“If we had gotten to New York City an hour earlier,I would have been dead,” Gonzalo Vidal,said. “The first thing I wanted to do the moment I got here was to go to the Towers,even without unpacking,and just lie on the ground to look at all their height.” When Vidal saw the column of thick swirling smoke and the World Trade Center burning,he could barely believe his eyes.
He turned,still confused,to the Indian cab driver. His wife,Claudia,an Argentinean as well,tightly grabbed his hand. “ ‘Yes,yes,those are the Trade Center Towers,' the taxi driver said,and told us that two planes had crashed into them,” he remembered. Then they saw a strange spectacle: dozens of police cars,ambulances and motorcycles passing them in the emergency traffic lane. This was their first time in the Big Apple,the capital of the world,and they thought it was the normal rhythm of the city.
“I really love cities – I am an urban guy,” says Vidal,a young Buenos Aires lawyer who decided to devote his 10 days of vacation to visit the home of the famous attraction. “I said to my wife,then we can go any place you want,even Africa,but first I want to see them.” She sits next to him in a bar. They have recovered from witnessing Tuesday's terrorist attacks and are touring Harlem,the Black neighborhood of northern Manhattan. “It really was my dream,” he said. “I cannot remember when it all started,but I studied them,saw pictures; you could just compare them with other buildings and see they were so high.”
Everything stops; a huge twisting traffic jam takes control of the highway. “On the radio they started to say that they were going to sway,to fall apart,” Vidal said. “The taxi driver went crazy,and did not want to go into the city. He was so mad he wanted to leave us there,or take us back to the airport.” Stuck in traffic,they were unwilling witnesses to outstanding views of the tragedy. The signs of the most palpable power of capitalism stood there still throwing fire from its entrails.
“It was terrible to see the people's reaction,everyone on the highway held their heads,hit their steering wheel,some of them were even crying”,said Claudia Schiada,29,an international relations specialist. “We told all our friends that we were coming here just to see the Towers. I wanted to photograph him (Vidal) on the ground from the top floors. Luckily,we arrived at 8:30 a.m. and left Kennedy National Airport at nearly 9 a.m.” The beginning of the end had started already. “At that time,” she closes her eyes as she recalls the images,“we thought without grasping the gravity of facts that they were going to put out the fire. Then my husband asked the taxi driver if it was an accident or a terrorist attack,then we knew that the whole situation was serious.”
The taxi driver left them at a rundown,three-star Queens hotel,where they paid $200 to spend the night. “The cabbie said he was leaving us really far away,that we were going to be safe there.” In the suburb things were not different: “Everybody was disoriented and running. Our plane was United Airlines so we needed to call our families,but there were no phones and just one computer with an Internet and a long line to use it. Finally we got to send an e-mail,” she said.
A week has passed and things look differently,but some images were branded into the Argentinean couple's minds. “We noticed that American society is in a panic and even wondering how to live within this sense of insecurity,but we are Argentineans and we are used to this kind of feeling,” they said. “Americans never contemplated they could be attacked,they never thought they were vulnerable. But it is real. If you live in the most powerful country in the world,you are exposed. I think this is going to change American mentality.”
They finish their coffee and as they leave,Vidal stood to say: “I think people want war,and they want blood. The press also uses really strong words: war,they will pay,combat. American people want revenge and when the pain subsides,hate will be stronger.”