Attack on the Twin Towers: memories of an Argentine painter amid the “rain of debris and the nauseating smell” in New York

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Alejandro Vigilante I was on the subway when the first tower fell. As he stepped out onto the street, the second tower collapsed in front of him.

The first time that this chronicler met the Argentine painter Alejandro Vigilante five years had passed since the attack on the Twin Towers. Mission of Clarion in New York those days it was to find the Argentines affected by the attack. Along that path I met the artist, and also with relatives of dead or surviving compatriots.

New York still bleeding five years later. He had returned to his feverish, hyperkinetic rhythm. Yes. But in the place of the Towers there was a disproportionate crater that distorted the contours of a city of upright towers. That hole, surrounded by abandoned buildings, with torn and blackened facades, told it all.

He Ground Zero It had become a huge open unhealed wound, a construction site, a pilgrimage site, and a point for tourists and onlookers with death still in the air.

The remains of the victims were still there, among the construction trucks trying to lay the foundations of a future tower more magnificent, more enormous, and more majestic than those that had fallen; a symbol of the resilience of the city.

The subway crossed the bowels of Ground Zero without stopping. The closed station, broken, with a fading light, barely showed through the windows. The train passed through it slowly, as if trying to be silent. Everyone in the car was silent.

New York still suffered.

The sad story of the mother and friends of the Bahian firefighter Sergio Villanueva, who died in that hell and never recovered, was one of those devastating stories to listen to and write.

There were more deaths: Mario Santoro, paramedic, Gabriela Waisman, businesswoman, and Guillermo Alejandro Chalcoff, businessman …

Alejandro Vigilante was also on September 11, 2001 in Manhattan. But he survived to tell the tale. Today based in Miami, after having lived in New York for many years until 2006, the artist is stranded in Buenos Aires for the pandemic. And it is one of the first times that she cannot return to Manhattan to participate in the tributes.

-The last time we spoke, 5 years had passed since the attack. Today, almost 20 years after the attack, do you see things the same way?

-Basically I see a common thread of everything that happened from that moment until now. At that time I thought that we were very bad as humanity to crash planes against towers. And that common thread leads me to everything that is happening today and we do not improve. We are worse. It was a continuity in the story of how bad we are. That is my final thought. What we become to achieve things. It’s terrible. There is no excuse for something like that. It is very sad.

-What are the images that were recorded of that day?

-I have two or three images from that day. Inside the subway going to the towers with (my friend) Hernán Casanova. He was going to work and I was going to paint a mural at the Marriott. The first thing was the impact of people’s comments: that a pipe exploded, a boiler, a plane … nobody was very sure what was happening. And second, when we left the subway, which stopped, and not seeing one of the towers was an impressive thing.

-And the third?

– Third, I have not forgotten this image: I saw the other tower fall live. I was staring at the hole where the plane had crashed, I was impressed to see that hole where fire was coming from. I saw the exact second the tower started to fall.

-Do you remember the noise?

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