Friday, May 08, 2009

Today in exquisite metaphors: In libertatem vindicavit

The Statue of Liberty was a generous gift to America from France in 1886, and she honors the friendship and alliance the two countries forged during the American Revolution. She has long represented freedom and democracy; indeed, her features and dress were inspired by the Roman goddess Libertas.

After the attacks on September 11th, 2001, however, the Statue of Liberty was closed completely, and the world-famous icon was off-limits to visitors until August, 2004; even then, her enormous walk-in crown--a feat of engineering and sculpture that offered, arguably, one of the nation's most beautiful and inspiring views from a man-made structure--remained closed.

But on July 4th, 2009, the crown of the Statue of Liberty will be at last be re-opened to the public, as U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today.

I was never fortunate enough to climb that narrow staircase leading to the crown and experience that famous view myself, but I have certainly admired and photographed the beautiful statue from many vantage points during countless visits to New York City. The most heartbreakingly lovely of these visual memories--and also my first sight of the Statue of Liberty--dates back to the summer of 1980, when my friend Effie and I treated ourselves to Champagne and coconut shrimp with orange sauce in the surreal and elegant Windows on the World restaurant, located on the 106th and 107th floors of the World Trade Center's North Tower. It wasn't a busy day, and we'd been given a table right at the edge of the room, affording us a gorgeous view of the city and harbor below. While we waited for our lunch, we gazed through the great oblongs of plate glass, noting how far below us the wispy clouds and buzzing helicopters were. The sun came out, and then, to our delight, we saw her: Lady Liberty.

Even then, even at that distance, Lady Liberty evoked an emotional response from Effie (daughter of Greek immigrants) and Yours Truly, a British immigrant celebrating her seventh American summer. And the two UF co-eds who'd been trying very hard to remain cool and aloof while walking around the city were now drying their tears on massive white linen napkins and laughing at themselves for getting so mushy.

Little did we know.

In early October, 2001, I was among a handful of people on a nearly-empty plane flying into New York; I was to attend a photo-editing meeting, scheduled months beforehand, for a vintage fashion book I'd co-written with my friend Linda. As we approached southern Manhattan, the pilot announced that visibility was really good, in case any of us wanted to look at the still-smoldering remains of the World Trade Center. Of course I looked--how could I not?--and of course I cried (again). But not too far away, there she was, still, torch aloft in defiance of all that dark smoke and drifting poison: Lady Liberty.

And carved in bronze beneath her, though obviously not visible from the air, her sonnet, by Emma Lazarus, gave proof through the night that her promise was still there:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Also at Cogitamus.

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