Tuesday, June 10, 2008

What is the city but the people?

9/11 Firefighter memorial, doorman, dog walker, tour bus employee

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)

Ellis Island Museum

We took the ferry to Ellis Island and I found the history of this landing place of thousands of people who arrived by ship to America so interesting. The great piles of luggage spoke volumes as did the long lists of names of people engraved in stone around the outside the museum.

Buskers at Battery Park, Pier 17, Central Park
and a fruit vendor on W42nd Street

The streets were full of performers and vendors. In Times Square a family group, mom, dad and five young children sang acappella harmonies under the night sky. They were nearly drowned out by the noise of the crowds and traffic. Where ever there were lineups buskers were present with instruments or boom boxes. And busy corners were sure to have a fruit, bagel or hot dog vendor nearby.

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.

School girls in Central Park

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.


  1. Anonymous9:51 am GMT-4

    A wonderful tribute to the people of New York - I enjoyed looking at the pictures you took.

  2. A city, its concrete structure, is just a city after all, no matter where in the world one visits one. It is truly the people that create the atmosphere of a town, a city, a nation and give the place its real flavour. We too, like to sit and people watch ... great entertainment. I'm often overwhelmed, when in a big city, to ponder the lives of all this rushing mass. Are they happy? are they sad? what brought them to this place? etc ... viewing their faces and body language as they hurry or meander by. We like to ride public transit ... not only because it is less stressful and cheaper (especially when one considers parking) but because the people are so interesting to watch!

  3. Oh...what a wonderful post! Far too often people take the usual "tourist" pictures that tell very little about the place. Your wonderful photographs give us the real feeling of NYC, the hustle and bustle, the street vendors and musicians. The city should be very proud to have tourists like you.

  4. Anonymous7:26 pm GMT-4

    I'm glad you came away with a good impression of the city and its people. It is such an interesting place, with so much to do and discover. We look forward to our next trip down in August.

  5. What wonderful pictures! You just gave me a mini trip to NYC.
    I enjoy the causal snapshots of people going about their own lives.

    I wonder too if 9/11 has changed NYC, how could it not? It still saddens me to this day when I think about all those beautiful lives that didn't get a chance to live.

    Thanks for letting us share your vacation.

  6. True words--the show is free and plays all night.
    A very apt description of Manhattan.

  7. April- Thanks!

    CS- I like quiet trails, but I also enjoy people. When we rode the subway, there was plenty of time to try and figure out who, what, where, and why's of the passengers.

    NCMW- New York had such a variety of people! And so many were young and beautiful.

    Cheryl- I do think 9/11 affected the personality of the city. As you say, how could it not?

    KGMom- I generally crashed by 9PM. The nightlife would have been a whole new story I am sure :-)

  8. Jeez Ruth - would love to have had a chance to visit with you while you were so closeby!

    Sounds like a nice visit - though the city isn't my favorite place.


  9. Hi Laura, I thought about you when I was in NYC. I longed to go to Jamaica Bay or Sandy Hook. Now that I know the route, I should return. We only had 3 full days there and two part days...not enough time to do much outside the city.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.