New York is one of the grand cities of the world. It ranks with London or Paris or Beijing or Moscow as a community of people that rises to stature as prominent as the nation in which it resides.
Yet none of those other cities is anything like New York.
The Big Apple.
The place where many thousands of immigrants have been greeted by the welcoming torch of the Statue of Liberty raised high, in celebration of their arrival. That grand lady, a gift from the French, lights the way to a new life, rich with promise and opportunity. So many tears have been cried on those waters, the tears of the huddled masses who latched onto a dream and dared to cross over.
New York is the place of Broadway and Central Park and Wall Street and Park Avenue. Of boroughs and rivers and tunnels and bridges.
An ethnic smorgasbord.
The place where terrorists destroyed two landmark buildings and thousands upon thousands of lives.
I love New York.
I've ridden the subways, arriving at the World Trade Center Tower station to emerge into daylight with thousands of trampling New Yorkers off to their jobs. Those buildings are no longer there. I've roamed the streets and prowled Central Park, scaled the Empire State Building, shopped the stores where price has little bearing on the purchase. I've frozen on a cold December night looking for a taxi when none was available. I've dined at cozy restaurants and dark, scruffy dives in the Village. Climbed through museums and art galleries. Been as brusque and unsmiling as the next guy striding down the sidewalk with wary aggression. I've escaped upstate to relax and romance amongst the cliffs and hills and old towns that occasion the countryside.
The big cities of America are fantastic. You can explore them as you would any jungle or mountain wild. Watching your step. Los Angeles. Chicago. San Francisco. Washington DC. I've driven and hiked them all. Los Angeles, the magical melting pot of ethnic culture and cuisine, 88 cities glued together as one. Chicago, the elevated trains and peculiar green river, the lake, the theater, the blues beat. San Francisco, the bay, the cable cars, the hills, the jail on an island, the bridges, the romance, the restaurants. Washington DC, the power.
None of them is New York.
New York is intense. You understand this when you enter the canyons between the tall buildings, always in shadow, never able to see beyond. You understand when you want art, or food, or goods. No place does it richer. No place more intensely. In the old days, we outliers would think New Yorkers were rude. Arrogant, actually. From a different planet. But no, we grew up to learn that we were wrong. New Yorkers were simply dealing with a place not easy to deal with. Not enough parking, too many muggers, too many people too close together, too expensive, too noisy, too busy. The financial capitol of America. Ha, I once rode in a yellow cab whose driver took the car up on the sidewalk to get around a blockage. He barely slowed. That is characteristic New York assertive. Stretch limos serve the airports, $80 for a ride into town from Newark; visit in style appropriate to the panache of this city.
New York was not destroyed by the terrorists that day over a decade ago. New York grew stronger. More serious, perhaps. Less brusque, perhaps.
Hurricane Sandy blasted New York yesterday.
The storm created havoc. Stock markets were closed. Corporations were shut down. Subway trains were parked. Vulnerable parts of the city were vacated. Electricity was knocked out. The storm rampaged and destroyed.
It was only a hurricane. Not even so very strong by Philippine standards. But it hit head on, gnashing into a city surrounded by water. The commercial heart of New York is, after all, an island. Way smaller than Luzon. Perhaps smaller than my wee island of Biliran.
But this is New York, you know? The city that deals with things. And the challenge to recover will make the city yet stronger.
This city, so rich with history and sin and redemption, so deep with life.
Manila's Big Brother.