Pinhole @ “Ground Zero”

October 13, 2017

wtc2

Yesterday, I ventured into Manhattan to meet a friend for lunch down near where I used to work, and afterwords, we strolled over to the WTC Memorial, directly across from my old office.  (Also from Century 21,  where I bought a pair of Italian shoes. 🙂 )  I had been planning to take some pinhole shots, and the weather was good.

I had my 5″x7″ photo paper camera loaded and ready, and I set up my tripod for what was to be a one-minute exposure.  Oops, no tripods allowed, I was informed by two policemen.  I can see how they would need to have that rule to prevent the area from being clogged with photographers at their stations.  Nevertheless, when they saw the nature of my equipment – clearly, I was not a professional doing commercial work – they looked the other way for sixty seconds, and I got this shot.

Over near the Santiago Calatrava PATH terminal, I took another shot, this time with my 0.2mm, 0.9″ pinhole using 3″x 3″ paper.  I crouched down and held the camera in my lap for a thirty second exposure.  Not tripods there, either!  I like the spooky, Expressionist feel to this image.

Calatrava2A

 


NYC Memorials, and Other Matters

September 4, 2013

A beautiful post-summer day in NYC, and I went for a walk during lunch.   Of course, I spent time in the cemetery of Trinity Church, where they’ve taken to putting up small informative signs for tourists, including one in front of the gravestone shown above.  It says Charlotte Temple on it, which is the name of a novel that was wildly popular in late 18th century America, but there is some doubt as to why it’s there.  (Reminds me of a recent article about the pseudo-grave of Nick Beef, next to Lee Harvey Oswald’s final place of rest.)

Image

A NYTimes article from several years ago says that a researcher got the church to lift the slab to see what’s under it, but there is no burial vault, however, that doesn’t mean that no one is buried there.  The little sign says that the inscription may have been carved by a bored stoneworker during construction work on the church.  I like that explanation – the artistically inclined skilled artisan class, and all that.

Further on my walk, I encountered a very odd place for NYC:  the sign in the window says as much – “It’s free.  We know that’s hard to believe in NYC!” The place is a nice modern storefront called Charlotte’s Place, and it has tables, computers, books, and spaces for sitting, talking, meeting, and other sociable activities. It is completely free, and is maintained as a resource for the community, by Trinity Church it seems.  An anonymous grave which might house no one and a free space for anyone, all from Charlotte.

Continuing, I walked past the souvenir shop for the 9/11 Memorial: I have visited the memorial site and walked around, but never been in the store.

In an interview a few years after the destruction of the WTC, Phillip Roth was quoted on the “kitchification” of the event and its victims.  I have commented before on what I feel is a rather ghoulish or morbid preoccupation with this horrible event, so I have not much to say other than that I found the store depressing and faintly nauseating, and, as that phrase I hate goes, “It is what it is…”  Seems appropriate for once.

At least while I was there I noticed this gem of a façade – sorry for the bad pic, but I didn’t have my camera, and only real estate firms had images online – which is at 125 Liberty Street.

Meanwhile, nearby, the slow, laborious work on Calatrava’s Faberge egg of a transit hub continues…  As the article correctly remarks:

It is important to note how the projects within the World Trade Center are unique in the sense that they were, and continue to be, fueled by emotions associated with the 9/11 attacks.


Pharaonic Folly of the NYNJ Port Authority

December 23, 2012

File:All Gizah Pyramids.jpg

Watching from my office window, I see the PATH terminal at the WTC site finally rising above the ground.  It will be spectacular, but I agree with Michael Kimmelman of the NYTimes who wrote:

we waste unconscionable amounts of public money on architectural follies like the much-delayed World Trade Center PATH station, which is projected, even after ground zero is fully developed, to serve only perhaps 60,000 riders and whose exploding cost is already approaching $4 billion, a scandal still waiting to dawn on New Yorkers.

Meanwhile infrastructural crises that affect millions of people a day drag on, among them our abysmal airports; noisy, erratic subways; lack of high-speed rail; and Penn Station. No other great city in the world would abide a station [Penn Station @ 34th Street] like it.

transit-hub-calatrava-main


Rodriguez, Detroit Sugar Man

September 4, 2012

Before I left to go to the Detroit area for the Labor Day weekend, I read a review [tepid] of a new novel, Say Nice Things About Detroit.  Well, the city has one hell of a FREE jazz festival over the holiday weekend, and I heard some excellent music there.  The whole thing is presided over by the weird Minoru Yamasaki building (he designed the original WTC in NYC) seen in the background of the photo on the left, below.  This band, Papo Vazquez and his Pirates Troubadours was wild, with their Afro-Puerto Rican Modern Jazz blend.

