Wednesday 21 November 2018

From the ashes, a pear tree tells us of survival

Even now, you look up at the sky and can't believe the immense absence of the twin towers, writes Joseph O'Connor

I REMEMBER the first moment I saw the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. It was a fiercely hot Manhattan night in the summer of 1992 and they had been illuminated for the approaching Fourth of July celebrations, so that when you looked at them even from a distance they seemed brighter and more immense than any photograph could ever convey.

I was in a taxi from Kennedy Airport, weary and jetlagged, and I had heavy things on my mind, but the sight of those towers flooded the heart with that particular joy the visitor to New York always feels on seeing the Manhattan skyline, so beautiful and strangely familiar yet so resoundingly itself that it always seems newly minted. As we crossed the bridge and came into the city, a firework display began. Normally, fireworks never fill the sky the way they fill a television screen, but this was a Manhattan fireworks display and it seemed to reach all the way to the moon. "Ain't that something?" said the taxi driver. "They don't got that in Ireland, right?" I agreed. We didn't got that in Ireland.

I don't think I slept at all that night. A friend had arranged for me to sublet a tiny apartment in Little Italy, and the annual San Gennaro Festival was gearing up. New Yorkers love a party -- Italian New Yorkers more than most -- and the music came booming up from Mulberry Street. In the city that never sleeps, you need to be stoically patient, a fact no guidebook ever tells you. At dawn, I remember walking down the island, watching the city shake itself awake. I aimed towards the towers, which were swathed in the gauze of a low-lying cloud so that their middle storeys disappeared from view like the turrets of a castle in a fairy tale.

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