The 9/11 Memorial [at Night]

This year has been a special year for all of those mourning the 9/11 victims. On September 11, 2011 the first official 9/11 Memorial has opened up on the site the World Trade Center Towers used to stand. While I had not known any of this until I read it in the news when I was still in Germany, I have been even more desperate to go as soon as I got back from my Eurotrip.

I first logged onto the ticketing web site at the end of September, hoping to find a way to enter the Memorial soon. My friends had mentioned it could take up to a few months until a slot becomes avail. The tickets are basically for free. When booking them, you have the option to donate 10 or 20 USD or any other value entered. Or you don’t have to donate a cent if you don’t like. After giving in the requested personal information (it’s name, phone number, and address), the system showed me that the first possible date to look at the landmark would be …. an entire month from then! That was after ignoring a few dates during the week, as I had to work on those days. So I literally booked my ticket ONE MONTH ahead of time and originally wanted check out the 9/11 Memorial on Oct 29. Which was exactly the day the first and so far only snow fall hit New York (yup, just around the Halloween weekend, read more here). How truly unfortunate for me! The month after this I dedicated my free weekends to room searching and looking at crappy apartments, so there was no real chance a visit could have worked out for me. I even almost forgot about my plans until last Monday, when I spontaneously secured a time slot for Friday 7 PM, less than a week from this date.

One of the few obstacles to the Memorial

Now, I already knew from two months ago that getting to the Memorial means zigzagging through a huge chunk of the Financial District. So I made sure to be there exactly on time. When getting to the Memorial entrance, I saw a huge amount of barricades built up, which most likely had been used during busier times, I have no doubt about this. Some teenagers were checking my tickets, making fun of my boots (“Is that real fur?” Morons!) until I arrived at the next group of memorial workers, who checked my ticket once more. Then over to an inside area resembling the security check of an airport. ”Take of all metal items and put your bag in this basket, please,” a security officer ordered. Right on, through the beeping frame, and on to the final stop: More employees who for the very last time stamped a star-like symbol onto my printout! Wheeew! The way from there to the Memorial takes a while, too. Guess I was lucky no queue was waiting, otherwise all of this would have taken four times as long.

The 9/11 Memorial consists of two large pools with a black hole inside (at least that is what it looked like at night.) I know this sounds bad, but the North and South pool are beautifully illuminated because of the light shining through the carved in names of the disaster victims. The pool is made up of waterfalls to the sides which blend into the still water on the ground. Names are written along the frame of the pool, making out the identified victims, who reach up to 3,000. I first walked around the South Pool, taking in the sights and the atmosphere. All these different names, the calm pond and the moving water fall, the dark hole in the middle – a very festive but also sad atmosphere I found. And all along, the Freedom Tower hovers over the scene. More buildings are meant to be built along the side of the Memorial, making out the new Financial Center of New York in the future.

Carved in names of victims

The Freedom Tower, tallest landmark building in New York as for now

I then went on to the North Pool. A museum is built on the side between both sites, but I am unsure what can be found inside. It looked so pretty, with its light shining from the inside. When I stood at the North Pool my eyes fell on the inscription of a woman. Helen F. and her unborn child, it read. This really took me aback. Overall, the entire experience at the former WTC was a very sad experience, bringing back the memory of the day when and how I had found about one of the biggest tragedies of the 21st Century.

North Pool

There were many cops at the memorial site of course, with watch dogs. A group of people was standing around them and asking them questions. I took this picture of two dogs, who must have been disturbed by the crowd (or their Master).
Then, on my way out, I walked past an illuminated tree. This tree was partly charcoal on one side. An employee was explaining how they had to fasten the metal ropes around it when Hurricane Irene swept through New York (read more here). A wreath made of flowers was put up on one side, in military manner.

The Museum on the side

The tree that had survived

Before exiting on the long walk back out, I entered the souvenir store, which you can’t miss when visiting the Memorial. There were a few items of victims and survivors built up for display in glass cases. I saw a fireman hat – the fireman himself had survived. Then a wallet with a 2-Dollar-bill. The story is beautiful: A 58-year-old man had proposed with this 2-Dollar-bill not too long before the tragedy (and gotten “yes” as an answer!). He kept it on him ever since. Sadly, he didn’t survive his trip to work 10 years ago and died on 9/11 – his personal items were restored among the ruins.

