, given that they show building. Construction cranes are omnipresent in London, and I noticed on my last two outings in the city that it was hard to take photos in some areas without getting cranes in the background (or foreground). I decided, rather than trying to avoid them, I should celebrate them. So here you go -- a celebration of cranes.


I have a rather low-key weekend planned. I'm taking a medical test meant to assess whether I have harmful, ulcer-causing bacteria in my gut (this is related to some intermittent stomach trouble). I have to follow a mild diet today and then tomorrow morning I have to spend a couple of hours periodically breathing into little tubes, which get immediately capped and sent to a lab for analysis. It sounds insane, but that's my plan, and I'll be glad when it's all over.

I'm also hoping to get some reading done. Funny story: A kid came to me in late spring asking for a book recommendation. He wanted to read fantasy. I showed him the Wheel of Time series, which has been popular with other students in the past, and he took the first book, which is about 650 pages long. He returned it this month, and yesterday, to my surprise, he gave me a letter asking me all sorts of questions about my opinions of the structure and the plot. It was then that I realized a) this was part of an English assignment, and b) we were supposed to have some kind of dialogue about the book, and c) he was under the impression that I had actually read it. Which I have not.

Had I known he wanted me to recommend something I'd read, I would have chosen Ray Bradbury, which I know well. Now I've got to do a quick assessment of this other gigantic tome and write him some kind of response, so we can have a conversation about it. His assignment has expanded into an assignment for me too!

43 comments:

  1. Very nice crane sculptures.

    I'll be pleased when this sad day passes.

    I would given the kid a couple of quid and told him to bugger off. You are too dedicated 😉

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    1. "sad day"? Spare a thought for people who were born on 11 September. Surely a joy. At least to their parents.

      U

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    2. Andrew: Ha! I'm not sure paying off a student sends the right educational message. :)

      Ursula: Only you, contrarian that you are, would try to find the bright side of 9/11!

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  2. Aye, kids. Maybe next term he can take a course in basic communication. Do you have the Cliff Notes? We were living in Palm Springs 20 years ago and had recently opened our hotel. Life (and the world) hasn’t been the same since, for those who didn’t simply lose theirs.

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    1. It was intially my impulse to read the whole book, but I realize that's just not going to happen! I'll find an online synopsis and read a few chapters to get a feel for the writing.

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  3. I remember watching some of the coverage and then calling you because I was worried. You were on your way to the Javitz Center to see if you could help there, and I was just happy to hear your voice...

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    1. Yeah, and I went down there and there were so many people wanting to help that they basically just sent me home. I remember leaving my number with the Red Cross but no one ever contacted me.

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  4. I was in Lille, France, at a conference. I remember wondering why the tv set on the wall at the reception was showing an aeroplane film.

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    1. It did look like a Hollywood movie, didn't it? So surreal.

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  5. I’ve just written about where I was….watching tv and seeing the terrible news at the same time watching a man raid my filled skip in front of my living room window

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    1. As I said on your blog, that's possible the most peculiar where-I-was-on-9/11 story I've heard yet!

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  6. No. We'll never forget, will we?
    And I think that so much of how life is now was influenced by that day and the ensuing decisions made by politicians that were not wise. Not wise at all.
    I do like your cranes.

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    1. In many ways, it was the start of a long downward spiral for our country.

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  7. That day changed everything, sent us all on a whole new unplanned trajectory. We were on the first full day of our vacation planning on hiking the high country in the Sierra Mountains when we heard the news. Even sitting beside a stunning high mountain lake couldn't take our minds off the fallen towers. We ended our vacation and went home to grieve. We will never forget.
    I'm looking forward to your book report.

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    1. I remember going on a scheduled weekend trip with some friends a few days later, and it was the strangest journey. I felt guilty for daring to do something fun.

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  8. maybe there's something wrong with me but I don't think of 9/11 as some innocent nation getting attacked out of the blue. it was horrible, yes, but what goes around comes around and what we have dished out and continue to dish out to other nations finally came back to us. how many hundreds of thousands of innocent people have we caused the death of? we destroyed Iraq, a nation that had nothing to do with it.

