Alissa Quart in New York: I have fled the city, but there is no escape...

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Though the lighting was soft you could still clearly see Julia Roberts's curls, Al Pacino's eyes, Salma Hayek's cheekbones, Willie Nelson's jowls. "America the beautiful," they trilled.

I was watching this national benefit concert on telly. We all groaned, all that botox. It seemed that only Neil Young should be allowed on the stage. He understood heartbreak; despite his befuddled politics, he had always understood heartbreak.

It seemed mildly repulsive that the celebrities had invaded the site of ordinary humans mourning. I was three hours from the locus of disaster in a suburban den (basement playroom) in central Pennsylvania, where I was interviewing teenagers. I was escaping the City by visiting my extended family (whom I had never met before).

I was between a giant entertainment centre and a ping-pong table. The exit from Manhattan almost worked, except that the den sometimes seemed like a fall-out shelter. Not only to me, but to my relatives.

Driving the highway past the corn mazes, there were signs for "a field of screams", an upcoming Hallowe'en event. There was a smell of autumnal burning of leaves in the air, but it had lost all of its innocence. I had a sudden desire to join the Amish farmers when I saw them milling on the street.

These rural dwellers were also traumatised, a doctor at a local hospital told me that the staff were unbelievably upset about orphaned nine- and 13-year-olds whose parents had died in a car accident. Their upset reflected the children orphaned by the hijacking. Even in a protected suburban world of rolling hills, he had received a warning from the Center for Disease Control to watch for any patterns of illness that might reflect a bio-chemical attack in the area, he said.

The queue at the video store was out the door; they are watching light comedies in succession out here.

New York had not been altogether bleak when I left. Teach-ins about the Middle East or discussions between experts and citizens were cropping up at the major universities. Columbia University had one at St John's The Devine, an enormous cathedral, with standing room only. Such events had not been held since the Vietnam War.

The audience was a crowd of mournful-eyed people in their 20s, with more than a sprinkling of south Asians. I saw one man in an NYPD T-shirt but he was certainly a minority.

An anthropologist compared the dead at the World Trade Centre to the number who died in Iraq. "Americans are no longer immune to the collapse of global boundaries,'' he said.

Another academic suggested there might be FBI informants in the crowd's midst, another suggested a legal tribunal like The Hague to prosecute terrorists. The academics were all united on one point: no war. Or, as one put it: no creation of a new edition of the Cold War.

The thousands in the church clapped emphatically at anti-war sentiments, but here in central Pennsylvania, teenagers' attention ping-pongs between frozen pink drinks, shopping sprees and someone's Manhattan uncle having been decontaminated last week.

One boy admitted to being half excited by the experience of suddenly being part of history, having only watched Second World War films. Like much of America, and many of their parents, these kids supported an attack. "On the day of the hijacking," said Ben, 16, "they asked us if we wanted war and we all said yes.''

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