Sunday, September 12, 2004

Open Water

Went to see "open Water" today, a slow thoughtful film that makes you appreciate the cold drink in the bar afterwards.

Based on a great premise - two divers get left behind in the middle of the sea due to a mistake in the head-count and nobody notices they are missing.

It was about as far from "Titanic" and "Jaws" as possible, and the main strength was the enduring sense of the characters denial - it's a long l-o-n-g time before they realise what serious trouble they are in.

An excellent little film, one that restores your faith in Hollywood, and in independent film-making.


September 11th 2001

Unlike many people in the Western World, let alone the USA, I was spared much of the horror of Sept 11th 2001. The reason was down to voltage.


The previous day, Sept 10th I was busy finalising my move back from Lowell Mass., where I'd lived since March 1999, to London, England. One of the many differences between Britain, the USA and the rest of the world is domestic voltage. In Britain, we have an insane system whereby a lethal 240 Volts gets pumped into every socket. The USA, sensibly, makes do with a merely jolting 110. I'd always known my time in God's own country would be relatively short, so I deliberately avoided buying expensive electrical goods - my TV came from Wal-Mart as did my boom-box and the phone. I'd always regarded them as eminently disposable items, to be used, enjoyed, and then discarded with all the regret of chucking a disposable razor in the bin. No point in taking them back to Britain where they wouldn't even serve as paperweights... Which is a roundabout way to explain why I'd given my TV to my neighbour the previous night. The removal company was due on the morning of Sept 12th - I could survive 24 hours without television, especially the American kind...


It really was a lovely morning - a deep blue sky, no wind, no cloud - the weather had been good for several days. It wasn't really unusual as the most enjoyable part of the summer in Mass is the Indian phase that often lasts well into September. The days are still warm, the humidity is down, and the air has that surreal crystal-clear quality that destroys distance. I was in an enjoyable limbo; unemployed but with concrete plans and keen to enjoy my last few days in America. My flat was lovely - half the first floor and two balconies of a rambling old colonial style house, a small mansion really constructed in about 1890, and the flat had that Zen-like starkness places have just before you move out of them. At about 9:00am I was lay on the polished wooden floor of the sitting room listening to WBUR. I can't remember the program; it followed the morning show - "The Connection" perhaps? Or possibly even the BBC, the reason I'd started listening to WBUR in the first place. The first hint of trouble came at about 9:25AM. A brief report stated a plane had crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York.

Common sense told me it must be a small private aircraft, a Cessna perhaps, since I couldn't imagine any circumstances where a large commercial jet would crash into Manhattan. The navigation and automatic pilot and even the brave human pilot would prevent such a thing. Life went on as normal for another precious few minutes. Then perhaps 15 or 20 minutes later, the program was interrupted again to say a second aircraft had crashed into the other tower. I remember clearly trying to calculate the odds of such a thing happening, before deciding it must be a suicide attack. Once again I assumed, I'm not sure why, that it must be a light aircraft. The assumption I made was small private planes, stolen and then perhaps packed with explosives.

About 10 or 20 minutes after that, things got very serious. WBUR abandoned its schedule and went into continuous reporting mode. Somewhere about this time reports started coming in of a plane crash on the Pentagon, and "America is under attack." I began to get very worried then, a child of the Cold War, thoughts began to turn to Pearl Harbour, and the chance that another country was trying to knock out America's defences prior to some nuclear attack. Stupid of course, but events started to move very fast, and the journalists fact checking started to desert them - there were reports of a bomb outside the Capital, and an attack on the White House.

Next came the unimaginable news that one of the towers had collapsed. This was baffling. A few weeks earlier I'd been to visit friends in Manhattan and I'd taken the odd glance or two at the World Trade Centre - it was hard to miss but didn't really interest me, the triumphal art deco of the Chrysler Building and the Empire State held more aesthetic and historic appeal. None the less, the one thing the WTC did look was solid. The towers had that slightly brutal concrete stump sort of architecture, so common in the 1960s and not really abandoned until the late 70s. I tried to remember when the WTC had been built, then wondered if the shock waves had set up some kind of horrible sympathetic vibration within the structure.

The phone calls started. Todd called from work to say everyone was watching the Internet. Then Jason called. We'd planned to spend a couple of weeks playing poker as my sort grand finale, and Jase was miserable and shocked, we started to discuss driving the 2500 miles or so from Mass to Nevada. Then Nat called from Britain, shocked and keen to share her thoughts. Mine were still brutal and uninformed, it seemed as if the USA had spent the previous decade bombing and intimidating all sorts of small countries, and this was just inevitable pay-back. I noted cynically that the whereabouts of President Bush were unknown - he'd last been seen hurriedly leaving Florida.

Then came the news the second tower had collapsed (why, how? I kept wondering), my neighbour popped around to say she couldn't get her ariel to work and she was off to somewhere to watch. Then Maurice, my ex-boss called to cancel our lunch - he'd been watching on TV and told me of some of the scenes he'd witnessed.

The rest of the day passed in a sort of shocked blur, but I remember clearly walking down to Burger King for lunch, and seeing the skies above, normally bisected by vapour-trails were completely empty - very spooky, perhaps the first time they'd been completely empty for 80 or 90 years. Later that day the first guesstimates came in on the number of casualties, ten to twelve thousand seemed likely, perhaps as many as twenty thousand.

It's very hard to describe the vague, unknowing tension and fear that seemed to grip the country the rest of that day.

There was one report, unconfirmed now I think, that a couple had jumped off one of the towers holding hands. It was unforgettable. I fervently hope that I'm never in a situation where the best option is holding hands with a friend and jumping hundreds of feet to your death. I only hope the people who did jump half believed they were in a nightmare, it wasn't real, and that they would wake up to a beautiful morning, warm and still, with a clear blue sky.