Category Archives: 9/11

Urban Observations with Wickham Boyle

New York journalist and writer Wickham Boyle has lived in the Manhattan neighborhood of TriBeCa for more than 30 years. In this portrait, she speaks about how the city has changed throughout the years, about the horrible events of 9/11, which happened literally in front of her door, and why after all those years she is still in love with New York City.

urbanobservations.de
C. Janosch Delcker. © 2010

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>The Aftermath of Disaster

>Today I went out early to try out my new light, strong weed-whacker and I wept. I didn’t cry at the efficiency of the machine or its ability to cut clean swaths through my over grown acreage. No, I cried because I had snipped a snake in two.

The temperature dropped and it rained hard last night, not ideal circumstances for a reptile, but great for a middle-aged gardener who likes to work hard when it is chilly. The snake was one of my favorites, a ribbon. He was green with light yellow ribbons running all round his small lithe body. I saw him and he was in half.

I stopped and bent over him, there was nothing I could do so I returned to clipping, perhaps a little more carefully. And then I started to tear up, then cry and before I could even identify what was wrong I was collapsed in the garden chair sobbing, with my Maine coon cat galumphing to the rescue.

My daughter and her 25-year-old French boy friend had been visiting us in the in country three weeks ago. They were cute, he is lively, silly an artist and a wild thing. One day he helped me clean the haymow in the big old barn and when we finished sweeping and carting the hold hay, he leaped form the loading door in the mow and down to the lawn. Maybe forty feet. It was thrilling and scary as so many of those stunts are. I laughed and my husband upbraided him. “Never do that again here, do you understand?’ The boyfriend quieted, as do all the boys when faced with my husband’s stentorian tines. He agreed.

The next day we went on a drive to see the local goats and the boy friend took his skateboard. He had asked my daughter to take him to a big hill earlier in the day and he had skate boarded down form the historic house Olana, built on a precipice of the Hudson River. She drove behind him and said he was going nearly 45 miles per hour. No helmet, no pads, shorts and a tee shirt.

On this trip home he hit a rock, pothole, divot and the next thing we knew he was on the street. We raced back and found him quiet with blood pooling on the pavement trickling out of his ears. He began breathing a heaving rattle. Terrie fed I took the car to the neighbor, as of course I had no cell phone reception. They called the ambulance; it came. I convinced the driver to allow my daughter to ride with as the kid speaks little English and in a crisis I know second languages go fast. They left; I followed the tortuous 30 miles to the nearest trauma hospital.

We spent days in the E.R and then the ICU. We had to call his parents in Nice. The arrived and we all translated and intervened. endlessly. We drove back and forth, we slept fitfully, we interviewed and befriended doctors, nurses and aides. He lived. The brain bleed stopped just as they were going to operate. He lost tons of weight, has a cane, is exhausted and jokes that he lost three days. His parents go home tomorrow. He follows in two weeks after the Neurosurgeon gives the OK for him to fly. And I will stay here changed.

I am terrified, and quaking at cars, roads, motorcycles, barking dogs. I made it through September 11, rescued my kids, wrote a book, volunteered and carried on. But this is the first item that someone I know, I like, I am in a way responsible for has gotten this hurt on my watch. I imagined the worst and I fantasized a jubilant return home for the cute, artist boy. I slept next to my daughter and we patted each other every night for weeks, when the nightmares came. I still find myself shaking my head like a wet dog, in an attempt to clear the images that leap in.

My friend Susan who studies the brain and alternative healing says that when an event like this accident happens the memories are logged in the limbic brain. In a way they by pass normal feeds of memory are logged right where they can crop up more easily and unpredictably. And they do.

SO today when I unwittingly sliced into the snake and sniveled, I know full well I was crying provoked by this new memory and sense of incredible fragility that it has installed in my very own reptile brain.

>Paragraph Depeleted

>What I mean is that I don’t feel as if I have the brainpower, or mind space or some good computer term that would indicate how fried I am. So I thought maybe I would resort to lists to express how the first invited performance went last night.

This is in the order the thoughts come to me, and I wish I could send this out without spell check or spacing check or insanity check, but alas I’d like to cling to the few writing jobs I have and if they saw the true mess I am, even those would be gone. Here is what happened last night.

