Getting on with our lives - but with a difference

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The Independent Online

In this third week after the disaster, we grimly cast our votes in the party primaries for a new mayor. Such acts of citizenship are at once profound and merely gestural. It seems right that I wake up to a cold and bright morning and news of a run-off election. Things hover now, somewhere between injury, recognition and response.

In this third week after the disaster, we grimly cast our votes in the party primaries for a new mayor. Such acts of citizenship are at once profound and merely gestural. It seems right that I wake up to a cold and bright morning and news of a run-off election. Things hover now, somewhere between injury, recognition and response.

Our Mayor, once an authoritarian art-hating paterfamilias, now a stoic beacon, tells us to continue doing what we have always done. He is doing so himself – attempting to stay in power by extending term limits.

In the name of a return to life on a smaller scale, a friend and I walk to a restaurant near ground zero on Saturday night, going to lower Tribeca, where the trains and cabs are now rare or wiped off the map. We enter an oak-panelled boîte filled to quarter capacity, where waiters solicit orders for "anything": dishes not on the menu, esoteric sour martinis, free deserts.

Meanwhile, some of the inhabitants of the area are finally being let back into their apartments; with a now predictable strangeness, a friend appears on the evening news, arguing for his right to return to his flat in the financial district, to do what he has always done.

Interactions have a pleasantly bizarre cast: gabby acquaintances stop me on the street in order to ponder whether irony in America is finally over, as the pundits now tell us. I meet a doctor, who immediately speaks of five patients who just died in the inferno. Death, he says, is almost always a process, but not this time. "Isn't that terribly wrong?" he continues, disconcertingly plaintive given that he's talking to a perfect stranger.

Cab drivers who have blacked out their Muslim surnames posted on their cab partitions, in fear of violent reprisal, talk unprompted of windows and rear-view mirrors that have been shattered, of abusive fares; on one ride, the driver of a nearby cab screams over and over at my driver: "Muslim! Muslim!" The beleaguered hack behind the wheel, wearing a New York Yankees cap, turns to me: "I have been here 25 years and I am Pakistani-American."

I am moved to visit a lavish mosque on the Upper East Side, and stand staring at the words of peace as they scroll by on the orange-lettered electronic sign in front of the structure. It is very late in the evening – I am suddenly terribly sad.

Next day I go to a teach-in in the hope that I will actually be taught something: a group of policy wonks from the Council on Foreign Relations answers questions from a motley group of downtowners, who, to the panelists' apparent chagrin, noisily deride decades worth of American foreign policy. "Bush apologists," a man with shaggy hair hisses at the panel, but under his breath.

Doing what you have always done means going on with life – but with a difference. Those who have managed to keep their jobs, as 100,000 New Yorkers lose theirs, express thankfulness, although these are jobs they have disliked for years (and they still do).

At night, I wheat-paste poems by Paul Celan and Osip Mandelstam on signposts and walls with a small crowd. This action is the brainchild of poets, now working under the name Debunker Mentality. They want to offer the pedestrians reading options – so far, the mainstay of the newly sincere and lyrical newspaper writers has been WH Auden and good old September 1, 1939 (the bard has been in heavier circulation then Britney Spears this week).

Debunker Mentality members generate slogans to counter the Bush administration's warrior lingo. My personal placard derives from what I learnt on and after 11 September: that we were not all rendered suddenly historical by desolation. Tonight, it is ready to be pasted and it reads: "We were always part of history."

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