About the Name of this blog

This blog's title refers to a Dani fable recounted by Robert Gardner. The Dani live in the highlands of New Guinea, and at the the time he studied them, they lived in one of the only remaining areas in the world un-colonized by Europeans.

The Dani, who Gardner identifies only as a "Mountain People," in the film "The Dead Birds," have a myth that states there was once a great race between a bird and a snake to determine the lives of human beings. The question that would be decided in this race was, "Should men shed their skins and live forever like snakes, or die like birds?" According to the mythology, the bird won the race, and therefore man must die.

In the spirit of ethnographic analysis, this blog will examine myth, society, culture and architecture, and hopefully examine issues that make us human. As with any ethnography, some of the analysis may be uncomfortable to read, some of it may challenge your preconceptions about the world, but hopefully, all of it will enlighten and inform.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering 9/11

A photo of the makeshift memorial at St. Paul's Church.  I took this photo in January 2002

I wrote this short piece in September of 2009.  Now a full ten years after the horror of 9/11, I would like to share it.  The Cordlandt street station was on the east side of the World Trade Center, and unlike the station directly under Ground Zero, suffered relatively little damage, especially considering the devastation that existed just feet away. 

There are many things I saw, and stories I heard, in the days after 9/11 that I can’t share, not yet at least.  But this fragment I can share.  It remains one of the most haunting scenes I remember from that time.

Riding through Cordlandt Street Station in the days after 9/11 was a surreal experience.  There was no overt damage, no blood, no scorch marks, no smoke blackening, nothing but plain white subway tiles.  The only indication of the devastation that lay just beyond the cool white tiles and the harsh fluorescent light was the bracing, simple wooden beams that supported the weight of a collapsing world.  The only memorial was a single American flag.  The only remembrances of death were the spray painted notes left by rescue workers.

The passageway on the west side of the platform was boarded up, sealing out the horror, or maybe sealing it in.  In truth, the station now looks more like you would expect it to have looked on September 12, since they have started the renovation of the platforms.

The actual damage then was psychological more than physical.  In January of 2002, just after the N-R line reopened, I rode through the station in the middle of the night.  I was the only one in my car, maybe the only living soul on the entire train.  As the train rounded the curve into the station, the squeal of the wheels echoed the screams of the dead and dying.  In the cold light of the platform, the emptiness haunted me, as surely as the ghosts of the thousands who once stood on that platform, and never would again. 

As we came into the station, the train paused, as if it remembered that it should stop there, and for a moment, forgetting what had happened.  In a way it was a fitting moment of silence, honoring lives lost, lives changed, pausing as the nation paused on that terrible day.  And then the train, and the city, moved on into the dark, and into the light of the next stop.

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