Fireman's hat
2 Dollar Souvenir and a heart-breaking story

What interests, yes, even fascinates me most about 9/11 are the stories the relatives of the victims have to tell. A short film described four life stories, which were put together in a five-minute-documentary. How heart-gripping this movie was! A boy who had lost his father. A wife who had lost her husband and finally remarried after 10 years. And many more peeks into the lives of people who have experienced an earth-shaking tragedy !
The documentary also showed what eventually is planned to become of the WTC site. New York is intending on building the aforementioned Financial Center around the pools. Trees are supposed to fill the distance between these pools and in the end become a forest, perhaps an oasis of mourn, peace, and quietness. It looked quite advanced on the graphics.

9/11 is such a sensitive topic. When I was in New York in 2010, I didn’t see much of a memorial service going on that day. I was even quite disappointed at how careless most people, including my former roommate, thought about the event. They just shrugged their shoulders and didn’t waste another thought on it. But then a local New Yorker told me about his time, when he had been in this City, at the very same day 10 years ago. How awful and uncertain the hours and days after the tragedy had been for everyone. How people were trying to get past the police barricades in Chelsea, because they lived 40 blocks away from the WTC. And how they had still smelled the smoke, dust, and filth in the air. When he had stuck out his hand to get a hold of flying pieces in the air, he saw it had been business papers. Shredded, burnt pieces, flying all the way from the Financial District up to Chelsea! And how eventually everyone had to deal with what happened in New York, how crucial it was to survival and to get on with life, to find solace in everyday activities. And some people are still fighting health problems nowadays. Asthma being the most harmless form. Yes, I can go on and on, but maybe I’ll save that for another post!

I will most likely revisit the 9/11 Memorial, this time during the day. Have you had the chance to go there yet?
Tell me how and when you found out about September 11, 2001!

[For more pictures on 9/11, go to A Picture Every Day!]

NYPD: New York Police Dicks

Blue uniforms, blue vests, blue hats – this is how they proudly stand, the men and women of the New York City Police Department. But they are surely not as touristy, fancy, and professional as they appear to be…

When I first came to New York I paid attention to them mostly when I was wandering around Times Square. The cops on their horses, the cops in the middle of the square, the cops standing in a line…. Over the course of time, though, all the stories and observations started to accumulate and helped me in forming my own unique view on these uniformed people.

I collected my very first ticket when I was “drinking in public” in one of the most remote areas imaginable in Bushwick/Brooklyn. This car had been randomly cruising the side streets and must have detected our small group who was clustered around some deserted industrial buildings close to a dead alley. My friend was forethinking enough to throw his can of Coors light into the trash bin as soon as he saw the white-and-blue-car sneak up to us. I made a jump and hid it behind a stack of wooden boxes but failed to cover it up from every angle. Lucky for us, the cops were moderately friendly on this night; they disregarded the beverage my friend had so obviously thrown away but still fined me with a $25 ticket because the hidden can was not too-well-hidden after all. I also remember how I was bending down to get to look these people in the eye and explain to them that we were from Germany and that it was legal to drink on the streets over there. One of them said he understood but unfortunately it was not legal here. All arguments were basically in vain. Had I been smart, I had given them my wrong address, but at that time I wasn’t too acquainted with the methods of how to circumvent an arrest and a ticket in this case. Therefore, you should know. Just say you forgot your ID and give them a completely wrong address, make sure you mention a wrong apartment number in addition to this. Almost everyone in New York lives in an apartment.
I also remember how one of those officers’ eyes went down to my basically non-existent cleavage as if searching for something underneath that zipped-up-jacket. This was pretty much the first time the presence of a person who is supposed to make me feel safe in public made me feel very uncomfortable.

Weeks followed and my observations continued. From cops standing at my train station, delightfully eyeing the full rear section of the younger West-Indian ladies who had to pass them on the way down to the subway. How disgusted I was with this. Isn’t this almost sexual harassment, I thought? Over cops arresting a 16-year-old teenager because he had used his school-ticket to get into the subway. The reason for this arrest? Well, he hadn’t been on his way to school and therefore didn’t have the “right” to use it. Not to forget sporadic street performer arrests my former roommate told me about (read post here). To cops who hit the newspapers with true horror stories, such as raping a man with their stick or raping a drunk woman when leading her into her apartment.

My Austrian friend made a fast observation when he visited me back in May. He had only stayed for two weeks but to form this exact same observation it had taken me a good three months longer.
“The police here don’t make me feel safe at all,” he said after walking in after another rough sightseeing tour in Manhattan. “They seem violent and like to arrest people for nonsense,” he went on. “I don’t understand how these people can represent the law in this country.”
He had a few good points. I myself had sometimes wondered how a cop with waist-long braids fits the disciplined example and couldn’t really make sense of it. I thought these forces should reinforce similar standards the military does. So that everyone looks equal and feels equal in their group of work. Obviously not. I am not sure how true this is, but someone once told me the way they typically recruit police officers in New York came do a true down when they started aiming towards the socially disadvantaged places in town (Bronx, Bedstuy, Canarsie, anyone?) because they knew the people would be desperate enough to work for 30 k a year. Which is quite a high pay for someone without a college degree, at least in this city.