Detroit Jazz Festival

The cultural high point of my stay was seeing the movie, Searching for Sugar Man.

Sixto Rodriguez was a folk-rock singer and songwriter in the late 1960s:  he put out two albums, but they were flops.  The people who knew him are in awe of his talent, and mystified as to why he never caught on.  But he did catch on in South Africa during its anti-apartheid period, and his records were wildly popular.  He never knew anything about it, and after his brush with the music industry, went back to ordinary life.

Rumor had it that he had died in spectacular fashion, an on-stage suicide.  Two South African fans decide to get the real story, and they find to their amazement, that he is alive and well, living in Detroit.  (Right near where I was that weekend, in fact.)  He is incredulous at their tales of his South African super-stardom, “You’re bigger than Elvis there!” but he agrees to go on tour.  He sells out stadiums.

This movie is weirdly enchanting in many ways: The tale of a man returning from the dead;  the fan-turned-detective’s thrill; a fairytale of  a man ignored finally getting recognition for his work; perhaps another sorry tale of the music industry stealing from an artist, but that’s not completely clear; and the man himself.  This last bit is what fascinated me the most.

Rodriguez is an very unusual man:  that come through clearly.  He is deeply non-materialistic.  When his fame falls upon him, he is totally uninterested in the perks, the limos, the hotel suites, the papparazzi.  He is unfazed by the cheering throngs, serenely responding with joy to their love of his music.  That’s what he’s about – his art, his poetry, his music.  He seems like a Buddha-type.  When the detective-fans finally meet him (they are in a daze of disbelief that this is happening) he is living in a completely rundown apartment in Detroit, making his living, as he has for years, working as an hourly interior demolition worker.  (He also earned a degree in Philosophy, and raised three daughters.) It reminded me of Alexander the Great finally meeting his hero, Diogenes, whom he found living in a tub.

His music is really good, though I prefer it more or less acoustic-solo, rather than with the string arrangements.  Why didn’t he make it?  He’s clearly not the type who would stress and strive to do the things one must do to make it in the business – that has to be part of the story.  He’s touring now, though.


Out of Context

April 12, 2011

For a dissenting view on the inscription planned for the 9/11 memorial [my post] see this letter to the NYTimes. 

Great sentences can transcend the storylines from which they come.

Is ‘transcendence‘ dependent on ignorance?  Context used to be part of what we like to call ‘culture.’  And what makes the sentence,

No day shall erase you from the memory of time, a great one?  Partly it’s  historical resonance, which entails memory, and context… Otherwise, whence comes the loftiness of the sentiment..?

I wonder if the plan is to cite the author of the sentence in the inscription?


The Foundation Pit

March 24, 2011
 
“We must smash the kulaks, eliminate them as a class.”  Joseph Stalin
 
The Foundation Pit, by Andrey Platonov is a short novel writen around 1930, but not published in Russian until the 1950s.  Platonov was an enthusiastic supporter of the Revolution, but came to understand firsthand its horrific consequences for the rural peasantry.  Unlike a lot of Soviet intellectuals who had their doubts about Comrade Stalin’s methods, and who were only at home in the cities, Platonov travelled and saw by himself what was going on during the period of forced collectivization and de-kulakization.
The kulaks (from the Russian for tight fist) were so-called rich peasants who would naturally tend to resist being forced to relinquish their property and livestock to join a collective.  In fact, any peasant who had any property at all could be deemed a kulak, and they were deported en masse to various parts of the USSR, with large percentages of them dying on the way.  The master plan was to force the rural masses to supply grain to the cities, where Stalin’s breakneck industrialization program was centered, and to supply the grain on demand, as called for by the central bureaucracy, regardless of what a fair price would be or what the rural nutritional needs were.  As a result, millions starved.  The incredible brutality of this policy caused a split in the Party, with horrific consequences. 

The book is rather difficult to read despite its brevity.  It begins and ends at the site of an enormous excavation for a housing project’s foundation, although it isn’t all that clear if the work is being carried forward in any rational manner, and in between there is a long section that takes place in an agricultural village where a party functionary, known as The Activist, is pushing along the collectivization program.   The story is structured like a fable, almost a fairy tale, but the landscape is bleak, and people speak only in political sloganese.  In fact, the language of the text is what is most difficult, for every sentence seems to contain within it many allusions, parodies, sarcasms, and deep ironies.   Readers who are not familiar with early Soviet culture and its controversies are likely to be mystified, or bored.

