Tuesday, June 10, 2008
What is the city but the people?
Grandma always wanted to take her three granddaughters (two cousins and myself) to New York City but in the 1960s and 70s she felt it was an unsafe place to visit. She and Grandad travelled there from the Toronto area several times to celebrate their wedding anniversaries in the 1930s and 40s and she found the city fascinating. I was not really interested in going there when my daughter started planning the trip this year, but then decided to go for Grandma's sake. If she were alive, she would have insisted we travel there together.
I could post pictures of the famous landmarks we visited but that would not really define the character of the city. Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy Coriolanus, "What is a city but the people?" I would have been happy to sit on a bench anywhere in New York and watch the people. Desmond Morris wrote in his book, The Human Zoo, "...the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo." Well, I would not be as harsh in my judgement of the people we saw last week but the analogy has some truth. We were there when two crazy people climbed the outside of the New York Times building to the top. (ref) My daughter took a video of the second climber! (see it here)
When I was 14 years old, my parents drove us through New York City on the way home from Atlantic City NJ. I remember sticking my head out the car window and looking up at the sky scrapers, but we did not stop at all. The crime rate in much of the city has dropped significantly in the past ten to fifteen years. What has made the difference? We walked by Ground Zero on the way from Battery Park to the Brooklyn Bridge. You could sense that this was a giant cemetery and people stood around silently looking at the great hole that remains in the ground. Nearby a small fire hall had pictures of six of its firemen who had died on that day. The police and firefighters are respected here, a respect that was well earned. Did 9/11 make the people of NYC different than they were before?
The service industry is huge. People are hired to care for the rich, the poor, the elderly, the young, the animals, and the many tourists who visit. I saw very few panhandlers but the occasional disabled person sat quietly on the sidewalk willing to accept some cash. Every city has its unpleasant side including people we would rather avoid. But they are part of the fabric of society too.
There were many groups of children, some visiting in school groups and others who live here and already are confident in their big city. Central Park was a child's paradise with many playgrounds, a zoo and plenty of room to run and play.
The people were the city for me. I did not need to go to Broadway to experience New York. This show is free and plays day and night all year long.