So I’ve had experiences with a few cops in those one and a half years that have passed. Some have indeed been very positive, no doubt. Such as the nice Latin woman and the white guy who were trying to make my former roommate come to her senses when I had been robbed by her younger boyfriend. I will also always appreciate the cops who give the right directions and are honestly trying to help out people who are lost.
But then somehow the bad stuff sticks out. Such as the Halloween parade three weeks ago. I had been sitting on a fence drawn to regulate the flow of oncoming and going pedestrians. Because the crowd was pushing me almost off of it I was desperate to jump on the other side and circumvent the horrible crowd of squashing people. All of a sudden there is a cop behind me. One of those mean a**holes who like to get meaner. As soon as my foot goes over the fence he is there trying to prevent me from jumping away from the crowd. I try to make it clear that I would be squashed to death otherwise. He doesn’t care. Even better, he gives me an ultimatum of either “going back or I will make you go back.” I am courageous enough to ask him how he would do that. He then he slams his fist into my back and before he can deliver the final push I voluntarily jump back. I then look him in the eye and say: “Ah, I see, you’re gonna push me you as**hole”.

Two of those messed up cops at the 2011 Halloween Parade

Pretty incredulous to be part of this at the moment. I also witness how he whacks a Japanese tourist in the face because this one had poked his head one inch too much over same fence. So much aggressiveness was going on that evening. I already told you about those five cops arresting one drunk guy (read here). It was just a mess and its’ a pity that the whole evening has been ruined or at least has left me with a bitter aftertaste because NYPD clearly doesn’t have its workers under control.

Police in New York – it is really too bad that those few nice cops are being drowned by the immense amount of all the cops who like to take their aggressiveness out on innocent people. Take the pepper spray attacks on passive Wall Street protesters for a start.

I guess I am happy I am not in LA, though. Their police system seems to be messed up to a whole different degree that will hopefully never hit New York! Other than that I will do my best to circumvent anyone who is dressed in this awful hypocritical blue uniform!


Halloween in New York

Halloween in New York starts early. This year I saw a girl in the midst of July wearing a tiger mask while leaning against the door of a subway car…

Joke aside, Halloween seems to start as early as Septemberish over here. You can see the first decorations popping up along the houses and entryways in early fall. The fences are decorated with fake cow-webs and scary pumpkins, an enumerable amount of lights blinking around the doors and windows, no doubt scaring of every thief in the neighborhood.

This year was actually the first time I was sorta able to enjoy the pre-Halloween fanciness and creativity. Ever since I moved to Park Slope, which is an area where you can indeed find single houses, I have been able to witness how the neighborhood has dramatically changed from stoic to crazy, from old-fashioned to exciting – all of this practically over night. And even out in Bay Ridge, where a friend of mine used to live, I have run across some scary-for-fun-appearing witches and a unique grave yard in the front garden.

Halloween in the Slope
Halloween in Carroll Gardens
Halloween in Bay Ridge

So whatever drives the rest of the US at that time of the year can definitely be found here in New York (and especially Brooklyn) in a highly representable manner.

With all these impressions, I was mentally prepared to do something equally representable on Halloween. Sadly, I have to admit that last year was surprisingly lame, since my friends had convinced me to not go out and nourished the fear in me of getting robbed by masked people in the Village (“Oh yes”, they said, “people in New York use these masks and then just jump tourists.”). Instead, we stayed in and drank a bottle of wine while chatting away – which was nice, too, but not really the proper Hollow’s Eve I had wished for, if you know what I mean.

So this year I had really wanted to do something more exciting. But how it all went down – oh, it was such a pity:

Halloween turned out to be on a Monday (whereas last year it was on a Sunday). Needless to say, that a big bunch of friends and coworkers were confused as to when the BIG HALLOWEEN PARTY was supposed to go down. “Shall we do it on a Friday, on a Saturday, or indeed on a Monday?” most asked themselves, including me. The general notion was to celebrate on Saturday, for this is really the party day of the week, no matter what. But when Saturday came around, a good piece of the Northeast Coast experienced something completely out of the ordinary: IT SNOWED! At the end of October! And I, who had first planned to go to the 9/11 Memorial (which was shut down due to the bad weather conditions) and then dress up for the evening, had to admit that it was completely senseless to get out in the snow mud and cold just for a party probably only a third of the people would be. Not that I even bothered to get a costume beforehand, as I had figured to simply dress up last minute.