The stage manager arrived at 8pm. I kid you not–the curtain is at 8pm–so I acted as the stage manager until the final moments.

I asked the electrician to do one task and that was turn off the electric fans that are poorly mounted to the ceiling so they clack incessantly. He did not.

The lights of tribute were amazing because it was so overcast it was as if you could climb them into the sky. Especially transformative after champagne, exhaustion and stepping from an overheated, but incredible party into cool air.

My friend from Brownies, from when I was 8, the age the two little best friends in the show are now, well, Nella came to the show with her husband, a blues musician, I called him a blue grass musician, saw that was an insult and thought, well the word ‘blue’ is in it right? Oh no. They loved the show and I loved them for coming.

Diane and Dick came down from Salem, Mass. I met them on a press trip I took to the Galapagos Islands. Such lovely folks… meant the world.

The gaggle of gorgeous young volunteers, led by event wizard Hattie Elliot and Grace Samson, who took over the lobby and the bike shop and made magic.

I gave books to everyone in the cast.

My great, good girlfriend Thalia flew in from Milwaukee and cried sitting next to me the entire time.

My friend and lawyer Tori came, she almost never leaves work.

My upstairs neighbor, Terry Berkowitz, who designed the book and has expressed over and over how much she hates opera, came.

My financial advisor Lisa came, my pal Dave came–he also hates theater, and he was the editor for the book. He dragged his girlfriend and his stepbrother.

My kids’ cousin from the wretched baby daddy’s side of the family came, WE LOVE HER, and she cried and hugged me. Her sweet boyfriend helped carry buckets of ice and water. I asked them when they were going to get married. Hattie dragged me away saying I had too much champagne. It was one glass.

Liz Papas, mom to little star Madison, bought the champagne and told me she got it donated, it was lovely but not as stunning as she was in a wrap dress.

Souhad and Paul were there, she so beautiful and not aware that she is. Soheyla and Pico, Mitchell and Whitney, Lori and Laurie, and on and on and on.

We were clapped for and toasted and I thought, oh let’s limp home after watching, barely helping Hattie’s mom and dad, Margaret and Rod, load up all the left veers into their car. Oh, let me go home and sleep, but neighbors Liz and Michael Pierce had other plans. So I was a good sport and we ate late at the local pub, Walkers right across from the fire station, the one that loaned us the fire coat that the cast believes is magical.

The entire night was magical.
I am so full of appreciation to all the components of my life.

BUT I still am only fantasizing about sleep.

>Lights In The Sky

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Last night as I rode home . . . WAIT, do all these blog entries start this way?

Okay, how about this lead in: During rehearsal I received a phone call from the costume chick, my new girlfriend from across the street in TriBeCa, Liz Pierce. Liz is still a Catholic–don’t hold it against her–she is also very spiritual, so let her hold on to whatever floats her boat. Liz called breathlessly saying, “I am looking out the window of the loft working on design stuff and the LIGHTS are on again.”

I knew exactly what she meant. Liz was telling me that while I toiled in the dark confines of the LaMaMa Theater, the tribute at Ground Zero, the twin towers of light, has been switched on again. I suppose they will stay on for the entire week, as a memorial.

I love the lights, and sort of wish they were always on. They do what I hope this opera may do, they portray the presence of an absence and they do it with elegance and wonder that covers all religions and spiritual bases. I don’t know how the families feel, but as a resident I love them.

Riding home last night (there I go again, but listen it is huge leaving hours of rehearsal, in darkness and frustration and peddling home on my own power, alone, feeling strong and released into a world of soft air and possibility. So let me have me endless thought patterns that begin) there was this wonderful ice white column of light. Hard to describe the texture of white light, but there is clarity and poignancy and a place where these light towers cut right to my emotional well-being.

I followed them home like a beacon. It has been a while since I followed anything home. And I realized that when I worked at LaMaMa in the late eighties and early nineties and rode home to my babies, I rode home to the presence of that light as it came from the World Trade Towers. It was different then, I didn’t revere it or even often hold them in good stead, but they were an undeniable part of my life and I rode toward them every night to find home.