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    1. Well, America has certainly done dubious things on the global stage. But the individuals who died on 9/11 bore little responsibility for any of it -- no more than any of us do.

      The Iraq invasion was criminal, of course, and never should have happened.

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    2. no, of course they didn't but neither have all the innocents we've caused the death of. like that family of 10 in Afghanistan we killed.

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  9. I had forgotten that you were actually in the city on that awful day. That had to make the experience much scarier than those of us on the opposite side of the country. I've been reading and watching a variety of different stories about that day lately. The NY Times stories about children who weren't yet born but whose father's died that day were particularly interesting.

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    1. Your story, recounted in your blog post, was pretty amazing too -- flying back just before it happened. I haven't been able to read all the press coverage. It just brings back too many awful memories.

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  10. Thanks for sharing your recollections of 9/11 and its aftermath Steve. Via television, I was just listening to relations of the victims reading out their names. The "C" surnames went on and on, reminding us how big the number 3000 really is. Good people taken far too early by evil men who Allah and his earthly son would never embrace.

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    1. Exactly -- Allah and Mohammed wouldn't sanction that attack, any more than Jesus would condone many of the things done in his name. Why do humans get religion so wrong?

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  11. Seems like I read that the doctor who first suggested H. pylori had anything to do with stomach ulcers was thought to be a crazy quack. In time he was vindicated. I hope you get your stomach issues resolved quickly and easily.

    Which Bradbury would you have recommended? I've only read three of his: Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Someday I'll get to The Martian Chronicles.

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    1. "The Martian Chronicles" is my favorite, although it's a bit dated these days. I always liked Bradbury's short stories more than his novels. I loved collections like "The Illustrated Man," "R is for Rocket" and "S is for Space." I found "Fahrenheit 451" tedious, and wasn't a huge fan of "Dandelion Wine" either.

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    2. I also did not care for Fahrenheit 451.

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  12. It is a sad, horrifying memory.

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  13. Hi Steve! I hope your medical test goes well and is helpful. I suppose it is hard not to write about 9/11, especially as you were living in the city at the time. It was and is still such an awful and unbelievable series of events, and changed the world. Also it is hard to be very positive about the world at the moment I think as there is just so much going on in so many ways. I like the cranes celebration though, as you're right, they are hard to avoid. Good luck with your reading too!

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    1. We have to keep our eyes open and appreciate the little things, right? That's why I love photography so much -- just as you enjoy mudlarking!

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  14. Love the cranes. At one point, perhaps maybe to this day, Seattle was one of the top renters of cranes. They're everywhere.

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    1. There's a lot of construction all over the world, it seems!

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  15. 9/11 is never very far away.

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    1. It's true -- it continues to influence our lives every day.

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    1. That's true. Learning, and hopefully working on becoming more compassionate.

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  17. I worked third shift and was sleeping. I was jolted awake by the sound of my husband running up the stairs. Oddly, I woke up from a dream and was wondering 'Why are those planes flying so low?' The only way that I can explain that is that even though I was not aware of it, I could hear the television from my bedroom. I tell you truly, I tried to hear it after that and I couldn't. Isn't that strange?

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    1. That is VERY strange. You must have been hearing something, don't you think? Thanks for the good wishes on the test.

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  18. That is above and beyond, you are so devoted - I might speed read the review on the internet and fake it for the kid. You are a good fellow! The stomach bacteria or virus or whatever test sounds interesting, nothing much else going on right? I assume that things are still pretty much closed in your town?

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    1. Well, I think I will do something like that. I can't read the whole book. It's just too big.

      No, London isn't closed at all. We're wide open! All the shops, even the nightclubs!

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  19. Education is a two way street!

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  20. I read your three linked posts about 9/11 and thought they were moving--especially the column. I would have run it! I hope your intermittent stomach troubles become a thing of the past very soon.

    Love,
    Janie

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  21. I wanted to write about 9/11 but it felt so heavy, couldn't sort through my thoughts, but you capture the aftermath in journalism in NYC so aptly. It was such a strange time. Yetstill not as dark as it would get 15 years later. I hope your tummy troubles ease soon.

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