Attempted Cowgirl costume...not!

I think I can speak for everyone when saying that Halloween 2011 was a great disappointment for New Yorkers. As I overheard a conversation of two guys on the train the other day who were describing this year’s hollow eve as “half-a**ed” and quite confusing. So I think a good deal of people felt betrayed of their party, get-together, and what not.
Monday was my first day at the new job (read here) and out of great spontaneity I suddenly decided to check out the notorious Halloween Parade in the Village. Yes, the one I had missed out on last year, as the crowd from Union Square had been just obnoxiously huge.

Union Square Zombie

This time I got off right at W4 and even managed to get a good spot right upfront by standing on a fence and shooting some pictures. The general vibe I got from the crowd was mixed: Lots of dressed up college students and other folks, but then also some aggressive gangs who wanted to get into trouble and fight others. And the cops, oh boy, I have to mention them in a whole different post, but they were absolutely ridiculous. I almost got attacked by five of them when they were chasing ONE drunk guy who desperately threw himself on me. This was not very funny, and I was dumbfounded at first but managed to get out of there quickly.

Parade in Greenwich Village

So, after watching for 45 minutes, I sorta had enough. Then the question of interest was: How the heck do I get out of here? I could move neither backwards nor forwards and the crowd was pushing me in two different directions. I am not claustrophobic at all but I can now understand how some people are after experiencing last Monday night. I never got to see my friend, as he was standing somewhere completely different and neither of us could meet in between. Totally frustrated I gave up, there was no way I would make it back into the subway station without being smashed by drunks or waiting 30 mins straight. Therefore I ended up walking through Greenwich Village, past one of those quazillion Darth Vaders, even past a cute quartet of Panda bears (must have been college students), and past the sweet ginger bread man on 14th Street. Finally, after two whole hours, I was back home, way tired and not really in the mood for a good Halloween anymore. So my recommendation to you is, if you really want to celebrate Halloween in New York, do it in private, with a group of friends. Avoid the awful Halloween Parade, unless you want to be trampled on, and make sure it doesn’t snow on THE PARTY DAY of the year!

But other than that it was a fine event!

Village Madness

NYC Subway and Street Performers

New York –the epitome of creativity and artistry. Not surprisingly also the dream destination for many singers, musicians, break dancers, and other creative minds. Canadians, Europeans, Asians, South Americans, even US Americans find themselves on their way of travel towards the metropolis of the Northern continent. Filled with hopes and plans of how to start out with the right teacher, meet the right producer/director/manager and eventually become “famous” when swimming in that pile of gold…. Well, those would be the dreams of many!

But no matter what the initial plan was, everyone will soon enough find out that the Big Apple is certainly not a “piece of cake” and that you have to scramble to get your gigs together.

Also not astounding the fact that to become famous, sometimes you have to start at the very bottom.
Now street performers cannot be necessarily called “the bottom” of the ladder. Indeed some very much enjoy the roughness of the subway station, the authenticity of the performance, the proximity to the crowd.

However, it doesn’t take much to wrap out the music gear in a train station or above ground and start performing. It’s more about the emotional willingness and courage it takes to really do this in front of the faceless crowd.

I used to live with a street performer when I first moved to the City. She was originally from Canada and had moved here 8 years prior. While I am not sure when exactly she started taking out her musical talents on the street and in the subway, I believe at one point in her shattered career path she met someone who knew someone who introduced her to someone who told her to try it out. So she started in her early 30ies with a group of teenagers who were break dancing around her while she sang along to tunes of mixed tracks.
Gradually she became accustomed to performing in front of strangers and for money, and started coming up with her own “shows”: Songs mixed with a funky beat which were played on her own boom box and to which she provided the necessary vocals. Her shows grabbed everyone’s attention alright, as her songs were well-known (classics such as “Stand by Me”) combined with some new creations. I am not sure if it was her voice that peeked out more or the level at which her stereo sounded through the station of Lexington Ave and 53rd Street. Either way, as it is so common in New York, some days were good, some not so. I think the best days brought in a good 200 bucks within the time frame of 4 hours, which relates to $50/hour – not bad at all. The best time to perform, according to her, was from late morning or during the day. She never performed at night, as she thought this to be not only worthless but maybe even dangerous for a lonely woman.

Performing in the subway

I didn’t even realize the problems street performers have to deal with until she told me about a normal day at work. The occasional rivalry between spots and time struck her as annoying. I guess there is no order as to who plays when but it is dealt with according to first-come first-serve rule. When someone had been performing for a time considered too long, they were scorned upon by the other candidates who desperately wanted to get their show on. So a good day could quickly turn into a rushed half hour performance out of the blue.

