As I write this blog, I am in Newark International Airport on the final return of my Spring visit to the US where I schmoozed at conferences, visited dear friends, gave a bizarre seminar at Binghamton and ended with a public lecture in New York at the New York Academy of Sciences sponsored by the Nour Foundation.
I had a terrible time getting to Binghamton as Delta Airlines in their wisdom had decided on a policy of not holding flights for connecting passengers. So I missed my flight and spent a sleepless, smelly night in the same clothes in a horrid airport in Detroit. No doubt many of you have had similar experiences so I am not about to bore you with another diatribe against US domestic travel. By the time I got back to New York city, I was really grateful just to be back in a relatively large city.
So finally the public lecture in New York. The word “awesome” has lost its impact in today’s language full of superlatives. Anything appears to be awesome in today’s vernacular and so when I was told that my talk at the New York Academy of Sciences was going to be ‘awesome,’ I naturally assumed this meant that it would be better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
The Nour Foundation put me up in Millennium Hilton near to the academy. I was not prepared for the fact that this is bang smack next to Ground Zero which came as a complete shock. I had visited the Twin Towers just months before the 9/11 attack and so for me this was an poignant emotional experience. The porter who took me to my room told me all about the project to rebuild and how the hotel had also had to be repaired but when he opened the room curtains, I stared down in stunned silence on to the reconstruction project lit up at night with arc lighting and an army of workmen beavering away all through the day. Apparently they have no schedule to stop work.
The base of each tower is clearly visible, as these will become square waterfalls that fall inwards. The combination of the height, the proximity and the visible reminder of the structures where I had spent some time back in 2001, hit me with an unexpected sense of sadness. When I was there, I remember lying on my back in the plaza to take a photograph of the two towers rising up into the sky. I have lost that picture which is probably a good thing. Standing there in my hotel room, looking down on all that remained, triggered all the images of that terrible day – the smoke, the falling bodies, the brightness and the footage all came flooding back. This is what psychologists call flashbulb memories. I can’t imagine what it must be like for New Yorkers who were actually there.
I was so exhausted following my Detroit exploits that I crashed radically. When I awoke, the day was bathed in brilliant sunshine. New York never looked better. I was due to speak that night so the first thing I did was to find my venue. I found the address on google maps but at the street level I simply could not find the address. I was looking in the wrong place. It turns out the the New Academy of Science occupies the 40th floor of the skyscraper that is right next to Ground Zero. When I got to the floor where I was due to speak, I was dumbfounded.
Here is the view from the New York Academy of Sciences on a bright spring day. It was truly awesome.
The venue was fully booked, the talk went great and we sold all the books for the signing. My host Richard Rass from the Nour Foundation was absolutely charming and gave me a great introduction. I was not only high in the sky over New York but having an unbelievable evening. The word ‘awesome’ might be over-used but for me New York was truly awesome both in the sadness and elation I felt on the same day.