Mother Nature to 9-11 Mourners: Eat My Dust

The grid system is so pervasive and so engrained in the minds and habits of New Yorkers that it is rarely questioned, indeed, rarely even thought about. -- The New York Psychogeography Association, A New Garden of Eden.

For an entire year after it took place, the destruction of the World Trade Center was consistently symbolized by right angles and straight lines: by either two rectangular boxes stacked next to each other in mimicry of the Twin Towers or by the number "11" in the date September 11, 2001. These rigid, unyielding shapes fit in well with the tough, "we will not be intimidated" rhetoric of the "war on terrorism" and with New York City's architecture and gridded-street plan, in which (almost) everything is in the shape of a square or a rectangle. In Manhattan, there are no circles, no "soft" symbols of the cycle of life, the movement of the sun or the earth itself. Everything is flat and hard.

And yet, at the moment of truth -- during the emotionally charged "Ground Zero" ceremonies that commemorated the one-year anniversary of the attacks -- the shape in which the mourners assembled and expressed their grief wasn't a box or a rectangle, but a circle or, rather, two circles, arranged concentrically, one within the other. We couldn't help but be reminded of the design of the community garden called "The Garden of Eden," which we have proposed should be rebuilt in place of the World Trade Center. In any event, the concentric circles of wreaths and mourners looked smashing; pictures of them filled the local newspapers the next day.

Almost all of these pictures emphasized the good weather, the presence of moderate temperatures and bright sunlight, all of which seemed to suggest that the ceremony was received favorably or at least tolerated by "God," Mother Nature or what-have-you, despite the reprehensible conduct of the United States since the attacks. (Self-avowed President George W. Bush used the grim occasion to call for war against Saddam Hussein.) Only the photograph taken by James Estrin and published in The New York Times on 12 September 2002 tells the truth. On the afternoon of the 9-11 memorial, Mother Nature swept through New York City with winds that gusted as high as 60 miles per hour. Down in the pit of Ground Zero, the winds stirred up the dust, which rose up in clouds and flew into the faces of those in attendance. The dust bowl got so bad that the ceremony had to be halted and work crews had to be brought in to spray the ground with water. Estrin's photograph was taken when the dust was at its worst; some of the mourners are completely obscured by it. No, Mother Nature wasn't having it; she rejected those particular circles.

-- the New York Psychogeographical Association, 13 September 2002.

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