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A Great Lady, Who’s Still Got It


Early in Impromptus today, I mention a visit to the Statue of Liberty (twelve-year-old niece in tow). The old lady still has the capacity to inspire — to put a tingle up your leg, so to speak. (Or did he say “down”?) I noticed there were a lot of French tourists on our particular ferry. Coming to inspect their gift, and its current state?

A reader sent me a note — very simple, entirely typical, but no worse for that: “My mother came here in 1917 when she was six and said that, on the ship, there was a great stir as they entered New York Harbor. People pointed out the Statue of Liberty. My mother said she wasn’t sure what it was, but picked up that it was something very important. It remained her favorite national symbol.”

I bet.

I thought of something as we were sailing (or motoring) back to extreme Lower Manhattan: I don’t believe I will ever get used to the absence of the Towers. It still fills me with hostility. There is no other word for it. And the old instinct comes back: “We should have built them the same as before, if not higher: a giant middle finger, aimed at our enemies.” We at least should have built something — something defiant, something bold, something big. I’m so sick of yellow-ribbon America, I could puke.

I dimly remember that we’re supposed to be building something. Can’t remember what it is. Will it be ready for the centennial in 2101?

By the way — and I’ve mentioned this several times in the past — I never liked the World Trade Center, when it stood. Thought it was ugly and marring. Afterward, I thought it was the most beautiful structure ever built.

While circling the Statue of Liberty, I thought of “Lady of the Harbor,” the song by Lee Hoiby, to little Emma Lazarus’s canonical text. Hoiby wrote it in 1976, for our bicentennial. Leontyne Price used to bring down the house with it. He told me once, during an interview for NR, “It’s only a minute long, but it’s a kick-ass piece.” True, even if he said so himself.

Lee Hoiby passed on about a week ago. I will have an appreciation of him in a forthcoming NR. (Incidentally, did you know he dedicated a song to me?) (Is that the most vain and self-referential thing you have read in — oh, the last 15 minutes?)

On the subject of music: Our guide at Ellis Island was an Italian American who told us that her grandparents came over on the Giuseppe Verdi. Would we Americans ever call a liner something like the George Gershwin? We should. (Do we do liners?)



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