Back to zero

tv.jpgBack to zero

: This week, I went to the World Trade Center site to talk to a French TV crew about the World Trade Center memorial competition. I was the one entrant they happened to talk to, simply because they found me on the web, because I’m not an architect and because I was just a guy who happened to be there that day.

And so it felt strange, even wrong, to be standing at the grate overlooking the site as they shot B-roll of me: guy stares pensively into the pit. I didn’t like this spotlight (and I do like spotlights). For I have no story other than being damned lucky; there are thousands of better, more telling stories than mine. But this is TV; gotta have film. So I stood there in the rain (wearing my American-flag lapel pin, this being for a French audience), telling them why I entered (because I had to) and how it worked but not what I proposed (because the rules demand secrecy to protect the anonymity of the competition). This is TV; gotta have sound.

: They needed to shoot me pointing to a computer screen explaining the rules. But none of us had a computer handy, so we went to the Millenium Hilton, across the street from the site (where I stood when the second plane hit that day) and they couldn’t have been nicer. We went up to the business center and shot the scene.

path.jpgThe windows look out onto the site from the fifth floor. I had not seen it from this perspective and that pulled at my gut: more memories. There’s where Number Five was; there’s where I ran; there’s where I saw…. You know.

I looked down at two large, white, tubular towers being built on the northeast corner of the site, wondering what they were. And then I saw the stairs going down between them and realized: This is the new PATH entrance. At first, that was almost shocking: Such an everyday thing in such an extraordinary place. But I found myself relieved to see those stairs; I liked seeing the everyday return here. This is good.



: This place needs life. But, of course, that doesn’t mean that we want to act as if nothing happened; nobody’s looking for a blinders-on return to normalcy. No, part of the life this place needs is memory: That’s why we are going to build a memorial here. And that’s why thousands of people come here, because it is an extraordinary place, because they need to see it and need to leave a piece of themselves — a word, a picture, a thing — as a tribute.

See the first picture above: People from all over the world have been coming to this polace since September 12, 2001 to leave tributes. I took that shot this spring, preparing for my memorial entry.

Now see the second picture above and see how we are treating them: POST NO BILLS.

Damn, that’s rude and heartless. Who’s the cold soul who decided to cut off the memory, the caring, the empathy, the tributes that have filled that wall?

: Of course, everyone has an opinion about what should happen to this place, no one more — and no one with more right — than the families.

Some of them have argued that nothing should be built on the footprints of the towers; they want them left vacant down to the bedrock. As much as I respect their view and why they hold it, I disagree. I think the site needs a memorial on those footprints (that’s the first rule) but it also needs people and life around it. A hole in the ground is not our best tribute.

It so happened that a group of these families holding this view — a dozen or so — came to the site this day to block the entrance and stage a protest and media event, to make their point. The French TV crew went to shoot them along with one of every TV crew in New York. TV must have film at 11.