New York marks day of tragedy

ROGER FRANKLIN joins millions of fellow New Yorkers to mark the day of tragedy.

New York, the city that never sleeps, spent a relatively restful night -albeit one punctuated in all the five boroughs by the sound of pipes.

Not like this day last year, when ignorance of the coming morning's horrors was bliss. Nor was it the exhausted, anxious sleep of the night after the massacres at what, by the end of that day of the dead, had been dubbed Ground Zero - the name formerly used only by military men to locate the epicenter of a nuclear blast.

Last night, once the bars had closed and as the illegal after-hours clubs were disgorging patrons into the dawn, many of the revellers heard the overture to the coming day's ceremonies long before they saw its source: the approaching skirl of the pipers on the march.

From each of the city's five boroughs, contingents of pipers began their separate journeys toward the island of Manhattan, where they were destined to unite for the final leg of their journey to the big square hole at its southern tip.

In the Bronx, a part of town whose normal soundtrack is the salsa and rap rhythms of its predominantly black and Hispanic population, the pipers' 30km journey began shortly before 2am.

Normally, in the some of the district's rougher parts, anyone foolish enough to disturb the locals' rest could expect to be showered with abuse and projectiles from the tenement windows.

Not this morning.

At 4am as "The Campbells Are Coming" filled the night, many residents opened their windows, still rubbing the sleep from incredulous eyes, and cheered.

Others pulled on dressing gowns and came downstairs to line the roadways - people like Juan Nieves, who also remembered to don a baseball cap.

"I wanted to have something on my head so I could take it off as a sign of respect," he explained. "These guys are magnificent."

Meanwhile, downtown in the new dawn, it was almost as if the clock had been turned back.

Many held photos of loved and at 8:46 - the precise moment when the first hijacked plane hit the first tower - the unnaturally quiet crowd became even more silent as, for 60 emotional seconds, the departed dominated all thoughts.

Then, as the army of pipers who had come together stood in ring of silence about an empty stone circle that marked the very centre of Ground Zero, Governor George Pataki read Lincoln's Gettysburg address before, in a few simple words, introducing former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who began the recitation of the names of the dead to the accompaniment of a mournful cello.

When the "A" entries were finished, a bell tolled twice, and then, young Katie Marshall, whose engineer father died on the 64th floor, repeated the simple speech she first uttered at his memorial.

Other voices took up the litany of the dead and faceless victims, moving in alphabetical order through the interminable list of stolen lives.

Those names told another story: Chinese names, Japanese, India, Anglo, Spanish, Slavic, almost unpronounceable aggregations of syllables that spoke of Africa and the far-flung corners of Asia.

It wasn't just America they attacked.

It was the entire globe - and in the unofficial capital of the world this morning, those who survived remembered.

But some things, well, they have changed as a City Hall office worker named Jerry James earlier explained as he waited to enter what may well be the world's strangest and most moving art gallery.

The Bolivar Arellano Gallery in the East Village is crammed with pictures of the dead and the survivors of September 11 and James wanted to pay his respects.

One picture shows 11 guys from a "Hook and Ladder company" - city firemen.

Within the hour, each of those young men would be dead.

It's a thought that puts their frozen smiles in a different light.

They are soldiers' grins, talismans against fear, worn to assure comrades that death is something to be taken lightly.

Even in a glossy 8-by-10 image, the expressions are not terribly convincing, the grim eyes incongruous beside the forced smiles of those doomed lips.

"This is why I came," said James. "Churches, prayers, the service at Ground Zero ... " He trailed off into a silence with a shrug more articulate than any words.

He had no doubt that the official anniversary service would be moving - a chance to see his President and listen as New York Governor George Pataki invoked the simple eloquence of Abe Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Like much of New York's workforce, James had the option of taking the day off.

So if he could navigate the security and the crowds, he planned to be at Ground Zero for the speeches and spectacle, to lose himself in the roar of a massed pipe band and the other-worldly strains of the lone piper's keening lament for the lost.

"But this," he said, gesturing to the cluttered, claustrophobic gallery's walls of floor-to-ceiling images, "to me, this says everything that needs to be said.

"This is them and us and everything about that day."

A thirtysomething woman named Gretchen Kulacs had come in the same spirit.

"I remember the dead," she said, "but I want to see them, not just to pray for them. This is, well, more personal."

Another visitor was sobbing softly as she made her mental pilgrimage down one wall and up another, her obvious grief a barrier to the questions of a curious stranger with a notebook.

Proprietor Arellano, a freelance news photographer who also raced against the human tide of refugees to reach Ground Zero, sees similar reactions almost every day.

"Sometimes they come to find the faces and the photos of the men who rescued them," he said.

"There was a woman who knew her picture had been taken and wanted to identify the cop who helped her get away so she could write and thank him.

"We had it here and she found it - her face, you know, it just lit up. But then we had to tell her that he was dead, too, probably minutes after they parted."

And that, in this city which is forever remaking itself and will soon no doubt have placed another ladder to the sky in that gaping hole downtown, is perhaps the most enduring tribute.

The tears on the floor of a poky little East Village store in a city of towering conceits.

The sincere, pure tears that will never be quite dry.

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