Friday, February 12, 2010

A New York Moment

The movie version of the 30's musical Roberta was on the tube last night and it made me think of my mother and a truly wondrous New York moment.

In 1933, my mom, all of 20 and fresh from the Bronx, was working as a secretary for the Broadway producer and agent, Leland Hayward. She was asked to bring a contract to be signed by the actress known as Tamara to the New Amsterdam theater where this exotic performer was wowing audiences with her sultry rendition of Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."  When my mom arrived she was ushered into Tamara's dressing room and sat politely (and I'm sure, nervously) waiting for the actress to appear. Finally, Tamara emerged from another room, totally nude. She ignored my mother and stood before a full-length mirror, brushing her famously long black hair. As she brushed and brushed, her hair contrasting sharply with her pale, glowing skin, she began to softly sing "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" to herself.

As you can imagine, my mom was awestruck - she said it was one of the most beautiful things she had ever seen.

Only in New York.

Friday, February 5, 2010

100 New Yorkers Tell You Where to Go #2

Here's a contribution from Justin Ferate, one of NY's great tour guides.

Across the New York Harbor, in St. George, Staten Island – next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, is a majestic, elegant, and elegiac memorial to those from Staten Island who died in the World Trade Center disasters. Name "Postcards," the memorial consists of two thin, white, hauntingly beautiful 40-foot-high, 30,000-pound slabs sculpted by artist/architect Masayuki Sono. Shaped like two postcards, bent in the winds like origami wings – the sculpture is reminiscent of the postcards that one sends to loved ones while on a journey...or perhaps on a quest. From afar, they might appear to be outstretched wings or a flower about to blossom. To some, they create a shrine.

Masayuki Sono was born in Kobe, a seaport in Japan. For the Staten Island September 11 Memorial, he thought back to the ten years he spent as a boy in Fort Lee, New Jersey, when his father traveled daily to Manhattan for work. Sono imagined the horror of losing his father as others had lost those they loved on September 11. Through this "painful and scary" process of trying to place himself "in their shoes," Sono focused on the victims and their families, and what they would want.

Masayuki Sono and his collaborator Lapshan Fong won a design competition sponsored by Staten Island’s Borough President James Molinaro that attracted 179 entries from 19 countries. Of his simple winning design, which he describes simply as postcards, Sono said, “I didn't want anything too grand or abstract, just something very direct, almost childlike, a common object used all around the world. People can see various things in it, use their own imagination and find different meanings.”

On the inner side of the 40-foot-high panels,  the memorial features individual profiles (sort of "commemorative stamps") of each of those 268 Staten Island residents who lost their lives in the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in both 2001 and 1993. Masayuki Sono worked closely with family members to ensure that they were satisfied with the silhouettes of each individual depicted. Each of these white granite profile "stamps" is designed in a panel that is 9” by 11”  –  a subtle reminder of the day that still haunts the memories of many around the world. Sono’s unique design allows each granite profile to be lit as the sun passes. The twin walls of postcards frame the view of Ground Zero, as seen from Staten Island. Shaped like wings outstretched in a gentle V, the monument appears as if it could soar. When one looks back, the profiles create a profound sensation of a “congregation” of familiar faces.

For the best approach, depart from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal and turn right at Richmond Terrace. Walk to the end of the Richmond County Savings Bank Stadium for the Staten Island Yankees, where you’ll see a sign saying “Postcards.” (This is a relatively short walk.)

Turn right and proceed down the ramps and stairs toward the North Shore Waterfront Esplanade. Before you know it, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself walking in a rhythmic manner toward the monument at the waterfront. Think of the rhythm of a graduation march, the walk down the marriage aisle... The rhythm of your steps will underscore the importance of what you are about to experience. Your attention will be drawn to the empty space between and beyond the postcards...the place where the Twin Towers once stood. The absence is palpable and haunting....

Step into the shrine-like enclosure of the Memorial. View the individual profiles of those who are remembered. Note the names, the occupations, the birthdates, and the absent date of their demise. Again, the absence is palpable and haunting....

Look across the harbor and envision the Twin Towers that once loomed over the waterfront and feel the power of their absence.

The Memorial has been well embraced by Staten Island residents. Behind each profile, there are spaces for people to leave mementos for their loved ones. You might see a rose, a cigar, or an inscribed Holy Card created for one who will never return.

The official dedication took place on September 11, 2004.