The weird language that Platonov creates seems to be mirror of the weird, irrational, tortured state to which Soviet society was reduced during the era of the purges and collectivization.  It seems to mock its speakers with its haywire intellectual pretensions, and sometimes notes of intense tragedy break through, in spite of it. 
 A sample – The activist is making a raft on which to float away the deported kulaks, perhaps an allusion to the practice of filling barges with anti-revolutionaries and sinking them that occurred during the French Terror – a kulak challenges the authorities:

“Show me your papers then, if you’re truly an authorized body.”
“What kind of a body am I to you?” said Chiklin [an engineer at the pit].  “I’m a nobody.  The only body around here is the Party.”
“Show me the Party then.  I want to take a close look at it.”
Chiklin gave scant smile.
“You wouldn’t recognize it – not if it were staring you in the face – I can barely sense it myself! Report to the raft at once, you capitalism, you bastard!”
“Let him sail the seas.  Here today, and gone tomorrow, isn’t that right?”  pronounced Nastya [a very youg girl].  “Bastards like him make life boring.”
Chiklin and the hammerer [a bear that acts like a human – often found in Russian folklore] further liberated another six huts that had been built with the flesh of poor laborers, and then returned to the OrgYard where the masses, now purged of kulaks, were standing in expectation of something.
The activist checked the newly arrived kulak class against his own social stratification register, found complete precision, and rejoiced in the action of Chiklin and the forge hammerer.  In return, Chiklin showed his approval of the activist:  Now that’s what I call consciousness!  Your sense of the classes is just like an animal’s!”

Zhachev, a legless veteran of the “imperialist war” watches the kulaks float away.

By then, the kulak river transport had begun to disappear around a bend, behind the bushes on the bank, and Zhachev was loosing the appearance of the class enemy.
“Fa-are we-ell parasites!” Zhachev shouted down the river.
“Fa-are we-ell! responded the kulaks floating off to te sea.

Does he loose site of the kulaks, or does he cease to see them as class enemies once they are reduced to their helpless state?  Does he know which?  Later, the activist is made frantic by a directive from on high that states that many people like him have gone too far, undermined socialist progress, maybe even been wreckers!  Such forward and backward leaps of policy, leaving the fanatical and the opportunistically faithful vulnerable to purges were common, and completely planned by Stalin.

After a while, the activist descended an inventory down onto the floor so that the child could leave a mark confirming receipt in full of all the property acquired in life by the landless laborers who had died without kin and stating that she would put this to good future use.  Nastya [who dies at the novel’s end] slowly drew a hammer and sickle on the paper and handed the inventory back.

A symbolic exchange.  Note the weird verb cases – “descended an inventory down onto the floor…”  This is not a poor translation, it’s a deliberately odd use of the passive voice, mocking, I think, the pseudo-scientific, objective prose to be found in so much communistic hack work.

Somehow Platonov survived to die in 1951 from the TB he caught from his son who was sent to the Gulag at age fifteen.

… And now, for some comic relief:

Amiel

18 February 2009
Bankers are the new kulaks, rails Lady Black
As credit-crunched citizens of the world unite to scream “Off with their heads!” at bankers, who will protect the money-spinning classes from the howling mob? Step forward Barbara “My extravagance knows no bounds” Amiel.

In an extraordinary article for the current issue of the Canadian magazine, Macleans, Lady Black compares the treatment of bankers to that meted out to the intelligentsia in Mao’s China and the kulaks in Stalinist Russia.

“Those 1960s and 70s marches, complete with stops at which foul intellectuals would kneel and allocate [sic] to the mobs, are not so different from the modern American perp walk. These days it’s the pointy-head intellectuals and the media class that are the Red Guard, and Wall Streeters the accused. Every night, some TV station posts photos of the day’s addition to the Top 10 Business Villains and another fund manager is added to the list of foul CEOs…We are living through a collective madness, all part of the mob, finger pointing, judging, some driven by fear of economic chaos, others enjoying the schadenfreude express.”

This, of course, would strike a chord with Amiel, whose husband is currently serving a 6 ½ year jail sentence in Florida for defrauding Hollinger shareholders.

“I suspect current economic criminals resemble past ones in that they come in two varieties: the ones who really commit economic crimes and the ones who are elevated by political fashion to the status of criminals. Stalin’s taste made economic criminals of the entire kulak class; kulaks in today’s America would include CEOs and Tom Wolfe’s Masters of the Universe. Certain titles such as ‘hedge fund manager’ have become terms of disapproval that trip off the tongues of people, at least half of whom I suspect have utterly no idea what a hedge fund is,” Amiel rails.

