At the beginning of the year 2000 I began teaching a course on ‘Cultures and the making of people‘ at the City University of New York. I lived on West 54th Street. Over time and bit by bit I got to know the city. And this included getting to know downtown Manhattan: I’d first visited the World Trade Center in 1984 and had liked the slim elegance of the twin towers. I’d also taken some photographs from the top of one of those towers. But the photographs were taken in daylight. I had never seen an overview of the city at night. So, one evening in April 2001, my wife and I decided to go there again. We wanted to enjoy a view of the city and beyond. Late that night I made the following diary entry:
‘We took the subway down to Cortlandt Street. We walked across the spaces: the World Trade Center spaces. The wind always seems to swirl around those spaces. We went into the lobby of one of the twin towers. I left my coat at the place where you have to leave your coats. I picked up a leaflet that was designed to tell us about the twin towers. It said: ‘The closest some of us will ever get to heaven’. We went to the elevator and were whooshed up to the top. We got out and went to the bar that lets you look out over the whole of the city. Joleen was with me. She looked stunning. She was wearing a short, really mini midnight-blue velvet dress. We each had a champagne cocktail: Her’s was like a melted fizzy amethyst. Mine was like amber from the shores of a faraway sea.
Some guy was playing Chopin noctures on the piano. Midnight blue music. Bits of jazz too.
We could see the Empire State building; it had gorgeous coloured lighting at the top. We could see the Chrysler building and we could see into New Jersey. And way down below we could see the parallel streets of the avenues. I think we could see 10th Avenue and we could make out the slight curves of Broadway. It was like looking out over a wonder of the world. It was just perfect. There, all around me was the genius of the city. It really was about the closest I’d ever get to heaven.’
I still have that copy of the World Trade Center leaflet – the one which is entitled ‘The closest some of us will ever get to heaven’. The meaning of the sentence in the title has been transformed; now it is dreadful in its tragic irony.
[Footnote: With reference to the subject of my three immediately preceding journal posts, I was hoping to show the leaflet to the photographer. This was not to be.]