Monday, September 7, 2009

"To the Struggle Against World Terrorism"

Kicking around low budget things to do this weekend, my wife, the lovely and gracious Pamela, suggested we drive over to Bayonne. "Why Pamela", I said, "whatever for? Can anything good come out of Bayonne?"

She then proceeded to tell me what was good in Bayonne. Bayonne is directly across the harbor from Ground Zero, and in fact the piers and jetties there were used for receiving evacuees and as staging areas for rescuers after the attack. 13 of its citizens have been claimed by Islamist terrorism. One of Russia's premier artists, Zurab Tsereteli, on the day the Twin Towers fell, noted the outpouring of grief in Moscow as he walked the streets. A project formed in his mind: a monument featuring the common motif he was seeing among the crowd gathered in front of the American embassy--tears. He booked a flight to New York to visit ground zero and to search for a suitable place on the Jersey side for a memorial.

The "arts community" in Jersey City, where it was to be sited at first, raised a ruckus and made locating it there impossible. It would block views of the Hudson and the New York skyline they sniffed; its kitschiness was not just unpleasant but offensive; the artist was one of the world's most self-aggrandizing and pompous self-promoters; and so on.

Bayonne-- gritty, working class Bayonne, stepped up. They wanted a monument to the sorrow and loss that beautiful day in September. And so the deal was quickly struck. Out at the end of a man-made peninsula jutting into the harbor, right next to the Bayonne Dry Docks and site of the departure point for war materiel for every US military operation from WWII to Desert Storm known as the Military Ocean Terminal, is situated the only memorial the victims of 9/11 are likely to have. The entire area is being redeveloped into high end residential and commercial properties, and the memorial out at the end will act as an aesthetic and historical anchor for the place.

The drive out past the huge complex of largely abandoned warehouses and industrial buildings, looking like places Mafia hits are carried off, is a bit disconcerting. But the two acre park and memorial is well conceived and rendered, in bronze and flamed granite.
When we were there, only about 10 or 12 people were there with us. As I was gazing at the inscribed cobble stones donors are able to place to commemorate loved ones, a man asked if I were looking for any one in particular. Shifting out of my teary-eyed reverie, I said no. It turned out he was the caretaker, and surprised me with saying the plastic receptacle at the entrance gate for donation forms for those cobble stones, empty when we arrived, has to be refilled every day. It looked to me like the place was little known, and did not have that many visitors. But a recent email campaign has its profile being raised all over the country. In fact, that email campaign accounted for my presence and my wife's there today.

For reasons known only to them, the boys and girls of the press and their editors virtually ignored the ceremony opening the monument on September 11 2006, despite the presence of Bill Clinton, George Bush, Vladimir Putin, and an audience of two thousand. Do you know about this monument? Didn't think so. Neither does the vast majority of the country, thanks to the news blackout on things related to the terrorist bombing and murder of thousands of Americans on that day.

One thing that stands out when looking at the names of the fallen on the black granite base is the widely dispersed patrimony they represent--every European type of name, German, Irish, Italian, Polish, etc, but also Indian, Arabic, Jewish, Chinese, Japanese, and many others not discernible by me. Of course this is due to the cosmopolitan nature of New York City, but also, importantly, the openness of America which is also affirmed by Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty hard by. The marking of those people's deaths, gathered together in that one sacred place, is silent but eloquent witness to the goodness of America.

And, surprisingly to me, the empathy of the Russian people, as well as the energy and heart of one artistic soul determined not to let the event pass unmemorialized. Zurab Tsereteli, after being rebuffed by Jersey City, payed for the monument himself, since Bayonne had only 40 thousand dollars to spend. The 12 million dollar monument is a gift from the artist and the people of Russia, much in the tradition of France's gift of Lady Liberty, just across the harbor.

"To The Struggle Against World Terrorism"

1 comment:

R.B. Glennie said...

thank you very much, Harold, for letting us know about this.

Really and truly, there is a `news blackout' about this subject...