September 25, 2004

Points of Reference in Lower Manhattan

My final morning in New York was spent tromping around the financial district in lower Manhattan, ostensibly because I needed to buy traveler's checks before going abroad. What I stumbled upon constitutes a remarkable collection of abutting, intertwined sacred spaces smeared across what, during a typical workday, becomes one of the most densely populated few square blocks on Earth.

Section of a Manhattan map, courtesy Circled are the locations of Trinity Church, St. Paul Chapel, the site of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the New York Stock Exchange; an arrow points to Liberty Island.

It may help those not intimately familiar with the geography of the place (such as myself; a good map would have saved me some walking in circles looking for the subway station) to refer to this map. For scale, the section depicted is just under a half-mile across, and as the crow flies, the Stock Exchange is about a quarter of a mile from St. Paul Chapel.

When I disembarked my bus in Battery Park City near the World Financial Center Plaza, not being entirely daft, I knew that I would be near the so-called "Ground Zero," the former site of the World Trade Center complex. Thus I had decided to take a look around the area, with the general goal of discovering what reaction the place might evoke for me. And, because I am a fan of the obscure and overlooked, I set out to find whatever might remain of the least-mentioned building destroyed, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

The first church I found was less obscure.

Trinity Church, as seen from Rector Street, just outside its south courtyard. 2004:09:20 10:31:01

The parish dates back to the walled city of New Amsterdam, and their website indicates that the present building was completed in 1846. Its neogothic ediface looks less out of place among the skyscrapers than one might expect, but I freely confess that this could simply be due to acclimation at the U of Chicago, a bastion of urban neogothic architecture.

St. Paul's Chapel. 2004:09:20 10:49:36

Another historical church in the area is St. Paul Chapel. Their publicists make much of the fact that the place would have been destroyed when the towers fell, if not for a large sycamore tree in the graveyard that caught the debris. It proved difficult to take a decent picture of the chapel, though, due to the heavy traffic on Broadway. In fact, the whole area sports heavy traffic of both the motor and pedestrian variety. This has nothing to do with the lovely historic churches, or even the proximity to "Ground Zero," and everything to do with the fact that they are across the street from the Vatican City of finance.

Looking up Wall Street to the entrance of Trinity Church at Broadway, from the intersection of Wall and New Streets. Notice the bronze polyhedrons in the street that prohibit motor traffic here. 2004:09:20 10:41:38

The corner of Wall Street and New Street is notable for the well-dressed and harried-looking populace, for security fences and roadblocks, and for being the location of the Bank of New York, the Citibank world headquarters (at least, I think that's what it is) and yes, the New York Stock Exchange. What's more, the Federal Reserve Bank, and a few other institutions of some puissance, lie variously behind me. As illustrated, Trinity Church faces squarely down Wall Street, as though challenging the money-changers to do their worst, which they characteristically do without the least consideration of urban symbolism.

The south border of the World Trade Center site, looking across from Liberty Street to the Verizon building on the other side. The edge is visible of one of the many informational signs posted on the fence. This one appears to deal with the historical expansion of the city on Manhattan Island.

After buying my certified monetary-equivalent instruments (from a machine, with my ATM card, as the people apparently had better things to do), I proceeded back towards the World Trade Center site, where I found relatively little to react to. A tall steel fence surrounds a construction site several acres in extent, suprisingly well organized given that my understanding suggests nobody knows exactly what is going to be constructed therein. The forbidding nature of the thing is tempered slightly by the large informational signs posted at intervals, such as one might find at a historical monument or museum. The touristy ambiance is completed by the ubiquitous vendors who will run up to anyone that pauses for a second, trying to hawk garish pamphlets in red, white, and blue, sporting conspicuous headlines like "TRAGEDY" and "TERROR!"