We are about to cut out the section where the mother and children sing, “Find home, find safety” as another kind of mantra. Oh, why are we going to cut it? Well, lots of reasons, time, rhythms, the need for everyone one of the creative team: words, music and movement to make concessions, meaning usually to take cuts. And this section seems to lag or drag or both. So it will be trimmed or totally cut.

But last night I took that sweet ride after work with my head swimming with the strains of “ Find home, find safety.” And now, for the next week my ride will be illuminated with towers of light and it warms and saddens me that they have to be there, and that I take some comfort in their cool white presence guiding me home.

>How to conduct oneself

>Yesterday was a lesson in old time values that one does not usually see bundled together and they are: Dentistry and Musical Conducting.

I went back to the dentist for what I thought was the completion of my dreaded root canal. Instead he got in there, cleaned the bad hole for the second time and lo and behold there was still–this man does not mince words–PUSS. He further went on to extol the virulent nature of the infection by graphically describing the fact that this infection, (as stubborn as its owner) had begun to eat away the bone in my jaw.

“Really, they don’t teach you a better way to say this stuff in dental school?” I moaned from inside a rubber dam with clamps and a sucky thing in my mouth. I also found out that both SHIT and FUCK couldn’t be said with your mouth wide open. -IT and -UCK are all you get, but that didn’t stop me form uttering them as he continued on his graphic tale of tooth aliens. Finally he filled in the hole with gross tasting medicine, told me not to chew there or even brush hard for 3 weeks and to take an antibiotic that might give me diarrhea so violent that if I let it continue could result in a colonic ulcer.

Oh my god, this man was clear. And still on course, I rode my bike home down Fifth Avenue from 50th Street, after stopping at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, how could I not, it’s across the street. Is there a patron Saint of teeth? Is it George Washington?

It made me realize in brilliant relief that in another time, I would be on my way to dying from this tooth infection or would walk around in terrible pain with half a jaw. All so so scary.

I dutifully went downtown, got my dreaded prescription filled, and bought myself 15 bucks worth of sunflowers–not part of the recovery plan, but wildly necessary. I made the promised risotto, met with Liz the costume wonder and then rode to the first music rehearsal where the assistant conductor Carl Bettendorf was to preside.

OK WOW. Who knew that music was so precise and magical? I have been in the land of improvised for way too long. These musicians, clarinet, violin, cello and piano representing very American, Slovene /Swiss/ Australian and German backgrounds all sat together for the first time with flowing scores and Carl, who looks about 12, held sway, and they played. BEAUTIFULLY. I mean the music flowed out and they rarely stopped. They paused occasionally and discussed fermatas and notation. It was so impressive. Maybe more so in my fog of drugs and pain, but I was bowled over to see this young man, large and more than in charge.

Composer Doug sat fixing the main score, lead diva Nicole, the mother, asked to be cued for her part, which she read and sung silently nodding and noting all the while. After a full hour, no stops, no diversion, no dithering Carl called for a break. Which he sort of got, but he had so super-charged the musicians that most of them played their parts; sawing, blowing, plucking out the difficult sections only to resume with more gusto.

I begged to leave as this half way juncture, not because the proceedings didn’t mesmerize me, but rather I was fading and needed dinner and a bed. I got half of that wish and worked feverishly until early morning.

I woke up with visions not of sugar plums, but something better for now, visions of Carl in his baggy cargo pants standing in a bare loft space on Great Jones Street conducting musicians who played the notes that Doug and I have been dreaming of for years now. I was so full of gratitude and the belief that these amazing people will bring to fruition a project, an opera. And because music can be read, sung and recreated globally as its own language, I think we may be able to leave something that could ring in small corners for a while.

>Keep Yur Friggin’ Chin Up

>Thirty days to go.

OK yeah, so I actually counted them putting one stubby finger on each day for August and September.

Last night was the first rehearsal and it did go well. Lots of energy and the incredible, really genius, Edisa Weeks whose calm, choreographic leadership is a rock and wings to all of us. We had kids and chorus and some leads and some musicians. Just the way I knew it would be when folks are not being paid to be present at your beck and call.

