Volume 74, Number 17 | August 25 - 31 , 2004

Village man freed in Iraq; Christopher St. held hostage

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photo by Robert Stolarik

News cameras lined the narrow sidewalk outside Micah Garen’s home at 110 Christopher St. last Friday.

The West Village heaved a sigh of relief on Sunday afternoon as news came that photojournalist Micah Garen, being held hostage in Iraq, would be released by his captors.

Garen, 36, of Christopher St., and his translator were abducted in a busy market in Nassiriya on Aug. 13, after people allegedly grew suspicious at Garen’s taking photos “with a small camera.” Garen had been in Iraq working on a documentary on artifact looting. Last Thursday, the kidnapers released a video showing Garen surrounded by armed, masked men, and issued a warning that he would be killed in 48 hours if U.S. forces did not withdraw from Najaf.

However, embattled radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr — whose forces are under siege by the U.S. in Najaf — intervened on Garen’s behalf. Also helping win the Villager’s release, his photographer friends called on all their contacts in Iraq for assistance. Garen’s sister, Eva Garen, also made a direct appeal on Arab satellite TV channels to Garen’s kidnapers. Garen intends to stay in Iraq and continue working on his project.

At the same time that there was gratitude at Garen’s life having been saved, there was relief on Christopher St. that the media siege of the block might hopefully soon end. After the story broke on Aug. 18, a phalanx of news camera trucks, reporters and photographers kept a steady vigil in front of 110 Christopher St., where Garen lives with his fiancé, Marie-Helene Carleton.

On Thursday afternoon, a dozen news cameras mounted on tripods on the narrow sidewalk were focused on the building’s front door. Across the street, still photographers stood and sat around blocking storefronts, waiting for a clean shot of Carleton if she were to emerge from inside. Reporters lined a row of chairs next door outside the Factory coffee shop, reading newspapers, giving the Factory plenty of business and waiting for any break in the story.

However, Carleton, a partner with Garen in their company, Four Corners Media, has kept a low profile, and, according to the Daily News, stayed in a hotel to avoid the media.

Richard White, who runs a jewelry store across the street from 110 Christopher St., and who lives on the 16th floor of 95 Christopher St., The Gansvoort, said he had noticed a blonde woman walking across the rooftops and guessed it may have been Carleton. He was personally annoyed by a photographer who blocked his store window, then snapped photos of him after White asked him to move.

Local residents engaged in some guerilla warfare to try to disperse the media from the block.

Last Thursday night as local TV news reporter Karen Hepp was doing her final segment for the late news, she and her camerman noted to a fellow reporter that someone, possibly from 110 Christopher St., had earlier pelted reporters with raw eggs. A few feet from them on the sidewalk were a broken shell and splattered yolk.

On Monday morning, the day after Garen’s release, the media was still camped out in front of the building, hoping to interview neighbors.

“The people in the building aren’t being too friendly,” commented one reporter for a national TV news network. “I guess they’re tired of the media being here.”

Mario Martinez, a WNBC cameraman, said that just as they were going to do their 6:30 a.m. broadcast, a saboteur struck.

“Someone pulled the cables right off my van,” he said. “Thirty years I’ve been doing this, it never happened to me. We were about to go live, and when I picked up the camera, I noticed there was no picture.”

Russ Treyz, a Bedford St. resident returning from an early morning walk, said he felt empathy for Carleton, because she was being staked out by the media.

“All I know is that every time I walk by Christopher St., there’s a mob of reporters waiting for her to come out of her lair,” said Treyz, a theatrical director.

A canvas of merchants around Christopher and Bleecker Sts. found just a few who knew the couple.

Mohammed Shiper, manager at Bleecker Grocery, said Garen would stop in occasionally for a newspaper or soda.

“He’s a quiet person,” said Shiper, 37. “I got a feeling he would be O.K. He’s got a good IQ, intelligent, not acting crazy — so I thought he would make it.”

At The Beach haircutters and salon on Christopher St., giving the impression that the couple may, in fact, be customers, employees said their boss ordered them not to talk to reporters.

David Phillips, from New Jersey, was walking down Christopher St. Monday morning after having exited the PATH and dropped his shirts at Lee’s laundry on Bleecker St. — an enduring habit for the former Villager — before heading to work on Wall St.

“I think I’m very appreciative of his being released,” said Phillips. “But I wonder what Sadr’s motives are in this whole situation. It’s going to be difficult to get out of this situation — Iraq,” he added.

Over the weekend, a neighbor tied yellow ribbons for Garen on a tree in front of 110 Christopher St. It being the Village, the ribbons sported anti-Bush stickers — ‘W’ ’s cut through with a red slash.

Even as the media finally vacate Christopher St., however, the relief, it seems, will only be momentary. On a lamppost a flier gave notice that a new movie in production, “Sorry, Haters,” starring Robin Penn Wright, is looking for local apartments in which to do three days of filming.

The film, the flier notes, is about “an immigrant cab driver and a high-powered television producer and their relationship in an atmosphere of post-9/11 paranoia.”

Meanwhile, a real-life, post-9/11 drama also involving TV, as in news cameras, had just played out on the block. Fortunately, it was a wrap with a happy ending.

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