In a time of terror, it is the symbols that stick with us, particularly when violence leaves us numb. Art and architecture can express what has rendered us speechless. Symbols show our solidarity with a familiar language when we do not share a native tongue.
It is the reason the simple logo-like, roughly executed, peace sign embedded with the Eiffel Tower has taken off on a viral frenzy from an Instagram account on the day of the attacks to Facebook to the streets of Paris and beyond, as we mourn the dead and the wounded. It was created by a graphic designer named Simeon and he decided to share it on his Instagram when words didn’t truly express how he felt.
We have a long shared the history of symbols in New York that commemorate our friendship with the French capital, and I’m not talking about New York staples like French fries, French kisses, or French dressing.
Did you know that Alexandre-Gustafe Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame designed The Statue of Liberty’s steel framework in collaboration with the sculptor Francois Bartholdi? He was chosen because of his experience with wind stresses. The entire pylon structure, which is the base for the copper sheeting beneath the statue, was put together at Eiffel Works in Paris… standing at around 150 feet tall when complete and then completely dismantled before it was sent to New York City. The statue was later dedicated by US President Grover Cleveland in 1886. It was considered a feat of modern engineering just like The Eiffel Tower.
Lady Liberty is truly a magnificent monument of massive art and I loved climbing up into her crown as a child; I will never forget looking out. Along with her pedestal she stands at over 300 feet tall.
Last year, after spotting a sketching tour aboard a classic yacht on the information board of the Art Students League, I signed up. We found ourselves coasting around Lady Liberty, sketchbooks in hand, scribbling away on a rocking bow over the Hudson.
I love her for the millions of immigrants she has welcomed on their journey to the promise land, though I feel today that her huddled masses are more like emotionally huddled masses wondering how we get back to our roots and what do they mean now anyway? I love her name most of all – “Lady Liberty.”
In a new century we are reminded, once again, there is nothing greater than liberty: liberty to walk freely and safely in our day; to love freely man, woman, child of any sex, race, or creed; to pursue happiness — at work or in the cafes or at concerts; to live well.
I’m meeting a colleague at the clock at Grand Central today and I’m terrified. What a perfect venue for a shooting spree. I should know, I spent three months as a journalist in the war zone in Baghdad, Iraq in 2003– the very place where Isis was born. I spent days low to the ground avoiding the open squares when I could. I was either shot at in my car or mobbed on the days we had to drive through the market. I dropped to the dusty road or the bottom of my vehicle as bullets pinged off the doors…and I prayed. While I live in New York, I know hot and close where this comes from.
I also have a big whopping statue out there in the water from Paris to remind me: I am free. People have fought and died for that freedom and I better exercise it all the way to the coffee shops of another great American monument. I owe them that. I owe Paris and I love New York.