Friday, 16 October 2015

Reliving 9/11 Memories

The Survivor Tree in front with the new Freedom Tower
The last time I was in New York two years ago, the Freedom Tower and 9/11 Memorial Museum were almost completed.

Today they are both set against the backdrop of the city redeveloping the area, to make it a transportation hub underground for commuters who live in New Jersey or around the city.

A pair of tridents standing in the museum
The museum is expensive -- $24 for adults, $18 for seniors and college students. While there was a line to buy tickets, it didn't take long to get in.

When we came here last, there was a small temporary area in which to display a number of things, looking like a three dimensional scrap book.

But today the exhibition is given a lot of space to breathe and for groups of people to move around relatively easily.

However the subject matter isn't easy to take in, even after all these years. There's a lot of pictures before the event, even one taken minutes before the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

Then there are the voices of people remembering what happened that day, their immediate reactions. What's particularly devastating is hearing the voice mail messages people in the towers sent to their loved ones -- probably the last words they said to them.

Mangled steel columns from the WTC
There are lots of pictures of the explosions in the twin towers, while archival footage is reserved for news footage of the shocking event.

Visitors can see all kinds of objects related to 9/11, from subway cards covered in dust, to handbags people used to protect themselves from the shower of dust, to fire trucks mangled by the intense heat of the explosions, and even the concrete stairwell that helped survivors escape.

Of course there are the 25m-tall "tridents", the original facade of the WTC, eerie skeletons of the world's tallest skyscrapers, complete with the shorn off stubs of where these tridents would have been placed around the two skyscrapers.

Seeing the mangled columns of steel where the planes hit were horrifying, but simultaneously oddly gracefully artistic.

A makeshift shrine for first responders
And then there were the patriotic messages, like the American flag made up of several different ones, a gallery where all the victims' portraits are hung, and relatives talk about them in recorded messages. A large iron tablet left over from the building became a makeshift shrine with first responders' names on it. For some it is emotional because they may have known these people, for others like myself it's hard to comprehend.

It's all a bit much after a while.

The museum has also commissioned short films that we watched. One asked key American figures that day to recall what was going through their heads at the time. And they were of people we didn't really want to hear from again.

President George Bush remembers sitting in a classroom listening to a child read, while former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the first person she called was Vladimir Putin to say what happened was not a training exercise, and he knew so.

Governor George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also talked about what they did that day, and what they all said wasn't particularly enlightening, especially Bush, who talked in generalities about having to destroy the "enemy"; it made one wonder if he really remembered the events of 9/11 clearly.

A firetruck recovered from September 11
Another documentary included interviews with other world leaders at the time, Pakistani Prime Minister Pervez Musharaff, and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, now people not looked on with pride, so why do these interviews? Perhaps they give a record of what happened that day, but do they really need more publicity?

When you're finally finished going through all the exhibits, the last part of visiting the gift shop, but it feels like the store is taking advantage of people's grief and trying to get them to buy out of solace.This seemed like the crassest part of the otherwise emotionally-driven museum.

If you want to go up the Freedom Tower it'll cost $32 each, but we didn't go up. Imagine how far you could look afar?

One of the two reflecting pools to remember the victims
The two reflection pools are sad but a poignant reminder of over 3,000 who died that day on American soil. There's also the Survivor Tree, the only tree that managed to withstand all the damage that was later replanted back in the area.

It's the only positive part of being there, though looking at the Freedom Tower gives the sense that Americans and their allies have stood up again, however they have yet to defeat "the enemy"...

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