Construction equipment and field offices now occupy the site where St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church stood. 2004:09:20 10:23:08

According to maps and pre-2001 satellite imagery, St. Nicholas stood at the base of the southern pedestrian bridge over West Street. Unlike the abundantly visible and curated "Ground Zero," I only found an area surrounded by boarded-over chain link and construction netting. With some effort, I was able to find a gap large enough to stick a camera into, and took the above picture, which seems to show a parking lot and staging area for construction supplies and workers. To be fair, there really wasn't anything left of the little church, as the south tower's debris fell more or less right onto it; the web page linked above indicates that they were basically able to recover a couple of icons and a book. Still, given that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese is committed to rebuilding the church, I was struck that the main site, with no clear plan in place, is under busy construction, whereas here, where it is basically known what will be done, is a parking lot.

Posted by Milligan at 03:58 AM | Comments (5)

September 23, 2004

Aerial Photography

Traditionally, seeking out the high ground is considered a reliable means of establishing one's location. The phenomenon of aerial photography, however, proves the limits of this common intuition. From a sufficient altitude, such as from the cabin of a cruising passenger jet, the sorts of things we usually use as landmarks fade into obscurity, and only the broadest patterns and most megalithic features stand out.

View out an airplane window, not far west of New York City. 2004:09:17 13:49:23

Give it some time, though, and something recognizable tends to pop up. Okay, sure, in this case it kind of hit me over the head. Definitely an "Aha! Now I know where I am!" moment.

As seen from 15000 feet above NJ, color corrected to adjust for haze. 2004:09:17 13:53:03

Now it's only fair to point out, the camera has pretty decent resolution, and can make the image stand still, so this is arguably a better view than I actually had out my window. At night, the human eye has more of an advantage, although I might have done better by manually reducing the exposure time and artificially brightening the thing afterwards.

I've always loved flying at night, for two principal and related reasons: the lights, and the lights. When the cabin is dimmed and my eyes dark-adapt, the stars are quite a sight. There aren't a superbly large number visible, since reflections and whatnot in the airplane windows don't make for the best optical situation, but the clarity is unbeatable. Unless, of course, I find myself wintering on the Antarctic ice plateau.

The other lights are the ones on the ground. Small towns tend to be organic blobs, irregular galaxies of (mostly) streetlights. Bigger cities have more order to them, with a bright core, regular patterns of streetlighted thoroughfares and brilliant winding highways, dark lanes of industrial complexes, freightyards, and rivers. You can't really see this by day; the stuff that people do is all mixed in with the colors and shapes of natural topography. Others must find this notion alluring as well, given the popularity of the Earth at Night mosaic. I wonder if the Arcology people find this view disturbing.

Flying past downtown Minneapolis at night. 1 second exposure (I love that my camera will take note of these things for me). 2004:09:20 21:52:02
Posted by Milligan at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

First Light

Seeing as I'll be out of the country for a while, I thought it'd be nice to visit my kid sister, who is getting her master's degree in English at NYU.

Sometime later, it occurred to me that a short weekend jaunt to New York would be a handy source of material for a pilot episode, as it were.

We'll begin this project in the air, the ultimate in media res.

The northern end of the Chicago shoreline, extending roughly from the Loop to Evanston, as seen on ascent out of O'Hare. 2004:09:17 12:27:59

Now, it was no secret that the remnants of a hurricane were on the way. In fact, I'm surprised it didn't disturb the flight more than it did. As things stood, we had a fairly smooth ride, and don't seem to have been diverted much at all. This compares favorably to a certain line of thunderstorms that resulted in my flight from Boston to Minneapolis last spring being rerouted through Denver by way of Ontario.

Flying through the outer fringes of Tropical Depression Ivan produced surprisingly few bumps. Somewhere over Ohio, I'd reckon. 2004:09:17 13:36:27

P.S. "First Light" is an astronomy reference. That's what we call the event when a new telescope has been assembled and is first opened, hopefully demonstrating that light passes clear through the thing as it should. If successful, the observatory will still be months away from being able to do real work, but bubbly is uncorked anyway, on the theory that the "hard part" is done.

Posted by Milligan at 02:46 AM | Comments (0)
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