Residents near ground zero want to be a neigh

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Posted by Jeff from ( on Sunday, March 09, 2003 at 10:38PM :

Residents near ground zero want to be a neighborhood again, not an inspiration for war

By HELEN O'NEILL, AP Special Correspondent

NEW YORK - They have seen how the world can turn deadly in an instant, how carefully built lives can be shattered into dust.

They have trudged through the wasteland that was once their neighborhood, clutching their few belongings, picking their way through the smoke and the rubble, feeling the way displaced citizens of war have felt through the ages. Homeless, helpless and ignored.

They are the residents of 125 Cedar Street, the tiny red and yellow brick loft building that once thrived in the shadow of the World Trade Center, and miraculously withstood the towers' collapse 18 months ago.

The 12-story building still stands, like a symbol of defiance, the closest residential building to ground zero.

The residents, many of them artists who work from their homes, are defiant, too.

Defiant in their determination to return home to the studios many built with their own hands, when they took over the abandoned building 26 years ago.

Defiant in their determination that their neighborhood become a neighborhood again, rather than a place of pilgrimage or inspiration for war.

"On the one hand, I understand the desire to avenge the loss and prevent future attacks," said Andy Jurinko, an artist who lives in 3N with his wife Pat Moore, a fashion designer. "But I don't see the connection between what happened to us and what is about to happen in Iraq (news - web sites)."

And yet the connection is made daily in the yawning pit beneath his living room, where great stadium lights shine on the construction workers toiling to build a new transportation system in the place where the towers once stood.

For many this is the place, psychologically at least, where war began.

Tourists still flock here, leaving notes and flowers by the fence. So do fighters heading to the Gulf.

Several months ago, Jurinko and Moore, watched as a unit of camouflaged soldiers marched down their street and stood on the roof of the firehouse just beneath their kitchen window. The soldiers paused for a few minutes and gazed solemnly at ground zero, before marching off again. Another day a group of Navy cadets in white dress uniforms held a ceremony at the same spot.

Jurinko understands the connection, though he finds it disturbing. His wife cannot bear the idea of worshipping at one killing site before marching off to another.

She gets furious at the tourists. We are not exhibits, she screams at people who snap pictures outside her building. This is our HOME.

And yet it is not the same home. Reminders of the destruction are everywhere in the boarded-up sandwich shops that once bustled with business from the towers, in the "terror tables" of the hawkers selling videos of the buildings collapsing, in the lobby of 125 Cedar itself, still daubed in orange paint with the words "FDNY. SEARCHED. HAZARDOUS."

For more than a year, the 12-story building remained piled with debris and "death dust," while despairing tenants, in moonsuits and gas masks, tried to clean it themselves. Finally, when it seemed the world had forgotten or didn't care, the city's Department of Environmental Protection hired contractors to finish cleaning it last fall. It took another few months for paintwork and other repairs, and tenants have just started moving back.

For some, the return is euphoric, a victory over terror.

Others still feel tortured by what they saw and still see.

Next door looms the hulking emptiness of the 40-story Deutsche Bank, abandoned since the attacks, still shrouded in black netting, steam escaping from a massive gouge in its side.

Rumors swirl about it being eventually torn down, but its fate is still unsure.

"Sepulchral," says Kathleen Moore of 10N.

Her neighbor, Elena Del Rivero, cannot bear to look at it.

"It hurts my soul," she cries, her voice and face a contortion of pain.

Del Rivero moved back to 8N in December, but mentally, she says, her great airy space with its freshly painted walls doesn't feel like home. On every corner, every pillar, every window, she is haunted by what used to be: the photograph that once stood, the artwork that once hung.

She has strung tiny Christmas lights across her windows to block her view of the pit. In her dreams she covers the Deutsche Bank with pearls.

She has lost 40 pounds (18 kilograms) and still feels tormented by the day she watched the towers collapse on television in her native Spain.

Now she rails against the Spanish government for supporting war. And she cries for the innocents whose lives will be destroyed if Baghdad is bombed.

From his penthouse apartment on Cedar Street high above ground zero, 65-year-old Peter Davies has a unique perspective on war. After all, he says, twice in his life he has had a front row seat.

The first was during World War II. As a child in Cardiff, Wales, Davies lived through the bombs, the air raid sirens, the rubble and the dead. He lost relatives in the fighting. A classmate disappeared when his house was bombed just a few blocks from where Davies lived.

So it was with an eerie sense of deja vu that Davies experienced the skyscrapers tumbling onto his garden patio, where he used to sip his nightly cocktail and watch the light-show of the towers. The suddenness of the attack was different, he said. But not the randomness of who lived and died, who suffered, who remembers.

Davies' apartment is also a gallery for the ancient Turkish weavings he collects and sells. He feels at home in Turkey and has visited Iraq. These countries and their people are not abstractions to him, he says. They are as real as his neighbors in Cedar Street.

One neighbor, Mary Perillo, has videotaped long interviews with Davies and the others to make sure that what happened to them does not become an abstraction either. She wants to preserve the reality of their experience, the rawness. Otherwise, she fears it will become just another story that gets diluted in its constant retelling.

But already she can see that happening. Memories fade, or get distorted. Reality too.

Even dreams. Perillo has a recurring one in which she wrestles a terrorist to the floor on a plane, and strangles him.

"Yes, what happened outside my window changed me and changed my neighborhood," Perillo said. "But I am more concerned with the way it changed my country."

-- Jeff
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