Other dangers to look out for are the occasional arrests the NYPD likes to handle. My roommate called Tuesday “Undercover Cop Day” and tried to stay away from the subway station during this time. She had her share of hours spent in jail – in her opinion due to “cops who have to make their quota meet and take it out on the people they consider low-class.” Stories from arrests of the famous Mexican trio showed up at the same time all of this went down, which provoked a big wave of protests among the people of New York. I guess the officers try to take away the money the performers had “rightfully” earned before the time of arrest and this made many persons angry. The absurdity about these arrests is not so much the reason but the inconsistency paired with the current mood of the law enforcement, which seems to be an even measure throughout this city.
To clarify, individuals performing on the streets or in the subway legally require a license to do so. However, I haven’t run across one musician or dancer who has had a license, ergo I consider the percentage who is legally allowed to play to be very low or non-existent. Many cops know of this, of course. It is most likely to see performers at the same spot during the same time almost every day. If police officers truly wanted to bring their point across and arrest for the purpose of law enforcement only, they would simply arrest the artists every single day until no one would dare to perform anymore (this is also known as “cleaning up” as seen with jaywalking under Giuliani). However, the fact that there are only a few arrests made every other week or such contradicts the purpose of “fighting illegal street performance” and, therefore, does not make too much sense.

Enough of the political side, though.

There are many motivations why people perform on the streets and in the subway. Another brief roommate of mine had taken out her passion for the guitar at the Union Square station for sole purpose of re-uniting with other performers and entertaining the crowd. I am unsure as to how many street performers really perform to make ends meet but I would assume the percentage to be very high. Sometimes you see how passionate the musicians are, though, and you can see the glimmer in the dancers’ eyes when they move around on their floor, motivated by the enthusiasm of the crowd. Two of my favorite performers are indeed two very different groups: A group of musicians from Eastern Europe who go by the name of Moon Hooch and a group of pantomimes dancing to soul-touching music. Both perform at Union Square: The young guys are down at the L-Train and blast out their trumpets and horns in such a lovely manner that it makes me forget where I am at. They recently had a show in Williamsburg and I hope it went well for them.

A crappy picture of the one and only Moon Hooch

The dancers perform on the upper level, the most common site. They grab the crowd’s attention by putting on black clothes and white masks, thus disguising their origin and unifying for the sole purpose of the show. They then climb on and swarm around each other in ghost-like manner, capturing everyone’s looks when passing by. I believe it must be tough to divide those hard-earned dollars between 4 performers, but I am sure they make much because of their ability to fascinate the people.

Union Square pantomimes

Another common spot for artistic performances is Washington Square Park, with their oh-so-common jumpers: A trio of black men who lure six women into a row and then jump over them, but only after an endless-seeming amount of time. Sometimes they don’t even jump, because they consider the “donations” given in advance not high enough (too bad for whoever gave more tha $5). Tricky group, indeed!

A great dance floor is the top level of Union Square, of course, and Herald Square close to Macy’s. Breakdancers, native Mexicans, and other musicians like to play beneath Macy’s. I even once saw a harmonica in the stations of the “posh” Park Slope, but I suppose the performance didn’t make enough money to come back.

Native South Americans performing at Herald Square
Union Square artist

An artist who I consider very talented and also sad at the same time is the probably ten-year-old child who is masterly hitting the keys of his transportable key board. He captures everyone’s attention, of course, but I am not willing to put a dollar in his bucket as his father is standing right behind him and most likely the driving force to all of this. Child labor or not, the boy loves to play, as can be seen in his face, but I don’t think it ethical of his parents to drag him down to the subway station and make money off his talent.

Child labor, yes or no?

And one last thing to mention, a thing which always aggravated my former roommate: People who stand by, take pictures, shoot a video but never pay. It is common courtesy in New York to give the artists a symbolic dollar whenever the music or dance is appreciated. I myself didn’t know of this until being here for well over three months. Many Europeans do not follow this rule, either, as in Europe street performers rarely go on the streets to pay their bills (and thus don’t necessarily perform for money). Over here they do. A difference in mindset. So if you ever find yourself entertained by street music, please step forward and hand over that green bill. It will be well appreciated.

Oh, and those huge bands who tend to play around every big holiday in the underground station of Times Square? Highly commercialized groups of people and not entertaining in comparison to others. Walk away fast and go make your way to another station!

Street performers in New York: They can turn a gray commute into a colorful ride. They can feed your hopes on many artists who have not yet been discovered and who exist in the underground of this city. They are indeed an entire group of artists by themselves.

Breakdance beneath Macy's shopping paradise