Autumn in New York: The Presence of Absence
New Yorkers seem braced for conflict these days, even if theyre
not quite ready for it. The martial mood is helped by the
many steely-gray days of autumn. Rain, courtesy of an errant
tropical storm, turned my recent trip to the city into a study
in black-and-white, but with a heavy dose of red, white, and
The American flag is still visible everywhere
in Manhattan. It flies from the masts of the sailboats that
have returned to the North Cove, near the restored Wintergarden
and the memory of the Trade Centers North Tower. It
hangs from the center of Grand Central Terminals main
room, where it turns the mind back to 1944, a perfect timetravel
sensation. A battery of flags flap in the winds that come
up in Rockefeller Center, the flagpoles in two long rows that
embrace the skating rink below. The ice is being readied for
Christmas even now.
New Yorkers talk of past or future conflict
with characteristic directness. A woman working construction
at the American Express Building was convinced that Al Qaeda
would strike New York again. "
The bridges and the
thats where theyre gonna do it next
she said. The implications of that were understood between
us, but not stated. Downtown stores are still hoping for the
return of shoppers. A manager of Canal Jean, a large discount
store on lower Broadway told me, "Its been bad
since September 11th. If we go to war with Iraq, who knows
whats gonna happen
I always carry my journal when I go home,
and on this trip I also carried my camera- a 20-year-old Olympus.
I packed four rolls of film, but I didnt shoot the one
roll of color Id brought-Manhattan needs light to reveal
her subtle colors, and the sun was busy elsewhere. The custom
lab I use couldnt meet my deadline (pass on the rush
charges, thanks, Im unemployed). So my Manhattan
suite of pictures will accompany next weeks piece
on the Wintergarden, Grand Central, and the Trade Center.
Each of them is a place of before-and-after, of history, change
and, ultimately, renewal.