The good thing, and here is a silver-lining moment, about not having money to pay people, and they participate anyway, the great thing really, is that you know they are there because it is also a passion project for them.

We have all done money jobs, but Calling is now a labor of love for all of us. Not just Doug and his music, or Wicki and her wacky ideas and non-linear words, but the idea of recreating a community that thrives and soars. And that was the big take away lesson of September 11 Downtown. That we were all in it together and in order to rebuild, we had to be friends, neighbors and cohorts in a totally different way.

So yesterday we were turned down by more foundations and even Nintendo whose silly electronic Wiiiiiii machines Doug electronic wizard boy turned into hand bells or didgeridoos, amazing instruments of joy and celebration for our finale. But they turned us down. As if they are getting any better sponsorships idea. So the doors of money closed, and closed until there we were, alone with our $17,000 bucks in total to commission, mount, light and dance our way into folk’s hearts and minds. And we will not stop.

Oh please… sounds good right? As if I am Princess Pluck. Let’s see the back scene: couldn’t sleep last night because I knew I had to jettison more that 75% of the set, and I love the designer, one of my oldest friends. And I knew we would suck it up and move on and when the audience arrived it wouldn’t know that this minimalist design wasn’t exactly what we had in mind from the get-go. But I thrashed the night away, doing crossword puzzles and reading politics.

And this morning I made lists and was worried. But when I spoke to the force of nature who is our volunteer development director, Hattie Elliot, about the Benefit and my fears, and uncertainties, she pulled herself to a full maybe five feet and screamed at me, “You keep yur friggin’ chin up!” I think she is maybe 26 years old, blond, fierce and how does one wimp out in the face of that force?

If she is undaunted, who I am to lose heart?

So chin up and out into the sunshine to copy schedules, and a contact sheets and letters of agreement and of course all for free at the local Mail Boxes Etc on Greenwich Street because the goodness doesn’t stop. Even if I sometimes forget.

>The 11th Is Always A Bit Strange

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It can’t be just me.

The 11th of the month is strange now. It has taken on a taint; maybe more so now that I am swimming in the shoals off the coast of this opera about the events of September 11 and beyond. So when the date pops into my consciousness, I see not only a bright blue day with cooling temperatures after a soaking summer storm, but I see the opening of our project zooming toward me, and I see the idea of September 11.

And it becomes important for me today, perhaps on every 11th to rededicate myself to doing work that fosters harmony, closeness to those I love, forgiveness of those I hate and a personal meditation on forward motion, meaning what we do as individuals, families, cities, countries and the world to move forward.
And to do it better.

It is paramount that we all continue to believe both that what we do is tiny and personal and still hold tight to the credence that, since we are all connected, what we do here has effects elsewhere. What is that called, The Butterfly Effect?

I was asked the other day in an interview, if I fantasized about the future life of this production on bigger stages. The reporter was enumerating places like the Met, Glimmerglass, Santa Fe Opera, and I stopped her. Don’t get me wrong, we, I have invited all those impresarios. I want them to see this piece in its poky nascence, but what I told the reporter is this.
“ Producing a first iteration of a play or opera, or musical and thinking about the glorious future is like going on a first date and imagining your grandchild. You miss the scary joy, and anticipation of being on that first date.
I don’t want to miss things.”

This reporter was a woman, so I know damn well, that she knows women are ALWAYS wondering, IS THIS THE ONE? But sometimes how we behave can calm down our incessant future vision.

I am attempting to be viscerally present while living in this next monumental month of my life and really the first month of Calling as an opera. Calling never had all its music before. We never had a cast to inject voice, movement and emotion to the notes Doug (composer) and I wrote in the quiet of our heads and rooms. We didn’t have Marty (set) or Burke (lights) to define and illuminate where all these words and songs took place and we didn’t have Edith (music director) to play gloriously, while we sat back to listen. We were lacking Edisa (movement) to take the realistic motions of crowds and workers and transform them into iconic artistry. In short we are now a team, we are the embodiment of synergy. The sum of us is exponentially stronger than we are alone in our rooms, with synthesizers, or keyboards and visions dancing in our heads.