Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fires and Memorials

We are still in New York and today we went to two different memorials.   The first is an odd bit of history.   One of my ancestors was a fire buff.  He trained as a physician but early in his career  became a medical officer the for City of New York.  He became the second deputy fire commissioner for the City of New York  and actually went to an estimated 200,000 fires over a 60 year career.  (That works out to about 9 a day but those numbers come from an article about him.)  When he died he left part of his estate to become a fire station on W. 83.    There is actually a medal named in his honor given every three years to a NY Fire Fighter.
Engine Company No 74 has a strange covenant for the gift of the land.  Should the City of New York ever propose to get rid of the fire station, the land would revert to his heirs.    We went to the station today.   I had never been there and it was interesting, even inspirational.  A distant part of my heritage.

The company lost one member to 9/11.  Ruben Correa is memorialized in the firehouse.  When we first got there we found the place empty - they were out on a call.  So we went around the corner for a quick lunch (Good Enough to Eat) - which actually exceeded its name  - great simple food.  When we got back we brought the fire house some pastries and thanked them for their service.  It was a quick visit but interesting for me to connect with a relative I never actually met.

We then went further downtown to the site of the 9/11 memorial.  I spent a good deal of my career working with some financial institutions and so when 9/11 happened I felt personally involved.  I actually had a good friend with Morgan Stanley who chose to leave Tower 2 after the first plane hit and thus saved his life.   I was not prepared for the memorial.   As the design was being discussed I heard all these arty farty types talking about the "negative space" and the "descending energy" - the descriptions made me almost froth at the mouth.  (Not an entirely uncommon experience).   But like the Vietnam memorial this one is an artistic achievement.  It is simple and dignified. The process to get into the site is a bit annoying - not surprisingly you need to go through a security check.   But once inside the exhibit you are struck with a similar feeling to the one I experienced in Pearl Harbor.   There are two pools, representing the two towers that drain from a top relief, to a second level and then down into a third.  For a large site it is remarkably peaceful.    When you enter the space (after the inevitable three stage security check common today in public displays) you are struck with three sensations.  

First, I am always annoyed by the transformation that 9/11 had on our psyche.    The security checks are not as intrusive as those offered by the TSA but they are none-the-less a lot more than what we experienced prior to 2001.  It is a contrast with what you might experience to get into other places designed to give one peace.  Second, even with that you are struck with the tranquility of the site.   It is a reverential memorial of the quality of Pearl Harbor but without the requirement that you get there by watercraft.   I think it offers something to all who attend a chance to reflect.   Third, reflecting at least some recovery,  around the site at the present time are a series of construction projects around where the Twin Towers once stood.   I was struck with both the tranquility of the artistic project and the vibrancy of a city that can remember but not forget what it is there for - the growth of human and financial capital.     In a few years, the site will again be a bustling part of a vibrant city that annoys and enhances life simultaneously.    But both of those qualities are representative of the city itself.  

I am not a big fan of New York but like the vibrancy and diversity in the city.   Yesterday we went to a market for Italian Foods (Eatily) which is wonderful and would not be possible in many other places.     We also went for dinner to the original Palm - which is one of the best steak houses in the country.  But today's two visits were at once inspiring and humbling.

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