NEW YORK -- I'm peeved. We've hit yet another checkpoint in our attempt to view the current state of the World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial.
It's a freezing afternoon beneath a New York City sky the color of dirty Styrofoam. Overhead, the two-thirds-built Freedom Tower soars like a massive obsidian spearhead aimed at the heavens, soaring toward its symbolic height of 1,776 feet.
We're being asked a third time to produce ID, to again serve up our paper tickets for review and digital recording. And now, a burly security guard the size of a defensive lineman, has cornered my son's small backpack after its journey through an X-ray machine.
"What's that?" he barks, pointing to a pocket.
"Oh," says my son. "It's a souvenir."
He'd preserved a white ceramic beer bottle with a dragon logo as a trophy from a meal at a too-expensive restaurant.
"Throw it in the trash," the guard commands.
Son dutifully throws souvenir in trash.
We finally make it through the labyrinthine security protocol and join a torrent of people streaming into and out of the site. "What's the point of all that?" I complain to the wife about the bottle.
My tourist crankiness dissipates, though, as I think through the security gantlet.
I suppose the bottle, in the guard's eyes, could have been thrown into the 9/11 Memorial fountains we're approaching, making a mess of them. (In fact, some Brooklyn junior high students were ejected from the site in June 2012 for throwing baseballs, soda bottles and other trash into the fountains.)
More important, I suppose some addled al-Qaida or Western Civilization-hating sympathizer might consider it a supreme act of suicidal glory to add an exclamation point to the 9/11 site, blowing himself and a few dozen tourists to smithereens.
Then, I encounter the fountains. And all the words die in the mouth.
Into the Earth
I think it's safe to say we owe the current fashion in tragedy memorial sculpture to Maya Lin and her silence-inducing, tear-wrenching Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Thousands of names punched into stone. Stark-sided, angular geometrics descending into the Earth. Simple lines grasped simply, yet etched upon the eye.
Yet the sheer scale of the 9/11 Memorial fountains and reflecting pools dwarf that D.C. memorial, let alone the human scale of the visitors who come to the heart of New York City to see them. (The pictures I snapped may not do the fountains justice, so check out the short iPhone video atop this story at wvgazette.com/Life.)
It was a powerful design decision to choose such massive fountains and pools, sited upon the footprints of the now-gone north and south towers of the World Trade Center. The two fountains, aptly titled "Reflecting Absence," make up the nation's largest manmade waterfalls.
Michael Arad's fountain design, tweaked and revised in consultation with landscape architecture firm Peter Walker and Partners, was picked from among more than 5,000 submissions from 63 nations. (The 13-member jury that chose the design included Lin.)
The pools are surrounded by a bronze parapet featuring the names of the nearly 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the six people killed in a Feb. 26, 1993, attack on the World Trade Center.
The waterfalls pour 26,000 gallons a minute down 30-foot-deep black granite walls into a pool. The water then gathers at the lip of a central square, pouring over and down into a further blackness, deeper into the earth. The water -- nearly a half-million gallons -- is then recirculated back through the fountains via powerful pumps.