Amiel concludes, “Driven by old fears and left-wing hates, we are moving to notions, à la Bertolt Brecht, that all wealth is suspect. If, as I suspect, the economy is a psychodrama, anti-market hysteria is unlikely to restore equilibrium.


Folly at NYC Ground Zero

September 18, 2010

In 18th century landscape architecture, a folly is a whimsical, usually ornamental building often in a rather outlandish style set in a garden.  The British were particularly fond of them.

In an earlier post, I remarked on a different sort of folly related to the rebuilding of the WTC site.  Today, the business columnist in the NYTimes, Joe Nocera, has an excellent analysis of the absurdity underlying the Freedom Tower now rising at the site.  All this in a town and country that prides itself on hard-headed economic analysis in the context of the free market.   I wonder how the local Tea Party members will feel if they have to pay more to cross the bridges in order to foot the bill for this folly.

A view of the behemoth rising outside my office window:


Sacred ground

August 14, 2010

I was glad to hear the arguments of Obama and Bloomberg regarding the mosque and community center planned for downtown NYC.  At first, I thought it was a bad idea although I didn’t think it should be stopped in any way.  I thought it was bad because I thought it was part of the WTC redevelopment plan, and I couldn’t understand why anyone would be so silly as to include an Islamic community center as part of the memorial. 

Well, I was totally wrong!  It has nothing to do with the memorial.  It’s an independent organization that has existed for years, as have several mosques already in the downtown area, and they were looking to expand and provide more services.  Full steam ahead, I say.  The opponents appear to be emotional bigots – it’s really that simple.  Muslim = terrorism, that’s the equation.

One letter in the NYTimes today says that it’s stupid to talk of  “abstract principles” like religious freedom in this case.  People are “scarred” by the events of 9/11.  I guess we should just burn the US Constitution then.  Who needs the Bill of Rights?

Another writer said that it’s as if the Germans wanted to build a cultural center across the street from the Auschwitz death camp.  Of course, Auschwitz isn’t located in the densely built downtown district of a major city – it’s pretty much out in the country, and to build a center there would make no sense…except as a provocation. 

Lots of people talk about the horror, the insult, the indignity of a Muslim house of worship in such “close proximity” to the sacred earth of the WTC site.  Meanwhile, the area is thronged with gawking tourists, vendors peddling memorabilia, the most famous discount department store in the world, Century 21, does a brisk business right across the street!!  Can’t they move their emporium somewhere else?  Then we can start banging on Brooks Brothers’ doors.  Let’s turn the whole area into a somber and quiet memorial to that day of horror…oops, forgot about the hi-rise office towers currently going up on the site…


BLAST!

January 26, 2010

Photos from by office cubicle – please forgive the windowpane glare.  The building on the left was damaged 0n 9/11, and has been coming down in fits and starts ever since.  The one on the right is the new Freedom Tower, slowly rising to its planned 1776 feet.

Down in front of them is the big pit (below left) where four buildings were planned:  on the left, not in sight, is one rising quickly, pumped up by money from Larry Silverstein, the lucky guy who won the big bid for the lease to the entire WTC site, a few weeks before 9/11.  (He tried to collect double from his insurers, claiming two planes, two towers, two attacks, two payouts! )  Next to this site is a big mud hole where his second tower is supposed to go, but he’s having money problems these days, what with his lawsuit against the insurers being not too successful, and the general state of the real estate market in NYC

A third site of his, also a languishing mud pit, is on the far right of the big pit.  In between is the site of the future PATH terminal, designed by Santiago Calatrav (above right).  It’s under construction now, even as the terminal, such as it is, continues in use by people like me.  When it’s finished, my commute will be shorter by ten minutes or more, just by eliminating the crowds and detours around construction work.

I thought the contractors had gotten rid of all the bedrock in the way, but some is still sticking up too high out of the earth.  The pictures below show a portion of it, drilled with a grid of holes that are, I think, where the dynamite charges are placed.  In the bottom right of the picture on the left below, you can see the heavy steel woven mats that are placed over the charge area to prevent rocks from flying all over the place.

The video below captures the last horn sounded before the blast goes off.  You can see the man at the top of the image wave to indicate it’s time to throw the switch.  Many times, when the switch is thrown, the wires to the charge area flash white like lightning before the sound of the blast is heard, but in this case, they didn’t, I don’t know why.

This is how it looks from floor 31.