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NEW SPIRIT OF FAMILY POSSESSING N.Y. CITY

For the first day or two following the World Trade Center disaster, New Yorkers wandered the streets of their city as if in a horrible dream.

Now, five days later, they are starting to awaken to the enormity of the tragedy -- and many are saying the city will never be the same.

In cafes and bookstores, office buildings and gourmet restaurants, people here are slowly returning to their normal routines.

But they do so with changed attitudes. Instead of laughter and cockiness, the New York personality has become one of silence and downcast eyes.

"You don't even hear horns honking," said Eric Gurowitz, 28. "It's not like New York City."

The impact on the city's psyche has been deep, people here say. Too deep to be healed quickly, if at all.

The city that never sleeps has become a city that cringes at every loud noise.

"I took the train today. The lights went out. People panicked," said Dr. Steven C. Garner, chief medical officer at St. Vincent's Hospital. "Two people fainted."

Garner, like many others throughout the city, said what has happened to New York is very simple to explain: The city now, for the first time, knows what is it like to feel vulnerable.

"The sense of innocence is gone," he said.

One facet of this new New York personality in the aftermath of the World Trade Center disaster is a sense of kinship among city residents.

Perhaps the best examples of this new spirit of community can be found in the immediate vicinity of the World Trade Center, which is now a pile of smoking rubble several stories high.

Albert and Jacques Capsouto, co-owners of TriBeCa's upscale restaurant Capsouto Freres, have opened their restaurant to everyone in the neighborhood. All day long, every day since Tuesday, the brothers have cooked full meals for rescue workers, police and firefighters, and people in the neighborhood -- all for free.

The first day or two, they cooked the food they had in their freezers. Now they are walking for blocks to go shopping so they can haul groceries back to the disaster zone.

"We're here. This is our home," said Albert Capsouto.

Another local shopkeeper, Kevin Oh, has a small food market on Hudson Street near the disaster area. He has kept his doors open since Tuesday, even though he has to light the inside of his shop with candles. The power in Lower Manhattan has not been restored yet, and the streets and buildings are largely off-limits to all but emergency personnel.

"I've got whatever they need," said Oh, standing in almost total darkness in his store. "Everything is free."

As far away as 44th Street, chef Jenny Glasgow at Mezze Restaurant was making sandwiches to ship to Lower Manhattan.

"I feel helpless, and I can cook," said Glasgow. "The rescue workers are beyond brave and beyond strong. This is the very least I can do."

As a native New Yorker, Glasgow says she is humbled and amazed at the changes city residents have undergone since the tragedy.

"I was born here, and I'm really proud of how New Yorkers have rallied together," she said.

But nearly everyone, in all parts of the city, says that New York will be fundamentally different from now on.

The moment the World Trade Center collapsed was a watershed moment that destroyed the easy self-confidence of the city, people here say.

"I don't think anything will bring things back to where they were before. Maybe things will be better some day, but they'll never be the same," said Gurowitz, who was reading newspapers about the tragedy at a Starbucks on Fifth Avenue. Gurowitz's office on Broadway has not yet reopened for business.

Others agree, and say that the attack shook them to the core.

Kathy Capsouto was at a farmers' market at the base of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. She remembers pushing her two children up against a wall to keep them safe, and then running for shelter.

Now, in the aftermath of that horrible day, Capsouto says she jumps at every unexpected sound. Her children are frightened and have been glued to her side.

"There's a sense of uncertainty about what will happen next. As the (Navy F-14) Tomcats were flying overhead, you wanted to jump under the table," she said. "Now I understand what Vietnam veterans go through. You sort of duck, like, 'Where is it coming from?' "

People here say one of the most disorienting factors of the tragedy is the absence of the World Trade Center towers from the city skyline.

They say it seems like an odd thing to focus on. But people from all parts fo the city said they feel lost without the landmark in view.

Some New Yorkers sat for a while on park benches in the Chelsea area staring at the skyline and trying to get used to the new view.

"The visual landscape is different," said Michael Fox, 34, a public relations executive who works in midtown Manhattan. "I think a lot of people feel violated."

"When I walk out of my office, the towers were always there. It's very different without them there," said Gloria Molinari. "You can't imagine to see them sitting there. It was so beautiful."

e-mail: cvogel@buffnews.com and tpignataro@buffnews.com

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