World View: An emotional return to the twin towers

November 22, 2011|By Imran Vittachi

All I could hear was the sound of perpetually falling water.

I stood recently in the shadow of the Freedom Tower under construction, and faced one of the two parapets with names of the dead etched in bronze. Not even the rattle of jackhammers in the background could interrupt this moment for me.

I was gazing down at a square hole in the ground from which the second of the twin towers had soared. The memorial parapet framed the footprint of the 110-story building formerly known as 2 World Trade Center, or the south tower.


Water streamed in sheets down the four walls inside the square hole and flowed into a miniature square cut out in the center of the floor below. There, the water seemed to disappear into a void. Like its identical twin to the north and west, the South Pool was several stories deep and took up about an acre. This was prime Manhattan real estate, but the space had become hallowed ground.

I had been in the vicinity of the old WTC site in the decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but never this close to the exact locations of the obliterated skyscrapers. The last time I visited the south tower was in the summer of 1998. I rode then with a girlfriend to the top-floor observation deck for a romantic view of my hometown's skyline. That memory now felt like a thousand years removed.

As a boy I used to gaze from the window of my family's riverfront apartment on F.D.R. Drive and East 25th Street and marvel at the twin towers that loomed above Lower Manhattan. So, during a visit to New York earlier this month, it was eerie seeing that now-empty patch of skyline from the same window.

I never thought of them as beautiful buildings. The twin towers lacked architectural aesthetic, yet they were impressive, awe-inspiring feats of engineering.

The twin towers occupied a nostalgic place in my mind. They epitomized the imperfect, though great and dynamic, city in which I grew up. They occupied a place in my imagination. The World Trade Center was where King Kong died in the 1976 remake of the movie about the giant ape. It was also where Kurt Russell made his daring rooftop landing in 1981's "Escape from New York."

Yet the most magical memory that I associate with my time in New York was the singular and real act of lunacy committed in August 1974 by the Frenchman Philippe Petit, who walked a tightrope strung between the their rooftops.

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