Alissa Quart: I tried flowers, counselling, and religion

New York: Day 7
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The Independent Online

I woke up this morning in a huge loft in SoHo, where my friends and I stayed over, clumped on beds and couches, in yet another attempt to avoid ourselves. What would be the cure? As the sun streamed in, one could see clearly the four spanking new periwinkle and cream couches, the fox-fur bed throw, the sequinned pillows and the white umbrellas that signal a photo shoot.

Last Tuesday, this had been one for an actual princess, from whom my friend sub-lets these lavish digs. When my friend left the fashion people and their four-dozen pink roses and went to work, she saw the burning and the people running, lining up at payphones. She is one of my few personal portholes into the world of commerce that the World Trade Centre victims were part of. In that orbit, some typically tamped-down people are going a little berserk.

Her apartment, once a beacon to her stray bohemian friends – she held poetry readings, served excellent gin and tonics – is now a dusty museum to the good life of a week before, the four dozen rotten roses its centrepiece.

The day before this one had been long indeed. George Bush sounds ever more the dispiriting puppet, issuing violent homilies – one can barely watch him. I needed some kind of cure so I attended one of the many grief counselling sessions that have been popping up around this city of psychoanalysis. It was one of the more surreal, held at a local Barnes and Noble bookshop by the venerable Freudian New York Psychoanalytic Institute. Most of the chairs were empty. The two sage shrinks spoke about how we must imagine our feelings of loss as part of our enemies' world of loss.

To my disappointment, the attendees were the sort of nut cases who would rush to the offer of free therapy in a bookstore chain on any day of the week. "I want to talk about the way that airplane workers were paid off," said one would-be client for analysis, nervously playing with a wooden mala bracelet on his wrist.

Maybe a synagogue service would help? It was the Eve of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and the pivotal role of Israel in the hijacking had made attending services across the city potentially hazardous. I talked to some of New York's worshippers on the Upper West Side milling in front of a synagogue that now instructs its members not to bring bags on to the premises. They felt good to be here, they said – when they arrived at sunset they knew they were to be guarded by cop cars which sit parked in front of the shuls.

I went to a New Year's gathering where we ate the traditional apples and honey. Shofar, so good, I said but no one laughed. People were getting sick of the sort of bad puns one makes when one is traumatised.

We still try to cure ourselves with totems. A woman I know, an eco type who moonlights as a flower seller, told me that the desperate clamour for her flora at her stall in the green market today had made her feel like a priestess. The fire stations swim in chrysanthemums and more candles and lists of the dead; as we pass we stand in front of them.

The eerie politeness that has marked the past week is gone: cars have started honking, couples feuding, men leering. I felt road rage on my bicycle today when a man made the sort of lewd comments men will make – I wanted to slam into him and started to plan it out before realising that I was losing it.

The cure still seems the most basic one, one that runs converse to New York, city of ambition. People now spend all their time together, huddling for warmth – I now carry my contact lens case; my fastidious male married friend – his wife stuck abroad – carries his toothbrush wrapped in a tissue in his work bag. Another totes her cellphone charger around with her. We don't go home any more if we can help it.

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