Wednesday, September 16, 2015


I'd been in New York for a week before Rick and Emmy came in to spend the weekend. It would be another week after they had come and left before I could go home. I'm never comfortable with being away from them for that long. It was good they'd come. The ache of missing them was gone for those few short days but the thought that they'd be gone so quickly played on my heart. They were to arrive on Thursday, late afternoon, but a weather front moving through their flight pattern kept delaying their departure. Originally they were planning on flying on Friday, giving them another day at home with our new puppies and Emmy could squeeze in another day at work but that would mean traveling on nine-eleven. We don't get on planes on nine-eleven. It wasn't until late evening, while Steven Colbert was interviewing the Vice President that I heard the key in the lock and they walked across the threshold of my anxiety.
It was a beautiful September day, a day without haze or clouds or humidity. The crispness of autumn had dipped its finger into that September day. It was a Tuesday, the second day of a week filled with milestones. Emmy was starting kindergarten. She had been accepted at Friends, a Quaker school, and a school whose philosophy was governed by peace and inclusion. They had divided her class of eighteen into two sections. The first section would attend Monday for a partial day. The second section would do the same on Tuesday and then both sections were to convene on Wednesday. Thereafter they would progressively add more time to the day until the class reached its allotted time for a full day of kindergarten. Emmy was in the Monday group. She had no school that Tuesday.
We were living in an apartment on East Twenty-ninth Street. We were on the thirty-first floor facing north with a magnificent view of the midtown skyline. We used to tell Emmy that the lights on the Empire State Building were her nightlights; they were so close to bedroom window. It became her nightly visual lullaby as the colors on the Empire State Building changed throughout the week. She never had to go to sleep in the dark.
Rick was already at work at 8:46 on that Tuesday morning. Angelina, our nanny, was getting Emmy's breakfast. I was getting ready to go into the office. From our windows we could see the cloudless clear blue sky drifting over all the architectural jewels of upper Manhattan. We were oblivious to anything south of Twenty-ninth Street. We reveled on that Tuesday enjoying one more full day with Emmy before she slipped one more step away from us in her educational journey.
At 8:46 I was just finishing shaving, Emmy was sitting at the dining table waiting for her breakfast, Angelina was at the kitchen stove stirring Emmy's oatmeal when the phone rang. It was my sister asking me if I was watching TV. She never said what was happening. She just told me to turn on the morning news program.
Fourteen years later all three of us were back in New York for a wedding. I still have a hard time dealing with that day fourteen years before. We left the apartment deciding we were in a direct flight pattern to the Empire State Building. We went to the office and stood with so many others staring down Sixth Avenue as the Towers burned and human specks fell from the sky. I have never wanted to go down to the site since the buildings collapsed. Our last apartment in New York was on John Street a block and a half from the World Trade Center. I avoided that block and a half for the entire time we lived there. It was too sacred to me. It belonged to those who were not intending to be heroes, men and women going to work or having boarded planes to destinations other than lower Manhattan or Washington D.C. or a field in the middle of Pennsylvania.
On Friday night, September 11, 2015 Emmy and I decided to go to Brooklyn Bridge Park and an event called Photoville, a free exhibit of curated photographs housed in re-purposed shipping containers. The event had been scheduled to open the night before but the same rain that had delayed Rick and Emmy's flight had pushed back the opening to Friday night unintentionally on the anniversary of 9/11.
On every anniversary, on the evening of every subsequent 9/11, the ghosts of the World Trade Center are projected on the New York sky emanating from the footprint of what once was the Twin Towers. Two beams of light pierce the sky in a way no plane can bring down. Even though we had come to see the photos of Photoville on that night there was no more powerful image than the sight of those two beams of light.

The couplet is the calling card of the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The words are also the name of a secretly hidden restaurant in the West Village. One If by Land, Two IF by Sea opened in 1971 in a carriage house that dates back to 1767. For a time from 1794 to 1804 the property belonged to Aaron Burr. Some of its notoriety is tied to the Burr-Hamilton connection. It's a very old-fashioned restaurant and we hadn't been back in decades but this is where I wanted to have my birthday dinner. We had planned it for Saturday night, a few days before my actual birthday since Emmy and Rick would be back in Madison on the fifteenth. The inspiration for choosing One If came while we were in Portugal. A British couple staying at the Quintado Convento da Franqueira while we were there had suggested a restaurant they had gone to the night before. The oddity and the intrigue was that at this seaside restaurant where fish was in abundance it also included Beef Wellington on its menu. Beef Wellington is also the signature dish at One If. We decided against it in Portugal but I remembered and loved the Beef Wellington back at this almost fifty-year old restaurant in the Village. Since we were all going to be in New York and I wouldn't be back home on my birthday I asked for dinner at One If and a chance to have one of my favorite dishes one more time.
The week had been exhausting with temperatures consistently in the nineties but on Saturday, the day of our reservation, the heat broke and we had a wonderful breeze to carry us down to Barrow Street from the Upper Westside. The exterior of the building has very little to indicate its existence.
Next to the carriage doors is a small lit box displaying a menu and little else. The wooden door bares a window with an etched silhouette of Paul Revere and his horse. Not much had changed since the last time, decades ago, when we passed through this threshold into this restaurant filled with so much of New York's history.
The bar still stretched along the north wall. The baby grand with a pianist playing Satie took me back to the first time we came here. The restaurant felt like a worn-in pair of fine Italian leather shoes, classic and comfortable.
My only disappointment is we weren't seated in the main room. Instead we were taken up a side stairway to a room with two fireplaces and seating for maybe forty guests.
The room was never full the entire time we were there and we could still hear the classic piano coming from the room below.
We chose from a selection of prix fixe menus: one with three courses, one with six and the most indulgent a menu with eleven courses. We watched as several tables were served. The plated portions were generous. They were definitely not new wave and looked significantly larger than mere tastings.
With our stomachs in check we felt completely comfortable ordering the three-course menu. There was no equivocating with the main course, but we did a split decision on the first course. I went for the onion tart while Rick and Emmy had the gnocchi served with fava beans, porcini mushrooms and pancetta.
After we had placed our orders and prior to the first course an amuse bouche of tuna tartar was served on small ceramic spoons.
Soon after the first courses were brought out. We all did a tasting of each others dishes with the gnocchi winning rave reviews and the onion tart not that far behind.
The main course for all of us was going to be the Beef Wellington served with a coat of foie gras and mushrooms under a cap of phyllo pastry. The dish came accompanied by asparagus and roasted heirloom beets. The Wellington was perfectly prepared a succulent medium rare, pink and full of flavor.
After a sufficient amount of time our waiter came with the dessert menus. Emmy and I chose the chocolate soufflé. They brought our steaming soufflés to the table on long white plates accompanied by a ramekin of vanilla ice cream and a triangular sugar cookie. Emmy and I dipped our spoons into our warm chocolate soufflés digging out the molten centers
while Rick cut into the hard chocolate coating on his chocolate mousse that arrived with a scoop of raspberry sorbet.
The sweetest part of the evening was a little dish of mini-cookies with a single candle and the words Happy Birthday written in chocolate. It came with grace, no particular fanfare and the decency of a single candle.

Submission by Shaver/Melahn Studios for World Trade Center Memorial design competition

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